Located about 22 miles (35km) off the east coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an archipelago consisting of the main island of Unguja (commonly known as Zanzibar), Pemba Island, famous for its deep-sea fishing, and about 50 smaller surrounding islands and coral reefs.
Also known as the ‘Spice Islands’, Zanzibar evokes images of an exotic paradise with white palm-fringed beaches and turquoise coves, dreamy dhows with billowing white sails, and ancient Islamic ruins. Today’s idyllic beach resorts belie the island’s haunting history of slavery, and Zanzibar combines Arabic alleyways and historic monuments with coral reefs and excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities.
The island’s varied history brought with it seafarers, explorers and traders, and it became a major centre for the slave industry. Its heyday was during the 19th century, when the island became the world’s leading producer of cloves; its plantations still produce more than 50 different spices and fruit, and guided spice tours are a Zanzibar speciality.
Stone Town, the historic centre of Zanzibar’s capital city, is a captivating place built by Arab and Indian merchants in the 19th century from the island’s coral stone. A walk through the disordered twisting alleys, past intricately-carved wooden doors and beneath ornate balconies, with the lingering scent of spices in the air, takes one back in time to the days of a prosperous slave and spice industry. Decaying architecture, numerous mosques, a bathhouse and old fort, cool interior courtyards and lively markets are the remaining influence of the Persians and the Omani Arabs who established themselves as the ruling power here.
For centuries Zanzibar has enticed those in search of business; today it remains an irresistible attraction for those seeking a heavenly beach holiday or an exploration into its exotic heritage – or a bit of both.
230 volts, 50Hz. Rectangular or round three-pin plugs are used.
Swahili and English are the official languages. Several indigenous languages are also spoken.
Travellers are advised to see a doctor or visit a travel clinic at least three weeks before leaving for Tanzania. Visitors should consider vaccinations for hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever and polio. Those arriving from an infected country are required to hold a yellow fever vaccination certificate. There is a risk of malaria all year and outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever occur; travellers should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and take malaria medication. Food prepared by unlicensed vendors should be avoided, as meat and milk products from animals may not have been cooked thoroughly. Sleeping sickness is a risk in the game parks, including the Serengeti, and visitors should take precautions against bites by tsetse flies. There is a high prevalence of HIV/Aids. Cholera outbreaks are common throughout the country and visitors are advised to drink bottled or sterilised water only. Travellers climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro are at risk for altitude sickness.
Medical services are available in Dar-es-Salaam and other main towns, but facilities and supplies are limited even in cities, and often non-existent in rural areas; visitors with particular requirements should take their own medicines. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Waiters in the better restaurants should be tipped around 10 percent. Guides, porters and cooks in the wildlife parks and on safari trips expect tips. The amount is discretionary according to standard of service and the number in your party.
Most visits to Tanzania are trouble-free. As in other East African countries, the threat from terrorism is quite high in Tanzania and visitors should be cautious in public places, tourist sites and hotels, particularly in Zanzibar’s Stone Town. The area bordering Burundi should be avoided. Street crime is a problem in Tanzania, especially in Dar es Salaam, and tourists should be alert and cautious. Lonely beaches and footpaths are often targeted; women are particularly vulnerable to attacks. Visitors should leave valuables in their hotel safe and not carry too much cash on them at any time.
Armed crime is on the increase and there have been serious attacks on foreigners in Arusha and on Pemba Island. There have also been reports of robberies and kidnapping on Zanzibar, and piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden is a serious concern with commercial and tourist vessels being fired upon and several British tourists taken hostage.
Road accidents are common in Tanzania due to poor road and vehicle conditions, violation of traffic regulations and exhaustion among long-distance drivers. There have also been a number of ferry accidents in Tanzania in recent years. Caution should be exercised – if a bus or ferry seems overloaded or in poor condition, don’t get on.
Tanzanians are known to be friendly and generally welcoming, but travellers should be sensitive to local cultural mores. Drunkenness is frowned upon and Tanzanians feel strongly about showing respect for their elders.
Visitors to Zanzibar should be aware that it is a predominantly Muslim region and visitors should dress modestly and respectfully. Beachwear is fine on the beach or around a hotel pool, but not acceptable elsewhere. Topless sunbathing is a criminal offence. Some tourists buys a local sarong, called a kanga, which can be used to cover shoulders when needed, or otherwise be used as a scalf or towel.
Smoking in public places is illegal. Tourists should be especially careful during Ramadan when public drinking, smoking and even eating should be avoided.
Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania.
Although Tanzanians come across as relaxed and friendly, it is important to observe certain formalities, especially with greetings. It is advisable to learn a few Swahili catch phrases when greeting, followed by a handshake. Women and men rarely shake hands in Swahili culture; however, if the woman extends her hand, the man is obliged to take it. Tanzanians are to be addressed as Mr, Mrs, and Ms, followed by the family name. Business dress is seldom very formal but lightweight suits are recommended for formal occasions. Business hours are similar to Western countries, but a longer lunch break is taken during the hotter months, and business continues later in the evening from Monday to Friday.
The international country dialling code for Tanzania, as well as Zanzibar, is +255. There is good mobile phone coverage in main cities and towns, while rural areas may have limited coverage. There are international roaming agreements with most international operators. Avoid making telephone calls from hotels; they can be very expensive. Internet cafés are available in the main towns and resorts.
Travellers to Tanzania do not have to pay duty on 250g tobacco or 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars and 500ml of alcoholic beverages. Restrictions apply to firearms, plants, plant products and fruits.
Zanzibar is warm throughout the year. The heat at the coastal resorts on the north and east coast is tempered by sea breezes. Stonetown and the centre of Zanzibar Island have showers throughout the year. There are heavy showers throughout the island in April and May when most tourists avoid the island and hotels close. Temperatures consistently average between 72°F (22°C) and 92°F (33°C) throughout the year.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS
South Africans do not require a visa if intending to stay for a maximum of up to 90 days, provided that the passport is valid for six months from date of entry. Otherwise a visa is required for longer stays. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets and all documents required for their next destination. Business travellers will be required to pay a fee of $200 on arrival.
Most visitors entering Tanzania require a visa. Passports must contain one unused visa page. Visitors may obtain a visa on arrival at Dar-es-Salaam or Zanzibar airports, costing between US$ 50 and US$ 200 depending on nationality, payable in cash. Visa must be paid with notes of US $50 or US $100.
All visitors also require proof of sufficient funds and should hold documentation for their return or onward journey. Passports should be valid for at least six months from date of entry. Those arriving from an infected country must hold a yellow fever vaccination certificate. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The official currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TZS), divided into 100 cents. The tourism industry prices everything in US Dollars and this is the preferred unit of currency. Money can be exchanged in larger towns; foreign exchange bureaux may offer a better rate of exchange than banks. ATMs are available in major towns and cities. Major lodges, some hotels and travel agents in urban areas accept credit cards, but these should not be relied on and can incur a surcharge.
Public transport on the island of Zanzibar is limited. Daladalas are cheap crowded minibuses that operate extensively on the island. Taxis are quite affordable but travellers are advised to negotiate a price before starting a trip as very few vehicles have a functioning meter. Motorcycle taxis are a cheap and speedy way to get around the island; fares are cheap but passengers are advised to always wear a helmet. A fun way to explore the island is by bicycle. Bicycles can be hired throughout the island at a very low rate. Travellers can also hire cars, motorcycles or 4×4 vehicles and these offer greater independence when it comes to travelling around Zanzibar; 4×4 vehicles are often the best choice for those wanting to travel off the beaten track. Drivers will find that most roads in Zanzibar are fairly well maintained and driving is relatively safe on the island.
There is so much to see and do in Zanzibar!
Most travellers visit primarily for a beach vacation and Zanzibar’s beaches alone more than justify the trip. The northern beaches of Zanzibar are particularly celebrated for their beauty, and excursions to Pemba Island and Mafia Island are a treat for beachgoers. Other tourist favourites include Kendwa Beach and Nungwi Beach, close together on the northwestern tip of the island, with good resort facilities; Uroa Bay, in the middle of the east coast, which still retains a pleasant local flavour; Paje Beach, on the east coast, said to be the best spot on Zanzibar for some kite surfing; Nakupenda Beach, accessible by a short boat trip from Stone Town, which is pristine and usually deserted, a true paradise beach; and the beaches of Changuu Island (Prison Island) where beach lounging can be combined with a visit to the old quarantine centre and the resident giant tortoises. It is possible to arrange many different water sports and boat trips, and the scuba diving and snorkelling is world-class.
Zanzibar is more than just picturesque beaches, however, with the Islamic heritage infusing the island with an exotic, ancient atmosphere, and the legacy of the slave trade ensuring some historical interest. The dilapidated beauty of Stone Town is a big draw card for travellers wanting a taste of culture. For those wanting to explore into the interior of Zanzibar, 4×4 excursions are popular, and the Jozani Chwaka Bay Conservation Area is the best place to experience the surviving mangrove forests.