To do and not to do

IMPORTANT: 

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 or you will even end up in prison.

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.

Local customs:

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). You will be greeted by hundreds of “Jambo” (hello) while you walk through the village, please do reply  “Jambo”!  It would be rude not to.

At the beach / in the ocean:

Shells, no matter what size, are the houses of crabs and other sea creatures and if they are taken away, the creatures don’t have any protection.  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!

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.

cone snail shells

Watch out for the black sea urchins, spiky things that you do not want to step into.  They are clearly visible so watch your step; preferably wear special shoes.

black sea urchin

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. 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 are 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 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.

If you do want to help and bring something for the local community, here are some suggestions:

– pens, pencils, notebooks and English children story books
– footballs/any football related items: if there is one thing that all Zanzibaris LOVE, it is football!
– medicine: any type of medicine is well-received by our local doctors 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

If you bring any of the above, please do not just hand them out 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)
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
Kwaheri    good-bye

Nzuri    good / nice / beautiful / I am fine
Karibu    welcome, come in, also said when someone offers you something
Ahsante    Thank you! (reply to Karibu)
Tafadhali    please
Sana    means “very”, for example Asante 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

Ndiyo    yes
Hapana   no
Sawa    you hear this quite often, it means “allright, ok, understood”
Poa    slang for OK
Sijui    “I don’t know”
Hapa    here
Safari    journey “Safari njema” = safe journey
Picha    picture, photo
Choo    toilet
Polisi    police
Hatari    means danger, you might see a sign “Hatari” on the roadside warning you of building works

Leo    today
Kesho    tomorrow
Kesho kutwa    the day after tomorrrow
Asubuhi    morning
Mchana    lunch time
Jioni    afternoon
Usiko    evening/night
Saa    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 is 01h00 for us. Yes, it is confusing.

Chakula food, in general
Chakula chema enjoy your meal
Maji water
Kahawa coffee
Maziwa milk
Chai tea

Hakuna matata! no problem, no worries

 

32 thoughts on “To do and not to do

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for setting up this very informative blog!
    I live in Dubai, UAE, and will be in Zanzibar this Ramadan. It will be far more pleasant (weather wise) than it will be here… so I figured, why not?!
    I have a questions though… you mentioned “liquor stores, night clubs and bars are closed” during Ramadan. Does this mean not open at all, or only open in the evenings as with some places in the UAE? I am not in Zanzibar for a big party, but a few drinks in the evening would be missed.
    Please can you give your thoughts and advice, the rest of my questions have all already been answered in your blog!
    Danke Scheun.

    Like

    • Hi Martin,
      Glad you enjoyed my blog and super to hear you are coming to visit this wonderful island.
      As to your question: I was referring to recommendations by the Zanzibar Government during the month of Ramadan. There are bars and night clubs that will be open after sunset during Ramadan, especially at the coastal areas, but there won’t be any parties with loud music. In coastal areas everything is more relaxed than in Stone Town. Having said that, you can for sure have a drink at a bar in Stone Town, behind closed doors that is.
      Hope this answers your question.

      Have a wonderful holiday on Zanzibar!

      Gern geschehen / You are welcome / Karibu sana.

      Like

  2. Jambo ! (I am learning 😃)
    Your website has been most helpful – thank you !
    Quick question ..
    You spoke about the beachi boys – is it ok to ask them to take you out on their Dhow for a little sail or to get further out to snorkel ?
    If so – how much is a fair price for an hour or two ?
    Thanks
    From Laura

    Like

    • Mambo vipi? (mambo = slang, sort of “hi”, vipi means “how are things”) – simple reply is “poa” which means cool or ok
      Great to hear that the info on my website helps.
      Yes, you can make a deal with the beachi boys. They take you out to just before the reef and you can snorkel for an hour or so. Please do not touch anything and be careful with your flippers, don’t disturb anything on the reef.
      I really don’t know what they charge nowadays. Best is to ask for their price and when they tell you, say that you will check with other guys what they charge since you want the best deal. And then do exactly that, ask other guys, and then choose the guy you feel most comfortable with. Be prepared that you will have a bit of a chat with each of them about where you come from, what’s your name, where you stay etc. They are not being rude, that’s the normal way here. They call themselves anything from Mr. Goodprice, Mr. Coconut etc. Sometimes even “captain”. Do NOT pay anything upfront!
      Have fun!
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  3. Hi Gaby,

    Wow, I think we pretty much know all there is to know about Zanzibar after reading all your posts! Thank you!

    That being said, some additional questions have popped up on our side: We will be arriving in Zanzibar this coming Monday (1am ugh) and collecting our rental car immediately. Would sleeping in our car at the airport be okay…? I know, odd question, but I don’t think we’ll be up for the drive to the east coast at that time…

    Also, I’ve had a look at the current weather in Zanzibar- So we’re thinking of only packing light, summer clothes and a rain jacket – anything else you would recommend?

    Thanks in advance and kind regards,
    Cremer and Karyn

    Like

    • Hi Cremer and Karyn,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, I am so happy that my info helps.

      Pls don’t sleep in your rental car at the airport, I think it is not even permitted. Besides that, it is very hot here, even at night; because of the mosquitos you would have to sleep with closed windows.

      I suggest that you rather book a taxi to the east coast after you arrive (usually $50) and ask your car rental company to deliver the car to your hotel the next morning (there usually is a small delivery fee). I don’t recommend driving to the east coast after you arrive in the middle of night.

      Alternatively, you can book a night in a low cost place of accommodation in Stone Town, like McPippos (close to the airport), Garden Lodge or Zenji in town, there are quite a few places. Pls check Tripadvisor recommendations.

      As to clothing: It is very hot here this time of the year. Bring light summer clothes. If it should rain at all, it will be for a short while only. The rain is warm, it’s a wonderful experience to just stand in the rain in your swim wear. For the evenings (use mosquito repellent!) bring slacks and light long sleeved shirts. Zanzibar is well known for being a barefoot holiday destination! No need to dress up.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  4. Thank you got you promp teply Gabby!

    Okay noted… Think I will go with the McPippos option and head through the next day.

    Also great to know we can pack lite! Will use excess space to bring old clothes for locals.

    Kind regards,
    Cremer & Karyn

    Like

    • You are most welcome.

      Fantastic, please do bring anything old you have that you don’t have use for anymore. You can then fill up your suitcase with the locally made-beautiful-colourful cotton fabrics (kanga) or sarongs/scarves etc etc. Please ask your hotel manager to assist with the distribution of your gifts. As I mentioned on my blog, don’t support the begging especially by kids, which can only be stopped by not giving anything directly to them, but rather through the school principals or hotel management.

      Thank you so much and wishing you the best holiday ever on “my” beautiful island.
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  5. Hi dear!

    Your page is just marvelous, its so helpful and I love each and every useful tips you give! Keep it up 🙂

    Me and my friends (7 girls) are planing to travel to Zanzibar on the first week of February, we want to go to the beautiful sandbanks in Nungwi and explore stone town, but it all depends on which hotel we find. My question is if it is possible to hire a taxi for all of us, (where?) and how long does it take from ex Nungwi to Stone town. Do you maybe know the price? 🙂

    And if our plane arrives at 1Am, is it possible to find taxis at that hour, by the airport, to take us to our hotel?

    Thank you dear,
    Isra

    Like

    • Hi Isra,

      I am very happy to hear that you enjoy my webpage.

      Taxis are usually available 24/7 at Zanzibar International Airport. However, it works out cheaper if you book the taxi beforehand, besides the peace of mind factor. I always recommend Kibabu Cars since they are consistently reliable and offer a great service (www.kibabucars.com), be that for rental cars or taxis.

      The trip from Nungwi to the airport takes approx. 1 hour. The taxi fare should be US$ 50. I doubt though that all 7 (or 8?) of you plus luggage will fit into one taxi (mini bus). Please check that when you inquire for the taxi.

      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  6. Hi Ga by,

    Your blog is wonderful so helpful!
    We’ll be traveling to Zanzibar in two days and will be bringing some English children’s books, we’ll be staying in Makunduchi.

    Do you know a primary or pre-primary school around there or somewhere in the island that could use the books best?

    Thanks a lot
    Katharina

    Like

    • Hi Kathrina,
      Thank you, glad my blog helps.
      Many blessings to you for bringing English children’s books. However, it’s school holidays here right now, schools are closed. I suggest that you check with the manager of your hotel where best you can bring the books too. Please do not hand them out directly to the kids.
      Have a wonderful holiday on my beautiful island.
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

      • Hi

        Is it true that not every child in Zanzibar can go to school due to poverty? If so, what is wrong with giving kids pens and pencils? It’s such a small thing and can make them happier.

        Like

      • Hi, schools are compulsary for children and the public schools are free.
        To give kids pens, pencils or anything else at the beaches or villages teaches them to beg, for pencils, money or sweets. The begging became quite bad over the years and we try hard to reverse what tourists taught the kids. You will find out for yourself when you are here and will understand better. Do bring pens and pencils by all means, but as I wrote on my webpage, don’t give them directly to the kids but rather to the principal of the local school and watch him distrubute them to the kids.

        Like

  7. Hi Gaby,

    My husband and I are going to Zanizibar in February for a belated honeymoon and we can’t wait! We picked it in large part for the beautiful beaches, but then someone my husband works with said that if we’re barefoot on the beach we need to be careful not to have jiggers (chigoe fleas) burrow in our feet…creepy! Is this a real thing to be concerned about or was his co-worker just being alarmist? I really hope we can have bare feet on such beautiful white sandy beaches!

    Thanks so much,
    Mary

    Like

    • Hi Mary,
      I have never heard of any such fleas on our beaches. I’ve been walking barefoot on the beach for several years, long distances, and never encountered these things. The only creatures you need to look out for (in shallow water) are the sea urchins, as per my blog.
      Have a wonderful belated honeymoon.
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

    • Hi Mary

      These fleas are mostly found in dirty sand and was a problem here in Zanzibar many years ago. I even got one in my foot but that was in 2009 🙂 I have been walking barefoot everywhere for many years now and never got it again so it is not a big problem anymore.

      Like

  8. Hi Mary,
    we just spent 2 weeks barefoot on the beach in Zanzibar and there were no such fleas… Maybe your husband’s co-worker is just a little jealous of how much fun you are about to go have 😉

    C.

    Like

  9. Hello,
    Verry nice and helpfull blog.
    We are going on our vacation on Zanzibar, but can not find anywhere if it is possible to bring out from the country any dead coral that we maybe find on the beach.
    You write about seashells and other animal parts but not about corals.
    Do we need special permission and if yes what is procedure.

    Asante sana 🙂

    Like

    • Hi, the same rules as for shells apply to corals. In general, please do not take anything from the ocean and beaches. Just look and enjoy the beauty. When you snorkel, don’t touch corals, they might die. That way, many other people can enjoy the beautiful sea life here.
      Karibu sana

      Like

  10. Thanks , Gaby ! Lots of useful information in your blog !
    We are going to Zanzibar in Jan 2017 to relax and take photos. Will it possible to see Saturday-Sunday markets in Zanzibar ? If yes, where you would recommend to go ?
    Thanks again !

    Like

  11. Jambo! 🙂

    Thank you for all the info – I find it most useful.
    As it happens I will be in Zanzibar for Eid so I really look forward to that.

    Question: are we allowed to bring in Zanzibar alcohol from the Duty Free?

    Thanks a ton again for all of the above.

    Like

    • Hi Roxie,
      You are most welcome. That’s perfect timing, the festival is amazing!
      Yes, you can bring in alcohol but I don’t really know the rules/quantities since I buy all my alcohol in Stone Town (ZMMI on airport road).
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  12. Dear Gaby, really impressive how you were able to put all this information together and be so gentle in replying to everyones question, really beautiful, thank you! I will be arriving in Zanzibar at the end of this week and I just realized that the Ramadan will have quite a big impact on the way I usually behave during holidays (sitting on the beach eating, having a beer, going out in the morning to find a coffee somewhere all of that). So thank you for clarifying a few of my questions already. Can I ask you two questions?
    – Will restaurants be closed ALL day (including in the morning, before noon) before reopening for dinner?
    – Is there any kind of coffee culture, is it possible to have a coffee or is it more tea/nescafe?
    Thanks a lot! Warm wishes, Anne

    Like

    • Dear Anne,
      Thank you for your message. I dearly love this island and her people. The better informed anyone visiting here is the better their holiday!
      If you are in a coastal area, you can have your coffee at the beach – as well as your beer – and eat during Ramadan. If you walk through villages and in Stone Town please do not eat or drink anything on the streets, as a token of respect. Rather go inside a cafe or restaurant. Some of them will be closed but others are open all day, although their outside/garden areas are closed.
      Hotels and Cafes serve coffee, cappuccino etc – we have excellent coffee here, using Tanzanian coffee beans or imported coffee. It depends on the hotel of course. Budget places use the local instant coffee Africa Cafe, not bad at all (although nothing beats real coffee, in my humble opinion 🙂
      Have a wonderful holiday.
      Cheers Gaby

      Like

  13. Dear Gaby,
    Thank you for so many wonderful information.
    Would you please help me out to know the perfect month to visit/stay in Zanzibar?
    Warm Regards, Ajay

    Like

    • You are most welcome.
      Besides April and especially May (rainy season) any month is good to visit Zanzibar. If you are not used to hot temperatures, avoid December and January which are the hottest months here.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

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