Zanzibar is a group of fifty islands, of which Zanzibar Island is the biggest, the best known, as well as having some of the most stunning beaches. Many people visiting Zanzibar combine a longer stay on the beach with a night or two in Stone Town. Stone Town is a bustling and a very exotic place to explore, to eat out at some unique restaurants and pick up a few souvenirs to take back home. Conservative clothing is generally acceptable everywhere, but revealing clothes should be avoided since they may be offensive.
Keep in mind most residents are Muslims (Over 85%).
Zanzibar is part of a small archipelago of islands steeped in Moorish, Indian, Middle Eastern and of course African tradition, with just a touch of leftover European influence – though English is still widely spoken. Its namesake island, where most of the attractions are located, is also known as the Spice Island and has seen vast amounts of nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and other spices pass through its port. Spices still play a significant role in the island’s economy, as you will discover in the cuisines. With such a mixed heritage, there are always plenty of options, nearly always locally grown or caught, using ingredients you might not expect. Seafood fans might enjoy an octopus curry or pepper shark, while spices enhance a delicious range of pastries.
When to Go to Zanzibar
Zanzibar is an equatorial paradise, with a warm climate and almost no seasonal variation (high temperatures are between 82°F and 91°F year-round). As such, the only consideration you need to account for when making Zanzibar travel plans is precipitation. March through May is the monsoon season when the islands get about twelve inches of rain per month. It’s also the least touristy season, so plan accordingly.
Zanzibar observes Ramadan for a month every year. During this period Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Although hotels catering to tourists are not affected, many small shops and restaurants are closed during the day. If you plan to arrive during Ramadan, aim for the end when a huge feast called the Eid al-Fitr (which means “end of the fast”) brings everyone out to the streets.
What To Do In Zanzibar
Stone Town that myriad narrow streets wind their way through craft shops, art galleries, fabric stalls and quaint coffee shops. It is also the perfect place to explore on foot and getting lost within this maze of ancient streets will give rise to a number of cultural experiences that can appear much more local and authentic than the beach life up north.
*The House of Wonders
The House of Wonders is worth exploring. This is a spectacular masterpiece of architecture which was initially the palace of Zanzibar’s sultan and is now home to the National Museum of Culture. Highlights of the collection include a large traditional Swahili boat (mtepe) in the central courtyard and two 16th century bronze cannons captured from the Portuguese.
*Slave Chambers and Old Fort
It is also possible to take a short tour of the slave chambers (between the Anglican Cathedral and St Monica’s Hostel), which is a mind fu&k, but a necessary reminder, for the tragic history of Stone Town. You should also stop in at the nearby Old Fort of Zanzibar, an imposing structure built in the 17th century by the Omanis to repel attacks from the Portuguese.
Illuminating the lifestyle of the Sultans of Zanzibar, the Palace Museum (originally called the Sultan’s Palace).The Palace Museum houses an impressive collection of the Sultans’ elaborate furniture and possessions as well as a room dedicated to the life of Sultan Sayyid Said’s daughter, Princess Salme.
*Mtoni Palace Ruins
Beit El Mtoni literally means The Palace by the stream. The palace owes this name to its location on the western shore of Zanzibar. It is one of the oldest buildings of Zanzibar and it was the largest palace on the island during the reign of Sultan Sayyid Said.
Local buses stop near the palace ruins and there is no cover charge to explore.
A vibrant array of colors and spicy scents lures visitors to the vibrant Central Market in Stone Town. Opened in 1904 as the Seyyidieh Market, the numerous stalls run over with tropical fruits, exotic spices, brightly colored khangas (worn by local women) and rare provisions such as pomegranates and red bananas. Locals come daily from the surrounding areas to display their subsistence wares, and fishermen display their catch of the day with a pungent array of fresh fish from huge Marlins to salty sardines. The market is chaotic and can prove a bit overwhelming for some people, but it is an exciting, colorful cultural experience and worth a quick stroll at least. Foodies will enjoy sampling the rare fruits and local specialties. Speaking of food, the best place for a sampling of traditional street food is the night market by the waterfront of the Forodhani Gardens.
*Take A Ferry To The Mainland
Several ferries travel between Dar es Salaam and Stone Town. The fastest trips, lasting about 75 minutes. Tickets can be purchased on the spot or in advance. Timetables and prices are displayed on boards outside each office. Tickets for nonresidents range from $40 for first class (TSH 65,000) to $35 (TSH 60,000) for second class.
Lodging & Transportation
While lodging isn’t the cheapest in Zanzibar, I did find hotels and guest houses in Stone Town around $28 a night, however, up north where the beautiful beaches are located you won’t find those prices.
I stayed at the My Blue Hotel Resort in Nunwgi which is about a 1 hour 15 minutes outside of Stone Town and it’s very “pole-pole” meaning slow in Swahili. I would definitely recommend staying a few days in Stone Town and a few days in Nungwi, Kendwa, or Matemwe.
There’s no Uber to catch back and forth and taxi’s charge $40-$50 USD each way.
You can always find someone who does tours and get them to take you for about $25-$35 USD round-trip.
If you are really about that life, you can catch a Dala Dala (converted pick up trucks with benches which fit up to 22 people) or convoys (buses)
The Untold History
Zanzibar was one of the largest slave ports in the vast Indian Ocean slave trade, which was dominated by Arabic slave traders.
This slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. Enslaved black boys between the age of 8 and 12 had their scrotum’s and penises completely amputated to prevent them from reproducing. About 6 of every 10 boys bled to death during the procedure, according to some sources, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable.
The eastern Arabic slave trade dealt primarily with African women, maintaining a ratio of two women for each man. These women & young girls were used by Arabs & other Asians as concubines and menials.
The slaveholder was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. Filling the harems of wealthy Arabs, African women bore them a host of children.
Despite the history of Zanzibar, it’s extremely safe and some of the friendliest people you will ever encounter.
Take the same safety precautions as you would back home in your city. If you are walking around at night, stick to well-lit walkways. However, you will find Masai tribesmen from Tanzania are on watch every evening at various points in the city and resorts for the safety of the town and for the well-being of the locals.
The police don’t carry guns and crimes are extremely low. I’m no Muslim but I’ve been all around the world and know when I’m in a predominately Muslim country I’m pretty safe and never even wear a money belt like I do when I travel most parts of Europe. Travel really opens you up to understanding different cultures and religions that are often portrayed completely different by the media here in America.
*Airport tip: If you don’t want help from porters, be firm as they will demand a tip & ask for more if they feel it’s not enough.
***Instead of pictures I wanted you all to see video of this paradise***
ATM’s & Currency
The currency of Zanzibar is the Tanzania Shilling (TSH). The current exchange rate is approximately US$1=2,234 TSH. Hotels will accept payment for food and drinks in either $US or TSH. Some restaurants and shops in the tourist areas may also accept payment in US currency.
*Due to a lot of counterfeits, nobody in Tanzania, including banks, will accept a $100 USD bill is what the locals told me, so it is best to carry smaller denominations.
*Credit cards are accepted at some of the major hotels but a 5-10% surcharge will usually be added. There’s a total of 8 ATM’s in Zanzibar with none outside of Stone Town.
Vaccinations and Visas
*Be advised to contact a medical specialist or family doctor or even a licensed vaccination clinic on the recommended & required shots and pills to enter the country. (Malaria pills, yellow fever shots & etc)
*Depending on where your passport is from, you may or may not have to pay for a visa, however, if you are a USA passport holder it will cost you $100 USD. (they only accept credit or debit cards)
Click on the link to apply for your online visa====> Visa Application
If you have any additional questions on Zanzibar feel free to hit me up, I have a few contacts there as well.