Zanzibar, Tanzania Destination Guide
A cluster of islands nestled in the Indian Ocean just off the east coast of Tanzania, East Africa.
The two principal islands in the group are Unguja, also known as Zanzibar Island (just to confuse you further) and Pemba.
Smaller islands are scattered around these, which range from mere sandbanks to those with their own ethnic grouping and a fierce sense of identity.
Why do the wrong people travel, travel, travel,
When the right people stay back home?
What compulsion compels them
And who the hell tells them
To drag their cans to Zanzibar
Instead of staying quietly in Omaha?
So sang Noel Coward back in the 1930s, and today those of us who enjoy — and sometimes even suffer from — a compulsion to travel, can still get a thrill from a name as far-fetched and far away as Zanzibar.
A cliché might be, but Zanzibar is one of those words, like Casablanca or Timbuktu, that conjures up adventure, remoteness, and excitement in the minds of most Westerners.
The kind of name that figured in your dreams when you first decided that traveling was in your blood. Despite its legendary status, however, many people are in the dark about Zanzibar’s actual position on the map.
One of my friends, on being informed of my proposed destination, even said, “Zanzibar? Is that a real place?”
It is, indeed.
And Zanzibar really does have something for everyone. If your idea of heaven is to lie on the most perfect of perfect beaches, undisturbed by anything more than the occasional hermit crab, you’ll find tiny, abandoned coves where you can forget the rest of the world exists, and stir only to flop into the bath-warm sea.
But if lying immobile on the beach fills you with horror and your burning desire is for colorful local traditions, crumbling picturesque ruins and dim, fascinating markets, Zanzibar has all this in spades, too.
And if like most of us, you’d prefer a bit of both, the small size of the islands and proliferation of places to stay in all price ranges makes Zanzibar the ideal destination for touring.
For watersports enthusiasts, the coral reefs and open sea between Zanzibar and Pemba are justly famous for the quality of their snorkeling, diving and big game fishing.
Most accounts of Zanzibar in travel literature and fiction begin with a description of the port of Stone Town, the island’s capital, from the sea.
It’s certainly an unforgettable sight, and one likely to make even the most hard-nosed, jaded traveler “ooh and ahh” with excitement. Minarets and graceful, curved towers rise above the turquoise waters, the smell of cloves wafts on the breeze, and Arab dhows with sails the shape of the crescent moon bob gently in the harbor.
However you arrive, you’ll end up in one of two places eventually — the narrow, winding streets of Stone Town’s old quarter, or the glittering beaches of the coast.
Everything will seem a little strange, a little disturbing, and very, very exotic. But the Swahili people of Zanzibar have been welcoming strangers to their country since the first Phoenician ships blew into the harbor on the northwest monsoon of 600BC, or thereabouts.
They’ve seen Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese, American, and British ships anchor offshore in the centuries since, so not much can faze them.
Ancient visitors to the island came to trade — gold, silks, ivory, spices, animal skins, and, most notoriously, slaves. But many stayed, intermarrying with the locals to form a culture that’s uniquely diverse, and producing a race of people who regard hospitality to strangers as a sacred duty.
The word you’ll hear first, and most frequently throughout your stay, is Karibu (welcome in Swahili). And astonishingly, considering a colorful history of conquest, slavery, and revolution, they mean it.
So even if a whiff of drainage mixes occasionally with the aroma of spices, or exhaust fumes sometimes taint the sea breeze (this is, after all, Africa), you’ll leave with the Zanzibar of your imaginings still intact in your mind.
But go soon. Zanzibar is waking up to its potential as a tourist destination, and planning permission has been sought by a number of international organizations for large-scale tourist developments in some the most picturesque and unspoiled places on the islands.
Charter flights already fly in almost daily from Milan, bringing planeloads of tourists who board coaches for all-inclusive resort hotels on the east coast, not to be seen again until the day they depart.
The danger signs are there, but for the most part Zanzibar today is still a relatively off-the-beaten-track destination where alternative travelers can find natural beauty and an intact culture.
Zanzibar is a year-round destination. The coolest months are June through October when the temperature averages
26 degrees Celsius.
This can soar to over 30 degrees (90F) in the hot season from December to May. During November (the “short rains”) and between April and June (the “long rains”), rainfall is higher, but rain in Zanzibar takes the form of a short, sharp shower in the morning or afternoon, followed by the return of the sunshine.
The high season is June, July, and August, and mid-November to early January. During these periods many of the more upmarket hotels may increase their prices, but smaller establishments and local guesthouses keep their prices constant throughout the year.
Zanzibar’s predominantly Muslim population observes the fast of Ramadan for a month every year, during which believers are forbidden to eat, drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset. As a result, many smaller restaurants and snack bars are closed during the day.
Many offices and shops are also closed in the afternoons. Tourist resorts and hotels are unaffected, but local discos, clubs and musical shows remain closed throughout the whole period.
The date of Ramadan is decided by the lunar calendar, and the fasting periods begins 11 days earlier every year.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Frequent ferries –11 at the last count — make the crossing between the port of Dar-es-Salaam, on the Tanzanian mainland, and Zanzibar. The fastest journey time is around 75 minutes on the hydrofoils operated by Sea Express; the slowest is the overnight trip made by the Flying Horse passenger ship.
Fares on the faster services average around $40 for non-residents. Ferry tickets can be bought on the spot or in
advance from the row of booking offices next to the port in Dar-es-Salaam. Non-residents must pay in US dollars rather than Tanzanian Shillings. Timetables and prices are displayed on boards outside each office.
The MS Sepideh ferry runs once a week from Mombasa, Kenya, and Tanga, Tanzania to Unguja and Pemba. Fares are around $40. Further details of this and the services between Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar are available on the website of Mega Speed Liners.
There are no direct flights from the USA to Zanzibar. KLM, Kenya Airways, and North West Airlines offer fares to Zanzibar from a range of East, Central, and West USA cities, from between $1200 to $4000 depending on the season. Stopovers are in Nairobi or Amsterdam, then Dar-es-Salaam.
As flights from Europe — and especially London — to East Africa are among the cheapest around, you may be better off buying two tickets — a cheap fare to London or Milan, then a separate scheduled or charter ticket on to Zanzibar.
From Europe, the principal carriers to Zanzibar include KLM (stopping over at Nairobi and/or Mombasa), Gulf Air (changing planes at Muscat or Abu Dhabi), and Ethiopian Airlines (stopping in Addis Ababa). Numerous airlines including British Airways and KLM fly to Dar-es-Salaam, from where you can catch a ferry to Zanzibar.
Charter flights from Europe, especially
Italy, fly into Zanzibar almost daily, and some holiday companies, such as Kuoni, may sell “seat-only” deals on these.
If your air ticket takes you only as far as Dar-es-Salaam and you’re in a hurry to get to Zanzibar, Precision Air (Tel:+255 (0) 22 2191000) and Coastal Travel (+255 785 500 004). Both provide scheduled charter flights in small twin-engine aircraft. The flight costs $60 plus $25 tax and takes around 20 minutes.
Travel between Unguja and Pemba
For a look at one of the many other faces of these multi-talented islands, grab a scheduled charter flight across from the mainland. Your little twin-engine plane will swoop low over the white flecks of waves, flash past white beaches and spice plantations before bumping onto a tiny runway fringed with palm trees, in front of a low, white building with children waving frantically from its roof.
You’ll feel like a character in a Graham Greene novel. Or, indeed, a Noel Coward song.
Zan Air, a local charter company, runs a scheduled service between Unguja and the town of Chake Chake on Pemba three times a week. A single fare is $80.
The MS Sepideh, run by Mega Speed Liners, runs a service five times a week between Unguja and the port of Mkoani, at the southern end of Pemba island. The single fare is $30 for a three-hour journey.
Unguja and Pemba are small islands, and thanks to a wealth of transport and (relatively) good roads, traveling around them is quite easy. The options on Unguja include renting a vehicle yourself, be it a car, jeep or motorcycle. Renting is cheap (around US$50 a day) and easy, provided you have an International Driving Permit — these are checked frequently by police, so don’t be tempted to chance it.
Drive with extra care, especially if you’ve rented a motorbike — traffic on Zanzibar is chaotic and accidents are frequent.
Cars with driver are also available. In addition, a plethora of tour companies and freelance “guides” offer group transport to and from the coast and arrange trips to other areas of interest on Unguja and Pemba.
Prices, reliability and condition of their vehicles vary so if you’re concerned, use a reputable tour company such as Zan Tours (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Fisherman Tours (email@example.com).
For those on a tight budget, or for shorter distances, dala-dalas (trucks converted into passenger vehicles) and local buses run all over the island, with fares starting from just a few shillings. They congregate in the Creek Road area of Stone Town — just turn up there and inquire as to the right route for your chosen destination.
Bear in mind, however, that this form of transport will be significantly slower and less comfortable than a minibus, and that accidents involving buses and dala-dalas are frequent.
Zanzibar, and especially Unguja, is an ideal place to explore by mountain bike due to its flat terrain. Reasonable quality mountain bikes can be rented from several of the tour companies in Stone Town.
Chumbe Island Coral Park
6 kilometers south of Stone Town, surrounded by a pristine coral reef, Chumbe Island is one of the world’s newest and most successful eco-tourism projects. In 1994, the reef surrounding Chumbe Island was made Tanzania’s first Marine National Park. The island itself, covered with lush mangrove forest, is a designated forest reserve
Chumbe Island Coral Park won the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award in 1999, in recognition of seven years’ conservation work carried out in co-operation with local fishermen, now retrained as marine wardens. Chumbe Island contains a lighthouse, built by the British in 1904 and still operational, a ruined Mosque, and the lighthouse keeper’s house, now converted into a spectacular education center and restaurant.
Visitors can come for the day to snorkel over the incredible coral reef, which contains over 90% of all coral species ever recorded in East Africa. The reef, declared the “world’s best shallow-water coral reef” by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, is home to over 370 species of fish, turtles, and dolphins.
Guided Walks in the Forest
Guided walks are also available through the island’s coral rag forest, interspersed with tidal pools and huge baobab trees, which supports a unique flora and wildlife population including the rare — and enormous — coconut crab.
All profits from tourism on Chumbe Island are re-invested into the conservation and education programs operating in the Park, and the island is staffed and managed by local Zanzibaris from the fishing community, with voluntary support from overseas experts. Day visits are $70.
Stone Town Zanzibar’s Narrow Streets
Stone Town No one single attraction can beat an afternoon strolling through the narrow streets and winding alleys of ancient Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. You’ll get lost — everybody does — but don’t worry, you’ll emerge from the cool, shady lanes into the blinding sunlight of the seafront eventually.
Until then, you’ll find something of interest around every corner — an Arab archway leading into a white-walled square, with the sound of prayer coming from behind the walls of a mosque.
Or perhaps you’ll stumble upon the Darajani market, with symmetrical piles of oranges, baskets of spices, and enormous chunks of fresh fish arranged under palm-thatch shelters.
Ladies will glide past, shrouded in black Islamic headdresses. Old, long-bearded men in white skull caps will look up from their games of Bao or dominoes to greet you gravely as you pass, and small children will take your hand and invite you to join their games in the overgrown remains of Indian townhouses.
Remember to keep looking up: below a blue strip of sky, ornate shutters are thrown open and neighbors lean across the narrow gap between their homes to swap gossip and jokes, hang out the washing, or just watch the world go by below.
Look out for Arabic coffee sellers, strolling along the streets with their charcoal braziers and bronze pots hanging from a yoke across their shoulders. Or porters maneuvering wheelbarrows almost as wide as the alleyways they’re passing through, shouting “hodi, hodi” (Let me pass!).
Stone Town Seafront Comes Alive
As evening falls, the seafront comes alive with stalls selling fried fish and chicken on skewers, hurricane lamps illuminating piles of squid and octopus, and mounds of chips. Sugar cane is pressed through an antique mangle and funneled into glasses — cool, sweet, and instantly refreshing.
Small boys strip naked and leap off the sea wall into the oily sea, turning pink as the last rays of the sun fade and the muezzin begins his wailing call to evening prayer.
As well as the magic of the streets, Stone Town does have certain historical buildings that are worth a look. The Palace Museum and the Old Fort on the seafront both house collections of furniture and clothing from the days of the Sultans and the Palace Museum has a room dedicated to Princess Salme, daughter of Sultan Said, who eloped with a German businessman in the 19th century.
The Anglican cathedral, built on the site of the old slave market, has a crucifix made from the tree under which the explorer David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Nearby are the underground chambers in which slaves were kept, forced to crouch on stone shelves less than two feet high.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Most of the attractions in Zanzibar are hardly run-of-the-mill, but for a decidedly offbeat evening, dine in Camlur’s Indian Restaurant, which enjoys the dubious privilege of inhabiting the building where Freddie Mercury, of the seminal rock group “Queen,” was born.
Freddie (real name: Farouk Bulsara) was born in 1946 to Persian immigrant parents. His father worked for the government in the House of Wonders on the seafront, and the family moved to England when Freddie was 18, after the revolution that overthrew the Sultanate government in 1964.
If “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “We Will Rock You” are important parts of your musical memories, and you mourned Mercury’s untimely death from AIDS, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to pay homage to one of rock’s most unusual and influential — though short-lived — stars.
Despite being a slightly predictable thing to do on Zanzibar, a spice tour is probably the best way of seeing the countryside around Stone Town and meeting rural communities. Any guide or tour company can arrange a spice tour for you, with one of the best known being Mr Mitu’s: ( +255 773 167 620).
Guides will take you on a walking tour of the spice farms at Kizimbani or Kindichi, picking bunches of leaves, fruit, and twigs from bushes and inviting you to smell or taste them to guess what they are.
Pretty much all the ingredients of the average kitchen spice rack are represented — cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilies, black pepper, nutmeg, and vanilla: the list goes on and on. Local children follow you all the way around, making baskets of palm leaves and filling them with flowers to give to you.
At lunchtime, you’ll stop in a local house for a meal of spiced pilau rice and curry, followed by sweet Arabic coffee and lemongrass cake.
Many spice tours include a visit to the Persian baths built by Sultan Said for his harem, and stop at Fuji beach just outside Stone Town for a swim on the way back. The average price for a spice tour is $15, including lunch.
Taasisi – The Institute of Kiswahili and Foreign Languages
The Institute offers courses in Kiswahili of all lengths. Longer courses involve a homestay. Contact the Institute at PO Box 882, Zanzibar, Tanzania., Tel: + 255-24-2230724/2233337.
Alternatively, leave the better-known island of Unguja behind and set sail for Pemba, smaller than its neighbor, lusher, and hillier. Scarcely any tourists come here, and the beaches are unspoiled and otherworldly. At night, the wind that whispers through the clove plantations that cover most of Pemba might bring the sound of distant drumming.
But don’t be tempted to set off toward the noise. In the 1930s Pemba was famous the world over for the power of its sorcerers and magicians, with devotees of the black arts coming from as far away as Haiti to be initiated into the rites of Pemban witchdoctors.
By all accounts, Pemba is still a center of witchcraft today, but visitors will be unlikely to see any hint of the occult.
Instead, you can float across spectacular coral reefs, laze on those untouched beaches and explore the winding hills and dense vegetation of the interior.
The tiny number of visitors to Pemba every year means that the island has little in the way of tourist infrastructure, which for alternative travelers, is the main attraction.
Small guesthouses are dotted around the island, and a couple of upmarket diving hotels have recently opened.
Visitors may be surprised to find that bullfighting is a popular local sport, supposedly imported by Portuguese invaders in the 17th century. The Pemban version, however, simply involves testing the skill of the bull in a series of
bold moves by the matador, after which the bull is loaded with flowers and praise, and paraded around the village.
Misali Island, to the west of Pemba, is reputed to have been used as a hideout by the notorious pirate Captain Kidd,
who is even said to have buried treasure here. Today, a conservation program has been established, and visitors can come for the day, snorkel off the beach and walk in the forest.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
Fuji Beach, just to the north of Stone Town, is where the beach boys come after a hard day selling wooden giraffes to shimmy down to the wailing strains of Taarab music. Taarab is one of Zanzibar’s proudest cultural achievements: a unique musical style that fuses Arabic and Indian-style vocals, sung in Swahili, with African percussion.
Taarab dances usually involve a slow, shuffling conga, with dancers waving banknotes above their heads as a symbol of their families’ wealth and prestige.
Fuji Beach Disco is a mass of sweating, mostly male bodies, swaying to Taarab and, after midnight, throwing themselves around in enthusiastic imitations of Tupac Shakur or Snoop Doggy Dogg.
The DJ’s mixing skills are not all that developed, leading some hilarious segues between stately Taarab melodies and hardcore rap.
When the dance floor gets too hot, you can run down the steps and lie on the beach, gazing at the stars and the palm trees as the bass throbs up through the sand.
Fuji Beach Disco is in the village of Bububu and happens every Friday and Saturday night. Dala-dalas on route B from town run past the entrance. Ask to be dropped off at Fuji Beach. The entry fee is 500 shillings — about 70 cents.
If you’d like to hear some live Taarab, the Culture Musical Club, on Vuga Road, has rehearsals several times a week at around 7 pm. You can listen in for around $1.
Stone Town has a plethora of inexpensive guesthouses and backpacker establishments, none of which differ much
from the others. Some of the better known are Malindi Guesthouse, near the port, Haven Hotel, off Vuga Road, and the Flamingo Guesthouse, on Mkunazini Road. The going rate is $14 dollars for a room with fans, mosquito nets, and a shared bathroom.
At the other end of the spectrum:
A famously decadent establishment dripping with stone Persian baths, four-poster beds, and draped silk hangings.
Out of Stone Town, the two main accommodation centers are the Ras Nungwi peninsular in the north and the beaches of the east coast. If your time is limited, it can be hard to decide which to choose.
In a nutshell, the beaches at Nungwi are slightly more pristine and picture-postcard perfect, but the village is more built up, with several guesthouses built close together and some quite raucous restaurants and bars.
Old favorites here are the Amaan Beach Bungalows and Paradise Beach Club. Pretty basic double rooms in this sort of establishment cost roughly the same as Stone Town.
Further up the beach, and slightly quieter, is Kendwa Rocks, which has bungalows on the seashore and a small bar.
The grandest option at Nungwi is Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel, which in 2020 is closed due to a fire in an adjacent building.
Replete with individual bungalows, a huge, colonial-style dining room, and a horizon swimming pool. Rooms start at $150 full board.
The east coast villages of Bwejuu, Paje, and Jambiani are less developed, with wilder and more “lived-in” beaches, used as thoroughfares, barbershops, shopping centers, and pick-up joints by the locals, who are less wary of tourists than those in Nungwi.
Several small guesthouses and hotels are strung along this part of the coast, with notables including Coral Rock Hotel at Jambiani, picturesquely built on cliffs, and the oddly titled Paje By Night at Paje. Prices are the same as Nungwi.
The east coast has a rash of Italian all-inclusive resort hotels complete with pool aerobics and pedalos. But if you’d
like a bit of luxury without having to play deck games every night, try:
A tasteful arrangement of bandas scattered among the palm trees with its own dive center. Room rates here are around $100 a night.
On Chumbe Island, stay the night in one of the seven “eco-bandas” that nestles in the forest.
Tel: +255 24 2231040
Each banda is a two-story, private cottage constructed out of local materials and decorated with shells, driftwood, and colorful local fabrics. Water and energy on Chumbwe are self-sustaining and provided by nature: the roofs of the bandas and the education center have been designed to catch and filter rainwater, which is then heated by solar power.
Beds are high in the palm-thatch roof, with a personal air-conditioning system that involves raising and lowering the front wall of the bedroom like a portcullis! Rates, including full board and snorkeling equipment, start from $150 per person in low season, rising to $200 in high season.
On Pemba, the capital Chake Chake has a new and increasingly popular backpackers’ joint, the Swahili Divers Guesthouse. Here you can hire mountain bikes, arrange diving and snorkeling trips or rent cars to explore the rest of the island. It also has a nice café.
Also recommended are Jondeni Guesthouse at Mkoani on the southern tip of Pemba and the government-run Wete Hotel at Wete. Prices on Pemba are slightly higher than Unguja — around $15 for a room with shared bathroom, fans and mosquito nets.
Accommodation in safari-style tents, a fully equipped dive center, and will set you back $190 a night
Manta Reef Lodge on the Ngezi Peninsula, Pemba Island.
A dedicated diving hotel, it used to be open only from August to March, but now is open year-round. Prices range from $275-570 a person full board.
The seafront fish market at Forodhani Gardens, in the middle of Stone Town, is THE place to come for fresh, inexpensive seafood.
Skewers of kingfish, prawn, and tuna are grilled on makeshift barbecues and served up with piles salad, chips or naan bread. The market opens as soon as the first catch of the day is in, just after dark.
If you’re a veggie, try Zanzibar Pizza — more like an omelet — and wash it all down with freshly pressed sugar cane juice. A steaming plate of fish or lobster will only cost around $3.
The most atmospheric place to eat in Stone Town is the Tower Top Restaurant at the Emerson & Green Hotel, usually known as Emerson’s. Again, reservations are advisable as the rooftop dining room only holds around 20 people, who can recline on cushions and look out across the rooftops to the sea as the sun sets. Set dinner here costs $25 plus drinks. Tel:(+255) 779 854 225.
Outside Stone Town, no particularly well-known restaurants exist, but the food all across both islands is consistently good and extremely well-priced, with the staples being pilau rice, fish, and seafood. Sauces are usually spicy curries, with coconut milk added for flavor.
Fruit abounds on Zanzibar, and banana, pineapple, coconut, jackfruit, mango, or papaya follow any meal. Tea and coffee are often flavored with lemongrass or cinnamon.
Zanzibar, and especially Stone Town, is a shopper’s paradise. The narrow winding streets are lined with stores selling local crafts, antiques, jewelry, clothes, and spices.
The Gallery Zanzibar, on Gizenga Street, sells a huge range of printed fabrics and clothes plus silver jewelry and locally made massage oils and perfumes.
The Gallery is also a publishing company and sells a range of new and second-hand books on local history, plus diaries, address books, calendars, and postcards featuring photographs by the shop’s owner,
well-known photographer Javed Jafferji.
The Orphanage Shop, near the Old Fort, sells crafts and paintings by local artists and the orphans themselves, plus
bolts of brightly colored fabric, which the in-house tailor can make up to your own design.
Two of the best souvenirs to bring home from Zanzibar are:
The brightly patterned fabric worn by local women as a matching skirt and head covering, and which can be used as a bath towel, beach wrap or sarong.
Bao is played on street corners and in village squares across the whole of East Africa, with regional variations. In the US, it is known as Mancala, and consists of a carved wooden board, with rows of largish holes, into which seeds are dropped, functioning as both counters and dice.
It’s surprisingly easy to pick up and very addictive. Bao boards come in all shapes and sizes, from small folding ones ideal for rucksacks to huge, ornate antique boards that double as tables. Be sure to buy some spare seeds at the same time as they have a habit of getting lost.
Beware of buying large polished shells, lumps of coral or tortoiseshell products in Stone Town or on the beach. Their collection and sale are illegal, and many of the species they derive from are already endangered.
The Festival of the Dhow Countries occurs in the first week of July every year and is a celebration of arts, music, film, and literature from Unguja, Pemba, and the so-called Dhow countries, which include the coast of Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Arabia, and India as well as the Indian Ocean islands.
VISAS AND OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS
Visitors from the USA and Europe require visas to enter Tanzania. These last for three months and cost $1o0.
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state within Tanzania, so although you don’t need a separate visa to visit the islands, you will need to show your passport. Also compulsory is a certificate to show you’ve been vaccinated against yellow fever.
For domestic flights departing Zanzibar, TSh 5,000 (or US$5), and international flights US$30. For almost all cases though, this tax is incorporated into your flight ticket price.
Visitors to Zanzibar are required by law to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when they enter the country. See your doctor for other inoculations — Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus are recommended. You must also take malaria prophylaxis, and continue the course four weeks after leaving the malarial zone.
Chloroquine and Nivaquine-based drugs are inefficient in coastal East Africa as the malaria parasite has developed resistance to them. Mefloquine (Larium), is, therefore, the drug of the first choice. Take care to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes when possible — wear long socks, long sleeves, and DEET mosquito repellent. Always sleep under a net (most hotels and guesthouses provide these).
As in almost all African countries, drink bottled water and avoid uncooked foods that may have been washed in untreated water. Sunstroke and heat exhaustion are common, so drink enough water and wear protective clothing and high-factor sunscreen.
Zanzibar is a safe country, and most locals are friendly and honest. But avoid flaunting wealth by wearing expensive jewelry or waving camera equipment around in rural villages.
Don’t walk with all your valuables on you in Stone Town — leave them in the hotel safe. Avoid walking alone on beaches, especially at night. Muggings have been reported on the beach at Nungwi, so never carry valuables onto the beach.
The unit of currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling. There are around 2335 to the US dollar. US dollars are accepted in all tourist restaurants, bars etc. By law, visitors have to settle hotel bills in US dollars or other hard currency, but this can be waived in smaller establishments.
Internet and email communications are excellent in Stone Town, with a proliferation of cheap Internet cafes. But telephone communications can still be frustrating and expensive — the Tanzanian telephone system is temperamental.
Outside Stone Town communications are harder, with very few smaller hotels and guesthouses having email, and not all even having telephone access.
The postal system out of Tanzania seems reliable, but parcels posted into the country frequently go missing, often arriving up to 9 months late! Never send money in the post — it WILL be stolen. Use a money transfer company like Western Union instead.
IMPORTANT CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS
Zanzibaris have a long history of religious tolerance and although the islands are 99% Muslim, alcohol, and tobacco are freely available. Visitors are, however, requested to show consideration for the culture of Zanzibar by dressing modestly and refraining from public displays of affection.
When walking in towns and villages, women should wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men should not walk bare-chested or wearing swimming trunks.
Many visitors refuse to cover up and this causes offense and often outrage amongst the local population, even though these feelings may not be directly expressed. As one sign says, “Short skirts are like nude!” On the beaches swimwear is acceptable, but topless sunbathing is not.
During the fast of Ramadan, it is considered the height of bad manners to eat and drink in public places or while walking down the street.
Non-Muslims should not enter mosques unless specifically invited to do so.
Only take pictures of people if you have their permission, and don’t peer too obviously through the doorways of private houses in Stone Town.