9 Top Tips for Holidaying in Zanzibar

I've been meaning to write this blog post for such a long time; maybe even more so than the last one I wrote on 9 things to see and do in Zanzibar. Nonetheless, even though so much time has passed, I'm finally getting around to giving you guys some tips on traveling to and in Zanzibar!

Honestly, I booked everything of mine very last minute. So this would be my first tip, especially for those travellers who like planning...


1. Consider planning your trip well-ahead in advance.

If you're traveling on your own, discard this point because your free bird self can arrange for everything as you wish. However, if you're traveling with your friends, this is a whole other ball game. There's a good chance that your friends and yourself will want to do different things, and in order to accommodate for that and make the holiday ultimately stress-free, planning is key. I'm not saying you have to organise every single detail to the tee, but just that there are certain highlights that can be planned out in advance to make for a relaxing trip.

For example, I booked my hotels so last minute, so I couldn't avail the great deals that were out. Not the most important of details I'll admit, because we were traveling around a lot. However, I wanted to sit down by the beach and just relax, and I couldn't because of the budget we'd had in mind and therefore the hotel we'd picked out last minute. Also, when I'd checked rates the month prior to going to Zanzibar, there were great places with great deals which sadly I lost out on.

It's not just hotels; it's also activities. We'd booked nothing in advance, which meant that there were certain activities we missed out on unfortunately.

Scuba diving, snorkelling and quad biking are popular activities that get booked out very quickly, es especially in-season, so book these in advance if you want to be able to make it else you'll lose out!

The above point is more generic to all holidays I suppose. The ones coming up are more Zanzibar-based though.


2. Safety? Doesn't have to be your top concern.

Admittedly, I haven't travelled the world to say that Zanzibar is the safest place in the world. But I did not find myself looking over my shoulder, or worried about getting mugged for example. When I'd read up on Zanzibar prior to my travels, the one thing I noted and definitely found to agree with was the safety aspect. The locals are so nice, and given that tourism is a great asset for the island, the economy is doing pretty well which keeps the crime rates low.

Also, we actually met some police on the way, and they were possibly the best I'd seen. They knew exactly how to do their job without harassing tourists (which I've seen in the past), and they spoke to us about how safety of drivers in Zanzibar was a definite priority. Strict but friendly!



3. Keep cash

Given the safety aspect of Zanzibar, keeping cash in hand is an important point to note. Often times as travellers we're told to not keep cash for risk of it being stolen, but this is less of a concern here on this beautiful island. The reason I say to keep cash in hand is that there are very few ATMs in and around the island. Therefore, unless you're predominantly spending your time in Stone Town (where there are more places to withdraw cash), you'll need to keep some money in order to be able to pay for food and activities, because not all places will accept a debit or credit card.

My personal recommendation? Don't keep so much cash to the point that your wallet can't carry it (obviously), but plan ahead for how much you might potentially spend, and when you do head into Stone Town or if you're staying there - which works even better then - withdraw from the ATM.


4. Be prepared for long trips

From the top end of the island to the bottom is roughly 68 kilometres, which doesn't sound like much, right? But the roads you take and the speed limits can slow down travel time. Hence even though Zanzibar might be considered a small island on the map, it's not. Day trips can take up to four hours of travel back and forth depending on where you're staying.

My personal recommendation? If you know where you're going to be spending most of your time, book your hotel or lodge nearby. The last thing you want is to be waking up super early to make it in time for an activity because your stay is further away.


5. Consider renting a car

Upon hearing that the island is so large, I personally wanted to be able to rent a car so that we could explore more of the island without having to worry about hiring a taxi. There were pros and cons to this though.

Pros:

- We could travel on our time and as per our wish.

- Given that the rental prices of the car plus fuel costs was cheaper than hiring taxis, this was a bonus.

- We could stop wherever we wanted to without having to worry about anyone else.


Cons:

- Remember what I said about the island being huge? Some of the driving trips were long and tiring in that aspect.

- We had to make sure that we learnt about the driving rules of Zanzibar, and the speed limit is 40km/h, which the police are very strict on.


Find out more about getting around Zanzibar here.


6. Fuel up

If you do opt for renting a car in Zanzibar, make sure that you fuel up. Similar to what I pointed out about ATMs and cash, petrol pumps are few in and around the island - or rather, you'll spot a fair amount more near Stone Town. So don't wait for the yellow light to come on and then hunt for the petrol pump, else you will get stuck.


7. Bargain bargain bargain.

Feel free to bargain with the locals, as it's common practice to do that when it comes to traveling in Zanzibar, purchasing souvenirs or even visiting the local attractions. Also, do your research beforehand to know how much an activity would cost so that you don't allow for an opportunity to get ripped off.

I wanted to purchase a painting in Stone Town, which the painter at first said he would give it for $60. Now, I'm an awful bargainer, but my friend quoted for $20 and really pushed, to the point that I got it for $25. It's a beautiful painting, and I'm not saying to completely take advantage of the locals - they have to pay their bills too - but just try to negotiate for better deals.


8. Opt for a guide in Stone Town

This is the one thing we did not do.

One of the main attractions in Zanzibar is the beautiful little town called Stone Town. Filled with cultural delights, some amazing food, and such welcoming locals, you'll find yourself in the midst of some gorgeous historical architecture amongst the pretty and narrow alleyways that Stone Town is so well known for.

However, these alleys are so confusing. The friends that we are, we decided we'd explore these alleys by ourselves, and found ourselves to get lost very easily. The map may make it look simple, but if you'd like to be able to get in and out without getting lost, take a guide. They speak English very fluently, and are so nice, trust me.

For those of you who don't mind a little adventure and are content to take a whimsical walk through these beautiful streets, don't stress. This is just a general tip for those who want to be able to explore these streets without getting lost.


9. Enjoy yourself

An obvious one and slightly contradictory to everything I just wrote, but one I realise now looking back was that I didn't enjoy my trip as much as I could have. I was so stressed out about planning the perfect holiday and making sure that everything was organised , that I couldn't enjoy myself.

Zanzibar is a gorgeous holiday destination, and an idyllic place for the adventure seekers and for those looking for relaxation. I hope you take the time to enjoy yourself!


More about traveling to Zanzibar

Visa:

You can either obtain this at a Tanzanian consulate prior to your trip, or get it on arrival. We got it on arrival and it took about 30 minutes at the Zanzibar International Airport to fill up the forms and go through immigration. More info here.


Vaccine requirements: You will need a yellow fever vaccination card, if you're traveling from yellow fever endemic countries. Malaria is not found on the island however you can take malaria prophylaxis or bring mosquito repellent to get rid of the bugs!


Currency:

Tanzanian Shillings, and you can use US dollars as well.


Sim card:

You can purchase a sim card either at the airport or within Stone Town. We got it at the airport itself for the four of us and were able to negotiate for a bulk deal. Note point 7.


Language:

Swahili, but you'll find that locals can also speak fluent Arabic, Italian and French.


Clothing:

I'd read up on this before my trip. Zanzibar follows a slightly conservative culture, particularly in Stone Town. Ideally, you can wear long trousers and cover your shoulders to respect this culture whilst visiting Stone Town. No one will say anything if you don't (I didn't feel it much the one time I had bare shoulders), but I'd tried to follow it as much as I could whilst I was visiting.


When to visit

I went in August 2019, where the weather was pleasantly warm and ideal.

An apt time to visit therefore would be during June to October during the cooler months. December to February is hot and dry, which tourists sometimes prefer traveling during this time too.

The rainy season is during mid March to late May, and November, which is definitely not a good time to visit.

Having said this, you can expect rain at any point in time on your stay as Zanzibar is a tropical island and sometimes they get showers. We experienced rain on 1 of the 5 days we were there.


That's a wrap! Have you travelled to Zanzibar? Are you planning to? Check out my 9 things to see and do in Zanzibar for more information.

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© 2019 Athira Mohan Krishnan