Explore the islands with us and discover the evocative heritage of Shirazi and Omani sultans, slave traders and spice merchants! Learn about the fascinating culture of the Zanzibaris, swim in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, and relax on the white sandy beaches beneath palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze!
Zanzibar is mysterious, romantic and intriguing.
Once it was one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, due to its position on the ancient trade routes between the countries along the Indian Ocean and the African interior. Spices, ivory, slaves and minerals were among the treasured goods that were traded in Zanzibar for centuries. Immigrants from Arabia, India, Persia and China came to settle on the islands and mixed with the local Bantu people to create the distinctive Swahili society and culture.
Later, European colonial powers left their mark, too: the Portuguese during the 16th and 17th century, before they were ousted by the Omani Arabs, who maintained power until the revolution in 1964, and the British, who took it as a protectorate following the Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty in 1891.
Now no longer very prosperous in the fiscal sense, the islands still have a wealth of culture and many historical monuments which commemorate the African, British and particularly Arab influences – sultan’s palaces, cathedrals, mosques, Hindu temples, fortresses and old colonial houses.
Zanzibar is an island partner in the United Republic of Tanzania. It is located in the Indian Ocean about 35 km off the coast of mainland Tanzania at Longitude 39° East and Latitude 6° South of the equator. It is an archipelago of around 50 islands, of which Unguja (Zanzibar) and Pemba are the largest. The highest point is 130 m above sea level.
Zanzibar experiences ideal holiday weather for most of the year. The heat of summer is often tempered by pleasant sea breezes. Being near the equator, the islands are warm all year round, with December to March being the hottest and June to September the coolest time.
Zanzibar is blessed with an average of 7-8 hours of sunshine daily.
The long rains are during April and May, although it doesn’t usually rain every day.
The short rains fall in October/November, the showers are mostly short and intermittent.
Zanzibar’s total population is 1,300,000, with approximately 900,000 living on Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and 400,000 on Pemba. Mafia Island with its 41,000 inhabitants geographically belongs to the Zanzibar archipelago, but is administered by mainland Tanzania. The smaller islands are only sparsely populated or uninhabited.
More than 90% of the local population are Muslims; the remainder are Hindu or Christian and some with traditional beliefs. As well as close to 70 mosques, Stone Town features an Anglican and a Catholic Cathedral and several Hindu Temples.
Religious tolerance has a long and deeply rooted tradition on the island; Sultan Barghash even donated the church bell for the Anglican Cathedral!
The main language is Kiswahili. Even if you only use a few words while you are in Zanzibar, you will make many friends. English is widely spoken and many people also speak Arabic. Other European languages such as Italian and French are known by some local people, especially around the tourist areas.
Visa is required for all visitors. Please check with any Tanzanian High Commission or Consulate.
Tanzanian Embassies worldwide: http://www.embassypages.com/tanzania
The standard of health care varies widely on the islands. There are some good doctors and private clinics, most of them in Zanzibar Town. There are also some well-stocked pharmacies, but if you need special medication, it is strongly recommended you bring a sufficient supply from home.
Malaria has decreased significantly over the past years in Zanzibar, but is still present. A yellow fever vaccination is required for visitors arriving from a yellow fever area. For other possible health risks and recommended vaccinations, please consult your doctor before travelling.
Power system is 220-240 volts A/C, plugs 13amp, usually square pin. Adapters are available to purchase in Zanzibar. Power cuts are quite frequent, though usually short; it is a good idea to bring a torch.
To drive a car or motorbike in Zanzibar, an international driving license is required. Alternatively, a temporary exemption certificate can be issued for a fee. Driving is on the left.
Zanzibari people are generally very warm, open and hospitable and appreciate it if you show your respect by adhering to a few simple rules.
The population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a rich Swahili culture. Because of religious and cultural traditions, dress code is important, and men and women should dress appropriately: Try to wear loose-fitting, non-transparent clothes that cover your shoulders and your knees. You will see quite a few tourists who don’t seem to care, but Zanzibaris will notice and appreciate it if you do!
Beachwear on the beach is fine, although nude or topless bathing is not tolerated. When in villages or in Stone Town, wearing beach wear would (and does) cause offence.
Please ask for permission before taking photographs or filming local people. Do not take photos or film at sensitive government sites including the State House, seaport, airport or military sites. If uncertain, it is always better to ask.
The consumption of alcohol is not permissible for Muslims, and many will feel uncomfortable in the company of people who drink. However, it is perfectly ok to drink alcohol in bars and in many (though not all) hotels and restaurants.
Public displays of affection such as kissing are not customary and considered offensive, unless behind closed doors.
Please do not enter private courtyards and houses unless you are invited in. Mosques are places of worship, and generally entry is not permitted for non-Muslims.
When offering or accepting things, try and remember to offer and receive with your right hand.
Tanzania and especially Zanzibar are generally quite safe, but there have been some incidents of muggings and bag-snatching, particularly in tourist areas at night. It’s best to leave your valuables in the hotel safe.
What to pack
It never gets really cold in Tanzania, so lightweight clothing that covers your shoulders and knees is the best choice. Bring a warm sweater, too; during the European summer months it can get chilly in the early mornings and at night, especially in Northern Tanzania, but even on Zanzibar’s beaches.
On safari, muted coloured clothes are best, so as not to alarm the animals. Another aspect to consider is that mosquitos are more attracted to dark colours.
You will need a pair of sensible shoes if you intend to walk in the bush; otherwise, sandals are fine. Consider bringing bathing shoes; there are some sharp corals and sea urchins on the beach.
Wear a hat to avoid sunstroke and don’t forget sunglasses, sun cream and mosquito repellent. For safaris or birdwatching, binoculars are highly recommended.
If you need special medication, bring enough to cover your stay, and if you need prescription glasses, bring an extra pair in case of loss or breakage.
A small selection of film, batteries, memory cards and USB-sticks is usually available, but it’s better to bring your own equipment.