The Most Important Things To Know About Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago, located of the eastern coast of Tanzania, Africa in the middle of the Indian ocean, it is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, bursting with culture & history it is so much more than white sand beaches, clear warm waters with coral reefs perfect for snorkeling. Zanzibar is made up many small islands and two major islands Unguja (the main island, informally referred as Zanzibar) & Pemba
Zanzibar like the mainland Tanzania was settled by bantu-speakers at the outset of the first millennium, with trade rapidly increased & by the 10th century it was one of the central Swahili trading towns. Persians, Indians and Arabs used Zanzibar as the base for voyages between the middle east, India and Africa. Unguja, the larger island offered a protected & defensible harbor
In the 14th century Zanzibar was controlled by the Portuguese, later came to the under influence of sultanate of Oman. The Zanzibar archipelago developed an economy of trade and cash crops it was famous for its cloves and other spices that’s why to date it is also known as spice island as it was the center of spice trade, ivory & slaves were other major products, Zanzibar at the time was more of the power & business capital of the Swahili coast (stretching from present day Mozambique to Kenya), Zanzibar city was the Swahili coasts main port for slave trade in middle east. In the 19th century, as many as 50000 slaves passed annually through the port, the sultanate furthered its relationship with British who put pressure on the sultanate to abolish slave trade as time progressed Zanzibar became a British protectorate until 10th December 1963 when it was terminated by the United Kingdom and made provision for full self-government in Zanzibar, Zanzibar became a constitutional monarchy under the sultan
However, a month later, on 12 January 1964 the sultanate was deposed during the Zanzibar revolution & replaced by the people’s republic
In April 1964, the Zanzibar republic merged with mainland Tanganyika, was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the united republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region
Facts about Present day Zanzibar
After the union of Zanzibar & Tanganyika, Tanzania was born, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region. The Zanzibar archipelago is 25-50km off the coast of the mainland Tanzania.
- The capital is Zanzibar city, located on Unguja island, its historic center is stone town, which is a world heritage site
- Like mainland Tanzania the official language is Swahili & English but many zanzibarians are also fluent in Arabic
- the official currency being the Tanzania shillings
- Islam is the dominant religion by over 90%
- Population is over 1.3million according to the 2012 census
- Main industry are spices, raffia & tourism
Best time to visit Zanzibar
Like the mainland Tanzania throughout the year you can visit Zanzibar but it is during the dry season (June to October) that is regarded by many as the best time to visit Zanzibar
Why June to October is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
- First of all, the skies are clear and most day are sunny (perfect weather for your stay)
- Secondly, you can do a safari, Mount Kilimanjaro hike & other extension in mainland Tanzania as it is during this time that it is favorable to visit the mainland too
- Easy mobility, moving around is easier when it is dry unlike rainy season- fewer mosquitoes unlike the rainy season which is favorable condition for mosquitoes
- easier to meet people, do group tours, group activities and greater parties
- lastly, there is plenty and more options of activities to do on the dry season
Few considerations against this period
- Prices are high as it is the peak season
- Many travelers as it is peak season, if your preference is a quite trip
Other favorable times to visit Tanzania
- it is expected to be dry, sunny so it is a great time for a visit
- little chances for short shower rains which are expected in December & January
- weather will be between sunny and short rain showers (to reduce the dust)
- small peak season around festival season
January to February
- it is expected to be sunny & dry so it is great time for a visit
- this is a grey time, not clear if it will be dry or perhaps the rainy season will begin
April to may
this is probably the least favorable time to visit Tanzania as it is expected to be rainy season therefore very difficult to move around or enjoying the sun but there are some advantages for this period
- lower rates
- less travelers (low season)
How to get to Zanzibar
The best way of getting to Zanzibar is to fly to Zanzibar
If you are coming from a foreign country, you can fly directly to Zanzibar international airport
You can fly to Zanzibar from Kilimanjaro international airport, from Arusha airport (Arusha airport is more recommended after northern circuit safari), from Dar es salaam international airport, from Mwanza airport
- Air Tanzania flight 7:40 pm from Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) to Zanzibar (possible flight after a northern circuit safari) however it is recommended not to fly directly after a safari as any major emergency can hurt chances of catching your flight
- Air Tanzania flight 7:15 am from Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) to Zanzibar
- Precision air flight 4:00 pm from Arusha airport (ARK) to Zanzibar
- Coastal air, flight link, precision air, air Tanzania & Auric air running multiple flight from domestic airports to Zanzibar
You can also take a bus to Dar es salaam(23usd) & then take a ferry to Zanzibar(35usd) however this option is not greater value than a direct flight to Zanzibar as a bus will take almost 10hours to Dar es salaam & ferry takes about 2 hours from Dar es salaam to Zanzibar
Budget & cost of your stay in Zanzibar
Your budget for your stay in Zanzibar will be highly influenced by your accommodation choices, with variety of budget hostels to luxury villas Zanzibar can accommodate travelers of different budget level
- budget hostels – 20 – 30usd
- Budget hotels - 35 – 70usd
- Mid-range hotels – 80 – 300usd
- Luxury – over 400usd
Daily meals & drinks budget
- Budget meals – 6usd – 12usd
- Mid-level restaurants – 20usd – 40usd
- High end restaurants – over 70usd
- Budget (public transport) – 2 US$ daily budget
- Private transportation – 5usd – 80usd
- Private transportation from stone town to beach elsewhere is 55usd average
- Car rental – from 120usd daily
Tour & activities
- Budget tours (prion island, stone town, Mnemba atoll) – 20 -60usd
- Jet ski – 60usd an hour
- Scuba diving – 180 – 300usd
So a daily budget of 50usd can be enough for a strict budget traveler to cover essentials (accommodation, meals & something to do for the day)
How long to stay in Zanzibar?
As you are planning your vacation you keep asking yourself on how much days, weeks you should spend at a place, this time you are looking at how many days you should stay in Zanzibar? We understand how long you should stay is sometimes not a flexible choice for many but we recommend a minimum of 7days as ideal a maximum of 2-3 weeks is advisable. As you can move from beach to beach or to a different island on your stay
Why you should visit Zanzibar?
Zanzibar archipelago is one of the best destination for a beach stay in Africa & around the world, here are reasons of why you should visit Zanzibar
1. Stunning beaches, white sand, clear waters, stunning sunset vies offer a perfect mix for what you will want on your beach stay
2. Unique and great culture, the Swahili culture which is highly influenced from traders from Europe and middle east from the 14th century
3. Spices & spice tours, it is famously known as spice island from its influence in the spice trade
4. Fascinating history, stone town was the capital of different colonial influencers and traders in the Swahili coast so it is reach of history, stone town is a world heritage.
5. A great add-on for you to relax after finishing your Tanzanian safari, Mount Kilimanjaro hike or east African safari
6. Budget friendly, Zanzibar accommodates all travelers from strict budget travelers to high end travelers
7. Great reefs sites perfect for snorkeling & scuba diving
8. Peaceful &Safe, depending mostly on income derived from tourism Zanzibar is pretty much safe for tourists with some areas like stone town equipped with surveillance cameras
9. Great weather, Zanzibar has great weather throughout the year with exception of late march to May which is a rainy season
10. A great romantic getaway, if you are looking for romantic getaway one not very crowded and you can have self-time, Zanzibar is a way to go
Where to stay in Zanzibar
Often travelers are faced with the questions “where should I stay in Zanzibar?” after saving & yearning about your vacation in Zanzibar it is just right for you to know where you should stay, which side of the island you should stay, the best & right answer on this is you need to stay at different parts of Zanzibar as they slightly differ and to your benefit we are going to share insights on this,
The northern west beaches
The north west part of Zanzibar made up of the most popular beaches Nungwi & Kendwa, this beaches are in walking distance from each other, they boarder each other & are very similar
This is the north most tip of Zanzibar, this is the most popular beach in Zanzibar as a result of its beauty and stunning sunsets, on this beach fishing boats still launch a scene unchanged for centuries but they are overlooked by a long line of hotels and resorts, this resorts offering variety of water activities and sports (jet ski, parasailing, scuba diving etc.), also there is a natural turtle sanctuary. this is what will say as most active beach in Zanzibar in term of activities also with a party like atmosphere as it has bars but nothing like any party beaches on the world
-Plenty of water activities
-High number of tourists (if you are socially active or a solo traveler and would like to meet people)
-Party like atmosphere (beach with most bars)
-Favorable tidal patterns that ensure swimming at all hours
-like all other places Nungwi is not all good let’s get to why some traveler opt to avoid a stay in Nungwi
-High number of tourists (definitely not over crowded in comparison to crowded beaches in the world)
-Less peaceful, you can be constantly harassed by beach boys and beach merchants
-Nungwi resorts are higher priced in comparison to other beaches (with exception of kendwa)
Kendwa beach is adjacent to nungwi, located just south of nungwi these beach share similarities with nungwi. With both beaches being very popular, beautiful, stunning sunsets, water activities and favorable for swimming at all hours
Full moon party, this party hosted by kendwa rocks beach hotel on the beach it is a great visit if you are in nungwi or kendwa. With delicious grill menu, amazing acrobats & fire eaters, dance music, can also chill on the beach or join the dancing crowd. This full moon parties mostly happens on a Saturday night
Activitis to do in nungwi & kendwa
This beaches are relatively close and in walking distance so they share same activities
-Mnemba atoll, this tour goes to shores of mnemba island with great coral reefs it is perfect for snorkeling
-Visit mnarani aquarium or turtle sanctuary
-Full moon party (each full moon)
-Water sports (jet ski, parasailing etc)
-Sunset dhow cruise
The eastern beaches
The east part of Zanzibar has many beaches mostly characterized by low tides unlike the north, west tides on this side are less favorable for a swim meaning you have to walk far out in the sea to swim. Paje, jambiani, matemwe, kiwengwa, pwani mchangani, uroa, pongwe etc all these beaches are in the east coast of Zanzibar Popular activity at the east coast is kite surfing especially in Paje, which is the most popular of the eastern beaches but still with less tourists in comparison to the northern beaches. If you wish for more laid back places you should consider the east side
Why the east coast of Zanzibar?
- Less popular, so less travelers
-Peaceful, unlike the north there is less beach boys and beach merchants in the east coast
-Lower budget, resorts cost less in comparison to the accommodation in the northern beaches
The western beaches & stone town
The west coast of Zanzibar is more popular for its old fort “stone town” which is still a present day major trading part in Zanzibar, with beaches stretching from its left & right this beaches are occupied with ports, fishermen boats, also very popular with locals as they surround the major trading part of Zanzibar, it is by far the biggest settlement on the island. However there the beautiful nakupenda beach just 20mins of the coast
it is the old part of Zanzibar city, the main part of Zanzibar city, former capital of the Zanzibar sultanate, and the flourishing center of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century. This town has been the capital of all colonial rulers from Portugal to Oman to Great Britain, until it became independent in 1963. To date it remains the capital of the semi-autonomous government of the Zanzibar archipelago. It’s a mix of African, Arabic, and colonial styles all packed into one city. Because of all the unique influences, Stone Town was actually declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000!
Each twist and turn though the narrow streets of stone town will bring you to something new as you lose yourself in centuries of history. Making the best way to get a feel for this city is to wander around the narrow maze of streets. You’ll definitely get lost, but that’s half the fun!
You’ll also probably be able to tell quickly that a lot of things haven’t been properly maintained since the colonial era. The older facades of the buildings are part of what gives Stone Town it’s unique charm!
Stone Town itself is fairly small with a population of just 16,000 residents living inside the city in 2016. The town’s economy is now primarily based on tourism and it is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Tanzania.
FUN FACT: Stone Town is actually one part of Zanzibar City. The other area of the city is called Ng’ambo, which is more modern. Stone Town is the more historical section. So if you see the two names used interchangeably, it’s because Stone Town is part of Zanzibar City!
Things to do in stone town, Zanzibar
Besides just wandering around the streets, there are lots of things to do in Stone Town. This is the perfect city to really get a better understanding of Zanzibar people and culture.
Here are a few things we recommend checking out in Stone Town:
Take a guided tour
Walking without a guide in stone town is tempting, however you will be at a risk of getting lost and missing out on some hidden gems and lots of stories about the town
Most hotels offer guided day tours around the city and I definitely recommend doing the tour with a guide. All the tourists you’ll see walking around are led by guides. You will learn so much more information with a guide and it’s not that expensive either! I definitely recommend it – you won’t regret it! Your guide can also tell you about the dark past of the island.
Admire stone town’s intricate doors
The fascinating architecture of the buildings starts with their doors! As you wander through the streets, make sure you look around at the beautiful, carved doors that are a special feature of the city.
The designs and carvings of the doors tell about the residents who lived there. You can also tell whether the doors are Swahili, Indian, or Arab based on the shape and design!
See the birthplace of Freddie mercury
If you love Queen, don’t miss out on the chance to see where Freddie Mercury was born – it is located right in the city center, so you won’t miss it! (Or just search Freddie Mercury’s birthplace on Google Maps). Some people say this might not be the real house (because his father moved several times when Freddie was young), but it’s still a great opportunity to learn a little more about the background and upbringing of this amazing singer!
Admire the old fort
This is exactly what the name says it is! Take a look around a unique piece of history and check out The old fort. This is an old fortification built by the Omani Arabs in 1699. It is also one of the oldest buildings in town.
A more recent addition to the fort is an open-air amphitheater where you can watch local shows or other events. You can ask at the tourist information desk at the fort if there are any upcoming events that could fit into your Zanzibar travel plans.
Visit the house of wonders
This is the tallest and largest building in town and was originally a palace facing the town’s central square. The building is now home to the National Museum of History and Culture.
Learn about the slave trade at the slave museum
The island has a dark past. This market was the last functioning slave market in the world and it only closed in 1873. Although this might seem like a bit of a downer, it’s an important part of the history of the region.
Thousands of Africans were brought to the island as slaves to work on plantations. Slave traders also used the island as a base camp before sending slaves on the long journey to the East to be sold in Persia, Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt.
At the Slave Museum, you can tour chambers where they kept slaves before they were sold.
You can go down to see the “rooms” where slaves were kept – a 12 by 12-foot basement with one tiny window near the ceiling. They kept over 30 people in these types of rooms. Although this happened hundreds of years ago it still can have you in shivers as I you stand there!
The museum is open every day from 8am to 6pm. There is a $5 USD entrance fee and you can expect to spend about an hour in the museum.
Visit one of the rooftop restaurants
Because the city is right on the water, something you HAVE to do while in Stone Town is to enjoy the amazing view from a rooftop!
After a long day of taking in the sites and the culture, it is recommend finding a rooftop restaurant for dinner and a drink as the sun sets.
-The Tea House Restaurant is recommended. It’s a great place to see the sunset, but make sure to make a reservation in advance! The restaurant gets busy with other tourists who want to enjoy the view as well.
- Another option is The Beach House Restaurant, which has an amazing outdoor balcony overlooking the water. The food is a mix of Italian, French, and Mediterranean and it’s delicious!
- You can also check out 6 Degrees South, which is perfect for a romantic dinner looking out at the ocean.
Wander around darajani market
While you’re there, why not wander around the main bazaar in town? You’ll definitely get a taste for life in Zanzibar – and a whiff as well! I found the market to be a really authentic experience.
There is an indoor section of the market, but also a lot of pop-up vendors on the surrounding streets. You’ll be able to experience a lot of traditional Zanzibar food and ingredients, as well as admire clothes, shoes, and traditional hats.
NOTE: Be prepared for the smell as part of this market is a fish market!
These are not actual “gardens,” this is the central square of Stone Town with only small gardens. It has lots of trees and is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. It is recommended going after sunset and enjoying the street food market. To get the full experience, look around for the stands that have the longest lines of locals and try some authentic Zanzibar dishes here (this means the food is good!).
PRO TIP: it is recommended to avoid the seafood here though – it’s not always fresh!
PRO TIP 2: As a central spot for tourists, be careful of people trying to overcharge you or pretending to be waiters. Some tourists have had issues with “waiters” trying to charge them ridiculously high prices!
Drink coffee at jaws corner
It might take you a while to find it as it’s among the narrow streets, but Jaws Corner is a small plaza. You can stop by and try the Arabic-style local coffee. Just be prepared – it’s definitely not like a cup of coffee with cream and sugar like you might be used to! It’s typically served black and bitter, and it is VERY strong.
Do some shopping
There are so many little boutique stores all over Stone Town. There’s a bunch on Ginzenga Street, Kenyatta Road, and Changa Bazaar Street. You’ll also be sure to see some great stores for souvenirs as you’re wandering around.
The southern beaches
With kizimkazi and mtende beaches the south side is home to little fishing villages, this side is low key only quite popular for doing a dolphin tour, it is easier to spot dolphins if you take boat cruises from this beaches