Do you dream of endless white sandy beaches? A vibrant culture? Flavourful food? Look no further than Zanzibar, a tropical archipelago off Tanzania’s coast in the Indian Ocean. As someone who has visited this tropical paradise three times I can attest to Zanzibar’s rich culture and beauty.
If you have visited Tanzania’s mainland expect Zanzibar to be very different, including its culture, religion, politics, and food. Below are a few highlights and tips to consider when visiting Zanzibar.
Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is comprised of a maze of streets that one can easily get lost in. Asking for directions is an option and you will likely be directed with a series of hand gestures, but it’s fun to get lost in these charming streets and then find your way. Many of the streets are lined with souvenir shops so this is the perfect opportunity to practice your Swahili and bartering skills. Visit Jaws corners where the locals sip coffee and talk politics.
Did you know that Stone Town is home to Queen’s frontman, Freddy Mercury? You can find his childhood home in Stone Town, that has a display and signs honouring the singer outside the door of the house, however you won’t be able to tour inside.
Keep in mind that the population of Zanzibar is mainly Muslim, so people dress conservatively. It is okay to dress in beachwear if you are at a beach hotel on another part of the island, but in Stone Town, especially as a woman, it’s best to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees.
Zanzibar is known as one of the spice islands and the flavours of food are incredible. The food is a mix of Indian, Arab, Portuguese and African. Try the local foods such as Indian chapatti, Afrian Ugali, and endless seafood options. Visit the Daranjani market where the locals shop for groceries to buy some spices to take home with you. The central park, Forodhani Gardens, becomes a night marketevery evening at 6:00pm. Skip the seafood as it’s precooked and may have been sitting out all day and opt for a freshly cooked Zanzibar pizza instead.
Changuu Island, also known as Prison Island, is a small island located just off the coast of Stone Town. It was once a place where slaves were prisoned, and then later a place of quarantine for people who had yellow fever. It is now a popular day trip for tourists from Stone Town, now home to a colony of giant tortoises, a gift from the governor of Seychelles in 1919. The tortoises weigh an average of 200kg and a few of them are at least 150 years old! You can get up close and personal to these tortoises but please do not sit on them! You can keep them happy by feeding them leaves and scratching their necks. A tour to Prison Island can be arranged from your hotel or a tour operator in Stone Town but be ready to pay premium prices if booking this way. For a more budget friendly way to get to Prison Island, hire a local fisherman for around $20-30 USD per boat to take you there and back. Find the Freddy Mercury house in Stone Town and walk straight down to the water from there – it’s on this beach where you’ll find the fishermen with their boats waiting to be hired.
JozaniChwaka Bay National Park, or Jozani Forest for short, is home to the rare red Colobus monkey. The trail through the park with an assigned guide takes about an hour. There is also a mangrove boardwalk to view the mangrove habitat. Jozani Forest is located on the eastern side of the island so if you aren’t staying at one of the nearby beaches, I’d recommend hiring a driver from Stone Town and visiting Jozani Forest in the morning and heading to the Rock Restaurant for lunch.
The Rock Restaurant
The east side of the Island is also home to the Rock Restaurant in Pingwe. This is a unique dining experience where the restaurant is built on a rock in the ocean. At low tide it’s possible to walk to the restaurant but the best experience is visiting at high tide when you must take a fishing boat to get there.
For me, Zanzibar was a place to relax on the beach following a hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro and a camping safari. The most popular beaches for tourists are on the west side of the Island in Kendwa and Nungwai. There are many hotels to choose from and beautiful white sand beaches.
For the less touristy beaches visit Bwejuu or Paje on the east side of Zanzibar. One thing to keep in mind is that the east coast of the island is more affected by the tides. The tide goes very far out so swimming isn’t possible at low tide. The beaches on the west side of the island are less affected by the tides so swimming is possible at low tide as well.
Full Moon Party
If you’ve had enough relaxing and want a night of partying, head to Kedwa Rocks Hotel for the full moon party that takes place each month. Don’t expect a full moon party like those in Thailand, butdo expect a bustling dance floor with locals and tourists.
Swahili words and phrases you may hear while in Zanzibar
A few words in Swahili will take you a long way in Zanzibar. Here are a few words and phrases that you may find helpful during your stay:
- Asante – thank you
- Asante sana – thank you very much
- Karibu – welcome
- Mambo – what’s up?
- Poa – cool (response to mambo)
- Chizikamandzi – cool like a banana (another response to mambo)
- Shillingi ngapi? – how much does it cost?
As idyllic as Zanzibar is, it still comes with health risks including malaria. Planning a trip to Zanzibar? Be sure to book your pre-travel consultation at TravelSafe Clinic to receive up to date health advice, immunizations, and any travel prescriptions you may need. Simply call us or email us today to book your appointment.