Travel to Zanzibar - Discover Zanzibar with Easyvoyage
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Zanzibar

By Amy Adejokun Amy Adejokun Section editor
Zanzibar is the main island of the archipelago 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. The Persian origin of the name Zanzibar means ?the black coast?, whilst the Arabic origin means ?fair is this land?. Both these names give away something of this island's identity, from its rich history to its striking beauty. Surrounded by long white sand beaches, some of Africa's best coral reefs and deserted islands untouched by tourists, Zanzibar truly is a paradise.

Travel guide

Beaches

Zanzibar is surrounded by stunning beaches that you won't want to miss out on! Enjoy the fine white sand beaches especially at the north, east and south coast. The best beaches are Nungwi and Kendwa in the North, Matemwe and Kiwengwa in the East and Paje and Jambiani in the South. Each of these beaches offers a different appeal. The south east beaches are most popular amongst tourists, but whichever you choose you'll be surrounded by the laid-back island attitude and beauty of Zanzibar.

On the North Western coast you can swim during low and high tide, which is not always possible on the East side of the island. You must always beware of the Sea Urchins that give a powerful sting if stepped upon during low tide. The beaches offer lots of beach bars and restaurants and there is something for everyone. Kendwa Beach also hosts the famous Full Moon Party, arranged on the Saturday just before or after a full moon.

For those who want a some activity alongside the sunbathing, Zanzibar has many opportunities for you to take part in water sports, especially on the southeast coast. Surfing is becoming more popular on the island and the southeast coast offers a variety of surf spots for different level surfers.

World Heritage site

This island is home to a World Heritage site called the Stone Town. It is the only functioning historical town in East Africa and of cultural and artistic importance. You could wander around its cobbled streets getting lost in the atmosphere all day. There is something new around every corner!

There are numerous historically significant buildings in Stone Town like The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort. The market in Stone Town is one of the largest, most vibrant open-air markets anywhere. It is easy to arrange a simple walking tour with a local guide who can teach you some history about the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture, with a unique mixture of Moorish, Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements that it represents.

Farms

Zanzibar is also known as the Spice Island and it was an important stop in the Spice Trade centuries ago. Today, it is one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced, and many other Middle Eastern and Asian spices are grown here. Going on a spice tour in Zanzibar is a unique experience. Spices are an integral part of the island's history as well as an essential ingredient in everyday life. You will be able to see how the spices grow and sample some of the exotic fruit that a local man climbs up a tree and picks for you, whilst singing! A spice tour is also a fantastic opportunity to see the countryside and rural areas of Zanzibar and also connect with local people.

The seaweed centre on Zanzibar is the island's second biggest industry and 3% of the world's commercial harvest of Seaweed takes place here. It creates opportunities for female seaweed farmers to improve their standard of living and engage in economic development activities that benefit the whole community. A visit here will leave you speechless as you see first-hand the process from raw seaweed to beauty products and the sense of determination and pride that the women have for their work. This experience can be included in a package tour that covers similar attractions too.

Our Editorial team's advice

Catching a flight is the best way to get to Zanzibar from anywhere outside East Africa. There are very few direct flights, but from Dar es Salaam it is easy to book a cheap, short flight to Zanzibar. There are frequent ferries, but these can be questionably unseaworthy-looking. Internal flights are a lot more comfortable. Although the airport is convenient it can be a little overwhelming for Western travellers so remember to keep your cool!

The population on Zanzibar Island is largely Muslim so it is respectful and necessary to dress modestly. It is also necessary to be aware that a law on homosexuality was adopted by the Zanzibar parliament on the 13th April 2004 meaning that homosexuality can be punished by 25 years in prison for men and 7 years in prison for women. Therefore, we recommend you avoid any public displays of affection.

The best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to October during the cool, dry months of spring. Another popular time to visit this tropical island is from December to February when it's hot and dry. It is best to avoid visiting Zanzibar during its two rainy seasons, from mid-March to late May and again in November.

Entry requirements for all UK travellers to Zanzibar are the same as for Tanzania. Travellers with British passports will need a tourist or business visa. These are obtainable from the Tanzanian High Commission before you travel.

Zanzibar's currency is the Tanzanian shilling (TZS). Buying Tanzanian shillings in Europe or America can be hard; most travellers will buy local currency on arrival in Tanzania or Zanzibar. However, most accommodation in Zanzibar charges in US Dollars (USD).

pros

  • +The island is surrounded by miles of golden sand.
  • +Between Africa and the Orient, the capital is captivating.

cons

  • -In July/August, there are too many tourists in the Old Town.
  • -On the East Coast, tides are sometimes very low.
  • -Access is difficult, no direct flights.
  • -Life and accommodation is expensive but of poor quality.

Traditions

The locals in Zanzibar are very welcoming and well disposed towards tourists and you will be appreciated if you try to respect their traditions. Like in most countries, loud or aggressive behaviour, drunkenness, foul language and disrespect, especially towards older people, will cause offence.

Zanzibar is a largely Islamic country, so there are certain religious customs that you need to respect on your travels there. In terms of clothing, most local women will follow tradition and wear a headscarf and a khanga. The Muslim population expects and appreciates both men and women to keep their knees and shoulders covered while in the streets. In areas concentrated only by Western tourists, this rule does not apply. It is normal to never greet a woman in conversation outside, but you may respond if they greet you first. During Ramadan tourists should avoid eating and drinking in public during the daytime.

Food

Zanzibar is a melting pot of Arab, Indian and African influences, and its cusisine is no different. The spices from Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, paired with Zanzibar's own natural ingredients and seafood, makes the food on this island so delicious. At all celebrations in Zanzibar food plays a large role. A huge amount of food is made as it is considered very shameful for guests to leave hungry from a ceremonial meal or dinner party.

Dishes are not spicy, but are seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. However, nutmeg is banned as it is intoxicating. You will find that rice is the base food of most main dishes in Zanzibar and it is produced locally. It is normal to finish off a meal by heading to the market to buy bananas, sweet potatoes, cornflower and rice. Pilaf and biryani are foods saved to be eaten on Sundays and public holidays. If you have a sweet tooth Zanzibar offers desserts in the form of all sorts of exotic fruits including more than 10 kinds of mango and banana, pineapple, corossol, guava, jackfruit, passion fruit and spiced apple.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Zanzibar . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Zanzibar . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Zanzibar .

May

  • Nugwi flecheStagne 87/100 Excellent
See the different areas

Souvenirs

Specialities of Zanzibar include small carved wooden boxes with golden studs and miniature replicas of chiselled doors. Coloured fabrics for women (khangas) or Kikois for men. In the cities, "curios shop" and in the Forodhani quarter, you will find many craft items made on the continent such as cutlery, crockery, jewellery, Tanzinian ebony sculptures and Kenyan soapstone sculptures. Fishermans hats, raffia rugs, batiks and local artist's watercolours can also be found here. The island's women make lovely kofias (the small white hats worn by the men) and these are sold in the streets of Zanzibar. In the market, all different kinds of spices are available: clove, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom etc. Bartering will get you a slight discount everywhere. Darajani market stalls open in their own time from 9:00 am onwards. Activity slows around 12:45 pm when everyone is at the mosque. At 2:00 pm everything closes. From 4:00 pm, shops reopen and stay open as late as they like; some shops shut as late as 9:00 pm.