zanzibar, the spice islands
Time Zone: GMT + 3
International Dialing code: + 255
Electricity: 220 – 240 V AC, 50 Hz
Zanzibar is an archipelago about 86 km long and 39 km wide. It’s formed by two main islands, Unguja (commonly known as Zanzibar) and Pemba, as well as several smaller islands including Mafia, Chumbe and Mnemba Island.
The population is approximately 1 million, with the official language Kiswahili. About 98% of the population are Muslims, the other 2% are Christians or Hindus.
Zanzibar’s International Airport lies about 5 kilometres south of Zanzibar City (including it’s old quarter of Stone Town, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.).
Tourism and spices are Zanzibar’s main industries. Zanzibar is often still referred to as the Spice Islands due to the production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Wifi is widely available throughout the island, but the signal can be intermittent.
Lying just south of the equator, Zanzibar has a tropical climate and is hot and humid all year round – perfect for a beach holiday!
From October to March, temperatures average 31-33 degrees Celsius. The arrival of Kuzi (wind) in April brings in the long rains, where it can rain every day until May/early June. Inbetween the rain showers, it’s generally still sunny and hot.
From June to August the winds are stronger, cooling the temperatures to around 26 degrees Celsius. Temperatures at night never drop below 19 degrees Celsius, even in the coolest months. The arrival of the Kazkazi winds in November and December bring the short rains, which are normally light and don’t last long.on, followed by the return of the sunshine.
Rain in Zanzibar generally comes in short, sharp showers in the morning or afternoon, followed by the return of the sunshine.
visa and entry requirements
Most visas are obtainable on arrival at Zanzibar International Airport for US$50 CASH per person (American Citizens pay US$100 for their visas). You can also get Visas on entry at Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airports.
All visitors require a passport that is valid for 6 months after departure, and has at least two clear pages.
* NB: Visa costs and requirements are subject to change, so please double check with your embassy before you travel.
The unit of currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling.
US Dollars are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and bars. (By law, visitors have to settle hotel bills in US dollars or other hard currency, but this can be waived in smaller establishments.)
Please note if you are paying by credit card: many hotels and resorts add up to 6% commission for credit card payments.
The national language is Kiswahili, though English is widely spoken.
health and safety
Visitors to Zanzibar may be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when they enter the country. Malaria prophylaxis is also recommended.
NB: See your travel doctor for recommended innoculations and health advice.
Drink bottled water and avoid uncooked foods that may have been washed in untreated water. Sunstroke and heat exhaustion are common, so drink enough water and wear protective clothing and high factor sunscreen.
Zanzibar is a safe country, and most locals are friendly and honest. But avoid flaunting wealth by wearing expensive jewelry or waving camera equipment around. Avoid walking alone on isolated beaches at night.
important cultural considerations
Zanzibar has a long history of religious tolerance and although the islands are 98% Muslim, alcohol and tobacco are freely available. Show respect for the culture of Zanzibar by dressing modestly and refraining from public displays of affection. When walking in Stone Town or villages, women should wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men should not walk bare-chested. On the beaches, swimwear is acceptable, but topless sunbathing is not.
During the fast of Ramadan, it is considered the height of bad manners to eat and drink in public places, or while walking down the street. Non- Muslims should not enter mosques unless specifically invited to do so.
There are amazing photographic opportunities in Zanzibar, but it’s a courtesy to ask people if you want to take a picture of them.
The history of Zanzibar has been influenced by many nations, including Arabia, Persia, India, Portugal, Britian, as well as local tribes from the African mainland. This is clearly noticed in the architecture. Stone Town is a place of narrow lanes, intricately carved wooden doors, towers, terraces and fabulous mosques.
In 1964 Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania, although it still enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the unified state.
Life in Zanzibar is centered on the ocean… the locals fish for food and as a source of income, and swimming, snorkeling, diving and kite surfing are at the heart of most tourists’ holidays.
Zanzibar is one of the few places left where Green turtles come to lay their eggs and dolphins can be seen swimming wild.
Please help preserve the reefs – don’t pick up starfish or shells (or buy shells from beach sellers, as this encourages them.)
Look only with your eyes and leave no trace other than your footprints.
did you know…
- Stone Town was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2000, due to its unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European Architecture which dates back to the 19th century.
- Stone Town was historically a major trading hub on the East Coast of Africa for slaves, spices, tea and coffee.Today it is a haven for shopping, eating and those interested in the culture and history of Zanzibar.
- There are more than 560 carved doors in Zanzibar, the oldest dating back to 1694 AD. Many of these can be seen on a walk around Stone Town. The owner of the house showed their social position and wealth by how large and elaborately carved their front door was.
- The favorite pastime of young and old is a game called BAO – ask someone to teach you how to play!
- The favorite sport played by Zanziabra is soccer/football – join in a local game on the beach.
- The most famous Musician born in Zanzibar is Freddie Mercury – lead singer of Supergroup Queen. Born Farouk Bulsara on 5 September 1946, his father was an accountant working for the British government in the House of Wonders in Stone Town.
- The rare Red Colobus monkey is only found in Zanzibar, and can be seen in Jozani Forest.
- Zanzibar’s most famous event is the Festival of the Dhow Countries – an International Film Festival. Every July the best of the Swahili Coast arts scene, including Zanzibar’s favorite music (taarab), is showcased.
- The National sound of Zanzibar is Taarab music. The most commonly played style of music at weddings, it is a blend of the Middle East, India and the West, and Swahili rhythms and poetry.
- Bi Kidude, often called the “queen of Taarab and Unyago music”, lived until the age of 103 (she wasn’t exactly sure of the year of her birth, saying early 1910’s).
- Zanzibar had the first steam locomotive in East Africa. A tiny two foot gauge engine built to take the Sultan to and from his summer palace in the 1880’s.