Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar and Pemba islands, and several smaller islets. It is located in the Indian ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. Zanzibar island (known locally as Unguja, but as Zanzibar internationally) is characterized by beautiful sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs, and the magic of historic Stone Town.
The Zanzibarians are warm, friendly and helpful and greetings are a big part of the culture. Don’t assume the constant streetside attention from people is an attempt to sell you something, or trap you into taking some sort of tour - that does happen, but saying hello is also an important part of the local culture. The “Mambos” and “Jambos” are often just that, so it’s a good idea to say hello back.
Island life is slow. In Zanzibar, life moves pole pole – Swahili for slow. Things in Zanzibar don’t always make sense, don’t always work, or can take a while. It’s important to enjoy the calm chaos and take a cue from the unhurried pace. Enjoy your adventure and don't get annoyed if things are not what you expect them to be.
How is the climate in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar enjoys a tropical climate with constant temperature of 21 – 33 Celsius degrees. However, this is subjected to the seasonal northeast monsoon winds, blowing day and night from November to March (the Zanzibar summer). The temperature is then about 26 – 34 Celsius degrees with humidity. The southwest monsoon winds blow from the beginning of June to mid-October (the Zanzibar winter). Then the temperature is about 21 – 29 Celsius degrees. The rain season is from April to the end of May, although one should expect shower any time throughout the year. November to March are the hottest month of the year which means also the nights are warm. From June to September it feels like a good European summer where you might add another layer of clothes in the evening.
How to dress in Zanzibar?
Modest dressing is appreciated by everyone in Zanzibar. Bikinis and minis are fine for the beach, but in the villages and towns, women should cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or trousers that reach to the knees. Likewise, men should not go shirtless and should dress respectfully. Ladies, please do not walk/cycle around the village, on the road or any other public place in a bikini! And topless and nude bathing is an absolute no. To dress modest also applies when going on land-based excursions. If you wouldnt go shopping in your bikini or tanga at home, please dont do it here. Yes it is a holiday destination but the local inhabitants of Zanzibar still live here and we are their visitors who should respect the culture we visit.
Which currency can I use in Zanzibar?
The local currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSZ), which you will get from the ATMs. US dollar bank notes are also widely accepted as payment throughout the island. Credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted at large establishments, usually for a 5% surcharge. There are many ATM cash machines in Zanzibar Town that can be used with Visa, Visa Electron and MasterCard.
What to pack for a Zanzibar holiday?
Clothes should be light, loose, washable and preferably made from natural fabrics. Rubber flip-flops or sandals are excellent choice for wandering around the villages and town, but a sturdy pair of walking shoes will be more comfortable for sightseeing or walking through the forest. The tropical sun in Zanzibar is very strong, especially at midday. Sunscreen with high SPF and shady hats are preferable. It’s good to also pack sun glasses and flash light (the electricity is not completely reliable). From June to October the tempartaure is like a good European summer where its hot in daytime but can be a bit lower in the evening. A pair of leggings and a cardigan or a long-sleeved shirt, especially when going to the beach where it can be windy, is nice for these months. November to March are the hottest months of the year where you basically can wear the same in the evening as in daytime.
What is the religion in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim community but people are moderate and easy-going. The main religion is Islam (97%), followed by Christians and Hindus (3%), and therefore, it is good practice to respect the culture and religion of the country, avoiding provocative costumes, and topless & nude bathing is an absolute no! In general, showing affection in public is not common and gay travelers should refrain from public displays of affection. When moving around in public, either on the road, the village, Stone Town and on land based activities it is good rule to dress modest. For women this means a modest top and a a skirt, dress or shorts to the knees and for men this means to wear modest shorts and to avoid being shirtless.
Taking photos in Zanzibar
You can take photos in public areas but ask for a permission before taking pictures of individual people or private houses.
Electric Power is 220V - 240V running at 50Hz. The Plug type used in Zanzibar is: "Type D & G (British). For normal European plugs, you usually don’t need an adapter. There are still occasional power cuts in Zanzibar, but it’s becoming less frequent. We advise you not to leave expensive electrical appliance plugged in when not in use, due to occasional power surges.
Can I eat during Ramadan?
All hotels and restaurants are serving food in daytime during ramadan, although all local places will be closed until sunset. It is not expected of you to fast but it is nice to respect the culture and visitors should not eat, drink or smoke in front of fasting locals and in public (for example when walking along the road, in the village or in Stone Town).
High and Low Tide in Zanzibar
Useful Zanzibar readings
Language & Useful Phrases
Swahili is the most commonly spoken language in Zanzibar, followed by Arabic. Customer facing staff at Demani Lodge all speak English, Swahili and some management staff speak additional languages such as Norwegian. You will find that most of the locals speak a little English, especially in the hotels and shops.
As an Mzungu (white person) you would do well to learn a little Swahili as a sign of respect.
Your holiday will most definitely be enriched and you will find the Zanzibaris more helpful and friendly if you try.
Can I bring something to the children?
Kids will ask you for “pipi” = sweets, “pennie” = pen for school, or “dollar”. PLEASE do not give them anything. They were taught by the tourists to beg and we all try to stop this. We know it is hard and they are very cute but these childrens begging attitude had to start somewhere and this handing out of items continues the begging mentality. By bringing stuff (that is not really needed!!!) you encourage children and people to approch tourists for whatever they might have in their bag to give them. And thus they will start to act out, trying to do tricks and almost behave like they are working in a circus. And THAT is SO wrong. If you really really wish to bring something (like pens, books, colours, pencils), rather donate it to a school and/or to an organisation who can and will distribute it to the right places, which they will know exactly where is - in contradiction to a short time visitor!
Can I buy or bring shells?
Curio shops will offer them to you, or kids at the beach. Do not buy them! You will pay heavy fines if you are caught with shells in your luggage. Shells, no matter what size, are the houses of crabs and other sea creatures and if they are taken away, the creatures don’t have any protection.
Is it safe to walk through the village?
Please do walk through the villages. Zanzibaris are wonderful and hospitable people, super friendly, they smile with their eyes (dress code in villages is a bit more relaxed than in Stone Town but please do not walk through the villages in a bikini!). You will be greeted with plenty of “Jambo” (hello) while you walk through the village, please do reply “Jambo”! It would be rude not to.
Can I drive on the beach?
Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the beach! Locals ignore this and usually get away with it but if you are caught riding a scooter on the beach, you will be fined heavily. Besides that, people come to our beaches to relax here and the sound of a scooter riding on the beach is most certainly annoying.
What about that guy with a moneky in leash?
If you encounter a beachi boy that has a little monkey on a leash “for the entertainment of the tourists” PLEASE DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY MONEY!!! These monkeys were stolen as babies from their mothers, and the mothers are often killed in the process. The babies are then kept in small confinements, crying for their mothers, until their spirit is broken. They do anything for just a scrap of food and are given alcohol, even drugs. This is not a sick joke. This is all done in the name of providing entertainment for the tourists – in order to get money. If these guys don’t get any money from the tourists anymore, they will stop kidnapping the babies and killing their mothers. This is of course officially prohibited, but the police get a share of the apparently quite substantial income. So please, no matter what story they tell you about how they got that little monkey, do not give them any money. Just walk away.
What about beach boys?
You will encounter so-called “beachi boys” that offer you anything from going snorkeling, selling handmade jewelry, etc. They are friendly guys and if you say no, they in all likelyhood just want to have a chat, finding out who you are and where you come from. Most of them are really friendly. In case you don’t feel like chatting just tell them so. Do not pay a beach boy upfront for any tour, snorkeling etc!