Zanzibar - Ultimate luxury travel Guide (Our secrets for a dream vacation)
Jambo, Karibu! (It means "Hello, welcome!" in Swahili) Welcome to paradise!
With its superb white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, coral reef lagoon, palm trees and cheerful people, Zanzibar is a paradise destination, whether for a honeymoon, a wedding anniversary or simply for an exclusive romantic stay.
What you will learn here
Geography - Where is Zanzibar located?
History - Once upon a time there was Zanzibar
When to go to Zanzibar - Weather and religion
How long to stay - Are a few days enough?
How to get to Zanzibar - Recommended airlines
Which luxury hotel to choose - Our exclusive and eco-chic selection
What to see and what to do - Activities we experienced
Precautions before departure - Visa and vaccinations
Other useful information (car rental, private driver, security, language, currency and exchange rates, hygiene, hospitals, mosquitoes and other bugs, shopping, beach boys, haggling, etc...)
Geography - Where is Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago located in the Indian Ocean, 6 degrees south of the Equator. It is composed of 3 main islands (Unguja, Pemba and Mafia) and small islets surrounded by coral reefs.
The main island, Unguja, is often confused with the archipelago itself. Its political centre is the city of Stone Town, also known as Zanzibar Town or The City. Stone Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Tip: if you want to stare at the stars, remember that we are in the southern hemisphere. It is therefore of no use to you to search - in vain like us - for the chariot of the Little Dipper. The constellations are not similar at all.
History of Zanzibar
While Zanzibar is known for its beaches and crystal clear waters, its eventful history is worth our interest.
Populated by fishermen from the mainland since the 3rd millennium BC, the islands of Pemba and Unguja are developing rapidly. Indeed, winds favorable to navigation have placed the archipelago at the crossroads of important trade routes - particularly from the Arabian Peninsula and India - since ancient times.
Born between the 8th and 9th centuries of the blending between Arabs and Bantu, the Swahilis of Zanzibar were successively confronted with the massive settlement of the Persians of the Sultanate of Shiraz, the arrival of the Portuguese, the British occupation and then the Omani colonization.
In the 18th century, with the Sultanate of Oman, the slave trade grew very much. It officially ended in 1873 but continued clandestinely until the beginning of the 20th century, in order to satisfy the demand for labor for the grow of cloves.
Finally, in 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar decided to form a single state: the United Republic of Tanzania.
When to go to Zanzibar - Weather and religion
Very close to the equator, Zanzibar is not subject to cyclones.While temperatures are tropical all year round, the archipelago experiences two heavy rainy seasons: the heaviest in autumn (our spring) and a second in spring (our autumn).
The ideal times to travel to Zanzibar are therefore from December to March and June to September. We personally stayed there in the second half of September. Result: changing weather but overall very beautiful with temperatures ranging between 26 and 28 degrees. Only one full day of rain, the day before we left.
Moreover, since the vast majority of the inhabitants are Muslims, Ramadan is practiced in Zanzibar. It is therefore preferable to get information before booking, as some establishments may be closed or offer only a minimum service.
What Airlines to go to Zanzibar
Having experienced it, a trip with Emirates is a must, even in economy class, from onboard entertainment (the Ice service), to meals and service. As someone who is not a fan of screens on planes, I spent the whole trip watching movies, podcasts and other webinars, while monitoring our live progress with the webcam.
■ Stopover in Dubai
If you wish to take advantage of your transit in Dubai to visit the city, consider booking 2 or 3 nights. Even if, I must admit, I'm not a fan of Dubai at all, spending only one night there is really too short.
How long should you stay in Zanzibar
Most travellers visiting Zanzibar and staying in luxury hotels (excluding all inclusive resorts) opt for a short stay after a safari.
If I understand this choice, I do not recommend it, unless you have visited the island before.
Because Ungunja really deserves to be considered as a destination in its own right. To truly enjoy the atmosphere, a minimum of one week is required; if you wish to discover it as a whole, two weeks won't be too long, especially if you also wish to take some rest.
Which luxury hotel to stay in
We warmly recommend the Zuri Zanzibar boutique hotel, a brand new 5-star eco-resort located on Kendwa beach, considered to be the most beautiful beach in Unguja and also one of the most beautiful in the world. We stayed there 10 days last September.
Its philosophy, its architecture, its atmosphere, its restaurants and the extreme kindness of its staff have completely won us over. If you would like more information about this hotel and our authentic opinion, we invite you to check our dedicated article.
What to do in Zanzibar - Tours from Kendwa
For tortoise lovers
Nungwi aquarium- Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond
The aquarium (actually a seawater pond) is run by a local non-profit association for the protection and conservation of marine turtles from Zanzibar. For $10, an English-speaking guide will explain how turtles are collected, fed, cared for and protected. You can also participate in feeding them yourself. If the places are rather rough and the means limited, the visit is nevertheless instructive. In addition, your financial contribution not only protects turtles, but also helps local populations. This tour can be done on foot, from the Zuri Hotel. It is about an hour's walk from the beach.
Changuu Island, better known as Prison Island, is located opposite the city of Stone Town. Called Prison Island after the construction of a prison on the island in 1893, it currently houses a sanctuary for giant turtles from Aldabra (Seychelles).
It takes 1h30 by car from Kendwa, then 30 minutes by boat to reach the island. The visit takes 1h30 to 2h00.
Safari Blue : Dhow cruise, snorkeling around Mnemba and lunch on the beach
For about $80 per person, you will spend a short day aboard a traditional dhow, dive with a mask and snorkel in the Mnemba atoll and enjoy a very good barbecue.
This activity is recommended if you wish to experience a traditional boat cruise and take the opportunity to dive outside the hotel's waters.
For those who don't wish to dive, it is possible to take a dhow cruise at sunset. The issue for us is that you will enjoy an ultra-romantic moment, accompanied by music that gives you the impression of being in a club in Ibiza.
For people who like diving, the site is a little disappointing: the place is very busy. I must admit that the number of dhows and tourists has ruined our pleasure. Next time, we will take a private boat that will take us beyond the coral reef (Cost: $130).
For history lovers and UNESCO sites chasers
The slave Chambers of Mangapwani
This northern island site is mainly visited by local students. The means implemented are therefore quite rudimentary. However, the guided tour, carried out by the guardian/curator of the monument, is instructive and it is quite easy to imagine how this site was used for the clandestine slave trade.
In our opinion, the visit to Mangapwani's slave chambers is a good complement to the visit of Stone Town.
Stone Town - Zanzibar City
Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is well worth a two-day visit, as spending the night there not only allows you to visit the city at your pace but also to experience the unique atmosphere, go shopping and try out some restaurants.
Unfortunately, we made the visit on the run. Some claim that three hours is enough. Do not believe them if you are interested at least in the history and culture of Zanzibari. Personally, we really think we missed a lot.
Precautions before departure - Visa et vaccinations
A visa is required for European citizens. It is easier and less stressful to ask the Tanzanian Embassy before leaving. (See links at the end of the article.) For the United Arab Emirates, you can have your visa at Dubai Airport, after having completed the appropriate form.
It is important to check that your vaccinations are in order. Some vaccinations are mandatory (yellow fever, minimum one month before your departure); others are highly recommended. It is best to consult the nearest vaccination centre for tropical medicine in good time.
■ Getting around Zanzibar
It is possible to rent a car.If you don't have the soul of an adventurer, I really wouldn't recommend it for various reasons:
The roads are in poor condition;
There is no public lighting;
There is no sidewalk and pedestrians are everywhere;
We drive on the left, on roads offering space for 2.5 vehicles, and it is more than frequent that 3 or 4 vehicles of different sizes are at the same level.
I therefore advise you to book your driver via your hotel or if you would like a more attractive price, send me a message and I will give you the telephone details of someone you can trust.
■ Security - Is Zanzibar dangerous
We have never felt unsecure in Zanzibar.
■ Languages - What language do people speak in Zanzibar
Swahili is the official language but English is spoken everywhere.Students learn English in junior and high school.
■ Money - Exchange rate - Where to get cash in Zanzibar
The currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian shilling.For 1EUR, you will receive about 2647 TZS. For 1USD, you will receive about 2311 TZS (Rate on 01.02.2019).
Outside hotels, payments are usually made with cash. The population accept payments in shillings, dollars or euros. We noticed that they tended to prefer payments in USD. We therefore advise you to choose this currency. Indeed, if payment in euros is generally accepted, there is a strong tendency to consider that dollars and euros have the same value, which is no good to us. Check the exchange rate.
In addition, we strongly recommend arriving with USD. (The amount to take with you depends on many parameters. It is therefore difficult to give a budget. ) Be aware, however, that outside hotels, you will need to travel to Stone Town to get cash.
In Stone Town, we recommend that you visit the head office of Barclays Bank. The place is safe and has an ATM (Warning: limited withdrawal!). A passport is required to withdraw cash inside the bank.
■ Drugstores and hospitals in Zanzibar
Take a complete pharmacy with you. Ladies, don't forget your monthly protections. Their cost in Zanzibar is indecent ( x5 or x6 compared to Belgium or France). As far as hospitals are concerned, there is a public hospital in Stone Town but it is preferable to go to private hospitals. For information, a private hospital was set up two or three years ago near the hotels in Kendwa and Nungwi. (It is 5 minutes from Zuri Hotel.)
We recommend you only drink bottled water.
■ Mosquitoes and other bugs
I'm not going to lie, there are a lot of moskitoes. But not all the time, fortunately.
During the day, they don't bother. However, as soon as the sun sets, here they come, especially on the beach. Even if hotels use (and abuse?) toxic products to kill them, I advise you to take a Parakito armband, for example, in addition to Deet50 sprays. As a reminder, you can only protect yourself with the Deet once a day. It is therefore better to keep this product for the night.
In addition to mosquitoes, it is possible to meet "charming" bugs in Zanzibar, such as this superb nephile. - For biology fans, I think this one is a female Nephila inaurata madagascariensis - This one was on the beach.
These spiders are known as the largest web weavers in the world, with works ranging from one to five metres in diameter. This frightening thing of about 10 to 12 cm is obviously not aggressive, but it is better to avoid being bitten, as the bite can be painful.
However, be happy, "cuteness" is also présent in Zanzibar. Ghost crabs, giant grasshoppers, multicoloured butterflies and chameleons also meet, to the delight of the eyes.
Zanzibar has no supermarkets and even less shopping malls. Nevertheless, you can satisfy your shopping desires in hotel shops, on the beach or in Stone Town. Be sure to buy spices at the Stone Town market. The prices are very interesting and the visit to the market is very colorful.
You can also be tempted by a pareo ($10/piece) or bracelets ($2/piece). Prices on the beach are the same as in Stone Town, in shops with fixed prices.
On the beach, during the day, many sellers try to sell you hats, pareos, bracelets or tours. Some also offer shells.
While it is tempting to take home some conch or clam shells, it is strongly advised not doing so, both ecologically and legally - I could not find any formal evidence that Tanzania refused to export shellfish, but several sites report this, without giving their sources -.
As for beach vendors, be aware that the guards at the entrance to luxury hotels do not let them bother their customers. The problem arises when you want to walk around and leave the hotel grounds. Sometimes you have to hang on because some are more annoying than others.
Two tips to avoid them or make them leave:
- Avoid them: Walk around at the end of the day. After 4pm, they are tired and hardly approach you anymore.
- Hakuna Matata (There is no problem): Say these two words; they will think you've already been here for several days and they will tend to leave you alone.
Tours are very expensive from hotels. Expect about $80 per person for a sea safari aboard a local dhow and an "impromptu" meal on the beach.
For a full day tour with a local guide, count about 300 to 400 dollars for two people (you can also contact Rafikitours on my behalf and ask for Seif. For an idea of price and contact details of the driver, please contact me.)
■ Mistakes to avoid
The vast majority of the inhabitants are Muslims. Be respectful for their customs and when you walk outside the beach and hotel areas, it is good practice to wear appropriate clothing: for ladies,we recommend you to cover your shoulders and legs; for men, a T-shirt is of course required.
■ Personal recommendation regarding haggling
Negotiating should allow everyone to make a good deal. So please don't try to get an unreasonable price for the seller and keep in mind that the average monthly income on the island is about $75 to $100. Food prices are also higher than on the continent.