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Zanzibar

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Africa : East Africa : Tanzania : Zanzibar
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Map of Zanzibar Island

Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, consisting of Zanzibar Island (locally, Unguja), Pemba Island, and several smaller islands. Zanzibar island is 60 miles long by 20 miles wide.

Get in

By Boat

There are many ferries and catamarans that can take you between Dar es Salaam and the Island. Azam Marine and Sea Express are among the nicest available. They run several times each weekday and costs between $35 and $40. The trip is beautiful and lasts about an hour/hour and a half. However, if the weather is bad it can take much longer and the trip can be very unpleasant.

You may be able to hire a private boat for cheaper, but the trip will take considerably longer and unless you know something about boats, you could be on a vessel that is not equipped for bad weather conditions or an emergency. Remember: you get what you pay for.

Be aware that the "porters" at the Dar ferry terminal will hassle you for money and expect tips for referring you to "the best boat." If you don't want their help, be forceful. The dock is a zoo -- a prime hangout for pickpockets.

By Air

There are several flights from Dar to Zanzibar. Coastal, Precision Air and ZanAir, run at least one flight each a day. Flights are often late but generally reliable.

As off March 2007, Coastal was charging 87,000 Tsh for a return flight from Dar with a 20kg baggage limit. The planes are small so luggage can be an issue if your doing a lot of shopping. A Precision Air ticket will cost 116,000 Tsh, but with a more generous baggage allowance.

Zanzibar has two (2) departure taxes. Domestic flights: 5,000 Tsh (or $5) and International flights: $25 (see GET OUT below).

Taxi

There are a number of taxis waiting for passengers when you exit the terminal. Despite having a "list" of prices for the various tourist destinations on the island, prices are negotiable. Although you can arrange a pick up at the airport with your hotel or tour company, even a little negotiating will get you a better price than the inflated one quoted by most hotels. However, some Stone Town hotels do offer free shuttle service from the airport.

Get around

Although taxis are available, you will probably want to walk through Stone Town. After all, most of the alleys are barely wide enough for a bike to pass.

Journeying outside Stone Town is most comfortably done with a taxi or a private car, however a network of Dalla-Dallas, small minivans, exist which service all the major villages on the island. The adventurous, armed with a phrase book and map, will experience a wonderful side of Zanzibar life, which all too often is just another photograph to the typical tourist zooming past. A private car is of course a lot more expensive than a dalla-dalla, $15 compared to $3. It will take you about 3 hours to get to Nungwi, on the northern tip of the island.

Many hotels are happy to arrange a taxi for a transfer to the harbour, airport, spice tour or to another hotel. Beware, however, as they get commissions from taxis and so the prices tend to be higher. For example, your hotel might say that an airport transfer is $10, while out on the streets of Stone Town there are so many taxi drivers needing business you'll probably be able to negotiate the price down to $6.

See

  • Zanziabar Island, a.k.a., The Spice Island, was an important stop in the Spice Trade centuries ago. Today, it is one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced, and many other Middle Eastern/Asian spices (cardamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, etc.) are grown here. For about $10, you can go on a spice tour, which winds you around the island, showing you how anise (licorice) grows; letting you sample some of the exotic fruit grown on the island; and allowing you to tour the beautiful plantations.
  • Jozani Forest has excellent nature trails, featuring some very exotic (and large) trees. Even more interesting, though, are the Red Colobus Monkeys that live here. Native to the Island, these monkeys are now nearly extinct. They are very curious and playful and will likely pose for a picture.
  • There are a number of historically important (and frankly, just plain beautiful) buildings in Stone Town, like The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort. It is easy to arrange a simple walking tour with a local guide who can teach you some history.
  • The market in Stone Town is one of the largest, most vibrant open-air markets anywhere. Here, you can find several varieties of bananas, "elephant garlic" unique to the island, the largest avocados you'll probably ever see, and more. Prices are extremely reasonable. Even if you have no intentions of purchasing food, the spectacle alone is worth a visit.


Do

There are a lot of things to do on Zanzibar Island. It just depends on where your interests lie.

  • Stone Town, recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most unique cities in the world. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African traditions and architectures, it is possible to spend days winding through Stone Town's labyrinthine alleys; shopping; drinking tea; and visiting the city's historic sites.

In the tourist areas around the waterfront, Kenyatta Road and Shangani Road, you will be beset by all manner of papasi, touts and others wanting to offer you taxis, spice tours, music, gifts, etc. A polite but firm 'No Thanks' usually does the trick, but it can get exhausting. Best thing to do here is wander into the more residential alleys where you won't be disturbed.

  • Be certain to have dinner on the wharf near Blue's Restaurant in Stone Town. Every evening, for just a few dollars, you can sample local fish, food, drinks, and hear local music.
  • Spice tours are being offered by many companies, they take you out to a spice farm, where your guide will show you how things like cinnamon, jack fruit and kukurma are grown, and will let you taste most of them.
  • The East Beaches are popular among travelers. The sand is brilliant white, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are a deep teal. Here, you can:
  • find plenty of opportunities for scuba diving; Rising Sun Dive Center (based at the Breezes beach resort, equally well recommended) is PADI accredited and well recommend, taking divers out onto the beautiful (and un-touched) reefs.
  • swim with the dolphins
  • arrange for a ride on a local's dhow (a carved, wooden boat)
  • sit and stare at the water for hours on end

Buy

Zanzibar currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TS), which is exchanged at a rate of around US$1 = TS1200. There are 3 ATM's on the island, all in Stone Town. A store that accepts credit card payment is a rarity. Don't rely totally on your bank card. Take extra cash or traveller's cheques.

Stone Town is a one-stop-souvenir-shopping for the traveler. You can find beautiful textiles, handmade jewelry, intricate wood or stone carvings, spices, knick-knacks, and the list goes on and on . . .

Buy a cookbook and spices. Take the trip home with you! Beware that many of the vendors sell fake saffron (appears waxy like a shredded red crayon).

Eat

  • Emerson's Tower Top Restaurant at 236 Hurumzi Street in Stone Town. Amazing food and sublime atmosphere. The rooftop view of the sunset punctuated by the sound of prayer calls is not to be missed.
  • Blue's Restaurant, on the water, is an upscale restaurant you might find on any boardwalk anywhere. It's for that reason, however, that a visitor might not want to stop in. However, the food is great, and the view is gorgeous.
  • Kidude, near Emerson & Green, serves traditional Zanzibari cuisine at moderate prices.
  • Forodhani Market is a nightly affair by the water. There you can purchase 'Zanzibari pizza' or get all sorts of grilled seafood and meat for less than $1 per serving. Also available are banana and chocolate pancakes which are to die for (Note: bring an extra bar of chocolate for them to add to your pancake) . Some consider the market to be overrated -- the food quality can be mixed and there will be papasi or touts that may hassle you. Still the twilight atmosphere makes for a nice setting to have a cheap meal.
  • Amore Mio, on Shangani Street, serves good Italian gelati, pizzas and pasta (~ $10-15 per person).
  • Monsoon Restaurant, just to the west of the Tunnel at the edge of the harbour and the southern corner of Forodhani Gardens
  • near the harbor there are lots of people selling food on the street, like chapati and fried fish.
  • next to the police station is a place where they have very decent local food, like pilau, and all sorts of stews. All the men go there in the evening to drink tea. Muslim place, so no alcohol.

Drink

Although it is primarily a Muslim community, small bars are everywhere. Also, try the ginger beer - tangawizi.

  • Africa House Ice cold beer and a huge balcony that overlooks the ocean - great at sunset.

Sleep

  • Zanzibar Hotel [1] is a newly refurbished hotel in Stone Town. It was originally the first hotel on Zanzibar island.
  • Bottoms Up!, an eclectic, unusual hostel in the heart of Stone Town.
  • Malindi guest house, near the fish market (but the smell isn't so bad) is an inexpensive place to stay. You can get a double room for about $20.
  • Jambo brothers In Nungwi, the northernmost village, you can get a bungalow right on the beautiful beach.
  • Nungwi village beach resort is right next to Jambo brothers.

Respect

Zanzibar is largely a Muslim community. Although they are used to Western ways, you should try to be respectful. This means:

  • Women and men should make an effort to cover their legs and arms.
  • Be discrete when drinking alcohol.
  • During Ramadan -- the month of fasting -- travellers should avoid eating and drinking during the daytime.

Get out

When returning to your own country, you will be charged $25 as an exit tax. The customs sign asks for dollars, so it's probably safer to keep $25 in cash for when you leave. Check first to see if you can pay the tax in Tanzanian Shillings.

You can take the night ferry to Dar, it's the cheapest option, $20, and you also save a night's stay in a restaurant. It leaves at 22.00pm, and arrives at about 6.00am in Dar.




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