How to arrange a trip to Zanzibar

The beautiful island of Unguja, better known as Zanzibar, is the main island, together with Pemba, of an archipelago located a few kilometres from the coast of Tanzania, in the south-western part of the African continent. It is one of the most popular destinations for sea lovers because it allows you to spend a holiday dedicated to total relaxation combined with interesting cultural excursions related to the island’s history.  Zanzibar is not only beaches and sea, but also an eclectic melting pot of cultures, customs and religions. The island’s small main town, called Zanzibar city, perfectly blends both Arab, Indian, African and European influences. Its oldest neighbourhood, known as Stone Town and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is a maze of narrow streets and alleys that will leave you speechless with its monuments, scents, sounds, and colours.

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Zanzibar, the beautiful beach in Nungwi

When to go to Zanzibar

The climate of the island of Zanzibar is typically equatorial and has two dry and two wet seasons. The best time to visit Zanzibar is from January to February, especially from June to early October, when the sky is mostly clear and the temperatures cooler and more pleasant. Between mid-October and December, and between late February and May with more intense values, the island is affected by the rainy season.

Visa requirements

Before booking the flight, you must check if you are entitled to a Visa exemption, a Visa on arrival or if you need to apply in person at the Tanzania Embassy/Consulate in your country.

Traveller health and safety

If you are wondering if the island of Zanzibar is safe, in general, the answer is yes. However, be careful and always use common sense, especially during your stay in  Zanzibar city, and avoid going out alone at night because petty theft or petty crime may occur. The island of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, so always respect local customs and traditions. Also, be very careful if you leave/reach the island by ferry from Dar Es Salam as episodes of petty crime in this big city are much more frequent.

As for the health situation, consider that malaria and dengue fever are also present on the island of Zanzibar. Try to protect yourself, especially at night, by applying a mosquito repellent containing at least 30% DEET and using long-sleeved clothing. Avoid drinking non-bottled water and eating uncooked foods to prevent intestinal upset. In case of need, it is always better to contact one of the private clinics that you will find in Stone Town, where the services are better than the public hospital.

Travel insurance: it’s always recommended to take out travel insurance during a trip, especially to cover the medical expenses because they could be very high. We always do our travel insurance with Worldnomad.com.

Important: check the Government’s official website or contact your Embassy in Tanzania for more information about safety and the health situation. It is always advisable to contact your local Center for Disease Prevention (or a specialized doctor) to find out in detail any vaccinations you need to visit Tanzania.

How to reach Zanzibar

The international airport of Zanzibar is the Abeid Amani Karume (ZNZ) which is located about 8 km from Stone Town and is well connected to several airports such as Dubai, Doha, Addis Ababa or Istanbul. If you are already in Tanzania, you can reach Zanzibar with a domestic flight from Kilimanjaro (Arusha) airport or Dar es Salam airport. The last option, the most inconvenient, is to reach Zanzibar by ferry from Dar es Salam’s port. You will find dozens and dozens of taxis outside the airport, while the port is located right in Stone Town, and you can also reach your accommodation in the city on foot.

Notice: As of 1 June 2019, plastic bags are banned for environmental reasons. Airline passengers will be asked to surrender plastic bags on arrival.

How to get around in Zanzibar

There are two ways to get around Zanzibar: taxi or Dala Dalas, the small public vans. Most taxis do not have a meter, so always negotiate the fare before leaving. The average cost of a ride to the beaches of Nungwi, Matemwe or Pajè from Stone Town is usually between USD 30 and USD 60. Avoid taking “illegal taxis” because we have heard of scams against tourists. Also, check your accommodation options, as many hotels and resorts have an airport shuttle. The Dala Dalas are obviously cheaper but very slow and crowded because they stop along the road to load as many people as possible. They have no information about the destination, so check with the driver.  Alternatively, you can easily reach your accommodation on the island by booking a private transfer with the Viator.com web platform, where local operators advertise their offers.

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Zanzibar, the old Stone Town Fort
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Zanzibar, vendors in Stone Town

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to sleep – the best Zanzibar beaches

Zanzibar offers a wide choice of accommodation and deciding which areas of the island to stay in is entirely up to you. All the most touristic areas offer long pristine beaches of fine white sand and a wonderful sea. After spending a day in Stone Town, the most beautiful beaches on the island are Kendwa, Nungwi and Pajè. Other less visited beaches are Matenwe, Kiwengwa, Bwejuu, Michanvi, Jambiani, Uroa, Kizimkazi. The coast of Zanzibar is affected by the tides’ phenomenon, and therefore, at certain times of the day, it won’t be easy to take a swim in the ocean. The north coast between Nungwi and Kendwa is the most popular and the best for swimming,  while the east coast is the least commercial and most authentic. The southern area is less touristy and has more coves than beaches (most are small private hotel beaches).

Suggested itinerary: first of all, we suggest spending at least a week in Zanzibar. During our stay, we stayed 2 days in Stone Town (day tour to Prison Island), then we moved to Kendwa, Nungwi, and the last days we reached Pajè and its long beach lined with palm trees and the coral reef 300 meters from the shore, in the south-east of the island. Pajè beach is wonderful, but it becomes almost impossible to take a swim at low tide.

Local food

In addition to the typical dishes based on fish and seafood, the cuisine of Zanzibar is a mix of East African, Indian and Arabic cuisine, and you will be definitely delighted. A must for street food lovers is the Stone Town Night Market, which takes place in Forodhani Park in the late evening. Our favourite local dishes are Pweza Wa Nazi (an octopus boiled in coconut milk to make a curry dish with cinnamon, cardamom, garlic and lime juice), grilled lobster and the yummy spice cake (a shortcrust pastry with a mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and chocolate). For cooking enthusiasts, “cooking classes” are also arranged in Stone Town, where you will learn how to cook typical local dishes.

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Zanzibar, the beach in Nungwi
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Zanzibar, the beach on the east coast

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local language and currency

The official language is Swahili, the most widely spoken language in Africa. English is widespread, especially in the tourism sector. The local currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSh), but many accommodations and tour operators require payments only in US dollars. Credit cards (especially Visa and Master Card) are accepted in many hotels and restaurants. You can change your currency at the airport at the Exchange Bureau or in Stone Town banks. It is also possible to withdraw cash from the various ATMs you will find in Stone Town (or at the airport). There are also an ATM in Pajè and one in Nungwi, but they have limited cash and may not work.

Wifi and local Simcard

Wifi is found in all hotels and many restaurants, but you can buy a local Sim card at the airport. Look for the Zantel stand, which has the best coverage on the island.

Activities in Zanzibar

Zanzibar offers a wide range of activities from boat tours, snorkelling and scuba diving to cultural tours and hiking.  Book your tour through the qualified tour operators or using the web platforms Viator.com and GetYourGuide.com, where the local operators themselves advertise tours and activities on the island. Be aware of the classic “street touts”, locally called “papasi”, which will undoubtedly approach you to offer you boat trips, tours, but also hotels. Among the many activities, the most interesting tours are Prison Island (where you will also see giant turtles), trekking in the Jozani forest, the Dhow tour at sunset, diving at Mnemba Atoll, boat tour to the sandbar of Pange and Nakupenda beach, and the spice tour.

 

Have you visited Zanzibar? Did you like it, and you want to share your experience or suggest more tips? Do you have any question?  Leave us a comment below!

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Zanzibar, the beautiful sunset on the west coast

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