“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.
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 learnt 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!
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 (and 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).
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 religion hate in Zanzibar, they live together in acceptance and in harmony. 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.
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.
More about local attractions in Part II, meanwhile I will leave here a few pictures for a small taste of Paradise.