Driving / getting around on Zanzibar

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

public transport

– 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.

Suzuki Escudo 4WD 3door

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…

41 thoughts on “Driving / getting around on Zanzibar

  1. Hi Gaby,

    Very useful blog, indeed!

    I am moving to Zanzibar in August and I am searching for every possible useful tip. For someone who is living in the island, would you consider buying a car a good idea? Are used automobiles generally pricey? What about gas?

    Thanks a lot and greetings from Brazil,

    Diego

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    • Hi Diego,

      Thank you, glad my blog assists in your planning of your move to Zanzibar.

      It is definitely advisable to buy a car if you stay here for longer, as opposed to renting a car, especially since you can sell the car again when you leave the island. Be careful though, this is a small island and cars are usually at least 10 years old, with very low mileage. It is vital that a car was regularly serviced and properly looked after. I will gladly recommend someone trusted who can assist you with finding a suitable car, registering it, getting a Zanzibar drivers license (international drivers license is NOT valid here), etc. For a decent used car, you are looking at about US$ 5000.

      Hope this helps. You are welcome to email me on zanzibargaby@gmail.com if you have further questions.

      Sunny greetings from Zanzibar,
      Gaby

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      • Thanks so much Gaby!

        Really useful info. I will make sure to contact you once I am in the process of moving out.

        Cheers,
        Diego

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  2. Dear Gabi,

    I’m arriving to Zanzibar in two weeks with my girlfriend and we’ll stay for a week in Nungwi and Paje. We would like to ask you how easy it is to rent a scooter to move around the Island. We have done that in Thailand and we enjoyed it very much. I have read that there are some places to rent next to the Darajani Market. As renting a car is around 35 USD/day for one week, do you have an idea of the price to rent a scooter?

    Thanks a lot for your help,

    Marti

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    • Hi Marti, I don’t know the prices of scooters or where to rent them. In my opinion driving with a scooter around the island is risky. There are many accidents with scooter riders – this is Africa, everyone just drives without looking. I advise against it.
      Cheers, Gaby

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  3. Jambo Malaika!

    I stumbled upon your blog and this is such a helpful place ! Together with a friend we are going to Zanzibar in November and are drafting a plan to go and see these famous beaches, snorkel (thanks for all the advice, we will be careful to respect the corals!) as well as Stone Town. We are not very comfortable in hiring a car, however we wondered if it is possible to hire a driver (who has a car) for the day to take us around ? Would you know of any reliable one and what the cost would be ? Or is it better to go by taxi? Thank you (in Zanzibari?) and keep your blog going, it is fantastic !
    Cheers
    Stephanie

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    • Mambo vipi? You might be able to hire someone with a car somewhere. I don’t recommend this, except the person was recommended by your hotel. No idea about cost. Otherwise it will be hire a car or take a taxi, the latter is quite expensive. Alternatively, you can use the local transport which is very cheap.
      Karibu Gaby

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  4. Jambo Mailaika,
    thanks for this useful information about the police “habits”. Just returned from our Zanzibar trip. We had a rental car from Kibabu and I must say I have nothing to complain at all. We stayed in Nungwi and the car battery died overnight (guess I left the light on). But no problem, the guys came over and fixed it while I was scuba diving. Great service and no charges at all. Of course we also came into a police check. He wanted to keep my driving license. SoI followed your advise and asked him for his police ID for noting it down. After 20min he gave up on us and let us drive.

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    • Hatujambo. Mambo vipi?
      Great to hear that you were happy with Kibabu Cars, Kibabu is indeed the best, and also that my advise re police stops helped 🙂 Corruption is prohibited on the island and if an officer is reported, he will be dismissed immediately. Well done.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  5. Hi Gaby,

    Your blog post is excellent, thank you. And I’ve found it at exactly the right time. My wife & I are staying in Nungwi & have rented a car for the next 3 days. Apart from Stone Town, is there any other area or beach you recommend we explore by car? Also, where do you recommend I can safely park my car in Stone Town? Cheers, Andy

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    • Hi Andy,
      Great to hear that you enjoy my blog and that it helps you to make the most of your holiday on Zanzibar. That’s why I wrote it. So many visitors came here who just stayed at a resort/hotel, not exploring the island because they didn’t know about the beauties of Zanzibar besides its white sand beaches – her people, delicious Swahili food, her fauna, flora, amazing empty beaches (away from the touristy spots), the ever warm Indian Ocean with its colourful inhabitants and so forth! There is so much to do and to see here that can easily fill a month.
      In my opinion, the best beaches on Zanzibar are in Kendwa (next to Nungwi) – although very touristy – and at the south east coast of Zanzibar, in Paje, Bwejuu and Michamvi. This area is simply beautiful. Paje is vibey and active with kitesurfing, diving, local musicians performing at different places. Bwejuu is tranquil and laid back. Many years ago Michamvi looked to me like Robinson Crusoe’s beach, it now has a few small resorts, but it still is very special. If you want to, you can walk from Paje via Bwejuu towards Michamvi, up until about Sultans Palace – these are 9 km of a beach walk, where you will see only a few people. You might want to stop at Blue Lagoon to swim in the chanel there even at low tide. These beaches are lined with coconut trees, which to me is the ultimate tropical island feel, and is not matched by the beaches of Kendwa, by the way. You might want to extend your car rental 🙂
      Please read the pages “discover Zanzibar south of Stone Town” for some info and stories related to this area.
      As to parking in Stone Town: You can park your car safely at Forodhani Gardens, where the Old Fort is. There a parking attendands, you pay I think Tzs 1000 per hour. From there you can explore the labyrinths of Stone Town on foot. If you take a guide, please make sure he is an official guide. These guides attended a course and paid a substantial fee for it. If you are guided by another person, you might get fined. This is to protect the guides that invested in becoming a guide and who should be supported.
      Karibu sana, Gaby

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  6. Hi Gaby! Thanks so much for all the info. Now I’m convinced I should rent a car.

    I want to know what’s your take on babu and have you heard positive feedback about them?

    So I’m planning to rent a a car and drive it myself, but I have a couple of questions to clarify regarding hiring a chauffeur as well. How does it usually work. Does the chauffeur drive you all day wherever you want and wait for you? Does he leave you the car when he is no longer needed for example and come back the next day again? are there specific hours were you can have him and others were you cannot.

    It would be useful to have one, specially if we go out to dinner and have drinks and don’t won’t to drive back as you have explained is prohibited or on those days we don’t feel like driving. So please let us know your take on this. Thanks in advance 🙂

    Mo

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  7. Haha, didn’t realize the names were so close. The one I was asking about was Babu Tours & Safaris. Their website is a bit old school, but they seem to have good reviews on Tripadviser so was wondering if you did know them as well. Anyway thanks regardless 🙂

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  8. Jambo Malaika 🙂
    Love your blog, it’s nothing short of a gift for anyone coming to Zanzibar. A few questions when you have a moment:

    You say we can only fill up (gas) in Stonetown so if we want to drive around the entire island, does that mean we need to pack extra fuel for the trip or is the island just so small that a single tank goes all the way?

    I’ve been dying to go eat at The Rock restaurant and this will be my chance. Do we need to book long ahead? Are they open pretty much all the time?

    Lastly, how busy is late November/early December? Should we book all our accomodation around the island ahead of time or can we enjoy some spontaneous travelling?

    Thanks for all your help.

    Melanie

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    • Hatujambo Melanie,
      Ahhhh thank you, always great to hear that my blog really helps.
      I think you mixed up the petrol stations with the ATMs. ATMs are only in Stone Town. There are a lot of petrol stations scattered all over the island. As a general rule, always fill up again if your tank level is at a quarter. Some petrol stations might not have gotten their deliveries yet. This is a tropical island and organisational skills need some improvement still.
      The Rock is always pretty busy, it might be a good idea to book beforehand especially if you drive out there from another part of the island.
      End Nov/early Dec is not that busy yet. I suggest that you book your first 2 nights of accommodation and then stop wherever you want to stay. That’s in my opinion anyway the best way to travel on the island, you also can get really good deals when you just rock up at a place and ask for their best rate.
      Enjoy!
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  9. Hey Gaby,

    I am also planning a trip to Zanzibar early December. Both me and boyfriend are staying at Jambiani and we will be arriving late afternoon. We are not really sure what and where should we go in the evenings? I think we would want a driver since we will be drinking but apparently most of the drivers offer their services up till 6PM!! Also apparently a taxi to Jambini is 50$ one way which is a bit overpriced.
    Any recommendations on what would be the best form of transportation?

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    • Hi, you can take a local taxi in the Jambiani area. Ask at the place where you stay, or check with the locals. Prices should be around Tzs 20,000 per trip within the area Jambiani/Paje.
      The taxi from the airport/Stone Town costs $50. That’s the normal fare for that distance, it’s a 65 km drive.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  10. Hi we currently live in Dar es Salaam and will spend a few days over Christmas in Zanzibar. We would like to rent a car and drive ourselves so we could explore the island a bit. We both have tanzanian drivers licenses. Do we need a Zanzibar license (car rental company told us that tanzanian license is not valid in Zanzibar) I could not believe it as Zanzibar is part of Tanzania and uses Tanzanian currency, but I would rather be save than sorry, so please clarify. Thanks for a great blog.

    Charmaine

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    • Hi, the information you received is correct. Zanzibar is part of the union between the two countries but has her own laws, rules and regulations. Any person who doesn’t have a Zanzibar driver’s license must get this permit. It costs $10. You need to show your original Tanzanian driver’s license together with the local permit at any police stop.
      Enjoy your holiday on Zanzibar,
      Gaby

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    • Hi, I rented cars from different car hire companies until I bought my own car. I found Kibabu Cars the best, excellent service, hugely reliable and punctual (which is not at all the norm here!) and their cars are in very good condition. No other company matches that. I suggest that you look at a company with good reviews, as recent as possible.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  11. Hi, how do you go about renting a driver for your rented veichle. Is it normaly done through the car hire companies or through the hotel?

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  12. Hi Gaby thank you so much for your blog. We are a large group of 15 travelling to Zanzibar in August- will we able to rent a minibus (with a driver)? How is the Makunduchi area? Will there be restaurants nearby?

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    • Hi Dave,
      You can rent a minibus with driver, I guess you’ll need two large ones. Best is you ask at your hotel to arrange it.
      Makunduchi is quite remote, not much happening there. You most probably need to organize transport if you want to eat at different restaurants.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  13. Jambo again. We are back from perfect holidays on Zanzibar. We rent car from Kibabu Car. After a miscommunications with other rental company (which has cheapest car for 5$ cheaper), I made the reservation in “5” minutes only two days before arrival. I reserve cheapest 3 door Suzuki for 30$ a day, but they freely upgrade me for 5 door car. I also get for additional 10$, Zanzibars foreigners driving permit – which is in fact just statement that you have your local driving permit. This is must have, because we were stoped few times every day – but always without any problems
    Car was clean and everything works fine – especially A/C which is must have! We do about 550 km and spend little less than 10 litres on 100 km.
    We get and leave car on Airport, and everything was done in 15 minutes.

    I recommended them a lot!

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    • Hatujambo! Great review of Kibabu Cars, I will forward it to them with pleasure.
      If one looks at the big picture, it is definitely better to pay slightly more for a car and enjoy dealing with true professionals. You got an excellent deal!
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  14. Hello Gaby

    We’re setting of within one month to your beautiful island. We consider hiring a car. Can you recommend a particular road map we can use that is detailed enough to find our way around?
    Many thanks in advance for your help!
    Your blog is both informational and inspirational. Many thanks for that.
    Kind regards,

    Dirk

    Like

    • Hi Dirk,
      I most definitely recommend that you hire a car. This island offers so many beautiful spots. A rental car works out substantially cheaper than booking taxis for transfers and day excursions, besides the added advantage of flexibility.
      There are only very basic maps available on the island. Google Maps is much better, you can also use it offline.
      Cheers
      Gaby

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  15. Hi Gabi,
    first of all I would like to thank you for all the information on this blog. Better then all offical turistics sites,
    I am having a question for you. We are visiting Zanzibar with two small kids, and I am wandering about safety driving at night. We have a plane back home at 6 am, so we have to go to airport around 3:30 am (we are staying in Jambiani). What do you think, is it better just to take a taxi or drive with rented car (we are planning to rent a car for whole 6 days).

    Kind regards,
    Luka

    Like

    • Hi Luka,
      Thank you so much. I am happy to hear that my blog really helps.
      If I have to be at the airport in the middle of the night I always book a hotel in Stone Town. I would not drive myself at night from the south east coast to the airport.
      You have two options:
      1) Return your car the last night. Usually car rental companies offer a collection service of their cars for a fee (about $20). Book a taxi to bring you from Jambiani to the airport ($50)
      2) Stay the last night at a hotel in Stone Town: I just discovered a new B+B about 500m from the airport, they open end of April 2017. Their rates are good, $68 for a double room per night with en-suite bathroom. They offer safe parking, with a car guard. You can the n drive yourself to the airport and return the car there at 03h30. This B+B doesn’t have a website yet. You can email them on zanzibarairporthotel@gmail.com
      If you take a taxi it costs you $50 plus the collection fee of the car $20. Similar to the room rate. And there is no stress, especially with small kids.
      Hope this helps.
      Cheers
      Gaby
      PS: I will check out this B+B end of this month.

      Like

  16. Hi Gaby,
    Stunning blog with lots of information. I am busy riding my BMW 1200 motorcycle from Cape Town around Kilimanjaro and want to include Zanzibar, currently in Zambia and still on my way. What is the best ferry to use to transport my motorcycle to Zanzibar? Secondly, the drivers license issue, still the same? I get a permit once in Stone Town or leaving the ferry? I want to explore the island all the way round.
    Kind regards,
    Koos

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    • Hi Koos,
      Wow, what an amazing trip, safe travels!
      Azam Marine is the best ferry operator by far. Rather book beforehand: http://www.azammarine.com
      I am not sure about the bike license. I just renewed my (car) driver’s license at ZRB (Zanzibar Revenue Board). Maybe ask someone at the ferry port, there are always people around who can assist for a small tip.
      Cheers
      Gaby

      Like

  17. Hey Gabi
    I am swopping homes with a friend aswel as cars. I am coming from Cape Town.
    How do I go about getting the temporary driving licence?

    gerry

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    • Hi, you need to go to ZRB Zanzibar Revenue Board, bring your original valid drivers license of South Africa. In case you need a 3 months license, you also need a photo.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

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