Location and Geography of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is the name given to the archipelago of islands that lies around 35 km off the coast of mainland Tanzania. The main islands are Unguja (informally known as Zanzibar and referred to as such throughout this site) and Pemba. There are also several smaller islands, many that can be visited and many that can’t. Mentioned on this site are Chumbe, Mnemba Atoll, Changuu (Prison Island) and Tumbatu.

Zanzibar is low-lying, its highest point being 120m. Unguja is fringed with white sandy beaches as well as coral cliffs. Being near to the equator the island is warm all year round but the north and north-east coasts do enjoy sea breezes.

Zanzibar Time Zone

+3 GMT during Winter Time and +2 during Summer Time.

Zanzibar Visas

All internationals travelling to Tanzania require a visa. This should be applied for from the High Commission before arrival but can be obtained at most ports of entry. All tourists should hold a valid passport with at least six month left on it. Visas cost up to USD 70 depending on your nationality.

Zanzibar Currency

The official currency is the Tanzanian Shilling or TSh. On the islands most tourist services will be priced in dollars, making this the currency to take. But take along limited local currency for various services and smaller items (cross-town taxis, refreshments, small souvenirs etc.).

It is wise to make any currency exchanges on the mainland at Dar Es Salaam rather than on Zanzibar. Exchange rates will be poorer, commission higher, and the scarcity of banks may mean waiting to change money for up to half a day once you are actually on Zanzibar.

You are strongly advised not to exchange money on the street with local touts.

Zanzibar Seasons and Festivals

The height of summer on Zanzibar is mid June and winter is in December. However, the islands are warm all year round due to their proximity to the equator.

The short rains occur November – December. Expect frequent showers that do not last long. Some coastlines can get very sea-weed heavy at this time. The long rains fall between April and May. The rainy seasons are tourist low-seasons so for those looking for seclusion and not so bothered by the weather they can be appealing. The rains are not normally continuous, but do not be too optimistic about rain not putting (if the pun can be excused) a damper on things.

Ramadan is one festival most tourists aim to avoid (especially those travelling to Stone Town) as many restaurants close during the day and eating in public before nightfall can be very awkward. However, the Eid-al-Ftir (end of Ramadan) is an excellent day to be in Stone Town as feasting and partying takes over the city, and all are welcomed. Ramadan dates (start to Eid-al-Ftir) 2011-2015 are as follows:

Ramadan Dates

01 August 2011 - 30 August 2011

20 July 2012 - 19 August 2012

09 July 2013 - 08 August 2013

28 June 2014 - 28 July 2014

18 June 2015 - 17 July 2015

Note that Ramadan falls ten days earlier each year than the year before.

Zanzibar itself is home to two major festivals; the Sauti za Busara music festival in February and the Zanzibar International Film Festival in July. Both these take place in Stone Town and the city gets hugely busy during both. Another music festival has also recently sprung up, this one in Kizimkazi on the south coast; The Kizimkazi Cultural Music Festival.

Zanzibar Health and Safety

Before you leave home…

We suggest that you contact your GP or a travel clinic for advice. The following jabs or boosters are usually recommended and some form of anti-malarial treatment is generally considered a must:


For those planning on travelling more extensively in Zanzibar a yellow fever shot is usually obtained ahead of travel.

As the climate is hot and low-lying and can be damp, fungal infections are common. These are easily prevented by making sure that you wash regularly and dry properly after swimming or bathing. Avoid sharing soaps and damp towels etc. with strangers where possible.

On the Islands

The sun is the biggest danger to a traveller’s health as it is often the most seemingly benign and therefore least anticipated threat. As Zanzibar is near to the equator the sun is in the zenith for much of the day. Any part of the body that is horizontally exposed to the sun is at risk of severe burning. This means swimming and sunbathing are particularly dangerous if you do not take adequate precautions. Apply a medium-high factor sun lotion regularly. If you are doing a lot of water-sports, opt for a water-resistant lotion. Please remember that the highest factor sun lotions have the shortest effective durations and need to be re-applied most regularly.

Westerners travelling to equatorial destinations can be particularly susceptible to heat stroke. Symptoms are fever, cramps, rapid pulse and / or vomiting, then hallucinations and mental confusion. The condition can be fatal. If you think you might be suffering heatstroke it is vitally important to get out of the sun and to take re-hydration solution (Dioralyte or any ORS are recommended to be carried in your personal first aid kit, but in the absence of having one with you, one can improvise a mixture as follows: four heaped teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt - mixed into a litre of water); then dampen clothing and lie down indoors .

It is strongly recommended that visitors to Zanzibar avoid drinking tap-water. Do not be convinced of its harmlessness by the number of locals you see drinking it. Remember, their stomachs are conditioned to it and they probably enjoy a much less processed diet than westerners and therefore have higher concentrations of naturally-occurring intestinal bacteria. Diarrhoea is the most common effect of drinking contaminated water on Zanzibar and can be flushed out of the system with a typical re-hydration solution. Giardiasis which is very unpleasant to suffer and causes horrid wind is another typical upset caused by water. It usually clears up in a few days. Though cholera scares do sometimes occur on Zanzibar it is unlikely to affect you. It is also important to remember that though serious, it can be treated.

Mosquito Bites

When it comes to biting things Zanzibar is no stranger to mosquitos. Expect to be bitten despite you and your hotel’s efforts to keep the pests away. While remembering that many synthetically manufactured insect repellents are claimed to contain carcinogens, many travellers will nonetheless compromise by applying something like DEET to just small areas of the body that are difficult to cover with clothing. A better option is arguably to use a natural alternative such as one containing high concentrations of Lemon Grass. Wrists and ankles seem to be particularly susceptible to being bitten. Additionally, you may consider taking with you some sort of alkaline or herbal remedy (e.g. an ammonia pen) to put on the bites, if you are unable to avoid being bitten.

Sharks in the Indian Ocean

There are sharks off the coast of Zanzibar (this is a major lure for many scuba divers). There have been no recorded shark attacks on humans since a spate of them in 2000 off the coast of Dar Es Saleem. Far more likely are sea urchin and jellyfish stings. Watch out for urchins on the beach, and when exploring wear beach shoes. A good cure for jellyfish stings is vinegar.

Healthcare on Zanzibar is not good. Hospitals are hugely under-funded. Some larger resorts have on-site doctors. If anything is seriously the matter it is best to cut your trip short and seek medical attention at home. This makes good travel insurance a must for any tourist to Zanzibar, however, prior to curtailing your trip prematurely you are strongly advised to ask your hotel to draft a letter with you explaining what has happened to necessitate aborting the rest of your trip, and stating in the letter that it is their judgment that local medical provision is not adequate to treat the relevant malady. This documentation will likely help with any subsequent claims you make from your insurer.

Keeping Safe

Zanzibar is a reasonably safe place to travel in. With a little common sense you shouldn’t have too much trouble. One of the biggest annoyances are the ‘papasi,’ and the ‘beach boys;’ touts, usually young men, who follow tourists in the hope of making some easy money. In any developing country this sort of grass-roots entrepreneurial behaviour is unavoidable.

There are very few thefts on Zanzibar but keeping your hotel room locked and any valuables hidden in balled socks or at the bottom of cases is advisable. Avoiding flashy jewellery and portable electronics is also a good idea as it makes you far less conspicuous a target to pick-pockets and petty criminals. When travelling anywhere, we would always advise that you carry money in two separate locations on your person; the larger value notes being in a flat money belt worn under clothing, and smaller denominations being carried somewhere more obvious from where access will not compromise the location of your main funds if you are being watched when you transact. If approached by a criminal that one chooses not to fight, one can then submit all the low value funds and retain the contents of the (hopefully still secret) money belt.

Dealing with intimidation from officials (very common)

The Zanzibar police force and traffic police are notorious for being corrupt and will try and find any excuse to extort a bribe. Travellers are just as susceptible (if not more so) than locals though there are measures that one can take to minimise exposure to such predation. We strongly recommend that when approached by any authorities, you start filming yourself, but do not point the camera at the official for longer than the necessary split second that you require subsequently to identify him or her. The best and least aggressive way of obtaining this shot is to hold your camera at arm’s length, turn your back on the official, and aim to capture him / her in the background, behind you, while talking into the camera. On approach, the official will advise you that filming policemen is illegal and will ask you to turn the camera off. You can be reasonably confident that the motivation of the official is not to ensure that you are not committing a crime, but rather that since he or she is likely planning to abuse his / her position to intimidate you into parting with some of your money, they would very much prefer that there should be no evidence of this transaction. At this point you are taking a risk of losing the cooperation of the official by continuing to film, however, he / she is far more likely to leave you only if it is his / her intention to exploit you. If the official is serious about the imminent solution of a crime, they will be far less nervous about your desire to film, particularly if you film only yourself and talk into the camera as though you are compiling a video diary of the event. It is important never to point the camera directly at the official but to very calmly and respectfully point out that you are only filming yourself. The official will certainly ask you why you are filming. A polite and credible response would be that the objective of your filming yourself while you interact with local law enforcement is twofold, namely:

1. To validate your subsequent insurance claim, since your insurer is generally entitled to request proof that the event has been reported to local law enforcement within 24 hours of discovery, and

2. To provide material to your tour operator in case they wish to compile a report to be sent to the Ministry of Tourism, or to the local Chief of Police, to assist in their ongoing role in crime prevention

(It should be understood that the latter of these objectives is simply to inspire the official to conduct himself / herself in as exemplary a fashion as possible when he / she reflects on the fact that this transaction may subsequently be seen by his / her superiors, and not because you believe that much else would be achieved by this).

Avoid haggling and offering bribes when it comes to genuine fines. Standard fines (for offences such as speeding) are only TSh 20,000 and you will be given a receipt. If the police are not willing to offer a receipt, you need to understand that they have no interest in upholding law and order. In this event we advise that you claim that you do not feel that they have adequately proven to you that you are in breach of the law and that out of sympathy for their department’s lack of funding you wish to make a charitable contribution of TSh 10,000 towards some new equipment that will enable them to do their work more efficiently. Rather than normalise this ugly practice by trying to achieve rapport with corrupt officials, in our view it is far preferable to stigmatise their actions by very carefully and politely patronising them and making them feel dishonourable and pathetic for making these approaches.

Recreational Drugs

Remember that recreational drugs are illegal on Zanzibar, though you may be offered marijuana. If you are a marijuana user it is definitely advisable not to partake unless you are certain about the person offering and all of the prospective witnesses. You may find yourself in a position of being blackmailed for a fair amount of cash if you do. Please also consider that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not able to offer you a get out of jail free card, where there is evidence that you have broken the law, and a prison stay could become extremely unpleasant if the guards are negligent and do not have sympathy for drug users.


Zanzibar Culture and Religion

Zanzibar is a strictly Muslim place. With a little bit of respect, consideration and restraint this should not prove problematic for most travellers; there are of course some exceptions.

The major cultural code that many Western visitors fail to adhere to is the dress code. While uncovered shoulders and arms are acceptable, and female travellers should not feel obliged to wear any form of head gear, long skirts and trousers are recommended (knee length and below). Of course on the beaches and in resorts this is impractical and not expected. Topless sunbathing is not only frowned upon, but illegal on the archipelago.

Public displays of affection should be kept to a minimum, holding hands is fine, but nothing much more unless you are somewhere more private or secluded. Unmarried heterosexual couples have been known to be made to feel uncomfortable in some hotels but this is not normally the case. Single women may suffer from unwanted advances from Zanzibari men. This is partly due to the fact that these ‘lovers’ make a living out of affairs with tourists. It is vital to remember that many of these Casanovas are carrying the HIV virus and that they are likely simultaneously managing a portfolio of several other western females.

Homosexuality on Zanzibar is illegal. Therefore it is unsurprising that most hotels will not allow two men to share a double bed. Public displays of homosexuality will cause deep offence and could even result in difficulties with the police and a prison sentence. It is a harsh truth, but Zanzibar is no place for homosexual couples.

Two things tourists should avoid are taking photographs of strangers without prior permission (locals may ask for payment and Maasai almost certainly will) and entering mosques without permission.

Why Choose a Holiday in Zanzibar?

Zanzibar is renowned for its white sandy beaches, its blue ocean, its rustic charm, its entrepreneurial and fascinating people, its wildlife and its eclectic cultural history.

If you are a water sports enthusiast looking to do some diving or snorkelling, wind-surfing or try your hand at big game fishing then a trip to Zanzibar is an excellent option.

Or if you are looking for somewhere to relax on a beach and forget the Western world for a bit, again Zanzibar is a great choice.

If you are fiercely interested in people and want to experience a slice of a culture that is at once alien and undeniably familiar; if you are not afraid of the discomfort that catching a glimpse of a developing nation can mean, then the island certainly has a lot to offer.

If you would like to see some wildlife both above ground, and under the sea and are prepared to take the rough with the smooth for the privilege then consider Zanzibar.

If you like exceptional fresh seafood prepared for you in idyllic locations with ocean sunsets, you will enjoy Zanzibar.

If you are looking for a plush holiday with all Western standards upheld, easily accessible history and hassle-free shopping and clean city streets, Zanzibar is unlikely to appeal.

If you are looking for perfection of service then only the very top end resorts (carrying top end price tags) may prove satisfactory.

If you want only beauty and escape from reality, Zanzibar is unlikely to completely oblige.

Do read this site and others carefully before planning your trip. Zanzibar is undoubtedly a wonderful place, but it is not for everybody.

Where to go on Zanzibar

Stone Town- Capital

Stone Town can be a paradise for culture vultures, amateur historians, those interested in architecture, foodies and avid bargain hunters. The city is home to many intricate colonial buildings and ruined palaces and a stoic fort.

Though be warned—the city’s history is not easily learnt en-route as little has been done in the way of placards and many exhibits are hopelessly outdated by western standards. Unless you bring your own ‘books of knowledge’ with you, you may be disappointed by Stone Town’s unexplained and seemingly disinterested sites of interest.

Though Stone Town is an exciting, and in many ways, beautiful city, it is by no means a perfect cultural haven. Zanzibar is very much a developing Island in a developing country. In Stone Town the entrepreneurial poor of this Eastern African archipelago congregate in the hope of reaping financial gains, especially from tourists. Stone Town is a hot, bubbling and noisy city, and being home to people of multiple origins with different cultural and temporal values, always close to boiling point.

One of the most pestilent examples of Stone Town’s position are the aptly named papasi (ticks). These youths and men follow tourists, desperate to sell safaris, guided tours and souvenirs (most of which services don’t actually exist). Somepapasi are more persistent than others and will trail tourists throughout the city. Just make sure the culprit knows you will not be able to pay for any services and they should leave you alone.

Many of the cultural heritage sites of the city may seem poorly kept by Western standards. But due to recent projects work is being done to protect Stone Town’s attractions. One attraction that is most unprotected however, is Stone Town’s beach. The city beach is hugely busy and the water here is not clean. Do not be convinced by the local boys who dive into the ocean. If you are looking for idyllic beaches and bathing you are advised to take a trip from Stone Town to one of the unspoilt village coastlines or to one of the islands, such as Chumbe.

The Nothern West Coast

The north and north-west coast of Zanzibar is renowned for its numerous beach resorts. There are four major foci for travellers to the area; Nungwi, Kendwa, Mnemba Atoll and, in complete contrast, Tumbatu Island. As well as rest and relaxation on the beaches most resorts in the region offer a variety of water-sports, boat trips, diving, village tours and excursions to other parts of the island. However, the major attraction of a coastal holiday on Zanzibar is a chance to escape and take to the beach or pool. Though be warned, bathing in the sea is not possible at all times, and despite the remoteness of the region the coast has its own breed of papasi “Beach Boys” who tail tourists selling anything from wooden carvings to themselves.

The Nothern Coast

All the hotels listed on our north-east pages are located in and around the village of Matemwe and along the Matemwe beach. Close to Matemwe and easily accessible (for a price) from here is the Kiwengwa Pongwe Forest and the island of Mnemba Atoll.

Like the north-west, the region’s beaches are tourist fly-paper, and like the north-west the north-east is a good base from which to take part in water-sports and boat-trips. Expect “Beach Boys” selling their various wares (or not selling them), seaweed and beaches that cannot be swum from at low-tide. But expect also white sands and tropical seclusion.

Central East Coast

Much of the central east coast of Zanzibar is dominated by holiday resorts. This is largely on account of its relative locality to Stone Town, white sandy beaches and nearby popular tourist sites. It is wise to note that seaweed and sea urchins mar the beach (especially February to December) and that most of the beaches are not combed as they are in the Caribbean. However, the seaweed provides a livelihood for many of the locals who farm it and sea urchins can be fascinating, just don’t tread on one!. The beaches are subject to wide tidal variation. At low-tide, swimming is generally impossible except in tidal lagoons (or hotel pools).

Many visitors to the East Coast choose to take day trips to the Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest, or to break their journey from Stone Town at the ruins of the Dunga Palace.

Most of the hotels listed on this site are located around the main beaches of either Pongwe or Kiwengwa.

East coast

The south east coast has much going for it. It is less built up than the central east coast (with the exception of a few extensive resorts in Dongwe) with white sandy beaches lined with palm trees and a good sea-breeze which cuts mosquito numbers and make air-conditioning not quite such a life savour. The region is ideal for those in search of a relaxing beach holiday.

However, as with most of Zanzibar’s coast, the tides change the beach dramatically and bathing in the sea at low-tide is invariably impossible on the south-east coast. Seaweed farming is especially noticeable in the south-east as the villages are still very attached to the beaches as their source of income. Do not expect every beach to be tailored to tourist expectations. There are many ‘working’ beaches.

Southern Coast

Kizimkazi is the destination for most tourists wishing to stay on the southern tip of Unguja. It was once the capital when the island was under the power of the pre-Omani Wawinyi Wakuu and is considered to be the oldest habitation on the island. The village is actually two places; Kizimkazi Dimbani village and Kizimkazi Mkunguni / Mtendeni bay, 3 km to the south.

Kizimkazi is most visited by tourists for its dolphin tours. For those in search of a cultural experience Kizimkazi is where East Africa’s oldest mosque can be found, The Dimbani Mosque. Unlike other mosques on the island, non-Muslims can visit this place of worship.

On the island’s southern tip the beaches are hugely tidal and at high-tide there is no beach (especially at Kizimkazi Mkunguni / Mtendeni). Mosquitos (troublesome all over Zanzibar) can be particularly bad here.

There are a number of lodges and restaurants in the area as it is popular among day-trippers.

Typical Itinerary

Day 01: Zanzibar-Stone Town Hotel
Meet & Greet ex Zanzibar Airport/Seaport and transfer to Stone town Hotel. Sunset cruise around 16:30 Overnight at the Hotel.

Day 02: Sand Bank Picnic - 09:30-15:30
After Breakfast pick up around 09:00 for Sandbank pick-nic, you will be sailed away off Serena Inn to the Sandbank with our Expert Traditional Dhow crew and Back to your hotel around 15:30

Day 03:-Full Day -Stone Town+shopping-Spice Farms
After Breakfast pick up around 09:00 for City Tour-To visit the historic sites of Stone Town and shopping in the Antique and gift shops. Lunch at Mtoni Marine Restaurant and after lunch proceed to Spice farms looking for spices and tropical fruits. And thereafter transfer to the Beach Resort/Hotel.

Day 04: Full Day Jozani forest + Dolphins tour
06:00 you will be picked up from Beach Resort for full day Jozani Forest + Kizimkazi Dolphins tour, Lunch at Kizimkazi Restaurant. After lunch your guide will take you to explore the nature at Jozani forest. Dinner and Overnight

Day 05: Day At Leisure

Day 06: Zanzibar-Departure-ZNZ Airport/Sea Port
After Breakfast depart to the Seaport/Airport to catch your flight / ferry back to Dar es Salaam or continuing arrangement.