LAST UPDATED: 5/11/23 – Ultimate Zanzibar Visitor’s Guide
When we took our trip to Tanzania a few years ago, we really wanted to visit Zanzibar. We had heard such amazing things about the islands. Not surprisingly, we were not disappointed.
The people we met were so friendly, and the islands were breathtaking. We were able to try some amazing food and enjoy some fun beach activities. It is certainly an experience I will never forget.
The Epicenter of the Slave Trade
Zanzibar has a long and troubled history, as it was the epicenter for the African slave market for centuries. Slaves captured in the interior of Africa were brought to Zanzibar by Arab slave traders. From there, they were shipped around the world.
Zanzibar would be the last glimpse of Africa that most would ever see. You can still tour the slave market and holding cells today, which is a very somber and humbling experience.
Zanzibar was also the launching spot for much of the exploration of Africa that took place in the 18th Century. Most notably, it was used as a launching spot for Dr. David Livingstone. The famous British explorer started his infamous explorations of Africa from Zanzibar. Subsequently, so did Henry Morton Stanley, the American newspaper writer who set off to find him.
If you have never read about the story of Livingstone and Stanley, there is an amazing book out called Into Africa that I would highly recommend. The islands of Zanzibar play a prominent role in that book.
Today Zanzibar is Paradise
Much has changed since the slave traders and explorers used Zanzibar as a launching spot for their exploitation and adventures. However, much has also remained the same.
Zanzibar still has a busy port that is used for the shipment of a large amount of goods. The islands have also kept its culture and identity that sets it apart from mainland Africa.
While technically part of Tanzania, Zanzibar has a different vibe. It’s a laid-back vibe that makes it very easy to forget about the stresses of travel and just relax. Happily, that is exactly what we did when we visited.
If you are looking to visit the island’s amazing beaches, you will have many to choose from. If history is your interest, a stroll thru historical Stone Town awaits you.
For the foodies, a delightful spice tour will certainly not disappoint. Regardless of your interests, Zanzibar seemingly has it all. Not to mention, it is a great change of pace after going on safari on mainland Africa.
|At A Glance|
|How to Get to Zanzibar|
|When to Visit Zanzibar|
|Where to Stay in Zanzibar|
|Top Things to See and Do in Zanzibar|
|Zanzibar Photo Gallery|
At a Glance
Before you start making any travel plans, you need to be sure you meet the country’s entrance requirements. This includes all of the passport, VISA, and immunization requirements for Tanzania.
In addition, you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of what languages they speak in Tanzania. This way, you can plan any translation needs you may have. Not only that, but you will need to know what currency they use in Tanzania. Knowing this, you can plan to exchange currency before your trip if necessary.
I have included some of this key information in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.
|Passport requirements exist. See below for details.|
|Immunization recommendations are listed below.|
|The official languages in Tanzania are Swahili and English. However, there are other local dialects you should be aware of.|
|The official currency in Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling.|
Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements
This Zanzibar visitor’s guide will give you all of the information that you will need to get into Tanzania. In order to assist you, I have listed the VISA, passport, and customs requirements in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
I have also outlined all of the vaccination requirements and recommendations for travel to Tanzania. You will want to be sure to review this section of the guide thoroughly to ensure your health is protected during your visit.
In addition, I have also included links to some supplemental guides that I have created. I outline why I recommend getting the Rabies pre-exposure vaccination before traveling internationally. I have also included a guide on how to protect yourself from tick and mosquito-borne illnesses when traveling.
Passport and VISA Requirements
Before you can even start to think about your visit to Zanzibar, you need to make sure that you can meet the Tanzania entrance requirements. If you don’t meet the requirements, you will not be allowed entry into the country. To assist you in ensuring you meet the necessary requirements, I have outlined the passport and VISA requirements in this guide for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
One of the most important of the Tanzania entrance requirements is the country’s passport requirement. According to the US State Department website, in order to be allowed into Tanzania, your passport needs to be valid for at least 6-months after your date of arrival. So, if your passport is set to expire within 6-months of your arrival date, you will need to renew your passport before you travel to Tanzania.
You will also need to purchase a VISA to be allowed into Tanzania. This VISA can be purchased ahead of time via as an e-VISA. If you don’t purchase a VISA before arrival, you will need to purchase one when you arrive. The cost of a 90-day VISA for Tanzania for a US Citizen is $100 USD. For a summary of the Tanzania passport and VISA requirements, please refer to the table below.
|Passport Validity||Blank Pages Required||Visa Requirement|
|At least 6-months beyond arrival date.||1-page.||US citizens must purchase a VISA. The VISA cost is $100 USD and can either be purchased as an e-VISA or purchased upon arrival.|
Immunization Requirements and Recommendations
Important Note: I am not a medical doctor and do not have any medical experience. The information provided in this section is a summary of information that I got from the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States for travel to Tanzania. I am providing you this information to help bring awareness of the necessary vaccinations to you. However, consultation of my guide should not replace a discussion about your travels with your doctor or a travel medical clinic.
Before you leave for your trip to Tanzania to visit Zanzibar, you need to make sure you have all of the proper vaccinations. Not only to protect yourself, but to protect others. In fact, depending on where you are visiting from and whether you are making any stops before visiting Tanzania, you might not even be allowed in the country without the proper vaccinations.
Travel Vaccination Advice
If you have questions on what immunizations you will need and what to look out for when you go to get them, below are some general guidelines I can pass on to you from experience.
- Most specialized travel clinics will not accept insurance, so you will have to pay for your travel consultation and immunizations and then request reimbursement from your insurance company later.
- Some immunizations aren’t accepted by every insurance company, so check with your insurance provider before getting your immunizations.
- Check with your regular doctor first, as often they can do a travel consultation for you and write you the necessary prescriptions for your immunizations, even if they aren’t able to give them to you. This way you can ensure that at least your travel consultation will be covered by your insurance up-front.
- Check with Walgreens or other drug stores that give flu shots to see if they have any of the immunization shots that you require before going to a specialized clinic that doesn’t accept insurance to get them. Walgreens is able to give you many of the immunizations necessary for international travel, and they accept insurance up-front.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website can be a great resource for answering any travel immunization questions that you have.
Vaccination Recommendations for Zanzibar
You may be wondering what travel vaccinations you might need. In this case, you are in luck. I have compiled a list below of some of what you might expect your physician to recommend.
- Antimalarial (Aralen, Qualaquin, Plaquenil, Mefloquine, or Doxycycline).
- Typhoid (either a shot, which is good for 2 years, or live virus pill, which is good for 4 years).
- Yellow Fever (be aware that some countries require a yellow fever vaccination if you are traveling from another country that is high risk, even if your stay in that other country was short).
- Hepatitis A & B (if you haven’t had them).
- Tetanus (if you aren’t current).
- Rabies (if you are going to be working in close contact with animals).
- Dukoral (gives you 3-month protection against travel diarrhea).
- Flu Shot
Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements
Depending on which country you are arriving from, you may need to have a Yellow Fever vaccination to enter the country. If you are travelling to Tanzania from another country in Africa, please use the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) website to determine if you will be required to have proof of the Yellow Fever vaccination to enter.
Outside of knowing the entry and immunization requirements, there is no pre-travel task more important than packing. Don’t worry, I am here to make sure you are packed and prepared for your trip. I have included links to my packing resources in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below for you to review.
|The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List|
|The Essential Carry-On Checklist|
|10 Packing Tips That Every Traveler Should Follow|
How to Get to Zanzibar
The Zanzibar Islands are located off the coast of Tanzania. Technically, Zanzibar is made up of many islands, but the largest one (Ugunja) is what is most often referred to as Zanzibar. The islands sit roughly 48 miles off the coast of Tanzania, just Northeast of the capital city of Dar es Salaam.
The capital of Zanzibar is Zanzibar City, which is most often referred to as Stone Town. It sits on the Western Coast of Zanzibar and is the home of Zanzibar’s large shipping port. The Eastern coast of Zanzibar is where you will find all of the beautiful, white sand beaches that make Zanzibar a famous beach vacation. No visit to Zanzibar is complete without visiting its pristine beaches.
Zanzibar City (Stone Town)
Getting to Zanzibar by Plane
The easiest way to visit Zanzibar is to fly into Zanzibar City. There are plenty of affordable flights that arrive from destinations across Eastern Africa daily, so finding a flight shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
If you are visiting Zanzibar from Tanzania, there are daily flights that go from Arusha to Dar es Salaam, to Zanzibar City and then back multiple times a day, so you have a lot of flexibility in when you travel. Tickets typically cost around $100.00 USD for a one-way ticket from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar City.
Getting to Zanzibar by Boat
If you are traveling to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam, you also have the option of taking a ferry boat from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Azam Marine Company’s Kilimanjaro Fast Ferries can take you from Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro in approximately 2 hours. Tickets are available in economy class for $35 USD or business class for $50 USD.
When to Visit Zanzibar
Zanzibar is located near the Equator, so no matter when you visit, you should expect hot weather. Remember, it is also in the Southern Hemisphere, so the winter and summer seasons are opposite of what we have in the Northern Hemisphere.
Zanzibar is also subject to the Monsoons, so you if you want to avoid heavy rains, you will want to avoid visiting during the Monsoon season. If you are in the process of planning your trip, I have included some monthly weather information for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
Because of its location near the Equator, Zanzibar sees fairly consistent, hot weather year-round. The summer months of December thru early March see the warmest temperatures, with the winter months of late May thru early August seeing the coolest. No matter when you visit, you will want to bring protection from the sun with you.
Zanzibar is also subjected to Monsoon weather, so being aware of the weather before traveling to Zanzibar is very important in that aspect as well. For instance, during the months of April and May, Zanzibar typically sees over 10 inches of rain. If at all possible, I would avoid traveling to Zanzibar during these months.
The winter months of June thru September are much drier, with an average of only a couple inches of rain falling during these months. These are the months that I would target for your trip if you would like to do a lot of outdoor activities.
Where to Stay in Zanzibar
There are a lot of fantastic places to stay in Zanzibar, so you do have plenty of options when making lodging arrangements. In addition to a fine selection of hotels in both Stone Town and the Paje Beach area, there is also a wealth of properties available for rental on Airbnb.
To give you a sense of when the lodging on Zanzibar Island is cheapest and when it is most expensive, I have included a chart for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
It outlines the average pricing of hotels per month of the year. As you can from the chart, prices are the lowest between August and December each year, and most expensive in February and between May and July.
If you are planning to visit both the Zanzibar City (Stone Town) and Paje Beach areas during your trip, then I would recommend that you book separate accommodations in each area. I have included some great hotel options below for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below. However, there are also a lot of great options for properties to rent thru Airbnb as well.
In Stone Town
No visit to Zanzibar is complete without a stop in Stone Town, which is the capital city of Zanzibar. To assist you in finding the accommodations in the city that are right for you, I have included ten very good hotel options for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
Near Paje Beach
Paje Beach is one of my favorite areas of Zanzibar. If you are looking to spend some time relaxing on the beach, then a stop in the Paje Beach area is an absolute must. To make it easier for you to decide on which accommodations best fit your needs, I have provided ten great hotel choices for you to review in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
Top Things to See and Do in Zanzibar
With its beautiful beaches, wonderful food, and wealth of historical sites, you will not find a shortage of things to see and do while in Zanzibar. To assist you in planning the most memorable trip possible, I have outlined my top things to see and do in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
|The Old Fort|
|The Rock Restaurant|
|The Old Slave Market|
Zanzibar City, which is commonly referred to as Stone Town, is the heart and soul of Zanzibar. Not only is it the island’s capital, but it is also holds many of the island’s main tourism draws.
Between the bustling markets, plethora of historical sites, and beautiful harbor, Stone Town is a must see for anyone visiting Zanzibar.
When you visit Stone Town, make sure you make it to the harbor at sunset. There are plenty of food vendors near the harbor, so it is a great place to relax and eat dinner. Not to mention, the sunsets are absolutely fantastic!
If you are into wildlife, then you have to visit the Jozani Forest during your visit to Zanzibar. The Jozani Forest Preserve is one of Tanzania’s lesser-known national parks, and also one of its most underrated parks.
The wildlife you have a chance to spot in the park include Red Colobus monkeys, sea turtles, Tree Hyrax, chameleons, dolphins, Zanzibar Leopards, and over 40 species of butterflies.
If you would like to visit the park, I would suggest you arrange a safari thru one of the local outfitters. To assist you in finding a safari that meets your needs, I have included a list of outfitters that are highly recommended below.
- Dolphins and Jozani Forest Reserve Wildlife Tour from Zanzibar
- Jozani Forest Reserve Half-Day Guided Tour from Zanzibar
- Jozani Forest Tour – AfricanMecca Safaris
If you love to visit markets when you travel, then you are going to love the Forodhani Market in Stone Town. This famous open-air market has been in operation for centuries and is world renowned for the spices and other local foods that are available.
In addition to being able to purchase spices such as cinnamon, Turmeric, Paprika, Cumin, Saffron, and Cardamom, you are also able to find Zanzibar staples such as the famous Zanzibar Pizza and sugar cane juice to enjoy. If you are a foodie, then the Forodhani Market should be at the top of your list of things to see in Zanzibar.
Zanzibar Pizza may be one of the most unique food items that I have ever come across in my travels. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. These crispy stuffed snacks are filled with a variety of different ingredients and then pan fried until the exterior of the dough is crispy, and the inside is gooey soft.
You will find everything from chicken to sea food, to avocado and veggies, to snicker bars inside them, as each vendor you visit offers their own interpretation of this unique dish. It is definitely a must try experience for foodies who like to explore the local cuisine.
Built in the late 19th century to serve as a residence for the Sultan’s family, the Bait As-Sahel (or Sultan’s Palace) was handed over to the people of Zanzibar after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, and then turned into a museum in 1994. If you visit the museum today, you can expect to learn about the history of Zanzibar and the history of the royal family who once lived in the palace.
Take a Spice Tour
Known as the African Spice Islands, Zanzibar is famous for the wide array of spices that it produces. While it is no longer the leading producer of spices such as cinnamon, Turmeric, Paprika, Cumin, Saffron, and Cardamom, these spices still play a very large role in the local economy. It isn’t difficult to find these spices for sale in the Forodhani Market or at other street vendors around Stone Town.
If you are into cooking, it can be a really neat experience to go on a spice tour to see how these spices are produced and distributed. If you are interested in taking a tour, I have listed a number of recommended tours below for you to review.
- Zanzibar Food and Spices Tour Including Traditional Swahili Lunch
- Spices and Stone Town Tour in Zanzibar
- Spice Tour of Zanzibar
The Old Fort
Sometimes referred to as the Arab For, the Old For is the oldest building in Stone Town. It is also one of the city’s largest tourist attractions. The fort is open to visitors if you’d like to tour it. You will often see vendors selling merchandise inside the fort walls. It also includes a restaurant and, on most nights, has live music and dancing. It is an incredible atmosphere in the open-air amphitheater.
The Rock Restaurant
This is one of the most incredible restaurants I have visited in my travels. I mean, it isn’t often you get to take a boat to a restaurant. Then, eat your food while surrounded by the ocean in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
If you haven’t read my review of the Rock restaurant, I suggest you do. You will be stunned by how amazing it is. I have included a link for you in my Zanzibar visitor’s guide below.
|Visiting the Rock Restaurant in Zanzibar|
If you are looking for a tropical destination with beautiful beaches and warm, welcoming people, then Paje is the place you want to be. The Paje Beach area had some of the most beautiful beaches I have visited.
The area is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, water sports, and just enjoying the island life. If you do visit the area, make sure you stop by the Rock Restaurant for a one-of-a-kind dining experience!
Visit the Old Slave Market
Everyone who visits Stone Town in Zanzibar should stop by the old slave market to understand just how dark and sad this period of Zanzibar’s history was. For centuries, Zanzibar was the epicenter for the African Slave Market, and the remnants of that dark history can still be seen today.
There were three big slave markets on the island of Zanzibar at the time, but the most infamous and horrifying was the one in Stone Town. In the courtyard of the Anglican Cathedral and St. Monica’s Hostel on New Mkunazini Road, there are two slave chambers that are open to viewing by the public.
There are also statues built in remembrance to this horrible piece of history that took place there. To think, upwards of 70 slaves at a time were kept in these miserable chambers, only to be shipped off soon after and never see their homes again. What a sad and horrifying period of history this was.
Zanzibar Photo Gallery
Zanzibar is an incredible place. There are so many beautiful things to see and fun things to do. In order to give you a better understanding of what it is like to visit Zanzibar, I have included a gallery with just some of the pictures we took on the island below.
If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!