Zanzibar, off of the east coast of Tanzania, is a stunning place with a unique culture all its own. While mainland Tanzania is majority Christian, Zanzibar has a strong Muslim heritage. The architecture, food, and music is all rooted in its Muslim culture. Traveling there can be part of the adventure, but it’s best to have a little know-how before you go. Here are my best tips for traveling to Zanzibar!
Getting to Zanzibar
You can get to Zanzibar by air or by sea. Both offer unique experiences, but while a bit more expensive, the fastest and most efficient way to get to Zanzibar is by plane.
Getting to Zanzibar by Boat
You can take high-speed ferries right from Dar Es Salaam with prices ranging from 35 – 70 dollars, with classes ranging from Economy to VIP. They take about 2 hours and bring you right to Stone Town. This is a great option if you happen to be staying in the city of Dar Es Salaam, as it avoids the 1.5 hour journey out to the airport to fly, otherwise, it might be a bit cumbersome to get to, as you’ll have to get to the port with all of your luggage.
Ferry travel is, for the most part, safe and secure, and offers a unique vantage point of the geography, but I do recommend only taking the high-speed, well maintained ferry lines.
Getting to Zanzibar by Plane
If you’re planning on traveling to Zanzibar at to the end of your safari or Kilimanjaro trek, chances are, your best bet is going to be flying in. You can get short, direct flights from Nairobi, Kilimanjaro, and the Serengeti Airstrips. Precision Air and Air Tanzania are the two largest airlines that fly into Zanzibar, and flights range from about $200 USD from Arusha/Kilimanjaro to about $500 USD from the more remote airstrips in the Serengeti.
Be sure, if you’re flying, to know the weight of your baggage, and to ask if there are any weight restrictions for baggage on the plane. Some of the aircraft that go to Zanzibar are quite small – 10-15 passenger planes, and you will have limitations in terms of baggage weight. The larger planes will have less of an issue, but it’s always good to know as much as you can ahead of time.
Visas for Zanzibar
If you’re already traveling through Tanzania, you will have already acquired your travel visas upon entry into the country, but if you’re flying in from another country, you’ll need to get your travel visa when you arrive. Cost is about $100 USD, and it’s valid for 90 days, and it takes about an hour to go through the process.
Money in Zanzibar
Most large hotels in Zanzibar accept credit cards, but you’ll want to be absolutely sure that you have some cash on hand for goods at the markets and transportation, as the majority of them operate in cash.
What to Pack for Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a tropical island close to the equator, so you can expect hot days and hot nights, with quite a bit of humidity. Pack accordingly! Bearing in mind that Zanzibar has a majority Muslim population, you might want to bring something that will cover your shoulders. You can also purchase a Kanga while you’re there.
The mosquitos are definitely present in Zanzibar, so if you’re prone to bites, you’ll want to bring spray.
Otherwise, light, cool fabrics, bathing suits, sun hats, comfortable shoes for walking, and plenty of sun cream are key, and packing light is paramount with the weight restrictions on your flights.
Getting around Zanzibar
There a few different ways to get around Zanzibar, and which one will be right to you has a lot to do with where you’re staying.
If you’re staying in Stone Town, use the cheapest method – your own feet! Stone Town is small, safe and walkable, if a bit of a maze when you get into the tighter streets. It’s a fantastic place to wander, sample the local foods, and drink in the rich culture.
Dala Dalas/Public Transportation
Traveling around the island, the Dala Dalas will be your most cost effective way to get around. They will take quite a while, though, and make frequent stops. They’ll also pack them with passengers as much as they can, so if tight crowding is not your thing, or time is of the essence, this might not be the best option for you.
Taxis are fairly common in Zanzibar, and while they’re easy to catch from Stone Town, if you’re taking them out to the beaches, but they can be hard to come by in the beach towns. Either arrange for a pickup ahead of time, or check out a nearby hotel so they can help you get a taxi with one of their trusted services.
Taxi travel is generally safe in Zanzibar, but they are not super punctual, and some can charge what they please, so stick to the providers recommended by your hotel.
Before You Go To Zanzibar…
Remembering that Zanzibar is majority Muslim, you’ll want to have something available to cover your shoulders, if you’re going sleeveless. It’s also considered not acceptable to be intoxicated in public places, so keep your intoxication to your room/house or the bar.
Be sure to have a plan for your transportation once you arrive at the air or seaport, and be sure to schedule your transportation back. There is no “on-call” service on the island, so pre-planning is paramount.
Live music is a huge part of the culture on Zanzibar, so be sure to keep your ears out for some great local music!