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 scarf) and your knees. Men should wear knee length or long pants and t-shirts. Nobody will say anything if you don’t dress like this 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 topless sunbathing (for the ladies) though.
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.
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) and was amazed, not only by the acrobatic/dance performance but especially by the utter joy and fun the kids had. I posted videos of their performance on my Facebook page Zanzibar Insider Buzz (November 2019)
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.
Buying 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 Government. The locals get a right of occupancy, which they can sell. Ownership remains with the government.
– If you buy land for personal use (you are not allowed to do any business/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 property can not be bought for private use, only for business.
– If you buy 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 land 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 buy a property here. I bought land here a few 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 and ruthless lawyers on the island, which turned out to be a very costly experience. This seems to be the norm here. Luckily, I ultimately found really good Advocates who also communicate well (!). I will gladly share their contact details, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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