The Ultimate Travel Guide for Zanzibar

Zanzibar sunset cruise dhow Nungwi

Zanzibar is one of the most mind-blowing destinations with its pristine white beaches surrounded by palm trees, jaw-dropping underwater world, giant turtles, the capital city reflecting the mixture of Arabic, Indian, African and European cultures, everlasting beach parties, and vibrant locals living beyond that world. Regardless of your travel type – backpacker or honeymooner, my Zanzibar Travel Guide with full of advice will suit you well.

ZANZIBAR TRAVEL GUIDE

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Ultimate Zanzibar Travel Guide white sand beach

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Things to Know Before Visiting Zanzibar

Local time: GMT +3

Plug Socket: Mostly 3-prong British type, but 2-prong European type can be found. You’d better bring a travel adaptor.

Capital: Stone Town

Country Code: +255

Religion: The majority of the population on the island is Muslim. People do not eat and drink between sunrise and sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. You are expected to be more respectful to the culture at this time, especially in Stone Town. Days of Eid are public holidays; therefore, some places are closed, and it can be hard to arrange a tour, etc. So, you should consider Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, and Eid al Adha while planning a trip.

Dress Code: You can get dress freely on coastal parts, but sunbathing topless for women is not commonly seen. Women should wear modest clothes in local areas not to draw attention. If you don’t want people staring at you, try to cover your upper knees and shoulders while wandering around Stone Town.

Woman standing in front of a big door Zanzibar Stone Town

How to Get to Zanzibar?

Zanzibar can be reached by only two ways of transportation – ferry from Dar es Salaam or direct flight to the island. We had the chance to experience both ways. So unless you combine your vacation with an overland safari tour in Tanzania, I strongly recommend you to prefer direct flight.

Getting to Zanzibar by Plane

There is a tiny international airport located in Zanzibar. After a safari trip, the most preferred flights are from Arusha (Tanzania), Nairobi or Mombasa (Kenya), and Johannesburg (South Africa).

If you’re just planning to find peace on the beaches of Zanzibar rather than an adventurous trip, you can even find direct flights from your home country. Don’t forget to check out Flydubai, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines for cheap flight options.

Getting to Zanzibar by Ferry

There are two companies operating ferry daily from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar and vice versa – Azam Marine and Zanzibar Fast Ferries. The cost is $35 for standard and $50 for VIP. Even though tickets are available at ferry terminals, you’d better book online or through a trustful agent in advance.

Ferry nearly takes two hours and can be overcrowded – in other words, if you don’t move rapidly enough, you are not able to find a suitable free seat inside. I hope things have changed, but we spotted people sprawling on the floor during our trip. To avoid this kind of situation, and of course, for more comfortable travel, you can choose the VIP section with AC.

Before booking your ticket, please keep in mind that the ferry is not as safe as the plane because of frequent pickpocketing and lousy reputation of accidents.

  • Take only airport taxis or hotel taxis in case you need it in Dar es Salaam.
  • Around the ferry terminal, do not give anybody your luggage to be borne.
  • Do not carry a lot of cash on you.
  • Do not fall asleep on the ferry.
  • Do not use/show your brand-new smartphone and wallet in public.
Zanzibar blue ocean water dhow fast ferry

How to Obtain a Visa for Zanzibar?

Before head off, you should find out Tanzania visa requirements according to your passport or nationality.

Many national passports grant visa on arrival, but you’d better check the updated situation. An online e-visa system is also available. Visa fees may vary, but generally, single entry costs $50; multiple entries cost $100.

Arrival by plane: If you plan to obtain a visa on arrival, don’t forget to bring your pen to fill out the application form and be prepared to pay the visa fee by cash or by credit card.

Arrival by Ferry: Getting to Zanzibar by ferry means that you’ve already got Tanzania visa, and you don’t need to obtain for the new one. However, you should go through a passport check upon arrival.

Zanzibar travel guide windy sunset palm trees and white sand beach

Best Time to Visit Zanzibar

July-August-September: Despite being wintertime, these months are the high season for Zanzibar due to low rainfall. Especially August is the least wet month.

December-January-February: Another high season. These months are quite hot and relatively dry. The temperature can reach 35 degrees. It is preferred by the tourist seeking warm alternatives during New Year celebrations.

October-November: Scattered rain may commonly occur during these months. The temperature may reach 30 degrees, and humidity is high. You can prefer to plan a trip at this time of the year, but having sunny days depends on luck.

March-April-May-Mid June: Monsoon strikes the island on these months. I advise you not to travel this season unless you are enthusiastic about sticking in a hotel room.

Regardless of the season, there is always the chance of rain in Zanzibar due to the tropical climate.

Check out my Zanzibar travel vlog below. (Turn on the subtitles for English)

Language in Zanzibar

The primary language in Zanzibar is the variety of Swahili, but English is widely spoken. You don’t have any communication problems in tourist areas. Using a couple of Swahili words make Zanzibarians more than happy, too.

Zanzibar local villager wearing traditional dress

Here are some Swahili phrases you might want to use:

Jambo / Salama = Hello!

Karibu = You’re welcome!

Poli poli = Slowly slowly

Ahsante sana = Thank you so much!

Sawa = OK

Hakuna matata! = No worries!

Currency

The local currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian shilling (TSh or TZS).

1 US dollar is equivalent to about 2316 Tanzanian shilling by the end of June 2020.

US dollar is widely accepted on the island except for the gas station and local shops like the pharmacy. All prices for hotels and tours quoted in dollars, though. There are some other places, like restaurants or shops, accepting both shilling and the US dollar, but it’s calculated as 1 dollar is equal to 2000 shilling. So making the payment in shilling is always more profitable.

What is the best currency to take to Zanzibar? Although the Euro’s and British pounds can be changed, the best currency to use is the US dollar. Make sure to bring banknotes printed after 2013. Otherwise, they can’t be accepted.

Many exchange bureaus are shut down in Zanzibar by the government so far. So the essential ways to exchange money are to use exchange bureaus located in the airport, ATMs machines, or local banks in Stone Town.

ATMs and Credit Card

If I were you, I wouldn’t trust ATMs in Africa regarding money – your card can be stuck in the machine or can’t be accepted for no reason, the machine can be out of cash, or you can pay multiple fees to banks. If you still insist on using them, please keep in mind that:

  • There are a couple of ATMs in the center of Stone Town, but I’ve never seen one in other places.
  • There must be Visa or Mastercard logo on your card to be utilized.

Some hotels, restaurants, and agencies accept payment by credit card, but 5% surcharges are applied. So cash is the king in Zanzibar!

Zanzibar travel guide remote tropical beach

Wi-Fi and SIM Card

Even though almost whole hotels and restaurants by the beach offer free Wi-Fi in Zanzibar, it doesn’t mean it’s always available 🙂 You shouldn’t trust the free Wi-Fi choice since the signal can be extremely poor. Mchanga Beach Resort was the only place that the Wi-Fi service was working well. For this reason, you’d better get a local SIM Card to stay connected.

Zantel is one of the network providers in Tanzania and has the best coverage on the island- surprisingly, we were online even on a remote sandbank! What is more, to top-up is as easy as pie since there are hundreds of stores with Zantel branding where you can purchase credit.

We purchased a pre-paid SIM Card, including a 12 GB data bundle from the shop located in the airport, by paying 40.000 TSh ($20). The barman working in Paradise Lost Hotel was of great assistance to us in activating the SIM Card and let us know that the real price of SIM Card was 12.000 TSh ($6) J

So, my suggestion is to purchase the SIM Card from local stores in Stone Town rather than from the airport. Plus, please note that as all directions are in Swahili, you’ll need help to activate the SIM Card. To avoid being scammed, you shouldn’t trust anybody on the street.

Getting Around Zanzibar

Dala Dala

Dala Dala is a kind of minibus from the front view, truck from the back view. It is the only public transportation on the island and undoubtedly the most affordable way to get around – One-way costs between 300-2000 THs ($0.15-$1) depending on the distance. Unless you have big luggage, you pay as the same with locals. Some conductors may request higher prices for the reason of being tourists, though.

Dala Dala must be the most overcrowded and slowest public transportation ever! The central hub is in Stone Town, but they don’t have a regular schedule- a Dala Dala takes off when it’s full. A journey between main beaches takes around 1.5 hours because it constantly stops on the way.

If you have enough time and plan a budget trip, taking Dala Dala can be an option. Otherwise, it might be torture rather than an adventure.

Taxi – Private Cab

Catching a taxi for the entire holiday is not cost-effective in Zanzibar.  You find yourself in a situation of bargaining all the time since taximeter is not used. Plus, drivers are not safe all the time.

Instead, you can either arrange a private cab beforehand or negotiate with a trustful driver for your whole trip. This way is more affordable and time effective if you find a cab who can take you around as a guide.

I did a detailed search for a good driver before I decided to rent a car. Here are some names from Tripadvisor and my friends:

  • Fadhil / +255 777 879 107 (He was recommended by my husband’s manager and one of my close friend)
  • Mohamed Ally / +255 777 418 147 – mbuyi83@yahoo.com
  • Tibu / +255 773 107 778
  • Ased / +255 655 846 082

As of 2019, Oyaa.africa is active in Zanzibar as a taxi application like Uber. Bearing in mind, it requires a local line, and you may consider taking advantage of this alternative, as well.

Zanzibar travel guide road Kizimkazi cafe

Rent a Scooter or a Car

If you want to explore every corner of Zanzibar and move freely, the best way to get around is by renting a scooter or a car.

There were two main reasons behind why we preferred renting a car rather than a scooter- We had too much stuff to carry in the daytime, and daily rental fees for scooters were nearly the same as the car’s.

I’ll share a detailed post regarding tips for renting a car in Zanzibar. In a nutshell, driving is on the left, like the UK or Australia. Traffic in Stone Town is challenging and tiresome during weekends. You should watch out for the bribery among Policemen. Prices start from $30 for daily rentals.

Please check Things to Know About Driving in Zanzibar to read in details.

Tour Operators

Several operators offer daily tours for attraction centers on the island. You can arrange them online in advance or via your hotel after arrival. If you choose the alternatives including transportation, the tour company takes you from where you accommodate and drop you back at the end of the day. It is more costly, but the wise decision for the ones who don’t have enough time to make a plan, and prefer luxury travel.

Shuttle Buses

You can use shuttle buses for going from the airport to central locations or moving between main beaches.

Tide Effect – Where to Swim in Zanzibar?

The sea level rises and regularly subsides in Zanzibar, and these movements repeat twice a day. The tidal change affects all coasts of the island.

The northern coast, where Kendwa and Nungwi are located, is the least affected side. The tides go out a few meters during low tide; the water is, therefore, deep enough to swim all day.

Zanzibar tidal change on southern coast Kizimkazi

Tidal change is highly noticeable in the east, south, and west coast. The ocean can go out almost 2 km. It means you cannot do anything related to the sea but walk on the sand. If you choose accommodation from effected beaches, you should check the tide schedule because it changes every day.

Vaccination and Health Precautions for Zanzibar

Yellow fever vaccination is not mandatory for Zanzibar unless you’re coming from an infected country like Kenya or Ethiopia. If you existed one of this countries within one year or you fly from there, you are required to show your yellow fever vaccination certificate upon arrival.

Do I need malaria tablets for Zanzibar?  Zanzibar is not a malaria-free island, but cases are deficient. So, taking anti-malaria tables depends on you. We just used the mosquito repellent containing DEET, slept under a mosquito net, and wore long-sleeve clothes after sunset for prevention.

Sunlight is extremely powerful in the white beaches of Zanzibar, especially during a windy day. Don’t miss to get protected by lotions.

I recommend you to avoid eating street foods if you are sensitive. Try to eat meat and seafood in crowded and more preferred places. Consume only bottled water.

Travel insurance is essential for Zanzibar. You shouldn’t miss that.

Zanzibar travel guide jambiani beach

Safety Precautions for Zanzibar

Even though Zanzibar is pretty safe to travel and move around, there are some robbery cases to watch out.

As I mentioned before, do not carry a lot of cash on you. I recommend not looking like a rich. In other words, do not put on pricey accessories or wear fancy shoes.  

Try to book a hotel with a locker if possible.  Leave your passport and valuables in the hotel room safely when you go out.

All beaches are public in Zanzibar. So, everybody can reach and walk around. Do not leave your bag and other valuable stuff unattended on the beach and go swimming.

Extortion is not common, but it sometimes happens between Kendwa and Nungwi, and Paje. Do not carry anything valuable or eye-catching like a camera during your night walk.

There are some guys, known as beach boys, trying to arrange tours or scooters. You cannot imagine how persistent they are! If you ever think of purchasing anything, do not forget to negotiate for the price and never pay before take-off.

Please keep in mind that some policemen can be corrupted; they cooperate with the dealers selling weed in touristic beaches.

Watch out for the palm trees. Coconut may fall from the tree and strike you.

Zanzibar sand bank blue safari lunch with fresh fish

Shopping in Zanzibar

Are you one of those travelers who don’t go back home without a traditional gift? If you asked about what to buy from Zanzibar, my first answer would be spice. You can find a plethora of spices, including vanilla sticks, nutmeg, cinnamon, curry, etc. in Darajani Market, Stone Town.

Coffee beans produced in Tanzania are also available in Zanzibar. My favorite is Zanzibar Coffee House, but you can buy it from Puzzle Café as well.

In Stone Town, there are dozens of souvenir shops on Gzenda (Khanga) Street. You can find handcrafted wooden animals, traditional sarongs, bags, handmade leather sandals, and so on. I recommend buying handmade jewelry from Maasais walking around the beaches.

Zanzibar shopping spice Darajani market stone town

Wrapping up

I’ve been blogging for about three years, but Zanzibar Travel Guide my very first post written in English. I wanted to pick up a location for my first guide, where we adore most – I can’t be somewhere other than Zanzibar.

You can leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions. Other articles regarding the Zanzibar trip are on the way!

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