Is there any place in the world that sounds more beguiling than Zanzibar? Zanzibar isn’t like the mainland. I guess you right now planning to pack you backpacks run away from European unending lockdowns and guess what’s on your mind is this beautiful Paradise called Zanzibar located along the east African coast . Zanzibar is made up of a blended multiculture of people all using Swahili has there main language.
The Island is home to prestigious crystal clear world class beaches , blue waters that attract water sports, untouched coral reefs that continuously attract snorkellers and many more on the list to do when you over there… We have managed to compile for you the guide below basing on our actual experience during our 2021 February visit and also basing on the different experience of other travellers we met there.
Welcome to Zanzibar Island ! Hakuna Matata
Pro Tip: Finding Tanzanian shillings in the U.S. is virtually impossible, so hold out until you land in Tanzania and get the local currency from the ATMs in the airport. Make sure you always have plenty of change on you, as things are cheap and market stalls and cafes do not usually take cards.
The semi-autonomous archipelago is a 23-mile hop from mainland Tanzania, and although it is officially part of the East African country, in almost all aspects—politics, religion, culture, food—life there is different. As al base for traders from the African Lakes region, India, and the Arabian peninsula, Zanzibar became a hub for the region’s slave and spice trades. Most Zanzibaris consider themselves Zanzibari rather than Tanzanian, and their territory has its own leader and governing bodies. Mainland Tanzania is a mix of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous groups, but Zanzibar, which the Sultanate of Oman ruled for centuries, is almost entirely Muslim. (The Sultanate had in turn wrestled the islands from the Portuguese – and much later they became a British protectorate, until Zanzibar’s independence in 1963.)
Get on Swahili time. Time-keeping is initially confusing, but actually makes a lot of sense. In Swahili culture, people start counting time at sunrise rather than at midnight, which means that 7 a.m. Western time is one o’clock in the morning Swahili time, and 7 p.m. is one o’clock at night. (This works because sunset and sunrise times are relatively constant year-round, since Zanzibar is so close to the equator.) I first realised this the day I made an appointment with a Zanzibarian Local who I wanted to take me to Darajani Market ,we had originally agreed to meet at 9:00am sharp, he came 1pm with an excuse of “got busy on the way ” yet in reality its Swahili time .
A trick to decipher this code is to imagine drawing a line directly across a clock face: three becomes nine, four becomes ten. When arranging meeting times, it’s best to specify the time of day you’d like to meet—morning, afternoon, evening, night—that way, even if your numbers are off, chances are you’ll still connect. Everything in Zanzibar is pole pole. (Slow ,Slow)
Transit to Zanzibar happens by plane or boat, most likely departing from Dar Es Salaam. The plane ride involves about half an hour of cruising in a shaky Style, but the ferry is cheaper and can be a far more pleasant experience. The high-speed boats run four times a day each way, take about two hours, and a ticket will run you less than half of what it costs to fly. Don’t be deterred by exaggerated travel advisories mentioning capsizing vessels—the high-speed boats are safe, modern, and comfortable with movie entertainment on the screens . If it’s nice out, or you’re prone to seasickness, the top deck is breezy and has the best views, the best recommendable ferries from and to Zanzibar are Zan fast ferries and ZAM marine ferries .
Ferry Schedule of Zanzibar.
Greetings matter. Stop and say hi: Swahili is an easy language to pick up only if you kind of person curious and quick /interested in learning , and the initial learning curve is quick. when you greet in the morning you can say ” Habari za asubuhi “Good Morning and if you want to go somewhere you can say” Vipi naweza kufika ” Learning just the basics will take you pretty far–i bet you on this. Don’t assume the constant street side attention from people is an attempt to sell you something, bully you or trap you into taking some sort of tour—that does happen, but saying hello is also an important part of the local culture. The “Mambos” and “Jambos” are often just that, so it’s a good idea to say hello back. It might be initially overwhelming, but it’s nice to realise that so many strangers will take the time to acknowledge your presence and ask you about your day. (A “Shikamoo”, usually reserved for those you don’t know, your elders or superiors, is a respectful greeting that locals will appreciate.) Zanzibar Hakuna Matata!
Getting lost in Stone Town is a must do. The ancient city—declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2000—is charming, but it’s basically a maze. The act of receiving directions through the town’s narrow and winding alleys usually involves a series of confusing hand gestures and head nods, and will probably not get you where you want to go any faster. Street corners filled with children smartly dressed in Islamic wears some going to or coming back from school.
There are street names, sort of, but no one really uses them. The bright side is that Stone Town is small and safe, and not knowing where you’re going is part of the experience. Locals are helpful, so you can ask for directions as many times as you want, but sometimes it’s best to let yourself get lost. The only place where you will witness old ancient architecture, cultures rubbing rubbing shoulders with modern civilisation—You can’t miss that experience.
Zanzibar Island life is slow. In Zanzibar, life moves pole pole – Swahili for slow. Things in Zanzibar don’t always make sense, don’t always work, or can take a while. It’s important to enjoy the calm chaos and take a cue from the unhurried pace. Your smoothie or delicious chapatti with Soup might take 20minutes or more to show up, but it will be delicious and worth the wait. Lazuli, a tiny but wonderful restaurant and Luukman food market in Stone Town is a good place to experience this.
Choose your own adventure. Zanzibar has become host to a handful of East Africa’s most posh luxury resorts, which can be a jarring contrast to what is an otherwise quiet, economically-challenged island (the average Zanzibari makes less than $1 a day). If you’re looking for a beach escape with other Westerners, head north to Nungwi and Kendwa, where you’ll find the same all-inclusive packages and beach discos you’ll find in most other warm parts of the world. For a slightly more Zanzibari experience, try quieter towns like Bwejuu or Jambiani where your slice of island paradise is mixed with the rhythms of village life.
Zanzibar has two rainy seasons. Every year, there are the long rains and the short rains. On the heels of the blazing and seriously sweaty East African summer, Zanzibar’s long rainy season lasts roughly from March until May. Booking a trip during this period if you’re set on a beach holiday is not a good idea; the islands get hit with some pretty epic monsoons that will quite literally dump on your beach time. The short rains generally take place between November and December, but aren’t nearly as intense—they tend to show up in short and torrential bursts, then quickly fade back to blue skies.
Taste the world. Zanzibar has had many rulers over the centuries, and its long, tragic history has created one of Africa’s most interesting cuisines. This is the original fusion food, a delicious mash-up of Indian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese and African cooking traditions, all driven by the constant presence of spice (these are known as the Spice Islands, after all, where cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and nutmeg come straight from the source.) Try African ugali, Indian chapatti, Swahili curries, and eat as much fresh seafood as humanly possible. Look for island specialties like octopus curry and urojo, a turmeric and coconut-based soup with crispy fritters and spiced potatoes that seems to have the island’s entire history contained within its broth. If you want to try these recipes at home, head to Darajani market, the main Bazaar, where locals shop for groceries – but get there early, before the heat rolls in.
In Zanzibar, it’s possible to drink, and it’s fine to wear beach clothes in the right places. That said, there are times and places when neither is appropriate. Skimpy clothing and drunken slurring through Stone Town is best avoided. There are a few bars in Stone Town, and you can drink in tourist and ex-pat restaurants and in fancier hotels in town and on the coast, but remember that the waiter serving you probably does not drink, so cut them some slack if their wine-bottle opening isn’t the most graceful. There are only a couple stores in Stone Town that sell booze, and it’s a good idea to bring your own bag so you’re not brandishing a bottle of gin on the streets.
BLess your moment with Zanzibar Tea. Drinking culture is not just for rooftops and beach bars. The local tea scene is a good way to meet people that actually live on the islands, not simply passing through. Try the tangawizi (ginger) chai, and add vanilla if possible. Grabbing a mug of hot and spicy tea on the side of the road is a good way to people watch. Most tea stands or carts start serving once the sun has gone down. If you’re in Stone Town, ask around for the nearest Babu Chai, and someone should be able to point you in the right direction.
There are no lions, elephants, or giraffes. Tanzania is known for its breath-taking safaris, but this is not the Serengeti: the wildlife is all underwater. If you make it to the islands, try and hit up one of the many dive centres offering scuba diving training courses, and of course views of the Indian Ocean life and coral. But be warned that overfishing and a lack of environmental oversight have compromised many of Zanzibar’s best reefs. Some of the best snorkelling can be had on Chumbe Island, a protected marine park about a ten-minute drive and 45-minute boat ride out of Stone Town. The day trips are kindly more expensive so its always better to haggle around with the street prices. but the money goes to paying a world-class staff of locals and to restoring some of Zanzibar’s more fragile ecosystems. (Not to mention an incredible lunch and some of the best snorkelling in East Africa.)
Come out at night. Stone Town can look spooky at night when you first arrive—the dimly-lit collection of narrow streets and back alleys doesn’t exactly invite aimless wandering by the uninitiated. But don’t let the eeriness and travel advisories calling for extra caution after dark keep you confined to your room after sundown. Stone Town is bustling with life in the evenings, with kids out playing, couples strolling, and everywhere people feasting. The central park-turned-night market, Forodhani Gardens, is packed with locals and tourists sampling the couple dozen fresh food stalls. Skip the skewers of shellfish, which may have been sitting out all day, and opt for grilled Indian spiced chicken and Zanzibar pizza, chased with fresh sugar cane juice.
Required documents and visa procedure
Upon entering Zanzibar, you will need a passport valid for at least another 6 months past your date of entry and a visa, to be bought at the airport or in port. For citizens of most EU countries the price of a three-month tourist visa equals 50 USD. US citizens pay 100 USD and African citizens most of them get a free visa upon arrival. Visa fee is paid either in cash or by credit card. People entering Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania, e.g. after a safari or a Kilimanjaro climb are not required to buy another visa.
You can also apply for an Evisa https://eservices.immigration.go.tz/visa
The yellow book, i.e. your vaccination book, with a valid vaccination against yellow fever is not required from tourists flying in from out of Africa. If you have a connecting flight through Kenya or are coming from another African country, you will be asked to show yours.
Realistically speaking Zanzibar is are paradise island of its own with a lot of paid and free activities to get around with no matter what duration you planning to stay. Karibu- to Zanzibar are home away from home.