The Ultimate Zanzibar Practical Guide
Are you planning your next vacation and have Zanzibar in mind? Then you should read this guide that we have prepared for you, in which we answer the main questions that any traveller has before deciding on a destination.
What to see, what to do, when to go, how to get there, what you should bring... keep reading and take note of everything!
Where is Zanzibar?
Let's start with the basics. Zanzibar is an archipelago located off the coast of Tanzania, less than 40 km away, formed by three islands: the largest, Unguja (generally known as Zanzibar), followed by Pemba and Mafia.
But beware: politically speaking, it is only Unguja and Pemba that make up the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar inside the United Republic of Tanzania, and enjoy self-government. The smaller island, Mafia, is governed directly from Tanzania.
Because of its location, and the spices that were grown here, Zanzibar has been part of the Indian Ocean trade routes since ancient times, and this is evident in its culture and traditions.
When to travel to Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is an equatorial region, which means you'll find "good weather" all year round. Let's just say the clothes won't take up too much space in your suitcase!
The average temperature in Zanzibar is around 20ºC, and when you come here you can always enjoy the beaches, as the Indian Ocean is one of the warmest seas in the world.
However, there are some differences between seasons. In this article, we give you more details about them, and when it is best to visit Zanzibar according to your interests:
How to arrive to Zanzibar?
There are two ways to get to Zanzibar:
1) By plane, from Dar es Salaam airport. The flight lasts about 20 minutes and is made with small planes of no more than 12 seats. You will find flights every day, and they usually cost between $70-100.
2) By ferry from Dar es Salaam port. Tickets are usually no more than $40 (although it's best to check the company's website, Azammarine.com). Some ferries make the crossing in about 4 hours, and faster ones that cover it in just 2 hours, so it depends on whether you're in a hurry or just want to enjoy the trip and the sea views!
If you are staying at the Dhow Inn, just let us know your arrival time in advance, and we will come and pick you up at the port or airport!
Visas, vaccines and other health recommendations
To enter Tanzania (and therefore Zanzibar) you need to have a valid passport, with a minimum of 6 months validity from your entry. You will also need a visa, which can be obtained at the airport (costs around $50).
Regarding vaccines, yellow fever is not compulsory, but it is highly recommended, and in fact, the Tanzanian government says it is essential to visit Zanzibar.
We recommend that you get vaccinated and that you bring an International Certificate of Vaccination with you.
Otherwise, the World Health Organization recommends that you be vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, tetanus, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis A and B, typhoid and rabies. However, to be 100% sure, it is best to check the website of the Ministry of Health or equivalent that manages this in your country.
Finally, it is advisable to take your travel kit, with the usual painkillers, antihistamines, antidiarrheals, anti-inflammatories and other medications.
We strongly recommend to include a good insect repellent either - save yourself from annoying bites!
Oh, and don't forget to always drink bottled water! In addition to peeling any fruit you buy.
Money in Zanzibar
The local currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian shilling, with the following values:
- Bills: 500, 1000, 5000 and 10000 shillings.
- Coins: 50, 100 and 200 shillings.
In any case, the most accepted currency in Zanzibar is the US dollar (always after 2006!). Credit cards are also accepted (mainly Visa and Mastercard).
In Stone Town, you will find both ATMs and banks or exchange houses where you can change your euros or dollars in local currency.
Electricity and sockets in Zanzibar
In Zanzibar, you will find electric current for your devices (although some small cuts may occur), but you must carry a universal adapter, because the plugs are 3-pin, and the electric current is 220-250V/50Hz.
Languages of Zanzibar
The official language in Zanzibar is Swahili, although in the tourist areas most people can speak English and you will have no major problem.
However, it's always interesting to learn some Swahili phrases or expressions (beyond the always nice Hakuna Matata) that will help you in the markets, restaurants and other activities you do in Zanzibar.
Basic words in Swahili
- Hello! 🡪 Jambo!
- Yes 🡪 Ndiyo
- No 🡪 Hapana
- Thank you! 🡪 Asante!
- Thank you very much! 🡪 Asante sana!
- You’re welcome 🡪 Karibu
- Please 🡪 Tafadhli
- Sorry 🡪 Pole
- I don’t understand 🡪 Sifahamu
In the market or making any transaction
- How much does it cost? 🡪 Ngapi? / Ni bei gani?
- Just having a look 🡪 Ninatazama tu
- Where is…? 🡪 … iko wapi?
In a restaurant or bar
- Water 🡪 Maji
- Coffee 🡪 Kahawa
- Beer 🡪 Bia
- Wine 🡪 Mvinyo
- Soda drink 🡪 Soda
- Meat 🡪 Nyama
- Chicken 🡪 Kuku
- Fish 🡪 Samaki
- The bill, please! 🡪 Lete bili!
And, speaking of restaurants… what can you expect of Zanzibar gastronomy? Keep reading!
Eating in Zanzibar
In Zanzibar, you will find a Swahili based gastronomy, but extremely fused with other culinary cultures: Arabic, Indian, Portuguese, English influence open a spectacular range of products and flavours that will surprise you.
You will also find "international cuisine", but why travel so far if you are not going to enjoy other cuisines?
In this article, we explain everything about Zanzibar's cuisine.
What to see & do in Zanzibar
There are plenty of things to do in Zanzibar! And we’ve written a lot about it.
Here you can find a cool briefing of 8 things to do and see in Zanzibar.
But, specifically, we want to recommend you to visit some of the 5 best beaches in Zanzibar.
Or practising kitesurfing on Paje beach, in front of our resort.
And, of course, you MUST visit Stone Town, lose yourself in its narrow streets, follow the aroma of the fruits and spices to find the markets, or be amazed at the architecture and the carved wooden doors of the old town.
How to move around the island?
With so much to see, you're going to have to move around Zanzibar.
For many excursions, you will only have to let us know, and we will organize the transport for you from the Dhow Inn Resort.
But for when you go on your own, the main transports of the island are:
- Car or motorcycle. You can rent them, although we do not usually recommend it, because in addition to your permit you will need an international driving license and a local license.
- Buses. On the one hand, you have the dalla-dallas, small buses that stop in the villages. They are very cheap, although the journeys are very long and always full. The best option is the private minibuses, at least to move around the north and east coasts, but keep in mind you have to book them in advance!
- Taxi. Probably the best option, although a bit more expensive. But it’s worth it since it’s the easiest and fastest way to move around.
Where to stay in Zanzibar?
What sort of question is that!? It’s obvious that “Dhow Inn” is the answer ;)
Jokes aside, you will find plenty of hotels in Zanzibar, and many of them are good enough to make you enjoy the visit. You should rather rely on your tastes in terms of the environment. The north coast is more sought after by young people, as there are more leisure venues and lively nightlife.
On the east coast, on the other hand, life is somewhat more relaxed. And that's where the Dhow Inn Resort stands.
We could tell you about our rooms, the menus in our restaurant, the incredible Paje beach... but it will be better if our guests explain it to you.
That's the main thing. Choose the right time, prepare what you want to see and do, reserve your room... and enjoy the vacation of your life in this paradise called Zanzibar!