Ultimate Travel Guide to Zanzibar
Clear blue beaches, white sands, and tropical island vibes make Zanzibar, Tanzania, a tourist’s dream destination. And if you are considering visiting, then this guide is for you as it contains everything you need to know from Things to do, where to stay to what to eat. This is the Ultimate Travel Guide to Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Entry Requirements for South Africans
Being a South African passport holder ensures that you are able to enter certain African countries with a whole lot of ease and visiting Zanzibar is one of those places. Zanzibar is visa-free for South Africans to travel to for a maximum period of 90 days.
Other Entry Requirements:
- A valid passport with three blank pages and valid for the next six months
- A valid vaccination certificate obtained from the Department of Health website containing a QR code
- Alternatively, a negative PCR test result was obtained not more than 48 hours prior to the flight
- A duly completed Zanzibar entry health form (this can be obtained from their website and completed prior to entering, however, when we did present this completed form, we were instructed to re-fill a smaller form which we obtained just before passport control at the Zanzibar airport)
There is only one airport in Zanzibar and that is the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. It is located in Kisauni and is about eight kilometers and fifteen minutes from Stone Town.
The flight from OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg to Zanzibar, Tanzania is a non-stop flight of only three and a half hours long. These flights were usually run by Kulula (prior to their grounding) however AfricaStay also charters flights and you can check these out on their website. Flights usually depart/arrive on a Tuesday and a Saturday weekly.
The Abeid Amani Karume International Airport is fairly small in size in comparison to other airports. Some of the facilities available after passport control, are individuals selling mobile sim cards, and a foreign exchange teller.
You will want to check out this post on Things to know before you visit Zanzibar, to make sure you have everything for your trip.
The majority of the population, i.e. over 90% of the people in Zanzibar are Muslim, with a small amount being Christian and Hindu. As a result of this, the people dress very modestly with women and girls wearing scarves at all times.
For tourists, there aren’t any rules for dressing and tourists do wear swimwear at the beaches or at resorts.
It is respectful and advisable to dress modestly when visiting Stone Town which includes clothing covering your shoulders and knees.
Overall, you are free to wear what you like but please be mindful and respectful of the Zanzibarian people.
When to Visit (Best Time to Visit)
The best time to visit Zanzibar is during its dry season and that is from the months of June to October. However, because it is a tropical island and situated near the equator, Zanzibar experiences regular sunshine and warm weather throughout the year, making it an ideal destination to visit year-round.
The rainy season is from March to May and is the least busy time to visit the island. So if you don’t mind the rain, and want to avoid the crowds this may be for you. You will also be able to find big specials during this time.
Transportation / Getting Around
The primary mode of transport which can be used to travel around the island is by taxi. This can however be a bit pricey, with some trips averaging $50. You can definitely get these trips cheaper but you will have to put your negotiating skills to work. However, by hiring a taxi, you have the entire vehicle to yourself for either half a day or the entire day to explore the places.
Another option, which may be the better option economically is to go on a tour. There are various tour options available and they are offered by lots of different tour agencies so the prices and inclusions differ from operator to operator. However, most of them offer similar tours and inclusions. By choosing to go with a tour, you ensure that transport, food, tour guide/s, and certain entrance fees are included.
You can also use public transportation which is a cheaper option, these include buses and the “dala dala”. An average trip from Paje in the south of the island to Stone Town is around 2000 Tanzanian Shillings if you use a dala dala.
Where to Stay
There are various accommodation options available, anything from backpacking and lodges to four and five-star resorts. The choice is yours depending on what kind of experience and facilities you want available to you.
We stayed at a four-star resort and it was a great experience. Uroa Bay Beach Resort is situated on the east of the island. There are various room types, two restaurants, a spa, twenty-four-hour reception, and pools, and is also on the banks of the Uroa beach. You can check out this post for a full review of the Uroa Bay Beach Resort. You can book your stay with Uroa Bay Beach Resort here.
What to Eat
The Zanzibarian local cuisine has a lot of Indian and Arab influence together with the African flavours.
Some of the must-try foods include the famous Zanzibar pizza, traditional octopus curry called Pweza wa nazi, and ugali, which is a traditional Zanzibar staple.
A few unique drinks to try, which we do not have in South Africa are the Schweppes Novida (which is a malted non-alcoholic beverage), Kresta (a lemon drink), and Mirinda Fruity (which is a berry flavoured drink). Also, try their 330ml soft drinks in glass bottles which are thirst-quenching.
You will find ample seafood available at most eateries and usually on the tours you are provided with a seafood lunch consisting of prawns, crayfish, octopus, and fish. A must-try restaurant in the south of the island at Paje is called Abdi’s Place. They sell local cuisine specially prepared with their signature flavours. You can check out my full review of Abdi’s Place here.
Things to Do
Depending on what you enjoy doing there is definitely something for everyone. As it is an island, there are lots of water activities on offer where you can snorkel with fish or swim with dolphins and turtles.
As Zanzibar is made up of lots of tiny islands, you can also have the option to take day trips to experience these.
These are the must-do things in Zanzibar.
1. Stone Town
If you are looking to experience the rich history of Zanzibar then you definitely have to visit Stone Town. It’s the old town or historical town bustling with quaint stores and lots of heritage. You can spend hours walking around the narrow alleyways, visiting the religious sites, and taking in the cultures.
You can also visit the Forodhani market where you can taste some of the authentic and local cuisines.
2. Sea Turtles
In the north of the island, you can find Nungwi, it is home to the Barraka Natural Aquarium. It’s a lagoon that is filled with rescued sea turtles. You are able to swim with the sea turtles and feed them some seaweed.
3. Kendwa Beach – Best Sunset
You can catch the best sunset at one of the best beaches on the island. Kendwa Beach is also found in the north of Zanzibar. The beach boasts some great restaurants and shopping stalls. It is also well known for its great sunsets. You can sit on the beach or catch a sunset cruise and enjoy the sunset.
With the clear blue Indian ocean and warm waters, you can snorkel pretty much anywhere around the island. Some of the best places to snorkel are towards the west of the island. You can arrange many tours to take you to different parts of the island for snorkeling and they will also provide you with the snorkeling equipment. Another great snorkeling location is near Nnembe Island near the north of the island. When snorkeling you can see many different species of fish including the zebrafish.
5. Spice Farm Tour
There are many spice farms on the island which you can arrange to visit. Your guide will take you around the farm showing you the different spices and how they grow before we get the final product. Zanzibar is famous for its cloves and is a large exporter of this.
Other spices you will see are cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and turmeric, just to name a few. You will also see some fruit that can only be found in Zanzibar, like the red banana.
6. Prison Island
Prison Island also known as Changu island can be found about 20 minutes away (via boat ride) from Stone Town. The island was used to keep slaves but later became a quarantine destination for sick people to ensure that they were kept away from the general population.
After visiting the historical buildings on the island, you can see and feed some giant tortoises, which is the highlight of the island. You are given lettuce to feed these tortoises. There are around fifty tortoises on Prison island, some of which are over a hundred years old with the oldest tortoise being one hundred and fifty years old. You are able to feed, pet and interact with the tortoises.
7. Swimming with Dolphins
If you are lucky, you can get the chance to swim with dolphins. You can book a tour or a small boat to take you out to the ocean near the north of the island and get a glimpse of these majestic creatures. You will have to go far out into the ocean and the boat ride takes about twenty minutes.
8. The Rock, Restaurant
During high tide, this restaurant built on a rock is surrounded by water making it a scenic backdrop. The restaurant itself has an array of meals on offer as well as a cocktail menu. You can find it in the south of the island in an area called Pingwe, Michamvi.
You will find Paje in the south of the island. It has a lovely beach which you can spend lots of time walking along. One of the things Paje is famous for is its kitesurfing and you will see lots of people testing their skills out in the ocean. The beach is also filled with shops and restaurants, making it an ideal place to stroll around. One restaurant to check out is Abdi’s Place which serves up traditional cuisine. There is also a lovely bakery in the town of Paje selling fresh delicious cakes.
10. Sunrise on the East
To witness the best sunrise you need to go to the east of the island and a good place is Uroa Beach. Sunrise is around 6:20 am (depending on the time of year) and you can watch the spectacular magic over the Indian ocean. Since it is so early, the beach is quiet and you can have it almost to yourself.
11. Kwale Island
One of the most popular tours that are offered is Safari Blue. This involves visiting an island, having a fruit platter on a sandbank, swimming in a mangrove lagoon, lunch at Kwale Island, and some shopping. Kwale island is also home to a big baobab tree and you can see the tree and sample some of its fruit.
12. Island hopping
Zanzibar is made up of lots of islands and sand banks. You have the choice of visiting as many as you want to check out. You can either do a tour or hire a boat and see what these islands have to offer.
For a more detailed Things to do in Zanzibar Guide, with times, prices, and more, check out this post.
Some important things to remember for your trip. Zanzibar accepts both cash and cards, however, cash is more widely accepted. You can pay in both US Dollars or Tanzanian Shilling. Make sure you convert your cash before leaving the airport.
Consider getting a sim card so that you can communicate with your driver or tour guide when you are on the move. The most popular provider is Zantel and they offer great coverage around the island.
For a more detailed list of things to know and consider before you go to Zanzibar, you can check out this post.
Things to Carry
Since the weather in Zanzibar is constantly summery, you will definitely need to pack summer clothing.
Some items to take include:
- Dresses / Skirts
You should try to pack lightweight clothing as you will be doing more water activities, so it will be easier to dry when they get wet.
The most commonly spoken language in Zanzibar is Swahili. Your tour guide and driver will know some English, however, it is always polite and welcomed by locals when you know some basics.
Here are some basic phrases/ words to help you better communicate with the locals:
Jambo – Hello
Habari Gyana – How are you
Hakuna Matata – No Problem / No Worries
Asanthe Sana – Thank you very much
Karibu – You are Welcome
Kwahiri – Goodbye
Nakupenda – I Love You
Hapana Asanthe – No Thank you
Hopefully, this guide helps you plan your next adventure to Zanzibar and answer all your questions. If there are any questions you have, drop them down below in the comments or send me an e-mail and I would be glad to help.
If you enjoyed this post, check out this post on Guide to Victoria Falls with everything you need to know about visiting Victoria Falls from both the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides.
* 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. *