Zanzibar TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO

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Dreaming of an idyllic beach break and chosen Zanzibar as your perfect destination? Now's the time to start preparing for that slice of paradise with our top travel tips that cover all the essentials from what vaccinations you might need to what to expect of the local cuisine.

What vaccinations do I need for Zanzibar?

You should seek medical advice from your local health practitioner before travelling to Zanzibar and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatits A, Diptheria and Polio are recommended. You will also be required to show your Yellow Fever vaccination card. You should also make sure you are up to date with all standard vaccinations required for life in your home country.

Do I need anti-malaria tablets for Zanzibar?

There is a high risk of malaria throughout all of Zanzibar at all times of the year. Anti-malarials such as Mefloquine, Doxycycline or Atovaquone/Proguanil are recommended. It is also important to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible by wearing long sleeves and trousers where possible, sleeping under a mosquito net and covering yourself in a strong insect repellent containing at least 50% DEET. If you have any feverish symptoms within 12 months of returning from Zanzibar, seek immediate medical attention. For more information on the malaria risk in Zanzibar visit the NHS Fit to Travel page or the CDC Traveler's Health page.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Zanzibar?

The tap water in Zanzibar is chlorinated and local people drink it without problems. However, there are some strains of local E. coli, which may affect foreigners. Therefore, it is better to stick to bottled water unless you are planning on staying on the island long enough to become habituated to tap water (longer than a month usually). Bottled mineral water is widely available across the island.

Barracuda on sale in Zanzibar - Top Travel Tips - On The Go Tours
Freshly caught fish makes the ideal island meal on Zanzibar

What's the food like in Zanzibar?

Taking inspiration from Africa, Arabia, India and Europe, Zanzibar’s cuisine is as varied as it is delicious. Given its plethora of spices, you can guarantee that anything you eat on the island will be brimming with flavour. A popular dish for locals is biryani, an Indian dish that consists of rice cooked in spices and then mixed together with a fragrant meat or fish curry. Pilau rice, on the other hand, is served separately to the curry but is equally sublime.

With water all around, it should come as no surprise that seafood plays a big role in the local culinary scene. Octopus curry is a delicacy on the island and is cooked in a flavoursome coconut-cream sauce. Octopus makes another appearance as a street food, served with pieces of friend cassava. For some land based meat, mishkaki - skewers of grilled chicken or beef, make a great snack.

Once you’ve tackled the main course, all that’s left is to seek out something sweet. A favourite dessert option is mandazi, deep fried dough that has been sweetened and occasionally contains just a hint of cardamom. Wash this down with a cup of chai and a slice of durian or jackfruit for the perfect end to a meal.

Safe eating while travelling in Zanzibar

Food hygiene standards in Zanzibar may differ to what you are used to back home so to avoid getting sick take extra precautions with your food. Ensure that all hot food is served piping hot rather than lukewarm. If something looks poorly prepared, especially meat or fish, it is better not to eat it. When it comes to street food, don’t eat anything that might have been sat in the sun for too long. A good tip when buying food is to look for somewhere with a queue of locals as this will invariably be where the good food is.

Is it standard to tip in Zanzibar?

While it is not compulsory to tip in Zanzibar, due to the high number of western tourists that travel here every year, workers have become habituated to receiving something for their service. USD $1-2 per day for hotel staff is an adequate amount and 5% or so should be added restaurant bills. Naturally, this can fluctuate according to how good you found the service. Guides, porters and cooks that join you on tours should be tipped around USD $8-15 per day. This amount can be shared amongst the group. It is not common to tip taxi drivers in Zanzibar but rounding up your fare is a generous way of showing your appreciation.

African fabrics on sale in Zanzibar - Top Travel Tips - On The Go Tours
Shop for colourful African fabrics in Zanzibar's Stone Town

What is good to shop for in Zanzibar?

Stone Town in the main area for shopping in Zanzibar and thanks to the island’s diverse background, it's a true haven for shopaholics. Goods from a range of different countries and cultures are up for grabs here but the number one thing to take home is a bag of spices or a bottle of essential oils. Other popular purchases include fabrics, rugs and authentic pieces of African art that can be found in the numerous galleries throughout the town.

If you’re a fan of bright colours, there are plenty of stalls and boutiques selling traditional African clothes, which make excellent gifts and souvenirs. There is also a plethora of handmade jewellery, created from seashells, handmade beads and silver as well as things like baby mobiles made from coconut shells. If you want to support the island’s community, you could even pick up a music CD from a local band or artist.

Is bargaining acceptable in Zanzibar?

Generally, bargaining is acceptable in Zanzibar. If you are in a shop or restaurant with fixed prices then you are unlikely to be able to negotiate but when it comes to handicrafts and knick-knacks in markets, haggling is expected. As a foreigner, you are likely to be offered a highly inflated price when you first approach a vendor. Be polite and smile but don’t be ripped off and walk away if necessary. Bear in mind that if you find yourself negotiating over a matter of pennies it is probably better just to let them have that little bit extra.

Is it safe for a single woman to travel to Zanzibar?

It is important to remember that Zanzibar is a majority Muslim country and therefore dressing appropriately is a must. Bikinis on the beach are fine but when walking through the towns and villages, women should wear conservative clothes, not just to avoid attention but also to respect the local culture. You should also avoid walking around alone when it is dark, and it's a good idea to let people know where you are staying. Generally, however, aside from a bit of attention from the local men, women should not encounter any physical violence or threatening behaviour.

What is the duty free allowance for Zanzibar?

Travellers over 17 years of age are permitted to bring the following into Zanzibar:

  • 250g of cigarettes, cigars and tobacco (combined weight)
  • 1 litre of spirits or wine
  • 500ml of perfume and eau de toilette, of which no more than a quarter may be perfume

The following are banned from being imported into Zanzibar: unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

What is the currency in Zanzibar?

The official currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling. Check OANDA for the latest exchange rates.

Although the Shilling is the main currency on the island, many places will also accept US dollars so it is always a good idea to carry a reasonable amount in small notes with you. The only ATMs on the island of Zanzibar are in Stone Town so be sure to stock up on cash while you are there. Credit cards are accepted in larger places but do not depend upon them.

Traveller’s Cheques are not accepted in Zanzibar.

What do things cost in Zanzibar?

Overall, Zanzibar provides travellers with excellent value for money. Rooms in a mid-range hotel average around USD $100 per night but budget accommodation can cost as little as USD $20. A three course meal in a restaurant will usually be around USD $20 and street food can cost anywhere from USD $3-10 depending on how hungry you are. The ferry trip from Zanzibar to Prison Island costs between USD $4-7 according to how many people you have in your boat. Taxis are reasonably cheap with a 3km journey costing around USD $3.

What sort of plugs do I need for Zanzibar?

The voltage in Zanzibar is 220-240v so some appliances might need a converter. Plugs sockets require the three-pronged British plugs but there are some that are wired to accept the two pronged European kind. It's best to take a universal travel adaptor with you so that you can use all available electrical sockets.

Is WiFi widely available in Zanzibar?

Most of the large resorts and hotels will provide WiFi but some of the small accommodations might not have a connection and if they do it might be very slow. There are internet cafes in Stone Town where you can get online.

What time zone is Zanzibar on?

Zanzibar is three hours ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight savings time.

Visiting Zanzibar during Ramadan

Almost the entire population of Zanzibar is Muslim so Ramadan is an important event on the island. Travellers arriving during this month should be aware of certain rules and etiquette that needs to be adhered to. While it is not illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public, it is considered disrespectful as almost all of the locals will be fasting during the day. Some restaurants will also either close completely or at least close off their outdoor eating space during this time. If you are in Zanzibar for Ramadan, you might get the chance to attend a Siku Kuu dinner, a feast that marks the end of the fasting period for the day.

See Also

Check out the following useful resources to help you plan your Zanzibar beach break:

Best Places to Visit - top 5 destinations on the island worth visiting
Best Time to Visit - Zanzibar's climate and seasons
Tourist Visas - what you need to know before travelling to Zanzibar