The allure of Zanzibar is timeless and magical. That’s quite a bold statement, but once you’ve been, you’ll wish you never had to leave. Whether as post-safari relaxation or as a stand-alone destination, the beaches on Zanzibar offer a quintessential tropical island paradise. It is the perfect place to give rein to your wanderlust. The island has a vibrant energy about it with bright, colorful communities, picturesque architecture, and aged buildings. From snorkeling to scuba diving, kite-surfing to sailing, or simply swimming in the crystal clear warm water, Zanzibar has it all! With such amazing beaches, loads of sunshine, and ideal water temperatures, it’s all about getting in the water in Zanzibar!

Zanzibar is an island steeped in culture and history – a destination which brought adventurers, vacationers, seafarers and traders from far and wide. The Zanzibar archipelago is set in the Indian Ocean and made up of the larger islands of Pemba and Unguja (also called Zanzibar Island). Zanzibar is also known as the ‘Spice Island’ due to the delicious variety of spices grown on the island’s many plantations. Stone Town, a World Heritage Site, boasts a labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling marketplaces, beautifully carved wooden doors, breathtaking mosques and grand Arab residences.


Here are a few Zanzibar travel tips that are good to know before you visit the island. Whether you have just finish up your Kilimanjaro Trek, or exploring the plains of the Serengeti, when ending it all with a long beach holiday; One thing is for certain – Zanzibar Island is beautiful.

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The semi-autonomous archipelago is a 23 mile hop from mainland Tanzania, and although it is part of the mainland Tanzania, in almost all aspects—politics, religion, culture, food—life there is different. Zanzibar is rich in history, with numerous archaeological sites dotting the island, most notably at Unguja Ukuu, just to the north of the causeway which links Unguja and Uzi Islands. The island has been deeply influenced by Arab culture for many centuries, and was part of the Sultanate of Oman starting in 1698. Unlike mainland Tanzania which has a mix of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous groups; Zanzibar, which the Sultanate of Oman ruled for centuries, is almost entirely Muslim. (The Sultanate had in turn wrestled the islands from the Portuguese – and much later they became a British protectorate, until Zanzibar’s independence in 1963.)

As a base for traders from the African Lakes region, India, and the Arabian Peninsula, Zanzibar became a hub for the region’s slave and spice trades. It served as the gateway for slaves entering and exiting East Africa and was one of the largest slave ports in the region. Many groups had a hand at the terrible trade too. Arabs were the main slave traders, while African kings and families would sometimes sell prisoners, and Europeans used the slaves in their plantation. You can witness the horrific conditions slaves were subjected to at the old slave market in Stone Town or take a tour out to Prison Island.

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Zanzibarians speak Swahili (Kiswahili), a bantu language that is extensively spoken in the African Great Lakes region. Swahili is the official language of Tanzania. Many local residents also speak English and Arabic. There are local guides who can speak one of the occidental languages like French, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese.

Stop and say Hi! Swahili is an easy language to pick up, and the initial learning curve is quick. Learning just the basics will take you pretty far. Don’t assume the constant street side attention from people is an attempt to sell you something, or trap you into taking some sort of tour—that does happen, but saying hello is also an important part of the local culture. The “Mambos” and “Jambos” are often just that, so it’s a good idea to say hello back. It might be initially overwhelming, but it’s nice to realize that so many strangers will take the time to acknowledge your presence and ask you about your day. (A “Shikamoo”, usually reserved for those you don’t know, your elders or superiors, is a respectful greeting that locals will appreciate.)


Another thing, time-keeping is initially confusing, but actually makes a lot of sense. In Swahili culture, people start counting time at sunrise rather than at midnight, which means that 7 a.m. Western time is one o’clock in the morning Swahili time, and 7 p.m. is one o’clock at night. (This works because sunset and sunrise times are relatively constant year-round, since Zanzibar is so close to the equator.) A trick to decipher this code is to imagine drawing a line directly across a clock face: three becomes nine, four becomes ten. When arranging meeting times, it’s best to specify the time of day you’d like to meet—morning, afternoon, evening, night—that way, even if your numbers are off, chances are you’ll still be connect.

Where to stay

Seeking the best hotels in Zanzibar? The gorgeous island has a long colorful past and has been drawing in tourists for decades now. They come to soak up the beautiful white beaches warm weather and the perfect stop while on safari in Tanzania.

As the world’s most romantic honeymoon destination, Zanzibar has accommodation that ranges from luxury beachfront cottages to exclusive boutique hotels and elegant spa resorts; parents on the other hand will be delighted by Zanzibar’s family-friendly hotels and safe-swimming beaches.

If you are looking for the more budget-friendly accommodation, you’ll find the most choice in Stone Town, Nungwi and Paje/Jambiani. All three areas have a good selection of mid-range options, from larger resort-style hotels to laid-back, beach-chic bungalows.

One new area also deserves a mention and that’s the quiet stretch of beach between Bewjuu and Dongwe. Here you’ll find a handful of small resorts and bungalows offering excellent service at an affordable price. Kiwengwa, Matemwe and Kendwa also have a few noteworthy mid-range lodges as does the otherwise more luxury-focused Michamvi Peninsula.

Zanzibar Accommodation
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Zanzibar is a big island, and you’re likely going to want to get out of Stone Town and explore! You will probably want to walk through Stone Town. After all, most of the alleys are barely wide enough for a bike to pass. The cheapest way to get around Zanzibar is with a Dala Dala. A dala dala is an old minibus or converted truck with an open back. You face other passengers while riding, and in case you are wondering, there are no seatbelts. It’s a confusing, uncomfortable, and stressful ride, but for less than a $1 what can you expect?

Journeying outside Stone Town is most comfortably done with a shared taxi or a private taxi. The latter are essentially also taxis with drivers although they don’t have the official taxi designation. A private taxi from Nungwi to Stone Town will at least run you $50, if you book it through your hotel or resort you can expect them to add an additional $10-$20.

Lastly, you can always rent a car in Zanzibar to get around, however we don’t think you will need your own car unless you really plan on exploring every day without much downtime. Keep in mind that driving in Africa is no joke. The roads are never ideal, and police checkpoints are common.


Zanzibar currency is the Tanzanian shilling (Tsh/=). On the beaches, US dollars and shillings are accepted, but US dollars receive much less rate than the official bank exchange rate. Best would be to trade some of your dollars or euros for shillings, and use that to buy food and some local stuffs. If you buy curios with dollars and euros you will get a better deal, since the hawkers are more prone to bargaining when buying with foreign currency. You get a better exchange rate on US$50 and $100 notes, than on $20 and $10 notes. Please note that the US dollars’ banknotes have to be issued after 2006. Stone Town is a one-stop-souvenir-shopping for many travelers. You can find beautiful textiles, handmade jewelry, intricate wood or stone carvings, spices, knick-knacks, etc.

You don’t find many ATM machines around the island and not every place accepts card payments, always carry a few cash with you. To exchange money, you will need to go to the bank and you will have to show your passport. Banks have fair exchange rates.

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What to do

Zanzibar is blessed with ornate Omani imperial architecture, a vibrant Islam-informed culture and beaches of the purest sand. To ensure you’re seeing the best of what this Tanzanian island has to offer, check out this list of the top things to see and do in this gem off the East African coast.

  • STONE TOWN TOUR: Also known as Mji Mkongwe, Stone Town is the ancient part of Zanzibar City, which is itself capital of Unguja island. Visit and you’ll get a perfect picture of how the old Swahili trading towns of East Africa look, sound, feel, taste and smell.
  • SPICE TOUR: Zanzibar is also known as “spice island” and there’s a good reason for that! Walk with a guide through spice plantations where pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and fruit grows.
  • GO SHOPPING AT DARAJANI MARKET: The Darajani Market (or Bazaar) is the main bazaar in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It’s the most popular place to come and get spices, dates, bread, fruits, and almost anything you could need. Beyond getting some souvenirs, it’s a fantastic place to soak in the culture.
  • WATCH LOCALS DO ACROBATS AND CAPOEIRA AT SUNSET: On pleasant evenings at sunset, many young local boys will head to the Stone Town public beach to enjoy the last light of the day with some acrobatics and capoeira. What is capoeira? This is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. It’s pretty fun to watch from any of the nearby restaurants or on the beach.
  • NAKUPENDA BEACH: Nakupenda (Swahili for I love you) is the name of a slender slice of sandbank just off the coast of Stone Town. And what’s not to love? Abutting the brilliant blue of the ocean, this tiny beach is an idyll of sand as soft and white as baby powder. It’s the perfect spot for swimming, snorkelling in clear waters flickering with marine life and generally keeping cool under the hot African sun. If you’re lucky you might glimpse the local superstars – the much-loved dolphins, doing their own thing in the distance.
  • PRISONER ISLAND EXCURSION: Take a 30 min boat trip to Changuu island, which once was a place where rebellious slaves were detained. Nowadays, the island is a tourist destination because it is home to giant tortoises. It’s a peaceful sanctuary for this vulnerable species. Some people estimate some of the tortoises on the island are more than 150 years old!
  • MNEMBA ISLAND TOUR: If you’re a fan of snorkeling or diving, there are some great places to do this in Zanzibar as well. Mnemba Atoll, located right off the north-east coast, is considered to be the best spot. You’ll see all sorts of colorful fish!
  • KITESURFING: Paje beach is considered to be the best place to kitesurf, but you can also take lessons at Nungwi beach or Jambiani beach. In fact, most tourist beaches offer kitesurfing lessons, so if you’re just starting out you can pretty much give it a go anywhere!

ENJOY THE MANY BEACHES: Make sure to get out of the city and explore as many Zanzibar beaches as you can. There’s a beautiful one around every corner. The most popular are Nungwi Beach, Jambiani Beach and Pongwe Beach, but so many others exist to explore. Of course, if you are staying at an oceanside Zanzibar resort or hotel, you’ll likely want to chill at their beach for at least one of your days too! So choose a great hotel with the ideal location!

What to wear

Zanzibar will always remain to be a semi-autonomous with its own unique history, culture, customs, and norms. This remarkable island has been overwhelmed with people from all over the world, but a strict Muslim heritage has remained the most perceptible impact. Zanzibar attracts a steady number of tourists on holiday, but unfortunately, not everyone takes the time to understand or appreciate the Islamic culture or, most obvious, research what is appropriate to wear. Since Zanzibar is a Muslim country, here are suggestions and guidelines you might want to follow when visiting local villages and Stone Town:

Dress tips for Zanzibar

  • For both men and women, you might want to pack a couple of clothes that cover the shoulders and it is advisable to wear trousers or shorts which at least cover their knees.
  • No transparent clothes during your tour to the Stone Town or any local village.
  • Do not wear bathing suits or other beachwear in the village and Stone Town.
  • Try to avoid tops with open shoulders and/or deep cleavage when roaming around town or the local village.
  • Along beaches wearing bathing suits is generally accepted, bikinis are ok, but definitely not thongs and do not go topless.
  • Showing this kind of respect for their Islamic traditions, you will be respected back by Zanzibar people.
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There are plenty of great places to eat on the island whether you’re looking for authentic Zanzibar food or international dishes. Here are some of our favorites:

  • THE ROCK: As you may have guessed, The Rock is located on just that, a giant rock that sits majestically in the bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s one of the most scenic settings we could possibly imagine, a must-try novelty in Zanzibar. While the location is enough reason to venture here on its own, the food also happens to be fantastic. The Stewed Rock Lobster and Cous Cous come highly recommended.
  • LA TAVERNA: This is the place to go for authentic Italian eats in Zanzibar. It’s a long-time staple of the foodie scene in Stone Town and is family-owned and operated by several generations of Italian chefs. High-quality ingredients are often imported from Tuscany, Roma, and Napoli for almost every dish. They offer a variety of handmade pasta, like gnocchi, tagliatelle, and bucatini.
  • FORODHANI GARDEN: Forodhani Gardens is a public park in Stone Town, set right in front of its most famous buildings, the Old Fort and House of Wonders. It’s sometimes referred to as Jubilee Gardens, Forodhani Park, or the main town square. Regardless of what you call it, head there after sunset, and you’re in for a veritable smorgasbord of street food delights. The open-air food market vendors sell mostly Swahili and Zanzibari cuisine, such as samoosas, seafood, and kebabs. It’s a fun way to experience the local culture and try as many classic culinary concoctions as possible. It’s also one of the more affordable places to eat in Zanzibar.
  • TAARAB RESTAURANT: Taarab Restaurant is a rooftop gem in Zanzibar. Dine while gazing out over all of Stone Town and the stunning Indian Ocean. It’s a breathtaking backdrop for a bite and soaking up the scenic surroundings. Ideal place to go for sunset for the a la carte menu and awe-inspiring ambiance. The indoor seating offers a cozy and intimate atmosphere as well. The Special Coconut Crab Soup is served in an actual coconut.
  • LUKMAAN RESTAURANT: The best local dining experience in the area, frequented by travelers and residents. It’s generally pretty packed, but after you eat there, it’s easy to understand why. Just look for the red roof and striped awning; even if there’s a line out the door, it’s well worth the wait. The menu is eclectic, offering plenty of eats for everyone to enjoy, from the pickiest palates to adventurous taste testers. You’ll find pilanis, biryanis, curries, and more. Every dish is made fresh and is seasoned so well.
  • EMERSON (TEA HOUSE AND SECRET GARDEN): Emerson is an expansive foundation and an integral part of the community in the historical heart of Zanzibar. It consists of two heritage hotels and three highly regarded restaurants. There’s the Tea House at Emerson on Hurumzi, the Tea House at Emerson Spice, and the Secret Garden Restaurant. Each of them provide a unique experience. Emerson Spice boasts an intimate rooftop space that serves a set five-course tasting menu. It’s seafood based, and it’s best to book in advance for this fancy feast.
  • NEW MONSOON RESTAURANT: Get the authentic Zanzibar experience in all the cute and comfortable glory of New Monsoon. Grab a comfy cushion, have a seat on the floor and listen to the lovely sound of local musicians serenading you. The environment is warm and mellow. The terrace looks out over Forodhani Gardens with the Indian Ocean in the distance. They cook up cuisine called Ba’arab, a unique mix of African and Arab fares found in Zanzibar. There’s a lot of fresh seafood on the menu, along with the traditional dishes of Mchuzi Wa Nyama, marinated beef, and Kuku Wa Kupaka, a popular chicken plate.
Do I need a Visa

Zanzibar is an island that is part of Tanzania of which it is a region. It is therefore necessary, just like travelling to Tanzania, to have an e-visa or e-travel authorization to go there. The online visa or e-visa for Tanzania is a travel permit that allows you to travel legally to Tanzania and therefore Zanzibar for a maximum of 90 days and can be obtained very quickly.

You can apply for this visa online. Don’t leave it last minute, latest two weeks before arrival in Tanzania so you are sure you give them enough time to process your online application. The application will take 20-40 minutes of your time and it will make it easier if you have the below documents ready:

  • A copy of your passport (scanned on your computer, low resolution)
  • Your e-ticket (as a document on your computer)
  • Passport size picture (scanned on your computer, in low resolution)

When you are too close to your departure date and therefor too late for the online procedure you can arrange your visa for Zanzibar upon arrival at the airport. You have to pay for the visa in USD dollars and they only take cash payments.

Apply For Your Tanzania E-Visa Here
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