Before you travel to Zanzibar, the balmy and beautiful East-African archipelago, with its brilliant white sandy beaches, and vibrant, diverse culture, there are a few things we think you should know. Make the most of your trip by following our 6-step guide.
1. Zanzibar is more than one island
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, and is made up of the Zanzibar Archipelago (many islands) in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of mainland Tanzania. The two largest islands are Unguja, referred to informally as Zanzibar, and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City which is located on the island of Unguja and is home to the historic centre, Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
2. Get a Swahili phrasebook
Zanzibari people are of diverse ethnic backgrounds from ethnic Swahili, Europeans, Arabs and ethnic Indians – but everyone speaks Swahili. Although both English and Swahili are the official languages, many locals do not speak English fluently. Being able to communicate in Swahili will make it far easier to navigate the island and will ensure that you can bargain in the local markets! The locals also appreciate the effort made to speak their language even though they are already very friendly and accustomed to tourists.
3. Be aware of local customs
The majority of the Zanzibari are Muslim, and as a result are quite conservative. Alcohol is not readily available on the island: Many restaurants do not serve it and although it is not prohibited, it respectful to not consume alcohol on public beaches or in other public spaces. One must also be sure to dress modestly: Some areas have signs indicating that bathing suits can only be worn on the beach and once you have left the beach one must cover up. Zanzibar is very hot and humid throughout the year and light clothing is recommended.
4. Drink bottled water
Unless you have a constitution of steel – do not drink tap water. This also includes having ice added to your drinks. The water in Zanzibar is safe to wash in, and potable once it is boiled, but if you are eating or drinking away from your hotel be sure to ask for bottled water. Most hotels will give their guests up to two litres of complimentary water each day.
5. Use the local currency
As a tourist destination, many of Zanzibar’s local businesses and market vendors will accept US Dollars, Euros and South African Rands as payment, however it is far easier to bargain in Tanzanian Shillings. Very few places accept card payments so be prepared to pay for everything in cash. On more remote islands, only US Dollars or Tanzanian Shillings will be accepted. This means you must carry cash which you can withdraw at any of the local ATMs. Getting cash this way is far cheaper than using a local bureau de change.
6. Get lost
Stone Town is a great place to get lost in. The World Heritage site is made up of narrow winding streets and in the middle of this network of streets there are many hidden treasures. Don’t get a tour guide – walk the city and find your own way around or use a Lonely Planet guide to discover the streets on your own. The cost and relative inconvenience of hiring a tour guide is not worth losing out on the experience of discovering the island on your own. Not to mention the many friends you will make along the way. The locals can easily spot a visitor and are friendly (to a fault!), and helpful, despite what language barriers there may be. Ditch the private cabs and use the local minibus taxis or dala-dala’s to get around. You will see much more of the authentic Zanzibar this way.
Next week Makamba Online will be running an exclusive on-the-ground travel piece detailing the best attractions to explore when you travel to Zanzibar, complete with stunning images. Stay connected.
Author: Anesu Chigariro