In general: Zanzibar is an archipelago made up mainly of “Zanzibar” – the local name is “Unguja” but it is internationally known as Zanzibar – and Pemba Islands, as well as over 50 small islands. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 40 km from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. The island is roughly 85 km long and 39 km wide.
Culture/history: The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the west coast of the island. Its historic center is Stone Town and it is said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. There are three buildings that I know of that have underground tunnels leading out to the ocean; these were built after the slave trade was prohibited by the British; that way the poor slaves were smuggled at low tide from the boats through the tunnels into these buildings. Stone Town’s architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture. Stone Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Zanzibar’s main industries are spices, raffia (products made from raphia palm trees), seaweed and of course tourism. The islands mainly produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. For this reason, the islands are also known as the Spice Islands. Please do try to go on a spice tour, the plantations are about 20 km north of Stone Town, it is definitely worth your while.
Language is KiSwahili but English is widely spoken especially in Stone Town, also Arabic and Italian and lately there are quite a few tour guides in town who speak German.
It is lots of fun if you try to speak some words in KiSwahili, greetings for example. You will for sure be rewarded with a bright smile. Most important word is “Jambo” which is a friendly greeting – you just reply also with “Jambo”. Thank you is “ahsante”. For the English word “cool/okay” you can use “poa”. For more phrases, please check page “To do and not to do”.
As per the last consensus in 2012, approx. 1.3 million people live on Zanzibar island. Population growth annually is just over 3%.
ALL beaches on Zanzibar are PUBLIC beaches, they belong to the people of Zanzibar, by law. That means that a hotel’s property ends a few meters from the beach. You can take long walks on the endless beaches, uninterrupted. For a description of our beautiful beaches please read page “beaches of Zanzibar”.
One is not allowed to sleep on a beach at night. Tents on the beaches or anywhere else are not permitted on the island.
Besides the beautiful white sand beaches and delicious food, Zanzibar has quite a lot to offer. There are quite a few lime stone caves scattered all over Zanzibar and it is believed that in ancient days people lived in these caves. Some of the caves (like Tazari in Nungwi) are believed to have been used as hiding places for slaves in the pre-colonial Zanzibar era of the slave trade. Many of the caves are home to African bats. You can watch them at sunset flying out of the cave entrance. In Bwejuu at the south east coast is a large cave big enough to hold up to 1000 people. It is still used as a shrine. I mention a few of the caves on the pages “discover Zanzibar”.
Please be aware that, as anywhere else in the world, weather patterns keep changing here too.
Summer: December – February with temperatures around 30-35 degC
Rainy season: March till mid June, temperatures around 25-28 degC in March, when it rains around 22-25 degC – the last two years we had heavy rains and floods especially from mid April till mid June. Therefore most hotels are closed during the rainy season.
Winter: June – August, around 25 degC, with cold wind blowing especially in June
Spring: September – November, around 25-28 degC. This is the “mini” rainy season, however, in 2019 we had lots of rain during these months.
In general, the east coast of Zanzibar has better weather than the west coast.
Weather forecast: please check google weather for forecasts, it at least gives you an indication – there is NO weather station on Zanzibar. The closest one is in Dar es Salaam.
Ramadan is the fasting period of the Muslim community (= about 98% of Zanzibaris). In 2020, Ramadan is supposed to begin on 23 April, it lasts for 30 days (probably until 23 May). The exact date of the end of it depends on the sighting of the New Moon. It is celebrated with the big Eid Al-Fitr Festival which lasts 3 days. If you are in Zanzibar early June make sure you are in Stone Town at that time!
The Zanzibar Government has set some basic ground rules for everyone in Zanzibar, including foreigners, to follow during the Ramadan season:
– no eating, drinking or smoking in public
– liquor stores, night clubs and bars are closed
– restaurants are closed during the day (except for those in hotels; there are also a few restaurants in Stone Town that operate during the day, but their outdoor sitting areas are closed). Alcohol is served at the restaurants and in hotels during Ramadan.
– what to wear has always been important here but during Ramadan it is strongly emphasized (see top of this page)
The Zanzibar government understands that these rules might not be common for foreigners. Therefore, there is no reason not to come to Zanzibar during Ramadan. You can still have your breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks etc. in your hotel and go out during the day and night and enjoy yourself. Stores and souvenir shops are open, as well as attractions and museums are all operational. But PLEASE do respect the guidelines given. This is part of the travel experience. This is our culture. This is part of Zanzibar.