Kindly read the latest Travel Advice dated 12 August 2022 above.
If your airline or country you travel to require a negative COVID-19 test, visit one of the Covid-19 testing facilities. Please note: you need to book an appointment on https://zanzibarcovidtesting.co.tz or download the App on Google Playstore “Zanzibar Covid-19 testing”. Please check their website for opening hours of the different facilities. Note: Travellers & drivers or anyone in their company must wear masks as they visit the testing centre to protect those working there.
It takes 48-72 hours to get the test results. For further details and feedback/comments from tourists that got the tests please check my facebook page Zanzibar Insider Buzz
When you check in at the airport you need to complete a departure COVID form. Then get your COVID test verified at the desk opposite the check in desks.
Transfer to your hotel: If your hotel doesn’t offer to organise your transfer, rather get a taxi at the airport desk in the arrivals hall if you don’t know the normal rates for the distance to travel. You will be inundated by numerous taxi drivers when you leave the airport building which can be quite intimidating.
BE CAREFUL: Do not book any excursions with any taxi driver and most of all, do not pay them for any tours upfront. Apparently, some taxi drivers offer a Safari Blu tour for two for 500$ and demand upfront payment in full. Needless to say that they never arrive to collect the clients. (If you book directly with http://www.safariblue.net the price is 70$ per person!)
Local customs: 98% of the Zanzibaris are Muslims. Especially in Stone Town, but also in the villages, ladies please do cover your shoulders (good excuse to buy a beautiful Zanzibar pareo) and your knees. Men should wear knee length or long pants and t-shirts. Please respect the traditions of the people of the host country. This dress code doesn’t apply at the coastal areas though. At the beach you wear normal beach wear, no nude or topless sunbathing though.
Ramadan is the fasting period of the Muslim community (= about 98% of Zanzibaris). In 2023, Ramadan is supposed to begin on 22 March, it lasts for 30 days (probably until 20 April). The exact date of the end of it depends on the sighting of the New Moon. It is celebrated with the big Eid Al-Fitr Festival which lasts 3 days. If you are in Zanzibar at that time make sure you are in Stone Town!
The Zanzibar Government has set some basic ground rules for everyone in Zanzibar, including foreigners, to follow during the Ramadan season:
– no eating, drinking or smoking in public
– liquor stores, night clubs and bars are closed
– restaurants are closed during the day (except for those in hotels; there are also a few restaurants in Stone Town that operate during the day, but their outdoor sitting areas are closed). Alcohol is served at the restaurants and in hotels during Ramadan.
– the dress code in town and in the villages is always important here but during Ramadan it is strongly emphasized (see “local customs” above)
The Zanzibar government understands that these rules might not be common for foreigners. Therefore, there is no reason not to come to Zanzibar during Ramadan. You can still have your breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks etc. in your hotel and go out during the day and night and enjoy yourself. Stores and souvenir shops are open, as well as attractions and museums are all operational. But PLEASE do respect the guidelines given. This is part of the travel experience. This is our culture. This is part of Zanzibar.
Medicines: Besides your regular meds I suggest that you bring an emergency travel kit (e.g. cortison creams, multivitamins) which you could donate to the local clinic or medical practitioners* when you leave, it will be much appreciated. Please DO NOT give them to the hotel staff or the locals in general. Zanzibari are not educated about meds: they are often taken like sweets, or for the entirely wrong illness, or even in the early stages of pregnancy – often with disastrous consequences.
General precautions: Please keep your passports and valuables in the hotel safe. Only carry a photocopy of your passport with you. Especially when it gets dark, rather take a taxi back to your hotel instead of walking on the tar road or even on the beach back to your hotel – arrange a transfer service with a local taxi driver. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a lot of hardship here too, many lost their jobs and have no income at all. This had a sad effect on our previously pretty safe island. Reports of robberies of people walking alone especially at night are on the increase. One of the hotspots is the stretch of tar road between Paje and Jambiani.
Tour guides: Please be careful only to choose registered tour guides (ask for their ID from the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism!). You will be fined if you use unregistered tour guides and you might loose any upfront payments made to fake tour guides. To become a registered tour guide they have to complete a costly training course which has to be initially financed by their families and paid back from the earnings of the tour guides. Sadly there is no official register available online. In case you need a recommendation you are welcome to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
It is strictly prohibited to export shells, no matter what size!
Curio shops will offer them to you, or kids at the beach. Do not buy them! All luggage items are scanned at the airport before you even get to the check in counter. You will pay heavy fines if you are caught with shells in your luggage.
Curio shops will also try to sell you cow horns or any other animal parts. Only buy them if you receive an exportation permit from the Ministry of Agriculture. This applies to any animal part. The shop keepers will most probably tell you “hakuna matata” (no problem). It IS a BIG problem if you are caught with any animal part in your luggage without the official exportation permit.
Concerning ivory, one needs a CITES permit. Having said that, nobody should buy any ivory in any case. In Tananzia, the population of elephants reached shockingly low levels because of ruthless poachers who kill the elephants for their ivory. Our children’s children might not be able to see a live elephant anymore if people don’t stop buying ivory.
Zanzibar airport as well as Dar es Salaam airport have x-ray machines. Every piece of luggage is thoroughly checked. Please do not take any chances.
Plastic carrier bags are officially banned on Zanzibar. Zip-lock bags are exempt since tourists usually take them back home with. Kindly leave your plastic bags at home.
Please do walk through the villages. Zanzibaris are wonderful and hospitable people, super friendly, they smile with their eyes (dress code in villages is a bit more relaxed than in Stone Town but please do not walk through the villages in a bikini!). You will be greeted with plenty of “Jambo” (hello) while you walk through the village, please do reply “Jambo”! It would be rude not to.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence here and punished by imprisonment. If you see Zanzibari men walk holding hands it is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality – this only applies to locals!
At the beach / in the ocean:
Please do not pick up Cone snails or Cone shells (see photo). They are found on most of the beaches of the Indian Ocean. These shells look very pretty and are shaped like a geometric cone. The snails are venomous and capable of stinging humans with the effect of paralyzing the area around the sting. The sting of small cones is similar to a bee sting, but the sting of a few of the larger species of tropical cone snails (found at the reef) can be serious.
Watch out for the black sea urchins, spiky things that you do not want to step into. They are clearly visible at low tide so watch your step; preferably wear special shoes.
If you go snorkeling to the coral reefs please do not touch or even step on any corals. If you are lucky enough to swim with dolphins, please do not touch them – they ain’t Flipper!
Sea turtles, starfish and any other sea creatures: PLEASE leave them in the sea! Some tour guides will tell you it doesn’t harm them when you take them out of their natural habitat, just to please you or for an extra tip. They have no idea that the creatures are harmed when they are taken out of the water! So please stop them if they attempt to do that. Thank you on behalf of these beautiful creatures.
You will encounter so-called “beachi boys” who offer you anything from going snorkeling, selling handmade jewelry, etc. They usually are friendly guys and if you say no, they in all likely-hood want to just have a chat, finding out who you are and where you come from. As I said, most of them are really friendly, except in more touristy areas like Nungwi/Kendwa they can be quite pushy. In case you don’t feel like chatting just tell them so. Do not pay a beachi boy upfront for any tour, snorkeling etc!
Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the beach! Locals ignore this and usually get away with it but if you are caught riding a scooter or quad bike on the beach, you will be fined heavily. Besides that, people come to our beaches to relax here and the sound of a scooter riding on the beach is most certainly annoying.
Lately, some ruthless people brought jet skis to the island. They are PROHIBITED on Zanzibar! Jet skis destroy the environment and also disturb the peace and quiet that our tourists come here for. Don’t take any chances. If you are caught renting or riding a jet ski you will pay substantial fines.
Kids will ask you for “pipi” = sweets, “pennie” = pen for school, or “dollar”. PLEASE do not give them anything. They were taught by the tourists to beg and we all try to stop this. If they invite you to play soccer with them, do so! Please speak English with the small and big kids as much as possible, the English they learn at school is shocking.
If you do want to help and bring something for the local community, here are some suggestions:
– pens, pencils and other stationary (notebooks have to be of a certain format and must therefore be purchased on the island)
– your holiday is an ideal opportunity to clean out your closet: bring used clothes for girls, boys, women and men, trainers/shoes
– and old sunglasses, any shape or size – you can give them directly to the ladies at the beach who plant and harvest seaweed, PLEASE!
If you bring things for the kids, please do not just hand your gifts out to them on the beach – it encourages a begging mentality especially among the children. Kids should receive your donations not as a gift but as a reward, for example for collecting recycling garbage that is washed up at the beaches. There are quite a few such beach clean ups taking place all over the island, mostly organized by some hotels in collaboration with Zanrec (recycling company). Best inquire at your hotel who organizes these events and drop off your donations there. It will be much appreciated.
You can also drop off school books, pens and pencils (all of these you can buy here in stationary shops) at the Zanrec Office in Mwanakwerekwe/Stone Town or at their swop shops in Nungwi and Paje.
Zanrec is our only recycling company on the island. The swop shops were created for the school kids to drop off plastic bottles etc which are weighed and in return they receive school books, pens and pencils as a reward. This great initiative is worth much support.
Unfortunately, only a fraction of the hotels on the island signed up with Zanrec for the collection of their recycling goods. A large number of hotels still use local garbage collectors who use road sides, forests and other spaces as dumping grounds. If you prefer to choose a hotel that signed up with Zanrec please check the list on the page “environmental challenges”, I keep the list updated as everything else on this webpage.
If you are at the south east coast please visit “Move Zanzibar” in Jambiani. A group of five amazing acrobats just started an NGO to work with the local kids after school. Their applaudable motto is “inspire change in life”.
They acquired a building as their Community Center in Kibigija in the northen part of Jambiani – behind the Blue Oyster Hotel beside the football field. It is open every day after school and at weekends. The plan is to first finish a classroom for English lessons, then get a library room going, a computer room, a room for the girls’ drama lessons etc. The acrobatics and dance lessons are done in an area next to the house where also their performances take place.
I watched their weekly show (every Saturday from 16h30 – 18h30, free admission but donations are much appreciated) and was amazed, not only by the acrobatic/dance performance but especially by the utter joy and fun the kids had.
This great initiative is well worth a visit, and needs support, such as:
– used trainer shoes, t-shirts, shorts or pants for boys of any age
– pens, pencils and other stationary
– books in English (for example with pictures and the English name printed below the picture) – they will teach English in the Community Centre
– old laptops with chargers for their computer room
– old mobile phones, even simple phones, with charger
You can contact their leader Clalence on +255 718360613 (also Whatsapp) or check out their facebook page “Move Zanzibar”.
Even the smallest donation counts and will be appreciated by the local community. Additionally, you will then have space in your suitcase to fill up with our beautiful fabrics, crafts, jewelry and souvenirs.
Leasing property on Zanzibar: An increasing number of tourists fall in love with Zanzibar and want to buy land here. Some locals will tell you “hakuna matata, you can buy the land together with me since by law you must have a Zanzibari partner”. This is not true anymore, the laws have changed. Herewith a few guidelines:
– All land on Zanzibar is owned by the President/Government. The locals get a right of occupancy, which they can sell. Ownership remains with the government.
– If you lease land for personal use (you are not allowed to do any business or derive any income from the property): Besides making a sales contract with the local occupant of the land, you must apply for a LEASE from the Government. The lease initially is for 33 years, but can be extended to 66 or 99 years. This is a long process.
A beach plot can only be acquired for commercial purposes, not for private use.
– If you lease land or a property for commercial use, you must register a company with ZIPA. Visit them BEFORE you buy a property and get as much information as possible.
– DO NOT make any deals regarding land or property directly with locals. Often one person says they own the property but in the end an entire family owns it. Or they don’t have any legal papers for the land, for example.
– I strongly advise to get a really good lawyer or Advocate involved if you want to lease a property on the island. I acquired land here several years ago without involving a lawyer, which was a big mistake. I had to hire a lawyer who was useless, then another one etc etc. I had shocking experiences with incompetent, corrupt and ruthless lawyers on the island, which turned out to be a very costly experience. I finally found an excellent lawyer whom I can fully trust and who speaks excellent English, I highly recommend him. Please contact me on email@example.com for his details.
– Please bear in mind that Zanzibar is an African island, everything here works at a verrrry slow pace, which applies to anything, lawyers included! You need to follow up constantly.
Please DO use some Swahili words:
The people of Zanzibar are incredibly friendly. Greetings like saying “Hello” are a must.
Here are some basics:
Jambo “Hello” – you will hear plenty of Jambos on this island, please always reply with a friendly Jambo, and a smile
Mambo slang for Jambo – reply “poa” (OK, fine, cool)
Habari also means Hello, but more respectful (reply mzuri)
Habari za asubuhi good morning
Habari za jioni hello, during the day
Usiko mwema good night
Lala salama sleep well
Shikamo greeting used for elders, respectable people – reply “Marahaba”
Nzuri good / nice / beautiful / I am fine
Karibu welcome, come in, also said when someone offers you something
Ahsante Thank you! (reply to Karibu)
Sana means “very”, for example Ahsante sana = thank you VERY much.
Samahani excuse me, sorry
Pole “I am sorry for your misfortune” This applies to everything from watching someone tripping over something, or if someone is sick
Pole pole “slowly, slowly” everything is pole pole on Zanzibar
Haraka faster, quickly
Sawa you hear this quite often, it means “allright, ok, understood”
Poa slang for OK, cool
Sijui “I don’t know”
Safari journey “Safari njema” = safe journey
Picha picture, photo
Hatari means danger, you might see a sign “Hatari” on the roadside warning you of building works
Kesho kutwa the day after tomorrrow
Mchana lunch time
Saa ngapi? what time? – please note that on Zanzibar, the new day doesn’t begin after midnight, but at 06h00 in the morning, which means that 07h00 am is 01h00 am here. Yes, it is confusing.
Chakula food, in general
Chakula chema enjoy your meal
Hakuna matata! no problem, no worries