Zanzibar is an island off the coast of Tanzania. Travelers from near and far visit it to enjoy its crystal clear waters and pristine beaches. However, Zanzibar offers so much more.
- Most nationalities can get a visa upon entry. However, only mastercard and visa cards are accepted as payment.
- ATMs are only available in Stone Town, and most places charge a 6-10% surcharge to use card. So, plan accordingly. Withdraw a large amount of cash from the ATM in Stone Town before heading to other parts of the island, or bring enough cash with you to avoid paying the credit card surcharge.
- Go to “bureau” instead of bank to exchange money for a cheaper rate.
- Zanzibar is mostly Muslim. Drinking alcohol is not tolerated in Stone Town. However, you can drink at most hotels and there is more leniency towards alcohol in more touristy places, near the beach.
- Taxi prices – $10 taxi from airport into Stone Town; $35 from Nungwi to airport. If you’re a bit more adventurous, you can take the “dala dala” or local (“chicken”) bus for 2000 TSH (1USD) per person.
- Prices for accommodations can be quite pricey. You can offset the cost by eating cheap, local food.
- If you want to rent a motorbike, you need an international driver’s license; otherwise, you will need to take a taxi or “dala dala,” local bus.
- Note: Listed prices depend on time of year. I went during “low season” and was able to negotiate good rates with the locals.
Stone Town is the main city in Zanzibar and a well-traveled destination when visiting the Tanzanian island. It has historical significance as it previously served as a trade center. You could easily spend the day getting lost in its winding lanes carved doorways, carved doors, and 19th-century landmarks.
- Walk through the maze for streets:
Stone Town is a UNESCO world heritage sight. As such, cars and motorcycles are not permitted through much of the city. Half the fun is getting lost in the maze of narrow pathways that intertwines the city. It makes for an interesting cultural experience, as you will see the various cultural influences within the architecture.
You could go a on a walking tour to learn more about the history of such structures as the House of Wonders (the first tall building in East Africa to have electricity), the Indian dispensary and the Old Fort.
- Spice Tour:
The Spice Tour is a popular tourist attraction. A guide navigates you through a local spice farm, where you learn about the various spices grown in the region, including cardamom, pepper, nutmeg, lemongrass, and so much more! While the tour is only $10 a person, expect to be hassled to tip 5000 TSH ($3USD) to each person you meet on the spice tour, including (but certainly not limited to) the tour guide, coconut man, grass-hat making man, man selling products from the village, man cutting fruit to sample. (Travel Tip: to save money, you can do the spice tour on the way to the northern beaches)
- Dhow Cruise
Dhow cruises are a popular excursion on the island. The “sunset cruise” sails around the coast of the island and returns just before sunset. Most cruises will serve local fruits and water as part of the experience.
Tour: Afternoon 2 hours from 4-6 pm.
- Prison Island (to feed the tortoises)
Prison Island is only a 20 -30 minute boat trip from Zanzibar. Prison Island once served as a place where slaves were detained. Afterwards, it served as a place of quarantine for people with disease. Prison Island now functions as a nature reserve for giant tortoises that you can feed. Prison Island is a great day trip from Stone Town. (Tip: Bring your swimsuit; the waters here are refreshing on a hot day!)
Entrance Fee: $4 per person; $15 for transport to and from Stone Town
- Nakupenda (“Sand Bar” Island)
If you’re good at negotiating, you can make a day trip of Prison Island and Nakupenda. Crystal clear blue, white sands, few tourists; how can you go wrong? Take your own food, drinks, and snorkeling gear.
- Slave Market
Zanzibar was the last legally-operating slave market in the world. As such, Stone Town’s Slave Market serves as a place to learn about the dismal history of Stone Town’s past.
Tour: 1 hour; Entrance fee: $5/10000TSH per person + tip for the tour guide (5000-10000TSH)
- Jozani Forest (to see monkeys):
Jozani Forest is the only national park on the island of Zanzibar. The forest is home to other wildlife including bush babies, jumping shrew, and an array of butterflies and fauna. You can also learn about the various type of plants used for medicinal purposes.
Tour: 2-3 hours; Travel Tip: save money by visiting this on the way to Paje or any of the Southern areas of Zanzibar.
- Dajarani market
Dajarani market is Zanzibar’s main market, or bazaar. It is worth a visit if you want to see a bit of local culture, or want to purchase some local fruits, veggies, fish and veggies. It’s best to see in the morning, when the fish is still fresh.
- Try local food
Want a bit more of an authentic local experience? Try local Swahili food! The local food is a combination of Arabic and Indian cuisines. For 2000 shillings ($1usd), sample a variety of local dishes at Lukmaan Restaurant.
- Forodhani night (food) market
This market is bustling at night with tourists, locals and of course, food! Try a variety of local gastronomy including, “Zanzibar pizza” and sugarcane juice with lime and ginger.
Crystal clear waters are only an hour’s drive from Stone Town ($35 or 70000 TSH for taxi transport). There are several popular beaches in Zanzibar:
Nungwi – Nungwi Beach is located in the northern part of Zanzibar. It is a popular tourist destination because the beaches are not as greatly affected by the tides. Nungwi is also known for its “party atmosphere.” While there are a number of bars off the beach, the party atmosphere is VERY low key compared to the likes of other party beach destinations…say Ibiza?
Kendwa – Within walking distance of Nungwi Beach is Kendwa. If you’re looking to just get-away-from-it-all, then Kendwa Beach is a where you want to be.
Paje – One of the more popular Southeastern beach towns on Zanzibar is Paje. It’s a great place to visit for watersports and to learn how to scuba dive.
Note: “Beach boys” typically hang out in touristy areas. They will first make friendly conversation and eventually end up trying to sell you something, whether it be an excursion, tour, or trinkets. I personally am used to being hassled a lot of places I go. However, I also know that being asked, “You want to go snorkeling, my friend?” at least a dozen times in one day can also be a bit annoying.
In this case…
Kiwengwa Beach – Kiwengwa Beach has a few of the fanciest hotels on the island. Kiwengwa is a fantastic beach if you want to splurge to enjoy exclusive peace.
- Snorkel in Mnemba Atoll
Snorkeling is a popular activity to do on the island. Mnemba Atoll has a reef where you can see all types of sea-life. While the coral reefs don’t compare to those of the Great Barrier Reef, there is still have plenty to see. Snorkel gear and lunch is included in the price.
Tour: Full day trip; Cost: $20 per person
- Dolphin tour
Dolphin tours are popular activity also. If they stay in the area, you might even get to swim with them! The types of dolphins common to Zanzibar are the bottle-nosed dolphin and spinner dolphin.
Tour: Full day trip; Cost: $20 per person
- Learn to SCUBA
If you fancy getting your diver’s license, PADI courses are available on most parts of the island. The courses are 4 days long and include and instruction manual, and scuba diving certificate at the end of it. (Length: 4 days; Price: about $500USD)
- Full Moon Party:
If you’re looking to have a few drinks in the light of the moon, Kendwa Rocks is where you need to be to enjoy the full moon party.
Entrance: 35,000 shillings/$15 USD