Things to Know About Driving in Zanzibar

Zanzibar travel guide road Kizimkazi cafe

We felt like exploring every corner of Zanzibar while planning our second trip. We considered two things to choose the way of getting around: It had to be both cost-effective and fast since we had only eight days. Even though self driving in Zanzibar is not a conventional way, we finally decided to rent a car.

To see how to get around Zanzibar in detail, please check The Ultimate Travel Guide for Zanzibar.

SELF DRIVING IN ZANZIBAR

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Required Documents for Driving in Zanzibar

International driving licenses are not valid in Zanzibar. Tourists about to hire a vehicle must obtain a temporary Driving Permit, as shown in the picture below.

How to Get Zanzibar Driving Permit?

Most of the car rental companies prepare the documentation on behalf of you and deliver your driving permit. The only thing you need to do is to show your passport and driving license from your home country. 

If you make your reservation and share the copy of these documents in advance, you may get your driving permit while receiving the rental car.

The driving permit costs $10. The hiring company may prepare it for free of charge, as a gesture in case you rent for more than a couple of days

It would be best if you carry both your Zanzibar driving permit, original driving license from home country and your passport with you while driving.

Driving Permit in Zanzibar is required for scooter riders, too.

Zanzibar Tanzania temporary driving permit for tourits
Temporary driving permit

Checkpoints, Corruption and Bribery in Zanzibar

We were worried sick about traffic police checkpoints and bribes since corruption was widespread throughout the countries in southern Africa. Although Zanzibarian authorities effectively fight against bribery, as I heard there were still some corrupt cups, especially around Stone Town.

Despite confronting with dozens of checkpoints, luckily we were stopped by just two times throughout our journey. The policemen were all kind and friendly towards us. At one time they checked the driving permit, and the other time they just chatted.

However, it would help if you still got prepared for corruption. What a corrupt cup can do is to pull over your car, allege that there is something wrong with the vehicle according to traffic rules, and ask your money not to punish you.

How to Avoid Bribery in Zanzibar?

  • Locals advised us these simple things below to avoid bribery:
    • Always carry your Zanzibar driving permit and your driving license with you,
    • Do not go over the speed limit which is 50 km/h on many roads,
    • Hire your vehicle from a trusted rental company and check if the routine vehicle maintenance is up-to-date. (There must be a sticker on the front glass showing the date)
    • Always fasten your seatbelt.

These are the main things that traffic polices check when pulling over the tourist. If you are sure of obeying these rules, do not accept any punishment and paying for the bribe, too. If the cup insists on the punishment or threatens you, ask his identification number and contact your hire company, as well.

What is more, not showing your fancy smartphones, not carrying a large amount of cash, and greeting policemen with a smiling face shouting “Jamboo” will help.

  • In addition to the above rules, if you’re willing to hire a scooter or motorbike, what you should know is:
    • Wearing a helmet is mandatory.
    • Local motorbikers on the beach might deceive you into thinking it is allowed, but riding a motorcycle or scooter on the beach is strictly prohibited. 
Zanzibar Stone Town roads, parking lots, bicyclists, pedestrians

Traffic and Road Condition in Zanzibar

The most vital thing to be aware of before rent a car is that they drive on the left in Zanzibar. In other words, the steering wheel is on the right.

If you’re not used to driving on the left, or you’ve never tried before, think twice before hiring a car in Zanzibar. But why?

I found the traffic much too hectic to drive around Stone Town. The roads outside of the city centre allow two-way traffic, and many of lanes are too narrow for two cars to pass each other; road markings like solid lines do not exist. 

Some locals, especially Dala Dala conductors, drive so fast along those narrow country lanes. Approaching the leftmost side to escape from crazy drivers has a risk of falling from the edge of the road.

Roads are not in perfect condition – there are countless potholes on side roads. You probably need to drive up a narrow dirt road to your hotel.

Although locals scandalously go fast, the speed limit is 50 km/h on many roads. As a result, it takes around 1,5 hours to travel between main points.

Any road signs or traffic lights don’t exist.

You may confront with the cars signalling right on a straight road. It’s not a turning or changing lane signal. There is a rule on the island that drivers should signal right to inform the following driver about the oncoming car. In other words, if you see an oncoming vehicle when there is a car behind you, signal right. 

Everywhere turns pitch-black after sunset since there are no lightings on the road. Besides, you can suddenly encounter with stray dogs, pedestrians in the middle of the road without the torch, or bicyclers swinging around. We only had to drive at night in Zanzibar, and we felt a bit stressful. That’s why I don’t recommend it.

The main roads on Zanzibar are very significant and straightforward, so you can easily move forward with a basic road map. I also suggest you download offline Google Maps, which is handy and works well except the Southern part of the island.

Self Driving in Zanzibar, rural road conditions
Zanzibarian take-away coffee

Why We Didn’t Prefer Renting a Scooter / Motorbike in Zanzibar

  • Rental companies offer mostly scooter rather than a motorbike, and the average daily rental fee is $30, which is nearly the same with car rental fees.
  • We made reservations for two hotels located in separate regions to explore different beaches. In the case of hiring a scooter, we couldn’t have taken our luggage when switching to the hotel, and we would have paid more for taxis.
  • We have tons of stuff to be carried with us during the day, such as plenty of water, sunscreen, towels, cameras, and more! Leaving the equipment on scooter seemed kind of insecure since there wasn’t enough space to lock them.
  • Renting a scooter for a couple of days could be enjoyable, but we assumed that riding from morning till evening for eight days wouldn’t be so comfortable and fun. 

As a result, we gave up the idea of renting a scooter in Zanzibar and decided to rent a car.


Advantages of Renting a Car in Zanzibar

  • Hiring a car is much more affordable than hiring a cup or getting around by taxi.
  • We arranged the activities with discounted prices by eliminating transportation costs since we could reach to the starting point in our car.

For example; Jozani Forest tour costs a minimum $40 pp including transportation between your hotel and the natural park. Instead of going with the tour operator, we directly headed to the natural park and paid just $10 pp.

  • We could easily update or completely change the itinerary according to the weather conditions or our own sweet will.
  • We visited almost every coast of the island and parked in mostly deserted beaches. We had the chance to leave our stuff behind in the car, safe and sound.
Driving in Zanzibar - break in front of coconut trees
Driving in Zanzibar - white sand deserted beaches

Our Driving Experience and Review 

Car rental companies usually provide old cars; most of them are equipped with 4×4. Daily rental prices start from $30 according to the size and age of the vehicle.

We hired a Toyota Rav with three doors from Kibabu Cars, costs $35 daily. I texted to the company via WhatsApp before our trip; they immediately turned back. We were requested to pay half of the total price beforehand by credit card, and the other half in cash at the time of delivery.

We informed Kibabu Cars about the arrival date and time at Zanzibar International Airport. One of the employees with cardboard showing our names on it welcomed us in the airport and delivered the rental car along with the driving permit. I can recommend the company since we didn’t face a major issue apart from the employee showing up late on delivery-back time.


You shouldn’t expect European standards in Zanzibar regarding driving and car rental:

  • You may receive your car as fuel tank filled up or empty. Our car was half-filled, and we were asked to deliver back as half-filled 🙂 
  • There are dozens of filling stations around the island, but they’re close between midnight and early morning.  
  • The price of 1-litre gas in Zanzibar is about 2400 THs ($1). You should pay in Tanzania shillings since USD is rarely accepted at filling stations.
  • Driving and finding a parking lot in Stone Town is a vital problem. When you visit there, you may leave your car at the paid parking area near Darajani Market – it just costs 1000 THs ($0,4). My recommendation is to avoid hiring a car for the days you stay in Stone Town.

Overall, self-driving in Zanzibar is an excellent way of getting around freely, and it’s completely safe. Despite negative sides, I suggest you rent a car if you’re in the mood for rambutan breaks, stopping by breath-taking photo points, or discovering village life intimately.

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Essential things to know about car rental and self driving in Zanzibar
Essential things to know about car rental and self driving in Zanzibar

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