Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is not a city in which most American travelers will wish to linger. Although not actively dangerous like Nairobi, it’s a sprawling, ramshackle mess, often with diabolical traffic. Twenty years ago, the harbor could be quite picturesque, thanks to the sailing dhows that used to trade up the east coast of Africa to places as far afield as Bahrain and Dubai. But nowadays marine transport is chiefly provided by huge Chinese container ships.
However, an overnight stay can be a necessity for travelers en route from the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba to Tanzania’s wildlife areas, especially the more remote ones such as Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve — as it was for me on my recent trip. Oyster Bay is the city’s embassy and upscale residential district, an expectedly calm and well-groomed enclave that extends along the shoreline of the Indian Ocean.
I was driven from the airport by a uniformed chauffeur in a brand-new Audi. As it was a weekend, the roads were less congested, and after about 30 minutes, we pulled into the gated driveway of what appeared to be a desirable private residence. The Oyster Bay is a boutique hotel of two twin and six double suites. The air-conditioned accommodations are all spacious, with an appealing minimalism-meets-Africa aesthetic.
My well-lit bath contained a soaking tub and a large glass-enclosed walk-in shower. On the ground floor, numerous walls have been removed from the original structure to create a huge open-plan living and dining area. The striking interior design features contemporary furniture, marble floors, animal-skin rugs, African tribal artifacts and spectacular black-and-white photography. Overall, it reminded me of a lavish private house in one of the wealthy northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the hotel is its lovely walled garden, surrounded by mature trees. Guests may eat light meals on the sundeck next to the narrow 50-foot lap pool or on the atmospheric veranda. There is no menu at The Oyster Bay; the manager explains what is available and makes suggestions. And guests are free to submit requests in advance of mealtimes. Throughout my stay, the staff were helpful, hospitable and charm personified. My early-morning flight to South Africa required me to leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. To my amazement, the manager was waiting in the entrance hall to say goodbye and wish me a safe onward journey.
Serene residential atmosphere; stylish public areas; friendly and extremely professional staff; lovely mature garden.
Avoid the two suites with small twin beds (the other six have four-poster beds).
The transfer from the international airport can take up to 90 minutes, owing to the city’s atrocious traffic.