Zanzibar lies on the east coast of Africa and consists of Unguja Island (also called Zanzibar) and Pemba Island, with several surrounding islets.
The Island of Unguja is separated from mainland Tanzania by a shallow channel 37 km in width at its narrowest point. It is 73 km from Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast and 219 km from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. The capital of Unguja Island is Stone Town. Pemba has three major towns; Wete, Chake Chake, and Mkoani.
WHEN TO VISIT
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 between April and June (the ‘long rains’), rainfall can be high. Rain in Zanzibar comes in short, sharp showers in the morning or afternoon followed by the return of the sunshine.
High tourist season is June to August, and mid November to early January. During this period many up market hotels increase their prices, but smaller establishments and local guesthouses keep their rates constant throughout the year.
Zanzibar’s predominantly Muslim population observes the fasting month of Ramadan every year during which believers are forbidden to eat, drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset. As a result, many smaller restaurants and snack bars are closed during the day. Offices and shops are also closed in the afternoons. Tourist resorts and hotels remain unaffected but local discos and clubs refrain from opening throughout this month. If you plan to travel to Zanzibar during this month, complete your holiday by celebrating Eid al Fitr, at the end of this holy month. There are huge festivities and parties and it is a most enjoyable season on the island.
VISA AND VACCINATIONS
Zanzibar is a semi autonomous state of mainland Tanzania. Therefore, visitors from most countries require an entry visa. Please check with the Tanzanian Embassy/High Commission in your country before booking your travel. Visas are valid for three months and the cost varies upon nationality, and allow multiple entry into Tanzania. A $30 departure tax payable if travelling by air from Zanzibar, and a $5 port tax applies when you book a ferry ticket. This is payable in US dollars only.
TRAVELLING TO ZANZIBAR By boat
Frequent ferries make the crossing between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. The fastest journey time is around 75 minutes on the hydrofoils operated by Sea Express; the slowest is the overnight trip made by the Flying Horse. Ferry tickets can be bought on the spot or in advance from the row of booking offices next to the port in Dar es Salaam. Non-residents must pay in US dollars. The ferry timetable and costs are displayed on boards outside each office.
The principal carriers to Zanzibar Precision Air, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. Numerous airlines including British Airways, Emirates, Sabena and KLM fly to Dar es Salaam, from where you can catch a ferry or a coastal flight to Zanzibar. Charter flights from Europe, especially Italy, fly into Zanzibar almost daily. Precision Air, Coastal Travel and Zanair also provide scheduled charter flights. The flight from Dar es Salaam takes around 20minutes.
Traveling around Zanzibar is quite easy. The options on Unguja include renting a cheap and easy vehicle. You must have an International Driving Permit or a temporary 3 month driver’s permit which can be purchased on arrival to drive in Zanzibar, as there are regular police checks.Cars with a driver are also available. A host of tour companies and freelance guides offer group transport to and from the coast and also arrange trips to other areas of interest on Unguja and Pemba. Price reliability and condition of vehicles vary so if you’re concerned, use a reputable tour company. For those on a shoestring budget or for travelling shorter distances, dala-dalas – local public transport are recommended as they travel all over the island. Zanzibar, and especially Unguja, is an ideal place to explore by mountain bike due to its flat terrain. Mountain bikes can be rented from several tour companies in Stone Town.
Money and Communications
The unit of currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling but 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 at smaller establishments. Internet and email communication is excellent in Stone Town, with many cheap Internet cafés scattered around. Outside Stone Town, communication facilities have vastly improved and it is usually possible to find email facilities in the bigger villages on the coast.
Telecommunications in Zanzibar has also improved dramatically with a host of different companies offering good services at reasonable rates. The Tanzanian postal system is fairly reliable.
Health and Safety
Visitors to Zanzibar are required by law to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when they enter the country. The malaria prophylaxis jab is also recommended. See your doctor for other recommended inoculations and further details before travelling.
Drink bottled water and avoid uncooked foods that may have been washed in untreated water. Sunstroke and heat exhaustion are common on the island so drink enough water and wear protective clothing and a high factor sunscreen.
Zanzibar is a safe country and most locals are friendly and honest. But avoid flaunting expensive jewellry or valuable camera equipment around. Don’t walk with all your valuables on you in Stone Town. Avoid walking alone on beaches, especially at night.
The national language is Kiswahili although English is widely spoken on the island.
Important Cultural Considerations
Zanzibar has a long history of religious tolerance and although the island’s residents are 99% Muslim, alcohol and tobacco are freely available. Visitors are,however, requested to show consideration 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 wear swimming trunks.
Sometimes visitors refuse to cover up and this causes offense and even outrage amongst the local population even though these feelings may not be directly expressed. As one sign says, “Short skirts are like nude” At the beach swimwear is acceptable, but topless sunbathing is not allowed
During the fast of Ramadan, it is 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.