Zanzibar, the spice islands
Zanzibar is an archepelago of islands in the Indian Ocean that lie 30km off the coast of Tanzania. The two largest islands are Unguja (commonly known as ‘Zanzibar’) and Pemba. Another island that is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, is Mafia.
Zanzibar Town (including it’s old quarter of Stone Town) is the capital of Zanzibar, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Tourism and spices are Zanzibar’s main industries are spices and tourism. Zanzibar is often still referred to as the Spice Islands due to the production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Zanzibar is a year-round destination. The coolest months are June through October, when the temperature averages 26 Celsius. This can soar to well over 30 degrees in the hot season, from December to March.
During November (the ‘short rains’) and in April / May (the ‘long rains’), rainfall is higher.
Rain in Zanzibar comes in short, sharp showers in the morning or afternoon, followed by the return of the sunshine.
visa and entry requirements
Zanzibar is a semi autonomous state within Tanzania. Therefore, visitors from most countries are required to have a Tanzanian visa to enter.
Visas are generally obtainable on arrival at Zanzibar International Airport for US$50 / Euro50 CASH per person (but please note that American Citizens pay US$100 for their visas). *
Other points in Tanzania currently offering visa on entry are Dar Es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airports, and Namanga on the road border between Tanzania and Kenya. Nationals of some countries do not require visas, so it is advisable to check with your nearest Tanzanian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate prior to visiting Zanzibar.
* NB: Please double check visa costs and requirements at your embassy before you travel.
The unit of currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling.
US dollars are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and bars. (By law, visitors have to settle hotel bills in US dollars or other hard currency, but this can be waived in smaller establishments.)
Please note if you are paying by credit card: many hotels and resorts add up to 6% commission for credit card payments.
The national language is Kiswahili, though English is widely spoken.
health and safety
Visitors to Zanzibar may be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when they enter the country. Malaria prophylaxis is also recommended.
NB: See your travel doctor for recommended inoculations and health advice.
Drink bottled water and avoid uncooked foods that may have been washed in untreated water. Sunstroke and heat exhaustion are common, so drink enough water and wear protective clothing and high factor sunscreen.
Zanzibar is a safe country, and most locals are friendly and honest. But avoid flaunting wealth by wearing expensive jewelry or waving camera equipment around. Avoid walking alone on isolated beaches at night.
important cultural considerations
Zanzibar has a long history of religious tolerance and although the islands are 90% Muslim, alcohol and tobacco are freely available. Visitors are, however, requested to show consideration for the culture of Zanzibar by dressing modestly and refraining from public displays of affection. When walking in towns and villages, women should wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men should not walk bare-chested or wearing swimming trunks. Many visitors refuse to cover up and this causes offense and often outrage amongst the local population, even though these feelings may not be directly expressed. As one sign says, “Short skirts are like nude”. On the beaches, swimwear is acceptable, but topless sunbathing is not.
During the fast of Ramadan, it is considered the height of bad manners to eat and drink in public places or while walking down the street. Non- Muslims should not enter mosques unless specifically invited to do so. Only take pictures of people if you have their permission, and don’t peer too obviously through the doorways of private houses in Stone Town.
The history of Zanzibar has been influenced by many nations, including the Arabia, Persia, India, Portugal, Britian and local tribes from the African mainland. This is clearly noticed in the architecture. Stone Town is a place of narrow lanes, intricately carved wooden doors, towers, terraces and fabulous mosques.
In 1964 Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania, although it still enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the unified state.