There are different ways in Zanzibar to get from A to B, mainly:
– taxis cost from Zanzibar International Airport to the coastal areas US$ 50 (rather pre-book your taxi, you get a better price than if you get a taxi at the airport desk)
– local transport, called dala-dala (see photo); nowadays there are also safer but still crammed to capacity mini bus dala-dalas; cost Tzs 2000 per person from the coast to Stone Town, or back
– rent a car, cost for a reliable car incl. insurance is around US$ 35 per day for a small four wheel drive
NB: In case you rent a car and arrive at night, rather stay the night in Stone Town. I do not recommend driving at night, especially if you are not used to drive in utter darkness on African roads (I am, and I still don’t drive at night, it is just too stressful). I just discovered a brand new B&B about 500m from the airport, Coastal Zanzibar Airport Hotel, on airport road. They offer clean rooms with en-suite bathrooms and aircon for $60-$70 per room (depending on dates) incl breakfast, with a 24hr reception desk. They also have a restaurant and bar. You can book via booking.com They also offer safe parking with a car guard.
I do recommend to hire a car to explore the island, even if only for a few days. Our tar roads are good. We drive on the left hand side of the road, the steering wheel is on the right hand side. Rental cars are usually with automatic transmission. Most resorts, hotels etc are off the tar road and sometimes the sand roads are quite rocky. Rather choose a four wheel drive and ask the car hire company to show you how to use the four wheel drive function.
Rental companies usually provide a very basic Zanzibar map. You can also use Google Maps which is available offline.
Be careful with choosing a car hire company. Some of them have cars that are hardly roadworthy. A car hire company with consistently excellent reviews is http://www.kibabucars.com.
Please be aware that rental cars on Zanzibar are usually 15 years and older. Despite the age of the cars, they have a very low mileage since Zanzibar is a small island. There are no new rental cars available in Zanzibar and you will not see many new cars (privately owned) on our roads. Do check the car rental companies’ websites and especially their reviews!
Speed limits: In Stone Town and villages 40 kmh, on country roads 80 kmh. Zanzibar has some weird traffic laws:
On country roads: as soon as you see oncoming traffic you must set the indicator as if you’ll turn right. It started off to warn cars behind you of oncoming traffic but now it became a general rule.
If you see or hear police cars (blue lights or red lights flashing) you MUST pull over and stop the car, no matter which direction they come from!
Do not drink and drive. Don’t give the traffic cops a reason to fine you since you smell of alcohol.
By law, drivers and passengers have to wear seat belts.
Do not park your car under a coconut tree, those coconuts leave very unsightly dents in the roof. That’s not a joke.
Petrol is paid in Tanzanian Shilling. You can also pay in US$ but you get a really bad exchange rate.
In general: Be aware of Vespa and bicycle riders, they don’t look out for traffic, not even when they cross the road! At night, drive slowly because of ox karts on the roads and bicycles without any lights. If I have to drive at night, I stay behind a local minibus taxi, keeping a safe distance in case it has to brake.
You need a temporary Zanzibar driver’s permit to drive legally on our roads. An international driver’s license is NOT valid in Zanzibar. There are many traffic police checks on our roads. The car hire company will get you the permit (just a piece of paper with your name on it) before you arrive in Zanzibar, it costs US$ 10 per person. A photo or copy of your valid driver’s license is sufficient to apply for the permit.
At traffic police stop: Just show them your temporary Zanzibar driver’s license together with your original driver’s license, and keep a copy of your passport handy. Greet the cops with a big smile and a hearty Jambo. Corruption is nowadays forbidden in Zanzibar! In case you should get to a stubborn traffic cop (especially in the northern part of the island), openly write down the number on his batch (all of them have to wear it on their chest) and ask for his name. If they want to fine you for anything, ask for an official ticket. He will give up then. If not, call your contact person at the car hire company, they will sort them out. This is highly unlikely, but just in case…