zanzibar guide

A Quick Rookie’s Guide to Zanzibar

If you’re thinking about a first foray into East Africa, Zanzibar may be a great choice. The small, semi-autonomous island region of Tanzania (squeezed between Kenya and Mozambique) is generally known for being relatively safe, bursting with spices and delicious seafood, and packed with friendly locals.

How can I get to Zanzibar?

There are several ways to access the Zanzibar islands, including arrival at the tiny Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, as well as by boat:

  1.    A 20-minute flight from Dar Es Salaam Airport;
  2.    A 2-hour ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam Ferry Terminal;
  3.    A 1-hour flight from Arusha or Kilimanjaro Airport;
  4.    A 90-minute flight from Nairobi Airport–which is how we arrived.

What is the best time of the year to travel to Zanzibar?

You will want to avoid visiting Zanzibar during its rainy season between mid-March and May. The region is also known to receive shorter rain showers in November/December. We spent five days in Zanzibar in late November and did not experience any showers. Zanzibar is lovely to visit any other time of the year!

What is the main language in Zanzibar?

You will find many languages spoken by the local Zanzibarians, including French, Arabic, to English and Swahili. Swahili is the main language of Tanzania the language most widely spoken locally. Here are a few easy key phrases you should take note of:

Hujambo – “Hello!”

Asante – “Thank you!”

Sana – “Very,” therefore you’ll commonly hear ‘Asante sana’ = Thank you very much!

Hakuna Matata – “No worries”

What is the currency in Zanzibar?

The currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling (TZS). As of April 2019, $1 USD is equivalent to about 2300 TZS. We were surprised to find that several local hotels and establishments also accepted USD. Still, it’s advisable to carry TZS on you, as Zanzibar is a place of island life to the max, and you’ll find plenty of local vendors and markets at which you’ll need cash to shop.

Where to stay in Zanzibar?

Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands. The west coast is home to the historic Stone Town district which is a not to miss in our books. If you want history, spices, and delicious food (especially seafood) you’re in the right place. There are also great snorkeling and swimming spots if you go a bit further out from the coast.

We stayed at the Marriott in Mbweni Ruins and absolutely LOVED it. Located amidst a tropical garden, this property was the perfect place if you decide you just want to hang low and stay at the hotel all day. The hotel lies along the beach, has an amazing restaurant that serves food late into the evening, and is replete with cabanas, a pool, a semi-private stretch of beach, and ruins to explore. There are complimentary shuttles that will take you into Stone Town as well as to and from the airport, which is only ten minutes away.

How to get around Zanzibar?

There is no such thing as Uber on this African island. You will need to arrange taxis to get from one destination to another. Your lodge

What to do in Zanzibar?

  • Explore Stonetown – Stonetown is the old town in Zanzibar City by the coast. Here are a few things to check out in Stonetown:
  • Dolphins in Kizkimazi – After speaking to a local by the harbour in Stone Town, we set ourselves up for a pick up in the morning from the Mariott Newembi Ruins to Kizkimkazi. The ride took roughly an hour and a half. You arrive by the coast and given a pair of snorkle gears. Hop into a small boat and head out deep into the bay on the search for dolphins. The idea is to arrive in Kizkimazi early in the morning to catch the dolphins. We arrived later around 11:30am and did not see any dolphins. Nonetheless, going for a swim in the Menai Bay felt AMAZING. Such warm water! Afterwards, we were treated to fresh snapper in shack.
  • Spend a day cycling through Nungwi and the Northern tip with a guide. Click here to book your tour
  • Prison Island – find a local vendor at the harbour that will take you to Prison Island by boat – about a 15-20 minute boat ride. Here you will find massive turtles that are over 100 years old and learn about the history of Zanzibar.

Comment below on your tips on Zanzibar and let’s together share the wealth.

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