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! 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. A tourist recently spent 14 hours in prison because he had a cow horn in his luggage without the necessary permit. Only with the help of his Embassy was he released from prison but he had to spend 2 weeks at a hotel until the court case came up.
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.
98% of the Zanzibaris are Muslims. Especially in Stone Town, ladies please do cover your shoulders (good excuse to buy a beautiful Zanzibar scarf) and your knees. Men should wear knee length or long pants and t-shirts. Nothing happens if you don’t dress like this, nobody will say anything, but I believe that one should 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 (ladies) topless sunbathing though.
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.
Due to news of arrests: Homosexuality is a criminal offence here and punished by imprisonment. If you see Zanzibari men walking hand in hand it is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality – this only applies to locals!
At the beach / in the ocean:
Shells, no matter what size, are the houses of crabs and other sea creatures and if you take the shells these creatures don’t have any protection. When I walk at the beach especially at low tide I make it a habit to gently throw back into the ocean any stranded starfish and shells with creatures inside. The locals surely think I am crazy but the creatures I rescue surely beg to differ.
However, 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!
You will encounter so-called “beachi boys” that offer you anything from going snorkeling, selling handmade jewelry, etc. They 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!
If you encounter a beachi boy that has a little monkey on a leash “for the entertainment of the tourists” PLEASE DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY MONEY!!! These monkeys were stolen as babies from their mothers, and the mothers are often killed in the process. The babies are then kept in small confinements, crying for their mothers, until their spirit is broken. They do anything for just a scrap of food and are given alcohol, even drugs. This is not a sick joke. This is all done in the name of providing entertainment for the tourists – in order to get money. If these guys don’t get any money from the tourists anymore, they will stop kidnapping the babies and killing their mothers. This is of course officially prohibited, but the police get a share of the apparently quite substantial income. So please, no matter what story they tell you about how they got that little monkey, do not give them any money. Just walk away.
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.
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.
Instead of directly giving kids pens or school books rather bring these items to the principal of the local school and watch him handing them out to the kids!
If you do want to help and bring something for the local community, here are some suggestions:
– pens, pencils and other stationary; books with pictures and the English name printed below the picture
– footballs/any football related items: a sport that all Zanzibaris LOVE is football/soccer!
– medicine: any type of medicine is well-received by our local doctors/nurses who do amazing work for both our local community and hotel guests
– your holiday is an ideal opportunity to clean out your closet: bring used clothes, trainers/shoes
– mobile phones/smart phones are becoming popular, even simple phones with their charger are highly appreciated-
– and old sunglasses, any shape or size, for the ladies who plant and harvest seaweed, PLEASE!
If you bring things for the kids, please do not just hand them out to them on the beach – it encourages a begging mentality especially among the children. Either drop them off at the local school (ask for the principal) or ask the hotel manager for assistance to get the items to the most needy.
You will be doing good for the local community and at the same time, you will then have enough space in your suitcase to fill it up with our beautiful fabrics, crafts, jewelry and souvenirs.
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.
Mambo slang for Jambo – reply “poa” (OK, fine, cool)
Habari also means Hello, but more respectful
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