Things to know before you visit Zanzibar
Visiting a tropical island like Zanzibar in Tanzania is a welcome break away from the ordinary hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. But there are a few things you need to know and do before you make your trip to this dreamy destination. This is to ensure that your stay is all the more magical. These are the things to know before you visit Zanzibar.
Money – Credit Cards and ATMs
The currency of Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling. However, in Zanzibar, the currencies accepted are both the Shillings and the US dollar. Credit cards are also accepted in certain places.
In some places, like resorts, a surcharge or handling fee is charged on credit card purchases, which could vary. However, at the resort we stayed in we were charged a 4% commission.
Also, it’s best to exchange money before you get to your accommodation. So do this either in your home country or at the Zanzibar airport. If you do exchange money at a local money exchange place, you will be charged a 10% handling fee and the exchange rate would be higher. In our instance, the exchange rate at the time was 1$ = R15.62. However at the money exchange place they charged us 1$ = R16.18.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you withdraw money from the ATMs (when you find them because there aren’t many around), you can only withdraw Tanzanian Shillings.
There is also an infrastructure tax which is imposed by the Zanzibar Revenue Board. You will be charged $1 per person per day and this is payable directly to your resort or hotel.
Mobile / Sim / Data
If you are looking to get a sim card, your best bet is to get it at the airport. The reason being is that it is most accessible there, once you get to your resort, and depending on where your resort is located, it may be quite difficult to find a vendor. Unless you are close to either Stone Town or the new town, where you will be able to find lots of vendors available.
The biggest drawback though with buying it from the airport in comparison with getting it from a local town store is the price. You will pay around $20 for 6,5 GB of data for a week at the airport whilst at a local store, it will only cost you between 10 000 to 15 000 Tanzanian Shillings.
So depending on where you are going to be staying and its accessibility (i.e. how much does transport cost to get to a place stocking and selling a sim card), you will want to make a choice accordingly.
We purchased a sim card at the airport and it was a weekly data sim containing 6,5 GB and we paid $20 (they did accept rands from us – which was around R340 – according to their conversion). The cellular provider was Zantel which is commonly used by all the locals and has great signals throughout the island.
Another tip would be to use a dual sim phone so that you don’t have to keep on swapping sim cards and will be able to use your primary number on social chatting applications, like WhatsApp without any hassle.
One of the most efficient ways to travel around the island is to use a taxi. There are various taxi services around the resorts and popular tourist spots. The costs of using these taxis vary depending on where you would like to go. Usually, these taxis can transport around seven people comfortably. They charge between $30 to $50. So if you are going with a bigger group you can split the costs and it would be fairly reasonable. You will definitely need to negotiate and if done properly, you can get a better deal as the drivers do charge the “tourist price”.
In some instances, work out more cost-effective as they include entrance fees, meals, guides, transfers, and transport. The advantage of hiring a vehicle is that you will have the entire vehicle to yourself for either half or a full day, depending on how long you booked for. Other forms of transportation available include taking a local bus or the “dala-dala” which is a local public taxi service that has bench seating at the back of the vehicle for passengers.
The primary language of Zanzibar is Swahili and is spoken by most, if not all of the local people. Usually, people in the tourist areas, particularly at resorts and tour guides speak English. So you will not have difficulty communicating with people. Some guides also speak a third language depending on the clientele they deal with and a common one spoken by the tour guides was French. When you are visiting, it is always a good exercise to learn a few common phrases in the local language. These gestures are usually appreciated by the local people.
Some of the common words/phrases that you should know/use are the following:
Hakuna Matata – No Problem / No Worries
Karibu – You are Welcome
Jambo – Hello
Habari Gyana – How are you
Asanthe Sana – Thank you very much
Hapana Asanthe – No Thank you
Nakupenda – I Love You
Kwahiri – Goodbye
The plugs used in Zanzibar are different from those used in South Africa as they use a square pin adapter. They use the same voltage as South Africa which is 220/330 V. We were able to successfully use our two-pin plugs though in the wall plugs in our room at the resort. Therefore South African three-pin plugs are not compatible. It may be advisable if you do have three-pin plugs to carry an international adapter with you.
During all times in Zanzibar, we felt safe and our safety was never a concern or threatened in any way. We even walked on the busy streets in the towns, of Stone Town, and Paje, and at no time did anyone attempt to or interfere with us. People left us to our own and we were occasionally asked if we needed a taxi, but that was the extent of us being questioned. We also withdrew cash on a few occasions, and the ATMs were safe with a security guard seated outside.
We were advised by locals that the newer town (city centre) is a little bit unsafe as it is busy and there may be pickpocketing, however, as we did not visit this area, I cannot confirm that that is the case. However, as responsible tourists, we always exercised caution and kept our guard on alert, should the need arise. But happily, there was nothing and it was a safe place.
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Best time to visit
Usually visiting any place would be during their dry season and this in Zanzibar is between the months of June to October. But since Zanzibar is a tropical island, you can experience warm weather throughout the year. However, the rainy season is between the months of March to May and is the least busy the island is with tourists so if you are lucky with the weather, you can have most places to yourself and prices are much lower. There is also a one-hour time difference between South Africa and Zanzibar with Zanzibar being one hour ahead of South Africa.
As the majority of the population in Zanzibar are Muslim, the people dress very modestly covering up most of themselves.
Although there are no rules against the way you dress as a tourist, it is good to be mindful and exercise some respect and dress yourself modestly. However, tourists do wear swimwear at the beaches or at resorts.
If you need any assistance in planning, drop a comment below.
And if you enjoyed this post, check out this detailed travel guide on Zanzibar, Ultimate Travel Guide to Zanzibar
* Please note that all prices and contact information are correct at time of publication. Please check the venues websites as prices may change without notice. *