Planning to travel to Zanzibar and in search of a few Zanzibar travel tips? Whether you are on an African honeymoon, finishing up your Kilimanjaro Trek, or exploring the plains of the Serengeti when ending it all with a long beach holiday one thing is for certain – Zanzibar Island is beautiful.
We spent three weeks traveling Zanzibar island taking a beach break from our long overland trip that started in Cape Town. Here are a few Zanzibar travel tips that are good to know before you visit the island.
Our Top Zanzibar Travel Tips
Where Is Zanzibar?
Wondering where exactly Zanzibar is? You’re not alone, but you should learn because of your Zanzibar vacation. Essentially it is an island in the Indian Ocean, a two hour (15 miles) ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam, a major city in Tanzania.
How To Get To Zanzibar
You won’t find any US air carriers that fly directly to Zanzibar. However there are flight connections from major hubs in the Middle East such as Muscat, Doha, Dubai, or Qatar.
You’ll also be able to find flight connections through Amsterdam and London as main European hubs, as well as Johannesburg and of course Dar Es Salaam.
Is Zanzibar A Country?
Zanzibar is not a country but is considered a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Politically it is part of Tanzania.
Zanzibar is also isn’t just one island but is the largest of Zanzibar Archipelago. We’ll get into that below.
Zanzibar Is Not Exactly Zanzibar
Before to travel Zanzibar you should know that “Zanzibar” is not the official name of the island. When people refer to Zanzibar it is technically all of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Zanzibar Island is real name is “Unguja.”
Unguja is surrounded by many other tiny islands but the only ones that most people have likely heard of are Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia Island – the only islands inhabited by people.
Not All Zanzibar Beaches Are Created Equal
All the different beaches on Zanzibar offer something unique and special. We spent three weeks on the island hopping around the island in search of the most beautiful beaches on Zanzibar. Yes, some are more beautiful than others, but every single one is wonderful.
After all, white sand beaches, turquoise water, and friendly locals almost guarantee all visitors will have a great time. For us, the most beautiful beaches on Zanzibar are Pongwe and Nungwi, while Paje was great for kite surfing, and Kizimkaze was perfect for seclusion.
Don’t Skip Stone Town
Another Zanzibar travel tip to make sure of before your trip to Zanzibar is that you shouldn’t miss Stone Town. Zanzibar City is the capital of Zanzibar, and Stone Town is the beating heart of it. Whether flying in or taking the ferry almost all visitors will pass through Stone Town while visiting Zanzibar, Africa.
Your first reaction may be to high tail it out of the city and to the nearest beach resort, but I encourage you to explore for at least a couple days. We entered the Kasbah expecting Stone Town to remind us of the medinas in Marrakech, but thankfully this was not the case. Instead, we were immersed in East African history with touches of European, Arabic, Persian, and Indian cultures.
One of our favorite days in Stone Town would definitely have to be the day we people watched in a Zanzibar Cafe.
Don’t Forget Your Passport
When traveling to Zanzibar, even from Dar Es Salaam you can expect to go through immigration again. Even if you have come from mainland Tanzania, and even though Zanzibar is now part of Tanzania it is still a requirement to get your passport checked before entering and leaving the island.
So don’t forget that important little book on your trip to Zanzibar! We were also told to bring our Yellow Fever cards with us, but we never were asked for them.
Book Your Ferry Tickets In Advance
So how do you get to Zanzibar from Tanzania? The main ferry company to take from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar is Azam Marine. When purchasing your tickets there will be 300 men outside the terminal offering to sell you tickets – do not trust them – their tickets are fake or overpriced.
Only purchase your ferry ticket from the indoor booth. There are no credit card machines so be prepared to pay in Tanzanian Shilling or USD.
We didn’t purchase ferry tickets before our journey and tried to buy them one hour before the ferry departed. No dice. Every seat was sold out and we had to wait until the morning. On our return ferry, we purchased tickets online, but it was only upon departure that we realized you still had to pay for them in person (cardless system).
I would recommend buying your ferry tickets in advance when traveling to Zanzibar, especially in high season. Economy tickets cost $35, one way, a person.
Prepare Your Tastebuds
Zanzibar is referred to as “The Spice Island” for its abundance of cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. The East African island was used as a spice plantation in the 18th century, and those roots still live. To see this in action tourists can visit local spice farms and get a feel for the different flavors of the island.
Don’t worry if you can’t get yourself on one of the spice farms you’ll be able to really taste Zanzibar in many of the dishes served around the island. We may or may not have gained a little weight from some delicious prawn curry dishes.
I would also highly recommend making reservations at The Tea House in Stone Town for a spectacular night and delicious food.