Mar 18, 2020
I am pretty sure you have seen many pictures of Zanzibar on the internet. The white sand beaches of the coastal area, the eclectic buildings of Stone Town and the amazing street food. But like any country, there are things one needs to know and be mindful of before they visit. Especially safety related if you are travelling solo as a woman like I did.
I took a solocation to Zanzibar for my 30th birthday and I had a blast. From the tasty food to the friendly locals; Zanzibar made it to the top of my list as a favourite country to travel to. In this blog post, I will outline what I think is the important to know before you go on a trip to Zanzibar. I am proud to say that this trip was one of the most seamless I have been on with only one speed bump at the end of my trip.
There are at least three Bureau de Change banks that I saw at the airport where you can exchange your cash for Tanzanian Shillings. Just compare the exchange rate and charges for yourself and pick what is best for you. There is also one in Stone Town but I noticed that their rates were a little bit higher when friends I met there went to exchange currency. Always use a reputable currency exchange bank to avoid being scammed. Unfortunately there aren’t any ATMs or Bureau de Change offices in the villages. When visiting the coast, make sure you have enough cash with you. The exchange rate is around $1- 2 309 Tzs and R1- 157 Tzs.
ATMs and Card Transactions
There are ATM’s in Stone Town but I did not use any of them. For cautionary reasons, exchange enough cash for your trip. Most hotels and restaurants in Stone Town have an EFT machine but you will need cash for souvenir shopping in the street stalls. Rands, USD and Tzs are accepted and only paper money, no coins. There are no ATM’s in the coastal areas although some hotels have EFT machines and others accept cash only. Bring enough cash with you.
I got a Zantel sim card just outside the airport when I landed. It was a little pricier than I expected but I didn’t want to wait till I got to Stone Town because I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there. It seemed more legit and safer getting it at the airport. I paid around $19 for a sim card and 7 days of data which lasted me the whole 7 days. I wish I had bought data for 9 days because I ended up extending my trip an extra 2 days. You can also get a Vodacom sim card in Dar es Salaam if your flight connects there. Your best bet would be Zantel because it works much better on the island, especially in the villages.
Malaria and Yellow fever
Make sure you get your yellow fever vaccination as you might have to present your card to immigration at the airport. There is currently no malaria in Zanzibar but for safety measures you can get the malaria shots and medication. I didn’t and I was just fine. Just make sure you put on mosquito repellent, especially in the tropical areas e.g spice farms and the coastal region.
Most hotels and some restaurants in Stone Town have wifi. Depending on where you stay, hotels in the coast also have wifi but do not expect the connection to be great. You can get the basics done like sending messages and browsing through social media. Check online before booking your accommodation to see if your hotel or Airbnb offers any WiFi.
There are plenty of souvenir shops in Stone Town and all the touristy coastal areas. Bargain! Bargain! Bargain! Do not accept or settle for the first price that you are given, it is most likely very high. They are always more than willing to negotiate to a price convenient for the both of you. There aren’t any malls in Zanzibar so if you are looking for a specific style of clothing than the usual vacation wear, then you are out of luck. Bring enough clothing and swimsuits for the duration of your trip.
There are at least 4 options of travel that I heard about on my visit. You can either use a taxi, the local dala, rent a car or use Zanzibus. Depending on how long you are in Zanzibar and where you are going, you can rent a car for more freedom of movement. Google maps works well for all your navigational needs but remember to get a sim card and buy data first. Everything is in close proximity and walking distance in Stone Town.
To reach the other parts of the island, depending on the distance, taxi can cost you around $25 (R369). The local dala dala is much cheaper at about $2 (R29) but will take you much longer to get to your destination. It makes a couple of stops along the way. I used a taxi and had an amazing driver who drove me to coastal parts of the island and the airport. Reach out to me on my socials if you need a driver for your trip. There are taxis near hotels and tourist attractions at all times so you will not have problem finding one when you get there. The Zanzibus is also a great option. It travels to/from different parts of the island at specific times and locations. Check out their website for more information on the cost, times and routes https://www.thezanzibus.com/.
The weather in Zanzibar can get very hot depending on the season. I was there late Sept/early Oct and it was extremely hot, especially at the beach. There were also random rain showers during the day and the early ours of the morning. Make sure you put on enough sunscreen to prevent sun burn, especially for those beach days. Bring a sun hat as well.
The locals are the nicest people I have ever come across. They are so polite and friendly, always smiling and willing to help when needed; expecting nothing in return. Remember to respond with a friendly “Jambo”, which means “hello” in Swahili, when greeted.
Because the majority of Zanzibar is Islamic, please show some respect by dressing appropriately, especially women. Make sure your shoulders are covered and your bottoms cover the knees. Stone Town is very touristy so certain outfits aren’t frowned upon much but it is different in the coast. They are more strict. You can wear your bathing suit on the beach but cover up when walking through the village. Please show respect.
Use your discretion when buying any street food or fruits. Most of it is sea food caught fresh every morning. Make sure fruits are thoroughly washed before consumption. You are safer eating fruit that has it’s skin peeled. I indulged in some good street food at the Forodahni Market twice and I did not have any issues. When at the market, make sure there is a menu with the price list clearly reflected. People have been known to overcharge tourists when buying food having not seen the menu and pricing.
Zanzibar is a beautiful island; the culture and people even more beautiful. If you want to take photographs of people, ask first and be polite. They will most likely say yes because they are just amazing, especially in Stone Town. This includes their shops and stalls. Refrain from taking pictures of children without their parent’s consent. Some of the locals, especially in the villages along the coast, do not like their photos taken. Please respect them and don’t take any pictures without their permission. Even the kids are told to yell out “no photo” if they see any tourists taking pictures of them.
Zanzibar is very safe, even for women. I got lost a couple of times in Stone Town and there was always a Friendly local willing to help me find my way, expecting nothing in return. I was told by some of the locals that tourism is very important to them that is why it is a big deal if anything happens to a tourist. I felt extremely safe even on days when I was carrying all my electronics. Like any other country, exercise caution and stay safe. Do not walk around in dingy passage ways or stray too far from the tourist areas alone. Leave all your valuables and passport in the hotel safe or locked in your suitcase. Carry a photocopy of your passport instead.
Zanzibar is up there on the top of my list of vacation spots and I will be heading back there sooner than I expected. If you are planning a trip to Zanzibar you are going to have a great time. The people are friendly, the culture is beautiful, there is a vast array of tasty food and its overall a beautiful island. What are you waiting for?Book that flight and hotel and go have fun in Zanzibar.