Beautiful beaches and even more beautiful people, Zanzibar is such a unique place with a mix of cultures fused over centuries to become the Zanzibari way. It’s a place that has to be experienced to be fully understood and then, loved. But before you go, you need to equip yourself with some very useful and practical information. I’ve put together a list of things you need to know before you go to Zanzibar.
First major thing to know before you go to Zanzibar is the Visa requirements. Here is a list of countries that are visa free to Tanzania, countries that require visa before arrival and those that can get a visa on arrival. If you’re arriving from most African countries and some South American countries, you might need a Yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter the country. A single entry visa costs 50USD and British citizens can get a visa on arrival in Zanzibar. Make sure you have either a 50 or 100USD note and not smaller denominations because they will not be accepted. Cards are also accepted at no additional cost.
Before you go to Zanzibar you should know about visa payments. To pay for your visa you need either a 50USD or 100USD note, smaller denominations won’t be accepted and you’d have to pay by card. This is one thing I never saw on any of the blogs and was quite unprepared with my smaller denominations, so make sure you come prepared.
The absolutely cheapest way of getting around is the dala dala. It’s basically a bus/truck and it’s dirt cheap but it also looked pretty packed every time I saw it and if you don’t know where you’re going, I don’t think I’d personally advice it.
We got around with a taxi/private hire car majority of the time. We had a number for drivers for each area we stayed, they’re not too expensive just remember to haggle before you enter the car. Your hotel can probably call one for you if you need it.
Before you go to Zanzibar, make sure you book your transfers in advance. The cheapest one we found and used was this company 35 USD to our hotel in Bwejuu, in the south/south east of the island.
The national currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (£1 is approximately 2700 shillings and 1 USD is approximately 2200 shillings). If you’re going straight to the villages or beach resorts then it’s best to change all the money you think you’ll need at the airport before you head out. If you don’t and run out of money there are no places by the beach to change money and it would be at least a $70 roundtrip to and back from Stone town. Majority of the island operates in cash so don’t expect to be able to use your card.
For a week, I changed about £200 to shillings and had quite a few dollars as well.
Get your money right- Dollars vs Shillings
Before you go to Zanzibar, you should know what the money situation is. Although Shilling is the national currency, USDs are also very widely accepted. It’s a good idea to have some USD with you along with your shillings so if you do run out of shillings you’re still able to pay for things. Personally, I had majority shillings, and some dollars as well because it’s cheaper to pay in the local currency.
When should you visit?
The best time to visit Zanzibar is between June and October when it’s dry season and cooler. We visited in November and never actually saw any rain, though I heard torrential rain a couple of nights while I slept but by morning all signs of rain were completely gone, blue skies prevailed and it was HOT. The rainy season is from February to May and a shorter rainy season in November and December. The good thing about visiting in November is that it’s low season so hotels are cheaper and more available, the beach isn’t as busy.
Where to stay- Hotel vs Airbnb
Honestly, I didn’t even look at Airbnb’s when searching for where to stay in Zanzibar mainly because I didn’t think it would be too practical especially with us arriving pretty late, most hotels offer breakfast included which Airbnb’s don’t. I personally think hotels are the way to go. From the super cheap guest houses to the uber luxury resorts, there’s something for your budget. We kept hotels costs down by staying in a couple different ones, something you could also consider doing. It’s also a great opportunity to experience different parts of the island.
Which part of the island to stay- North/South/East
We stayed in two villages in Unguja as well as Stone town. Majority of our time was in Bwejuu in the South East of the island, on the East coast and two nights in Kiwengwa in the North east. Bwejuu was a great quiet village and its proximity to Paje meant that you weren’t far from the fun, beach parties and kiting activities. It’s pretty cheap as well to eat and I really loved the beach.
Kiwengwa was very different to Bwejuu for me. It’s locally known as Little Italy so expect to see lots of Italian menus in restaurants and Italian people. It was more expensive (double to eat, a bottle of Sprite costs 2500 shillings in Paje and 4000 shillings here!!), the beach wasn’t as nice in my opinion and not as many places to eat.
Culture and Religion
Zanzibar is a majority Muslim town so as travellers we should respect that in the way we dress and behave. While you’re on the beaches and coastal areas, of course you can wear bikinis and dress as you want, however while in stone town, I would probably be a bit more conservative and not wear anything too short or revealing. If not for anything, for your own comfort.
Topless sunbathing however is illegal so sister, aunty, keep your top on!
Not all beaches are created equal, some are definitely more beautiful than others but all the beaches in Zanzibar are wonderful and have something unique or special to offer.
The north (Nungwi) apparently has some of the most beautiful beaches on the island with crisp white sand beaches but also apparently quite expensive. While Jambiani in the South also has very beautiful beaches, lots of local restaurants and activities to do on the beach. So think about what you want from your holiday and that should help you decide where to stay on the island.
How long to stay in Stone Town
We spent one night in Stone town then flew out the next night. Personally I don’t think you should spent too much time in Stone town but that does depends on what you want from your holiday. We met two friends that had been there for 5 days and they said they were bored by the 3rd/4th day. I would also suggest getting a local guide for the day, it makes your time more focused because you can pretty much see everything in a day and a half and it makes it more interesting to hear the history as well.
Everything Pole Pole
Something to know before you go to Zanzibar is that Island life is slow! Nobody stresses about anything, there’s never a rush and it was such a welcome change to Manchester city life. BUT be prepared to WAIT at local restaurants for your food after ordering. The longest wait we had for food was an hour; I was ready to start chewing their table that’s how hungry I was!! I think it’s because all the food is made fresh as they could probably go a day only serving a couple of customers but it’s definitely worth the wait. If possible, I STRONGLY advice you to call in advance if it’s possible or walk there order and go back to your hotel to wait otherwise, bruh, its peak!!
There are a lot of tours that locals will try to sell to you at very different prices. I think if you can do a couple of tours while you’re there it allows you to experience other parts and can easily become the highlights of your trip.
The main tip here is to NOT pay for any of the tours up front, we never did and lucky for us none of the tours we booked ever asked for payment upfront. If they are adamant about you paying upfront, DON’T, stand your ground, if they’re being honest they most likely won’t insist on payment upfront. Most hotels have people they are affiliated with that offer ours that are trusted, talk to your hotel about them.
The people here are some of the friendliest people so don’t be surprised if you hear a “Jambo” called out as you walk by, don’t immediately assume they want something from you, say hi back! Be polite and say “Mambo” back. Or if you hear “Mambo” reply with “Poa” Stop and have conversation with a few locals and if they do try to tell you something, a simple “No thank you’ will do.
So it would be great to know some Swahili before you go to Zanzibar to get you going conversing with locals:
Mambo- How’s it going?
Asante- Thank you
Pole Pole- Slowly
Hakuna Matata- No worries
Bei Gani- How much?
Ninaweza kuchukua picha yako- Can I take your picture?
I hope you’ve found these tips know before you go to Zanzibar useful and it helps you with planning and preparing for your trip to Zanzibar. If you’ve visited and have any tips of your own, please drop them in he comments and help other people!
Until next time,