Background Half of the population of Africa will soon live in towns and cities where it can be protected from malaria by controlling aquatic stages of mosquitoes. Rigorous but affordable and scaleable methods for mapping and managing mosquito habitats are required to enable effective larval control in urban Africa. Methods A simple community-based mapping procedure that requires no electronic devices in the field was developed to facilitate routine larval surveillance in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The mapping procedure included (1) community-based development of sketch maps and (2) verification of sketch maps through technical teams using laminated aerial photographs in the field which were later digitized and analysed using Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Results Three urban wards of Dar es Salaam were comprehensively mapped, covering an area of 16.8 km2. Over thirty percent of this area were not included in preliminary community-based sketch mapping, mostly because they were areas that do not appear on local government residential lists. The use of aerial photographs and basic GIS allowed rapid identification and inclusion of these key areas, as well as more equal distribution of the workload of malaria control field staff. Conclusion The procedure developed enables complete coverage of targeted areas with larval control through comprehensive spatial coverage with community-derived sketch maps. The procedure is practical, affordable, and requires minimal technical skills. This approach can be readily integrated into malaria vector control programmes, scaled up to towns and cities all over Tanzania and adapted to urban settings elsewhere in Africa.