Zanzibar Flags Stone Town
Zanzibar

Ultimate Guide to Zanzibar | Everything You Need to Know Before Your Trip

Zanzibar. Stunning beaches. Untouched nature. Incredible history. What more could you want in a travel destination? If I’m being completely honest, Zanzibar was never really on my radar of countries to visit. I don’t feel like you hear much about it or see many pictures. It just sounds like some far off, exotic place.

Zanzibar Travel beaches

I knew literally nothing about Zanzibar before my first visit to the country. All I knew was that it was an island. That’s all. I wasn’t even exactly sure what the relationship was between Tanzania and Zanzibar (Zanzibar is technically a part of Tanzania but also autonomous). But there was still time to learn!

History of Zanzibar

Before traveling to Zanzibar I decided to learn as much as I could about this interesting little island I had only heard mentioned in the passing. Was Zanzibar its own country? What is its history? I had so many questions. I listened to as many podcasts I could find and I found them all fascinating.

Zanzibar is an archipelago of over 50 islands. Unguja is the largest island and most visited, and what you normally consider ‘Zanzibar proper’, even containing the capital city of Stone Town. Pemba, a bit more north, is the second largest.

Zanzibar Travel island

Zanzibar is strategically placed as an incredibly important part of the trade route through the Indian Ocean. As a result, it even gained the nickname of “Spice Island” throughout the years as they exported and traded a huge amount of exotic spices throughout history.

Between Oman and Portugal and Great Britain and then Oman again, countless colonial powers seemed to constantly fight over this little island in the Indian Ocean. Oman, which seemed to have the largest and longest influence in the religion and culture, used the island for more tragic purposes – for the slave trade.

Zanzibar Travel

The island is peppered with remains of the huge slave industry that had Zanzibar as its hub. Prison Island off the coast of Stone Town was used as a jail for rebellious slaves and the less rebellious were sent to the Americas to work on plantations. This island was so important to Oman and their slave industry that the Sultan of Oman even made it the capital city in 1832.

In the 60s a revolution began among the African locals to overthrow the apartheid Omani rule, which was successful! Zanzibar united with the neighboring Tanganyika to form what we now know as Tanzania.

Coronavirus in Zanzibar

Tanzania and Zanzibar have a very unique corona policy. As a matter of fact, the official policy of the government is that corona does not exist in their country. They went into a very brief lockdown in March/April and then simply stopped testing people. They do not report new cases or new deaths and simply continue on with their lives as if corona never happened.

Tanzania and Zanzibar are completely open for tourism with no requirement to produce a negative test or to quarantine. Once you land, you will be asked to fill out a health form to sign that you do not have corona or corona symptoms and that is the extent of their precautions.

Zanzibar Travel palm trees

Mask wearing is not required in Tanzania/Zanzibar and not even suggested. You probably won’t see a single mask wearing person in the country. Big gathering are allowed, nightclubs are open, in short….it’s a mini oasis of life before corona.

Although I highly doubt that corona simply does not exist there, the country does not seem to be suffering from increased deaths, overrun hospitals, or the like. Interestingly, the death rate has not increased since last year.

What to Wear in Zanzibar

Although Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim country. 99% of the population is Muslim, with a very small Christian minority. Despite this, there is no real requirement to dress conservative. They are very moderate/secular Muslims and used to seeing tourists. No one will make you uncomfortable for wearing shorts, short skirts, sundresses, or bare shoulders throughout the town, or bikinis on the beach.

Zanzibar Travel stone town

Before I visited, I read many suggestions to dress conservatively, but from my experience that is not necessary or even expected. In some of the smaller, less touristic towns far from the beach, you may consider dressing a bit more conservative. Also if you are visiting a mosque, be sure to cover your shoulders and knees. But overall, Zanzibar is very open so feel free to dress as you would in just about any beach destination.

Is Zanzibar Safe?

From my experience in Zanzibar, I would say that it is a very safe country. The people are very relaxed (as in most beach destinations) and we walked around late at night and never felt unsafe. The people are very friendly and their economy relies heavily on tourism.

Zanzibar flag stone town

However, as in ANY location, always be careful. Pickpockets and thieves are everywhere.

Getting Around

Zanzibar is very untouched. I think we probably saw just a handful of traffic lights during our entire stay on the island. Even the largest of roads are just one lane in each direction, and many of them are made of dirt. That’s all apart of the beauty of Zanzibar. The tourism industry is fairly new, giving you a truly authentic experience.

Zanzibar Travel boat ocean

Taxi

The best way to get around Zanzibar is by taxi. There are registered taxis that you will see everywhere. They are almost van like with two rows of seating. For a one hour drive, you’ll pay about $20. We hired a driver for the entirety of our trip. He, or someone he worked with, would come to pick us up and often wait for us to drive us back home. It helped to ensure we always received a fair price.

Car Rental

I wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Zanzibar as there are practically no road signs, the roads are difficult to maneuver, and you will most likely get lost. There is also the option in some of the beaches to rent a scooter along the beach, particularly on the eastern coast.

Public Transport

Busses or public transportation is also an option and very much cheaper than taxis. However, you just have to ask a local when you arrive for directions as there is no real official bus system with official bus stops in place.

Visa

Most countries require a visa to enter Zanzibar and the cost is $50. It can be done online before, but it is also possible and recommended to simply complete it at the airport. At the airport itself YOU CAN ONLY PAY WITH CASH and there are no ATM’s at the airport so be sure to bring enough cash with you.

Zanzibar Travel

Weather in Zanzibar

As very few people want to go for a beach vacation and be stuck inside with rainy weather, the worst time to visit Zanzibar is March – May, which is Zanzibar’s rainy season. Although still warm, afternoon downpours are quite common and you’d probably find yourself stuck indoors most of your trip. The best time to visit is from June to October, the dry season filled with reliably warm and sunny days. From November to February, you may experience light rains, but they last for such a short time that they’re unlikely to ruin any plans. Located just 6 degrees south of the equator, Zanzibar is usually warm throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 25°-35° C year round. (75°-95° F).

Zanzibar Travel beach

Cost/Prices

Depending on what kind of traveler you are, Zanzibar can be very cheap or very expensive. If you are open to staying in hostels or small bungalows and eating at small, local restaurants, it can be around $50-$100 a day per person. However, hotels can get quite expensive. The Northern coast – Nungwi and Kendwa are the most expensive, but the Eastern coast is almost half that price. Prices are pretty similar to what you’d find in most Western European countries. It is, after all, considered a honeymoon destination, so the prices stay in line with what people are willing to pay. If you choose to stay at hotels and eat at more western places, it’ll be closer to $150-$200 or more per day per person.

Zanzibar Travel

Also as a note, tourism is fairly new to Zanzibar. Only within the past 10 years have they really built the majority of the hotels and western style tourism establishments, so the prices are still low compared to many other African countries (despite what many people think, many African countries are extremely expensive for tourists, especially Kenya), but they are slowly getting more and more expensive every year as mass tourism begins.

Other Tips

  • Wi-Fi – The Wi-Fi in Zanzibar was ceratinly a challenge. Even at the nicest hotels, the service was iffy at best. There were a few restaurants with decent service, but I did struggle to work remotely while there. If you do need to work while there, I would suggest getting a local SIM.
  • Cash – The official currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzania shilling (1 USD = ~2,300 TZS) however USD are widely accepted and oftentimes preferred. I hardly carried local currency with me at all during my stay. Just be careful to stay on top of the exchange rates!
  • Food – Although the food itself tasted fine in most places, I would be cautious of food poisoning. Both my boyfriend and I had multiple bouts with food poisoning during our stay, even from the meals at the fanciest hotels.
Zanzibar Travel
  • Language – The official language of Zanzibar is Swahili. Many locals also speak Arabic and English. Due to the high prevalence of Italian and Russian tourists, many locals also spoke bits of Russian and Italian. In hotels and tourist locations, most people will speak English, although it may be difficult to communicate outside of the very touristic areas.
  • Medical – Malaria is a bit of a risk in Zanzibar, but far less than in most of the neighboring East African countries. Try to avoid mosquito bites and you should be fine!
  • Alcohol – Although it is a majority Muslim country, alcohol consumption is permitted and most places serve alcohol. It is suggested, however, to avoid being blatantly drunk especially walking through Stone Town or other towns.
Zanzibar Travel flags stone town

If you are looking for the best travel/tour operator within Zanzibar I would highly recommend Amnaf Shellah. He helped us so much to organize boat trips, provide us with reliable taxis, and so much more! It’s a small family business and they are really the best. Contact Amnaf at +255 777 45 4254.

Any more questions about Zanzibar? Check out 18 AMAZING THINGS YOU CAN’T MISS ON YOUR TRIP TO ZANZIBAR | THINGS TO DO

Also: BEST BEACHES IN ZANZIBAR – NUNGWI, STONE TOWN, PAJE, AND MORE

Lots of Love and Safe Travels,

Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters

Join the discussion

  1. Aryon Maiden

    Belíssimo Post, adorei abração forte para vocês

  2. vaniheart

    Ohhh!!! Learnt something new today .☺☺☺😀😀

  3. trumstravels

    Great article and now I want to go there! So odd about their attitude about Covid but you know at least they are living their lives, not like us.

    • Colorful Sisters

      It’s truly a lovely place 🙂 Their attitude towards Covid certainly is very unique! But it’s working well for them!

  4. theatrealtair

    “Zanzibar” is a word that is only magical and hasn’t really had any “reality” for me so far: and now more 🙂 Thank you

    • Colorful Sisters

      Yess I felt the same way before I went! Kind of sounded like an unreal place…and it was unreal in another sense when I visited! I’ll be writing many more posts soon so hopefully it will bring even more reality to you 🙂

  5. Kitty Dingle

    Wow. Zanzibara is now on the Bucket List.

    • Colorful Sisters

      Yayy!! It’s really amazing 🙂 I happy that it’s on your list now 😉

  6. ourcrossings

    Great post and beautiful photos. Zanzibar looks quite divine. I would love to visit one day once the pandemic crisis are over. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

    • Colorful Sisters

      Thank you very much! I’m happy you enjoyed and hope that you’ll be able to visit one day 🙂

  7. Ena

    Thanks for checking out my blog recently! I really appreciate your support if you choose to follow.

  8. Random thoughts

    Zanzibar is on my radar, thank you for the informative piece 🤗

  9. elenamarcoz

    I can’t wait to start travelling again! Zanzibar has just made it in my very long “to do list” 🤗

    • Colorful Sisters

      Hahahah hopefully you can visit one day! It’s truly an amazing place 🙂

  10. Simon

    What a place – colorful and very explorable. 🙂

  11. lisaonthebeach

    That is absolutely fascinating! I would LOVE to just let corona virus go. Let’s all pretend it doesn’t exist. Maybe we’d all be better for it. I just wonder…
    Beautiful photos!!! ❣❣

    • Colorful Sisters

      Hahahah it really does make you wonder! I also find it interesting that no one has really done studies on why they are doing ok there. Would love to see why they are doing just fine pretending it doesn’t exist!

  12. Deb

    Great details there, and great pics. Zanzibar looks so sunny and interesting, will wait for the things to do in Zanzibar post.

  13. MagicalMoments31

    I really enjoyed reading your post…. Greetings from Tanzania. xx

  14. meticulousmick

    And Zanzibar is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury! I would add that a Spice Tour is well worth it at one of the many spice farms, really interesting.

    • Colorful Sisters

      Yepp!! Sure is 🙂 The Spice Tours are definitely interesting as well 🙂 I have a blog post being published soon that talks about all that 🙂 🙂 When did you visit Zanzibar?

      • meticulousmick

        October 2018, we did a great safari in Tanzania before heading to Zanzibar.👍🏼 Missing the travel now that is for sure.

      • Colorful Sisters

        Amazing! We didn’t make it to Tanzania unfortunately, but did many safaris in Kenya and the terrain and wildlife are pretty similar!

      • meticulousmick

        I loved the Ngorongoro crater, like going to a jurassic Park, hemmed in by the steep sides of the crater. Spectacular. I’d like to go to the Okavango Delta in Botswana for a completely different safari experience but there is so much to see and do in the planet we temporarily call home ……🌏

      • Colorful Sisters

        So very true!! Endless amazing possibilities 🙂

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  16. Ken Dowell

    Nothing like some beautiful beach pictures in the middle of winter with two days of the dreaded “frozen mix” in the immediate forecast.

    • Colorful Sisters

      Oh my!! I’m sure you’ll enjoy the winter mix as well, but the beach is certainly lovely 🙂

  17. Sandymancan

    Hey ladies looks like yawl are having a good times, I understand I’ve spent the last 2yrs traveling through out South East Asia just back in the U.S because of Covid-19, enjoy yourselves and be careful Sandyman

    • Colorful Sisters

      Sounds so amazing!! Would love to travel through South East Asia one day!! Hopefully when things start opening up again!

  18. Ramit Kapur (Legends)

    Amazing! I am so sure if I like it! And a amazing discovery….no using masks in COVID-19!

  19. Cosmopolitan Compact

    looks interesting and a destination to explore. I would like to see the design and architecture there.

    • Colorful Sisters

      It really is a lovely place!! Lots of more posts coming soon so keep an eye out for more pictures 🙂

  20. Lebogang Shazzygal Malatji

    Beautiful pictures 😃😃

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