“Jambo!” – This is the first thing you hear when you get to the lovely island of Zanzibar, and you don’t stop hearing it throughout your stay here. And that is because it actually means “Hello!” and people in Zanzibar (and Tanzania overall) are very friendly and like talking with tourists and making you feel welcome in their Paradise. Of course, there are a few things to know before traveling to Zanzibar, just in order to be prepared for anything.
Read these Zanzibar travel tips and plan your trip accordingly.
It was my first time in Africa and I was a bit nervous about the trip and did not have any high expectations (when it came to food, cleanness etc) based on other experiences I’ve had in the past in other locations (I’ve learned that it is always better not to have expectations, this way chances of disappointment decrease).
And it worked because once I’ve got there I was swept away!
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What you want to know before traveling to Zanzibar island
But let me start from the beginning because there are some things you want to know if you are considering traveling to Zanzibar/Tanzania, there are some basic information that for me was very useful.
Vaccines – are they mandatory?
First of all, vaccines. I did everything by the rule (as I’ve said, I was a bit nervous) and have spent quite a significant amount of money on the vaccines (hepatitis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, polio), the only thing I didn’t take were malaria pills, but have used mosquito repellant.
After talking with different people who had been in the past to this specific country and also to other countries in Africa, I’ve understood that all these are not mandatory and it depends very much on the amount of risk you are willing to take.
When I talk about the risk I mean also at the location, if you enjoy street food or if you are not that careful with the water you drink – it is recommended to drink only bottled water and to use it also for washing your teeth.
At the end of the day, I would encourage you to see a doctor before leaving for your trip and decided together whether vaccines are required in your case. Only a specialist, which I’m not, will make the right decision.
What to wear in Zanzibar?
Moving forward, what is the dress code in Zanzibar? I had this question and have done a lot of research before leaving because even if in the United Republic of Tanzania 62% of the population is converted to Christianity, on the island of Zanzibar 99% of the people are Muslims.
This being said, I want to point out that all the people are so very friendly and, as the guide who took us through Stone Town told us, there is no religious hate in Zanzibar, they live together in acceptance and in harmony.
Read next: What to pack for Zanzibar
Even so, I preferred to respect their traditions and have tried to wear skirts over the knees and cover my shoulders while strolling through the city. On the beach or inside the resort, everything changes and swimming suits and normal beach clothing are accepted.
That doesn’t mean you should wear dull colors. Just look around and you’ll see plenty of lively, colorful, traditional clothing.
And when I think back of Zanzibar and Tanzania, that’s the one thing that gets to mind: how everything is so colorful and spreads a feel-good vibe. Clothing included.
Shopping in Zanzibar – Is bargaining accepted?
I knew that Zanzibar was the Sultanate of Oman for almost 200 years but I wasn’t sure if bargaining is a custom here. And the answer is yes! Of course, it is. Never accept the first price offered to you, especially if you buy more products.
And try to have the local currency (Tanzanian Shilling) as much as possible, because you would gain a little bit from this.
One additional tip, don’t expect to find small prices here (like the ones in Asia for example), I was surprised to see that for example a henna tattoo at the resort was 30 dollars and almost all souvenirs in Stone Town had prices starting from 5 dollars and up.
What else should you know before visiting Zanzibar island?
The local language spoken is Swahili – language also spoken in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Comoros, Mayotte and some parts of Zambia. You would definitely know the very common saying “Hakuna Matata!” meaning “No worries”.
“Pole Pole” – slowly slowly, no rush. This is their mantra but even so, we did not experience problems with late taxis, buses or guides (as in Cuba for example)
Ocean’s tides – there are quite large differences between the high and the low tide and water’s height changes roughly every 6 hours (at least on the Eastern side of the island). Water is so very warm and from what I’ve seen the amount of seaweed varies a lot from one beach to the other.
Yes, Freddy Mercury was born here!
Best time to travel to Zanzibar: Temperature is mostly stable throughout the year, but high precipitation is expected from March until the end of May.
Credit cards – are only accepted at major hotels travel agencies and restaurants, most shops and markets do not accept card payment.
Do you need a Visa and how much does it cost? – Basically, the tourist visa is granted at the airport directly and fees differ from one person to another depending on the period of stay and purpose of visit. If for example, you come from Europe, you would have to pay 50 USD for the visa. Please note that as a Romanian citizen, you don’t need a visa for entering Tanzania.
Zanzibar currency – the local currency is the Tanzanian Schilling and even though you can use also US dollars or Euros, I strongly advise you to exchange the money where you can get a better rate than using directly dollars/EUR. Don’t expect to find ATMs easily (you might find them only in Stone Town), thus it is better to have cash with you.
Tipping is custom and you might want to consider: 5-10 USD per day for the guide, 10% at restaurants and bars, 1 USD for the maid and the baggage carrier.
Come prepared to buy lots of spices and coffee.
Bring your snorkeling mask with you! You’ll want to use it everywhere and you’ll understand why as soon as you get there! When we went snorkeling I would have preferred having m own mask, because the sanitary conditions are not the same everywhere.
Getting around the island
Getting around Zanzibar is fairly easy, even though it can get pretty expensive for tourists.
You can always take public transportation, even though I’ve seen people crowded and hanging from the bus, especially in the morning when everyone goes to work. The buses are called Dala Dala and you could pay as little as 1.5 USD to get from one part of the island to the other, in local conditions.
I’ve had friends who rented a car, and I would suggest doing that if you are planning to do a lot of exploring on your own and not opt for the organized tours (as we did). Check out Skyscanner.com and book way in advance if you want to find the best prices.
Book private transfers especially from the airport to your hotel, when you want to forget the hustle of finding the place as soon as you get there. We had one arranged and it was super convenient.
On the other hand, traveling around the island is easy when you choose organized tours and you can get great prices when you book in advance on GetYourGuide.com.
More about what to see in Zanzibar in my one week Zanzibar itinerary, meanwhile I will leave here a few pictures for a small taste of Paradise.