Zanzibar Islands is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania consisting of Zanzibar Island (locally, Unguja), Pemba Island and many smaller islands. Zanzibar island itself is approximately 90km long and 30km wide.
In 1896, Zanzibar was the location of the world’s shortest war, surrendering to Britain after 38 minutes of naval bombardment.
Stone Town – the vibrant and somewhat enchanting capital
Nungwi – a popular small resort town on the northern tip of the island
Kendwa – a small fishing village a couple of miles from Nungwi, a great place for reading on the beach or scuba diving
Matemwe – a small traditional village in the North East.
Paje – a small village on the East coast known for excellent kiteboarding conditions
Jambiani – a small fishing village on the southeast coast
Uroa Village – a small fishing village on the east coast with resorts on the northern and southern side
There are many ferries and catamarans that can take you between Dar es Salaam and the Island. Azam Marine,Sea Express, Sea Star, Seagull Kilimanjaro and Sepideh Megaspeed Liners are among the nicest available. Azam runs at 14h30 and 16h15 on weekdays and Sea Express at 07h30 daily. Fares range $35 to $40 for non-residents, including a $5 Port Tax. First class is only $5 more expensive than economy and certainly worth the money. Most ferries schedules allow you to do the return trip the same day. For instance leave Dar es Salaam at 07:30 and return from Zanzibar on the 16:30 ferry. That leaves plenty of time to explore the Stone Town, the museum and have a nice lunch. The trip is beautiful and lasts about two hours approximately. However, if the weather is bad it can take much longer and the trip can be very unpleasant. If you suffer from seasickness you are advised to take some anti-seasickness pills prior to boarding. The on board personnel hands out free sickness bags at the start of the journey. Flying Horse makes the same journey for $20. However, it will take around 4.5 hours whereas the others take 1.5 hours.
You may be able to hire a private boat for cheaper, but the trip will take considerably longer and unless you know something about boats, you could be on a vessel that is not equipped for bad weather conditions or an emergency. Remember: you get what you pay for.
Be aware that the “porters” at the Dar ferry terminal will hassle you for money and expect tips for referring you to “the best boat.” If you don’t want their help, be forceful. Touts will tell you anything to get you to use a service which pays them commission, and scam you in any way they can. They will say the company kiosk you are heading towards only goes to mainland destinations (when they do service Zanzibar), they will say their service is a 90min ferry (when it actually takes over 2 hours), they will quote you a price for first class tickets (but issue “e/c” economy tickets and pocket the difference), they will sell you a return ticket (leaving you to later find out it is actually only valid for return travel with a different, cheaper company and the seller has pocketed the difference). The dock is a zoo — a prime hangout for pickpockets.
Passport. Although Zanzibar is part of the Union it maintains its own immigration service and you need to have a valid passport to enter, even if you come from mainland Tanzania. This farcically means you must fill out a Tanzania arrival card for your arrival in Stone Town, and a Tanzania departure card when you leave.
There are several flights from Dar to Zanzibar. Air Excel, air viva, Regional Air, Precision Air and ZanAir, Coastal Aviation, Tropical Air, Sky Aviation, Zantas Air Services, Flightlink Air Charters, Ilyas Aviation, Northern Air, Auric Air, Kenya Airways, Uganda Airways, Air Tanzania, Kili Air, Tanzanair, SafariAirLink, Fly540, to mention a few Tanzania scheduled and charter operators.
As of January 2009, Coastal was charging US$160 for a return flight from Dar with a 15kg baggage limit preferably in soft bags. The planes are small so luggage can be an issue if you’re doing a lot of shopping. A Precision Air ticket will cost a bit less but with a more generous baggage allowance.
Zanzibar has two (2) departure taxes. Domestic flights: 5,000 Tsh (or $5) and International flights: $30. For almost all cases though, this tax is incorporated into your flight ticket price.
There are a number of taxis waiting for passengers when you exit the terminal. Despite having a “list” of prices for the various tourist destinations on the island, prices are negotiable. Although you can arrange a pick up at the airport with your hotel or tour company, even a little negotiating will get you a better price than the inflated one quoted by most hotels. However, some Stone Town hotels do offer free shuttle service from the airport.
Although taxis are available, you will probably want to walk through Stone Town. After all, most of the alleys are barely wide enough for a bike to pass.
Journeying outside Stone Town is most comfortably done with a taxi or a private car, however a network of dalla-dallas, small minivans, exist which service all the major villages on the island. The adventurous, armed with a phrase book and map, will experience a wonderful side of Zanzibar life, which all too often is just another photograph to the typical tourist zooming past. A private car is of course a lot more expensive than a dalla-dalla, $15 compared to $3. It will take you about 2 hours to get to Nungwi, on the northern tip of the island. Another problem to take in account when driving by yourself is the Police and their practice of inventing “offences” to get bribes. Normally, they often threaten to go to trial in a couple of days, sometimes jumping in your car on the grounds that you have to drive them to the police station. Then, when they state “How can we sort this out?” 5000 Tsh ($3) will be enough to forget the offence.
Many hotels are happy to arrange a taxi for a transfer to the harbour, airport, spice tour or to another hotel. Beware, however, as they get commissions from taxis and so the prices tend to be higher. For example, your hotel might say that an airport transfer is $10, while out on the streets of Stone Town there are so many taxi drivers needing business you’ll probably be able to negotiate the price down to $6.
Avoid street hawkers and sellers by ignoring them completely. Do not even say hello or make eye contact. It is the most efficient way of getting rid of them, some may be dangerous. If they try to sell you a tour, you may never see him or her again. Book from an office, and make sure to state that you walked in without help from anyone.
Zanzibar Island, a.k.a., The Spice Island, was an important stop in the Spice Trade centuries ago. Today, it is one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced, and many other Middle Eastern/Asian spices (cardamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, etc.) are grown here. For $10-$15 you can go on a spice tour, which winds you around the island, showing you how anise grows; letting you sample some of the exotic fruit grown on the island; and allowing you to tour the beautiful plantations. Be careful when buying spices or teas at these plantations, they may use deceptive packaging to fake the depth of “variety packs”.
Jozani Forest has excellent nature trails, featuring some very exotic (and large) trees. Even more interesting, though, are the Red Colobus Monkeys that live here. Native to the Island, these monkeys are now nearly extinct. They are very curious and playful and will likely pose for a picture. The entry fee (8$) also include an optional visit to a beautiful mangrove forest which is highly recommended.
There are a number of historically important (and frankly, just plain beautiful) buildings in Stone Town, like The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort. It is easy to arrange a simple walking tour with a local guide who can teach you some history.
The market in Stone Town is one of the largest, most vibrant open-air markets anywhere. Here, you can find several varieties of bananas, “elephant garlic” unique to the island, the largest avocados you’ll probably ever see, and more. Prices are extremely reasonable. Even if you have no intentions of purchasing food, the spectacle alone is worth a visit.
Seaweed Center (Seaweed industry development project), (Paje, East Coast, Zanzibar), ☎ +255 772 37-18-44, . 3% of the world’s commercial harvest of Seaweed is taking place in Zanzibar island. The industry has ~15,000 women seaweed farmers. The Seaweed Center is a socially responsible business that provides female seaweed farmers in Paje, Zanzibar with opportunities to improve their personal standards of living and develop economic activities that benefit the entire community. The project comprises a factory and gathering site to produce soaps and creams from seaweed that are sold locally and begin to be distributed throughout East Africa. Tours are available, showing the life of seaweed women, the work and the value added activities. edit
There are a lot of things to do on Zanzibar Island. It just depends on where your interests lie.
Stone Town, recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most unique cities in the world. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African traditions and architectures, it is possible to spend days winding through Stone Town’s labyrinthine alleys; shopping; drinking tea; and visiting the city’s historic sites. Be sure to take sun screen, a hat and lots of water since your tour through Stone Town can be quite tiresome.
Visit Slave Market The site of the old Slave Market is quite an experience. Go into the holding chambers to see how this wretched piece of history played itself out in small dark dungeon-type cells. Priced at US$3 or TS3.5 its well worth it.
In the tourist areas around the waterfront, Kenyatta Road and Shangani Road, you will be beset by all manner of papasi, touts and others wanting to offer you taxis, spice tours, music, gifts, etc. A polite but firm No, thanks usually does the trick, but it can get exhausting. Best thing to do here is wander into the more residential alleys where you won’t be disturbed.
Be certain to have ‘dinner at MaruMaru near Old fort in Stone Town. Every evening, for just a few dollars, you can sample local fish, food, drinks, and hear local music.
Visit Forodhani Gardens If you are not scared of local food, then this place is definitely worth a visit. It is possibly the cheapest food you will find on the island, and value for money too. Ranging from crab claws, calamari steaks to plain old chips done in big woks. You are well advised to try the local sugar cane juice. The curio market can be found next to the food market. Here you will find all the gifts you may want to take back to friends and loved ones. Do not buy the first thing you see. First take a walk through the market, and you will see prices get progressively less. You must always haggle and bargain with the vendors or try to set the prices off against each other. This is their way of doing business and it also ensures that you get the best price.
Spice tours are being offered by many companies, they take you out to a spice farm, where your guide will show you how things like cinnamon, jack fruit and kukurma are grown, and will let you taste most of them. Be wary of buying them on the street, in which case the tout might just take your money without a booking. Another common scam is for a tout to follow you into (or give you directions to) the office, in which case the tour price will change from $10 to $15, with you paying the commission.
The East Beaches are popular among travellers. The sand is brilliant white, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are a deep teal. Here, you can:
Find plenty of opportunities for scuba diving; Rising Sun Dive Center  (based at the Breezes beach resort, Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour For $25-$35 You can take this beautiful (but not necessarily moral) tour. This includes a ride from Stone Town to the village of Kizimkazi in the south tip of the island, a few hours boat tour that includes snorkelling and chasing dolphins, local lunch, nap on the beach and an optional tour to Jozani Forest (see above). The full tours leaves town at 08:00 and returns at 17:00 – a complete day of fun and a very memorable experience, especially for the dolphins.
Arrange for a ride on a local’s dhow (a carved, wooden boat).
Sit and stare at the water for hours on end.
Kendwa Beach on the North Western coast is beautiful. Here you can swim during low and high tide, which is not always possible on the East side of the island. Just beware of the “Sea Urchins” that gives a powerful sting if stepped upon during low tide. Kendwa offers lots of beach bars and restaurants serving everything from pizza to local curries. Kendwa Beach is also known for the Full Moon Party, arranged Saturdays just before or after a full moon. While not as big or extreme as those arranged in Thailand, the parties on Zanzibar attract quite a large group of people, especially when the full moon coincides with public holidays in Europe and North America (eg Easter and Christmas).
Africa house in the stone town was the old English club and explorers like Livingstone and Stanley relaxed in the bar and billiards rooms before exploring the main land. the billiards now is an Arabic shisha smoking lounge.
Zanzibar is largely a Muslim community. Although they are used to Western ways, you should try to be respectful. This means:
Women and men should make an effort to cover their legs and arms.
It is regarded as disrepectful to show public affection.
Be discreet when drinking alcohol.
During Ramadan — the month of fasting — travellers should avoid eating and drinking publicly during the daytime. Also, be sure not to smoke in front of people, nor chew gum, and it is polite to avoid talking about the nice lunch you had.