THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ZANZIBAR
Zanzibar is an island state of Tanzania, popular for its spices and pristine white beaches laced with long coconut trees. Ideal time to spend in Zanzibar is at least 7 days, but you can spend as long or as less you’d like to. But before heading to the island, you can also spend a day in Dares Salam, the capital city of Tanzania. Get a taste of Tanzanian life, make your ferry & air ticket bookings, exchange your cash and ready yourself for the island.
They key requirements for Tanzania visa are:
- Letter of Invitation: Tanzania is visa on arrival (for Pakistanis), yayy! But there is an “invitation letter” that we are required to produce at the visa counter. You can get it via any Tanzanian resident friend/relative/acquaintance you know. It is written by a resident stating your purpose of travel and is then stamped by Tanzanian Immigration department. TIME: 10-15 days COST: $100
- Yellow Fever Certificate: You can get this at vaccination center across passport office (Saddar). The vaccination packet is meant for 5 people and once opened it has to be consumed. If you are not five people going for vaccination together, you will still have to pay for 5 and you will get your certificate right away. COST: PKR 5000
- Return Ticket
- Hotel Bookings
Tip: If you are arriving in Tanzania from any country other than Pakistan, for e.g. Dubai, Kenya, Ethiopia etc., you might be able to get away with not having this “letter of Approval”. But it is advisable to arrange it prior to your travel.
The cheapest way to travel to Zanzibar is to break the journey into three tickets:
- Pakistan to Dares-Salam (return): Take a return flight from Karachi, via Fly Dubai or Oman Air. Journey time will be long because of the layovers. The quickest journey options can be found via Emirates, Etihad & Qatar Airways. You can compare all your options on Hipmunk. TIME: depends on your layover. COST: $500-$650
- Dares-Salam to Zanzibar (one way): It is advisable to book a ferry ticket from Dares Salam to Zanzibar a day before. The ferries & ferry companies are pretty much standard. If you want to sail comfortably, book a VIP. TIME:2-3 hours COST: $50 (VIP) $35 (Regular)
- Zanzibar to Dares-Salam (one way): Due to rough water on way back, it is advisable to book a flight. This will be one of the most beautiful flights you’ll ever take. There are many flights being operated daily by many small airlines, so you can chose the time that suits you and book couple of days in advance. TIME: 20 MINS COST: $40-$85
Following are the good airlines you can check the times & prices on:
Tip: You will be likely to get a better price if you book this flight by visiting airline’s office in Dares Salam.
Staying in Zanzibar means you have to decide between the many pretty beaches from north to the south. The top 3 beaches preferred by most tourists are:
- Nungwi (North): The most happening beach on the north most tip. Expect many hotels from budget to luxury, beach vendors, and water that is perfectly still to swim.
- Kendwa (North East): The most prettiest beach of Zanzibar as mentioned by many travelers & writers. Sand is whitest and smoothest. Water is more still compared to Nungwi & the atmosphere of the beach is very resort-y. Mostly people just lazy around here. There not many beach vendors. Resorts on beach are mostly mid-range to expensive. However the beach still attracts huge backpacker crowd due to some resorts offering dorm & shared accommodation as well.
- Paje (South West): This one is famous for kitesurfing and those interested in SCUBA lessons. Water at paje is very shallow for kilometers on the beach. Swimmers don’t find it very pleasing, but definitely worth staying.
You can read more in detail about Zanzibar beaches here.
Staying in Stone Town for a night or two is also recommended. There are all kinds of accommodations available there from budget hotels, to boutique b&bs to chain hotels.
Some cool mid range hotels worth staying are:
- Kendwa Rocks: Hands down the best resort according to value for money on Kendwa Beach. It also hosts a full moon party every month, which is free of cost for guests. COST: start from $85/night
- Aman Bungalows: My favorite on Nungwi Beach. They have a very pretty deck, dining area and a large swimming pool. COST: start from $70/night
- Paradise Beach Bungalows: This is a good budget option in the middle of all the action on Nungwi. COST: start from $50/night
- Ndame Beach Lodge: If you want to stay on Paje, this one should be on top your list because of the value it offers. COST: start from $80/night
Tip: Other than the big chain hotels, you will find a general lacking of aesthetics, amenities and furnishings in accomodations compared to what you get on similar price on island in other parts of the world. But Hakuna Matata! there will be plenty that will take your breath away.
Zanzibar is HUGE, it is 90 km from the southern tip to northern most tip of the island; which means it easily takes 2.5-3 hours to make it from Kizmkazi (south) to Nungwi (north). Therefore getting around in Zanzibar will never be cheap or quick.
From Ferry Terminal To Your Hotel: When you arrive via ferry expect crowd, a queue at immigration (Zanzibar has it’s own immigration/passport control), a manual baggage security scan and when you finally get out expect many people trying to hustle the tourists into cabs. Escape them. Do not talk to the first taxi-guy who comes in front. Go out, negotiate as much as possible, there’s a usually big room for bargain in Zanzibar. COST: $35-$45
From Your Hotel to Stone Town/Other Beaches/Islands: The only two modes of transport in Zanzibar are the private transport (cabs) and ‘dala dala’ (public minibuses). Since there will be pretty much nothing to do in the village behind your beach (except for some souvenir shopping), most of the tours/activities that you will purchase will either come with a pickup or you will have to hire a transport for yourself. Walk out of your resort on the mainland, and you will find many taxis available for hire.
There is no concept of walking from one neighborhood in Zanzibar to another because of the distance. It will be great to have contact number of a taxi guy on your address book, and you can book all your transfers with ease. Many taxi drivers also double as tour arranger/guides. (Write me if you need one like that).
Stone Town: The only area where you can explore on foot and get lost in, is Stone Town. In fact this area is only enjoyed walking around, without a map if you feel adventurous. More about Stone town in ‘Things To Do’.
From Hotel to Airport: No matter which part of island you are staying chances are that it will be at least an hour long drive to the airport. Either dial your cab guy if you have one by now; alternatively just walk out of your hotel a day before and book one. Or ask your hotel to arrange one for you. COST: $35-$40
My cabbie guy, guide, photographer & only local friend, Eddie (AhmED)
Currency: USD = 2100 Tanzanian Shillings and 104 PKR = 2100 Tanzanian Shillings. It is best to carry cash at most of the places, cards will seldom be accepted
Language: Swahili & English. Most Tanzanians you would need to deal with will know basic English. However it is good to learn few Swahili phrases like Mambo: Hello, Habari: Whats up/How are you, Asante Sana: Thank you very much, Karibu: Welcome
Weather: Best time to go is August-October, this is when the winters in Tanzania end and the temperature is starting to get hot.
Clothing: Tanzaian residents are Muslims and therefore dressing modestly is required in all public areas (Stone Town and the villages), whereas on the beach you can dress the way you like.
Bargain: Poverty is very high in Tanzania, specially in Zanzibar. Hence, locals try to make as much money as possible from tourists. You must use your best bargain skills pretty much everywhere.
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to food. And me? Belonging to one of the most flavorful regions (cuisine wise) of the world I found African food lacking in flavor. But food in Zanzibar, because of the historic Indian influence and spice trade in the island is very flavorful compared to the rest of East Africa.
Following are the food items you will find on pretty much every restaurant on the island:
- Pizza & Pasta
- Indian rice dishes (Zanzibar pulao/biryani)
- Indian curries
- Stoney (ginger soda from CocaCola, available all over Tanzania)
The day you want to dine on the beach, you can stroll along the shore and find many table-on-sand pop up restaurants serving all kind of sea food and the items listed above. Read the menu board as you walk along and grab a seat where it feels right to your tummy. The menu will be standard on all the beach restaurants as well the prices. The servings will be generous. COST: between TSH 14000-25000
TIP: Be adventurous. Order the seafood you have never tried before.
If you want to eat like a local, walk down to the village behind your resort and you will find many small no frills restaurants serving fried chicken, Zanzibari pulao and much more for one third the price you pay on the beach. COST: under TSH 10000
When in Stone town, plan to have a breakfast at Stone Town Café. It is a unique mix of African contemporary set in the midst of old world charm. Order a spice tea alongwith Zanzibari crepes. The staff is very polite and energetic. COST: crepes TSH 6000, spice tea: 2500
Mention of food in Zanzibar is incomplete without Forodhani Street Food Market. When you plan to spend the day in Stone Town, reserve the sunset and your appetite for this affair. Every night fall brings many hungry Zanzibari families and curious tourists to this famous night food market. Stalls are set up to sell almost identical menu at almost identical prices. Seafood including prawns, lobsters, calamari, octopus, squid, shark meat on sticks along with chicken, beef and organ meat. COST: TSH 2000-7000/ item
Besides the exotic meat on stick there are few other must try items at Forodhani:
- Zanzibari Pizza
- Nutella Pizza
- Urojo (spicy soup with potato balls)
- Chipsi Miyai (omellete with chips)
TIP: Do negotiate the price, as vendors try to over charge tourists. Check the stall for food quality.
The top 6 places/things not to miss in Zanzibar are:
1. Nungwi Beach
Even if you are not staying at Nungwi, this beach is must visit to spend time and swim at. You can also rent a floaty for the entire day and laze on the water. Buying souvenirs is fun here, since there are many vendors on the beach as well as in the Nungwi Village. There are shops to buy your beach essentials and do your grocery. You can even book your tours from one of many hotels here.
2. Stone Town
If you like knowing historical story of the places you visit and do have interest in appreciating architecture, head to Stone Town. This is charming little downtown of Zanzibar and is famous for its historic, multi-regional (Arab, Indian, Persian, European) influence on culture and architecture.
3. Forodhani Street Food Night Market
Already mentioned in detail in food section of this guide. Spend a sunset or two to indulge in an early dinner. Observe the locals. Speak to food enthusiastic food vendors, take pictures and record them as they whip up eggs for your Zanzibari pizza. Even Anthony Bourtain has visited here.
4. Safari Blue Tour
Safari Blue is a company started by a lady named Eleanor. One of their tour became so popular that many company companies in Zanzibar started offering an identical one name ‘Safari Blue Tour’. No matter who you buy this from, it will be almost similar. And will indeed be a breathtaking day. They start with taking you to a ‘sand bank’ where you swim, play with waves, take pictures and have a small fruit picnic and after that you go for snorkeling nearby. Next is a small stop in between mangroves, where you can jump out and swim again, and then finally they dock you at another nearby island for an exotic, delicious, hearty sea food lunch buffet. You can also shop for souvenirs, jet-ski or enjoy the afternoon singing and dancing with locals on African beats. This one is not to be missed.
5. Prison Island/Changgu Island
Prison Island is 40 minutes boat ride from Stone Town. In late 18th century the Sultan of Zanzibar used this island to lock rebellious slaves and then later by British the prison cells were converted to a hospital facility where those suffering from Yellow Fever were quarantined. In 19th century Zanzibar received giant tortoises as a gift from Seychelles. This story along with the chance to walk and feed the tortoises and see the huge stone built prison will charm you enough.
6. Memories of Zanzibar
This is the biggest souvenir store in Zanzibar with the most extensive collection of goodies, gifts and memoirs. You will find everything at great quality (quality of produce is an actual issue across the island) and slightly higher prices than what you’d get at street vendors. The prices are fixed and all major credit cards are accepted. The store is air conditioned. You can shop in peace. It will be much better than paying horrendous prices at the airport shops.
VISA, TICKET & ACCOMMODATION
- Visa fee: $50
- Invitation Letter: $100
- Air Ticket: $500-$650 (Pakistan-Tanzania return)
- Ferry: $35-$40 (Dares-Zanzibar)
- Air Ticket: $40-$80 (Zanzibar-Dares)
- Stay: $80-$120/night (double sharing, inclusive of breakfast)
TRANSFERS & TRANSPORT
- Taxi from Ferry terminal to North (Nungwi Beach): $40
- Taxi from North (Kendwa Beach) to Airport: $35
- Other: $50
ACTIVITIES & TOURS
- Scuba-Diving: average $150
- Safari Blue Tour: average $60
- Prison Island: $30
- Spice Tour: $30
EVERY DAY EXPENSES
- Food: $5-$8/meal (good island food, generous serving)
- Mineral Water: $0.5
- Soda: $0.5
- Coffee: $1.5
- Cocktails: $5
A holiday for two in Tanzania (2 Nights in Dares Salam & 7 nights in Zanzibar) will cost around USD 3300.