Zanzibar is located close to the East coast of Africa in Indian Ocean (about 35 km away from dar es Salaam). The archipelago covers the main island of Unguja (often called Zanzibar), Pemba and several smaller islands. Unguja is about 1.464 sq. km, while the size of Pemba is about 868 sq. km. Approx. 1 million people live on the islands with an annual growth rate of 3%.
NOTE: Please take the following information as non-committal tips based on our personal experience and estimation. We cannot be liable for the completeness and validity of these information or for any troubles caused by it!
The official language in Zanzibar is Kiswahili, but - especially in tourist areas - people speak English as well. Nevertheless it will always help to know some Kiswahili words and phrases:
Islam is widely practiced by over 97% of the population in Zanzibar. Women wear headscarfs in public and even men often wear the kofia - the traditional head covering for Muslim men. Five times a day you will hear the muezzin calling for prayers. Mosques are sacred places. There is generally no entry to mosques for non-Muslims, and photographing the interior from the doorway is not allowed during prayers. In general Zanzibar is well-known for its liberal religious climate. In Stonetown you will also find temples and churches where Hindu or Christian people practice their religion in peace and harmony.
We suggest to meet Zanzibarian people with all the respect that is advisable for travelling in foreign cultures. (see"Dress Code"). If you are visiting Zanzibar during Ramadhan, the holy month in the Islamic tradition, Muslims will be fasting from sunrise to sunset. We would strongly recommend not to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours.
In general we recommend loose fitting, light-coloured and casual cotton wear for your holiday in Zanzibar. Sunhats and rain jackets are a useful addition. For walks on the beach (especially during low tide) you should wear shoes to avoid injuries by sea urchins or shells.
Due to the traditions of Zanzibarian Muslim society you should bear in mind some additional advices. Always wear loose fitting, non-transparent clothing. Shirts should cover the upper arms and shorts should reach to the knees. Do not wear bathing costumes, running shorts, tank tops or other revealing clothing in the villages or Stonetown. Beachwear is for the beach only!
Climate and Weather
The climate on Zanzibar is tropical with warm weather almost year round. Temperatures range between 25 degrees Celsius in August and 35 degrees Celsius in February. Most of the time there is a convenient breeze from the sea. There are two periods of rains heaviest in March through June and the lesser rains during October-November season.
We strongly recommend to book your flight several months before your intended stay in Zanzibar! A few airlines (e.g. KLM) offer direct flights to Zanzibar, several serve the destination Dar es Salaam where you can take the ferry boat or a flight with one of the local air companies (Zanair, Coastal Air, Precision Air u.v.a.). In addition to that you can choose a flight route via Mombasa, Johannesburgh, Dubai, Nairobi etc.
The ferry boat from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar is only recommendable if you arrive in Dar not later than early afternoon. The last boat to Zanzibar departs about 4 p.m. The time schedule of the ferry boat is not very reliable and changes occur very often - please check when you arrive in Dar. Due to business competition and special offers of several local airlines a flight from Dar to Zanzibar is getting more and more a smart alternative to the ferry boat!
Entry and Visa
For your entry from Europe to Zanzibar a valid passport and a visa are obligatory. You can obtain the visa at the Tanzanian embassy in your home country or directly at Dar es Salaam airport or seaport. The usual cost for a tourist visa is $50.
At your departure from Zanzibar 10 US$ airport tax or 5 US$ seaport tax per person are payable. Some tour operators already include this tax in their arrangements. Please inform at your airline or your local travel agency.
Please consult your doctor, an institute of tropical medicine or a pharmacy in your home country for information about required and recommended vaccinations, malaria prevention and which drugs to carry. Vaccinations and prophylactic malaria drugs are very personal decisions. Concerning malaria prevention it is a good advice to use additional measures for mosquito-bite prevention, like long-sleeved and light-coloured clothing in the evenings and insect repellents. Do not drink water from the tap! Sun protection (sunhat, sun-cremes, sun glasses) is strongly recommended!
230V AC. If you bring electronical devices (e.g. laptops, palmtops, etc.) please bear in mind that in Zanzibar voltage is sometimes unstable. Plugs and sockets are usually the British three-square-pin or two-round-pin variety. In BAHATI VILLA there are some European plugs and enough adaptors. Adaptors are also available in Zanzibar Town.
The unit of currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSh). US Dollars and Euros are the most convenient foreign currencies. Travellers cheques are widely accepted in Zanzibar Town. For safaris in Tanzania you often need US$ in cash. Some (few) restaurants, hotels and shops accept credit cards. You can obtain cash with your Maestro card, and any bank card at ATMs in Stown Town. You should not count on being able to obtain cash on your credit card, the very few places where it's possible charge a commission up to 15%.
In general the island is considered to be safe. Compared to other African countries crime rate is low. Nevertheless we recommend the usual security measures for travelling in foreign countries, like carrying your money, passport and tickets in an inside pocket or pouch. In Stonetown it's a good idea to keep an eye on your bags when strolling around.