Zanzibar is an exotic, tropical island archipelago that is a semi-autonomous area of Tanzania. It even has a president of its own. The islands have a burgeoning population that is 95% conservative Muslim. The architecture of Stone Town, the major city of the main island, has a multi-layered history which includes, mainland African, Arab sultan, as well as German and British colonialists. Zanzibar has extensive poverty, so vendors understandably can be persistent. Saying, “Hapana, asante” (Swahili for “No, thank you”) usually works fine, but sometimes you will need to say it two or three times. Tours are a terrific way to see the islands and the surrounding waters in a short time.
We went on three tours—one of Stone Town, a spice plantation, and a Blue Safari. All were really interesting and fun; and I recommend them.
To be culturally sensitive in Stone Town, dress in long sleeves and slacks or a long skirt. It can be really hot and humid there, so make sure the fabrics you wear are lightweight and flow. It is too hot for clingy fabrics.
For dinner, try the Forodhani Park (Gardens) for Zanzibar street food. Tourists and locals eat there so it is a terrific place to taste authentic local food. To pick the best food, watch which vendors the locals frequent; and go there. Specialties are grilled seafood, grilled bananas, Zanzibar pizza, and the best chai ever tasted. Alternatively, seek out delicious Indian food which is widely available.
The east coast of the island, known for pristine white beaches, is a perfect place to relax. The Indian Ocean is warm; and when we were there, delightfully calm. The resorts cater to tourists so wearing western-style clothing there is acceptable.
Seasoned travelers say when touring Africa, assume you will get sick because your immune system is likely to encounter uncommon-to-you bacteria. I have found this to be true, really, of traveling to other continents, too. Be sure to pack a general antibiotic that your doctor back home prescribed. We felt almost well within 12 hours of the first dose.
Zanzibar is relatively safe; and most travelers have a wonderful, trouble-free visit. Trouble erupts, however, from time to time. In October 2015, the US State Department issued a travel warning related to the elections during that month. It recommended travelers maintain a high level of security awareness leading up to, during, and following the election period. It also said to avoid political rallies, polling centers, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind as even gatherings intended to be peaceful can become confrontational and turn violent. Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.
The UK government travel advice says that Presidential and Parliamentary elections took place in Zanzibar on 25 October 2015 but were subsequently nullified. A re-run of elections has been announced for 20 March. There is a risk of heightened tensions following the announcement. You should be aware of your surroundings, extra vigilant and avoid large crowds or public demonstrations.
Although most visits to Tanzania are trouble-free, violent and armed crime is increasing. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Zanzibar is a gorgeous tropical destination. It is exotic and fascinating, and it is a wonderful place to snorkel, scuba dive, swim and bask in the sunshine. Many travelers book lodgings and guided tours through reputable tourist agencies. We used Good Earth Tours, a Tanzanian company based Arusha, for our all arrangements on Zanzibar, as well as tours and safaris on the mainland of Tanzania.