Zanzibar Island features a cocktail of pristine white sand beaches, swaying palms, and crystal clear waters, coral reefs and tropical forest. It’s not surprising many tourists are jetting off on Zanzibar vacations. The island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in East Africa featuring a myriad of stunning attractions and fun activities to enjoy.
There isn’t really a bad time to visit the island, but there are certain things you need to know before or after booking your flight. Here are some helpful tips to help you make most of your Zanzibar vacation if you’re planning to visit soon.
Located about 15-miles off the coast of Tanzania, the Zanzibar Archipelago comprises of two large islands – Unguja and Pemba, and many small islands. Popularly called Zanzibar, Unguja is the largest island of the archipelago. The capital of Zanzibar is known as Zanzibar City, while Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site within Zanzibar City, is the cultural heart of the Island.
For an easy entry into Zanzibar, you’ll need a valid passport and the right visa. Your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond your proposed departure date. The visa is available on arrival at the point of entry for $50. However, if you want to avoid any inconvenience at the point of entry in Tanzania, you can obtain a visa at the Consulate Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania in your country. Here are the points of entry:
Yellow fever card and a return flight ticket are entry requirements, you will be asked for it at the immigration before you’re allowed into the country. The visa fee is payable only in US dollars. A number of nationalities do not require a visa to enter Zanzibar such as Botswana, Kenya, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Swaziland. You should probably check the nearest Tanzanian High Commission or Embassy before travelling.
You can visit Zanzibar all year round due to its tropical climate. It has two rainy seasons – long rains and short rains. The long rainy season occurs between March and May, and the short rains take place between November and early December. A 100% beach holiday is not advisable during the long rains due to monsoons – the seasonal wind and driving rain of the region, which may disrupt your beach time. What is guaranteed all year, rain or not, is warm to hot days. The short rains are usually sporadic showers, not really intense, they don’t last long.
The best time to visit Zanzibar is during the cool and dry months – from June to late October, and from early December to end February when it’s dry and hot. You can also visit the island for a particular activity. For instance, for scuba diving activities, you should visit between February and March, or July and August. If you don’t really care about the weather and you’re just looking for a slice of privacy and luxury, Zanzibar is your best bet.
Getting to Zanzibar is quite easy; there are flights available from many international, regional and local destinations. In fact, you can book flights to Zanzibar online – from anywhere in the world. Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, also known as Zanzibar International Airport is the best airport for flights to arrive. You can also arrive at other international airports in Tanzania and connect to Zanzibar through domestic flights (Tripindigo is the best for booking local and regional flights). You can also take a 120-minute ferry ride from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar – a convenient way to travel if you’re on a budget.
Zanzibar is a melting pot of cultures but the official languages of the island are Swahili and English. However, not many locals are fluent in English language, but be rest assured that you will find people who speak English at the tourist spots, hotels and resorts. Moreover, finding someone who speaks English is not hard on the island. You can also learn some useful Swahili words and phrases for easy communication such as greetings and bargaining vocabulary when shopping for souvenirs. “Jambo” – hello, greeting. “Ahsante sana” – thank you. “Karibu” – you’re welcome / welcome to.
A large percentage of the population in Zanzibar are Muslims, and it’s advisable to show some respect for their culture. There are several mosques around the town and you can hear wake-up calls for prayer every morning. If you’re not an early riser, you should get earplugs to avoid any disturbance. The Zanzibari women dress modestly in their traditional headdress, also known as Niqab or Burka, while the men wear their Kofia – hat. It is advisable to dress conservatively when you are not on the beach. Topless sunbathing is prohibited on the island. If you’re on a romantic holiday, you should try to minimize public display of affection.
Although Tanzania is known for its abundance of wildlife, don’t expect to see lions, giraffes or elephants in Zanzibar.. In Zanzibar, the wildlife viewing is in the forests or underwater. Snorkel or scuba dive. You can visit any of the dive centers on the island for scuba diving training so that you can experience the Indian Ocean underwater life. You can also visit a protected aquatic park – Chumbe Island for exciting snorkelling activities.
In the Jozani forest you’ll be sure to see the rare but locally abundant Red Colobus monkey, other primates, birds, reptiles and insects.
Spices and their value have played a significant part in the violent history of the island. Referred to as “The Spice Island”, Zanzibar features a wide variety of spices such as black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The spice is evident in most dishes served on the island. You can visit and explore the local spice farms on the island to discover the variety of flavours, how the spices you’re used to to appear in their unharvested state, how they’re picked, dried and made available for use.
Before travelling to Zanzibar, you should ensure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. You should visit your doctor at least two to four weeks before your trip. Get some travel vaccines and medicine to avoid any risk of diseases when you’re in Tanzania. Get vaccinated for Malaria, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A. You should also get a first aid bag which should include a mosquito repellent.
Spending a day at the beach is fun, and it can be tempting to take a barefoot walk on the seashore. While it’s a romantic gesture, it is important to beware of the sea creatures that can turn your lovely day into an apprehensive wait at the local hospital. Don’t walk barefoot on the reef when the tide goes out. Apart from the fact that the rocks are sharp, jagged edged and sharp, you should beware of Sea Urchins – spiky invertebrates which inflict excruciating wound when you step on them and the spine penetrates your feet.