Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, consisting of Zanzibar Island (locally, Unguja), Pemba Island, and many smaller islands. Zanzibar island is approximately 90km long and 30km wide
There are many ferries and catamarans that can take you between Dar es Salaam and the Island. Azam Marine,Sea Express, Sea Star, Seagull and Sepideh Megaspeed Liners are among the nicest available. Azam runs at 14h30 and 16h15 on weekdays and Sea Express at 07h30 daily. Fares range $35 to $40 for non-residents, including a $5 Port Tax. First class is only $5 more expensive than economy and certainly worth the money. Most ferries schedules allow you to do the return trip the same day. For instance leave Dar es Salaam at 07:30 and return from Zanzibar on the 16:30 ferry. That leaves plenty of time to explore the Stone Town, the museum and have a nice lunch. The trip is beautiful and lasts about two hours approximately. However, if the weather is bad it can take much longer and the trip can be very unpleasant. If you suffer from seasickness you are advised to take some anti-seasickness pills prior to boarding. The on board personnel hands out free sickness bags at the start of the journey.
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.
Passport. Although Zanzibar is part of the Union it maintains its own immigration service and you need to have a valid passport to enter, even if you come from mainland Tanzania.
There are several flights from Dar to Zanzibar. Air Excel, Regional Air, Coastal, Precision Air and ZanAir, run at least a dozen flights between themselves each day. Flights are often late but rarely cancelled.
As of March 2007, Coastal was charging 87,000 Tsh for a return flight from Dar with a 15kg baggage limit preferably in soft bags. The planes are small so luggage can be an issue if you're 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: $30 (see GET OUT below).
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.
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 2 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 harbor, 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.
- 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.
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. Be sure to take sun screen, a hat and lots of water since your tour through Stone Town can be quite tiresome.
- Visit Slave Market, The site of the old Slave Market is quite an experience. Go into the holding chambers to see how this wretched piece of history played itself out in small dark dungeon-type cells. Priced at $3 or TS3.5 its well worth it.
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.
- Visit Forodhani Gardens If you are not scared of local food, then this place is definitely worth a visit. It is possibly the cheapest food you will find on the island, and value for money too. Ranging from crab claws, calamari steaks to plain old chips done in big woks. You are well advised to try the local sugar cane juice. The curio market can be found next to the food market. Here you will find all the gifts you may want to take back to friends and loved ones. DO NOT buy the first thing you see. First take a walk through the market, and you will see prices get progressively less. You must ALWAYS haggle and bargain with the vendors or try to set the prices off against each other. This is their way of doing business and it also ensures that you get the best price.
- 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.
- arrange for a ride on a local's dhow (a carved, wooden boat)
- sit and stare at the water for hours on end
- Kendwa Beach on the North Western coast is beautiful. Here you can swim during low and high tide, which is not always possible on the East side of the island. Just beware of the "Sea Archers" that gives a powerful sting if stepped upon during low tide. Kendwa offers lots of beach bars and restaurants serving everything from pizza to local curries. Kendwa Beach is also known for the Full Moon Party, arranged saturdays just before or after a full moon. While not as big or extreme as those arranged in Thailand, the parties on Zanzibar attract quite a large group of people, especially when the full moon coincides with public holidays in Europe and North America (i.e. easter and christmas).
Zanzibar currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSH), which is exchanged at a rate of around 1EUR = TSH1600. On the beaches, US $ and TSH are accepted. However, $1 = TSH 1000, which is much less than the official exchange rate. Best would be to trade some of your dollars or euro's for TSH, and use that to buy food.If you buy curious with dollars and euro's you will get a better deal, since the hawkers are more prone to bargaining when buying with foreign currency. Remember! You get a better exchange rate on large $-notes i.e. $ 50,100 than on smaller $-notes i.e. $20, $ 10. There are four 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 traveler's checks.
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).
- Hurumzi, earlier known as Emerson and Green and later as Emerson's Tower Top Restaurant, is well worth a visit. It can be found at 236 Hurumzi Street in Stone Town. Amazing food and sublime atmosphere. While dinner is quite expensive and has to be booked in advance, the rooftop view of the sunset punctuated by the sound of prayer calls is not to be missed.
- Kidude, near Hurumzi, serves traditional Zanzibari cuisine at moderate prices.
- Forodhani Market is a nightly affair by the water. 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 who may hassle you. The twilight atmosphere however makes for a nice setting to have a cheap meal. While Forodhani Gardens by the waterfront is temporarily closed due to renovation work, the nightly market is still in business, moved to the streets near The House of Wonders.
- Amore Mio, on Shangani Street, serves good Italian gelati ice cream, 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.
- Passing Show Restaurant, next to the Malindi Police Station just outside the harbor. 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.
- Mercury, near the port, is dedicated to Freddy Mercury who was born on the island. Excellent food and cold beers. Nice view over the harbor and bay.
- Serena Hotel, Stone Town, has a very nice restaurant with live music almost everyday. Beautiful view of the ocean and excellent, although expensive, food.
- Botanic Country Resort, Tunguu central region, 14km from the Stone Town towards the East Coast behind the new Tanzanian Houses of Parliament. Taarab Square and Kipepeo Grill and Pub/Beer Garden with discotheque on weekends, live music on public holidays including outdoor cinema and live sports events on giant screens. Beautiful Gardens, food is from traditional Swahili & Zanzibarian dishes to International Cuisine.
- Blues Restaurant, on the water, has closed down.
While predominantly a Muslim community, small bars can be found everywhere in Zanzibar. Try the ginger beer - tangawizi. The sugar cane juice and fresh coconut milk are not to be missed.
- Africa House Ice cold beer and a huge balcony that overlooks the ocean - great at sunset.
- Taarab Square At the Botanic Country Resort, Tunguu Central Region offers reasonably priced spirits and drinks compared to most of the bars on the island. Live sports bars and the only outdoor cinema showing Indian, African and English movies, discotheque over weekends and live music on public holidays.
- Various Beach Bars On the beaches you will find beach bars who will supply you with good local beer and cocktails. You must try a Dawa-cocktail!
- Zanzibar Hotel  is a newly refurbished hotel in Stone Town. It was originally the first hotel on Zanzibar island.
- Chavda Hotel is in the middle of Stone Town, 15min by foot from the Harbour (or 1,000 TSH by taxi). Rooms are nice but without luxury. Double beds, 2 single or 3 single beds are available, all with air conditioning and mosquito drapes. Breakfast is small (it's better to eat around the corner) but the cheap hotel bar is on the roof of the hotel and offers nice views of Stone Town. Rate for a room with double bed was 90 USD incl. breakfast and taxes (10% charge when you pay by Credit Card).
- Pongwe Beach Hotel  is a small hotel on the eastern side of the island. It is ideal for those looking for a relaxed and secluded "paradise island" experience.
- 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.
- Island View Hotel located in Kilimani (right next to Stone Town) is a great option for budget travelers. A night for two people goes for $35-$40 US/night which includes a big breakfast. Rooms have a TV with many channels, clean washrooms, a telephone and the option of air-conditioning. Staff are very friendly and helpful!
- Botanic Country House located in Tunguu, central region (behind the new Tanzanian House of Parliament) is a great option for budget travelers who have had enough of the beach. A night for two people goes for $40 US/night which includes a tasty breakfast. Nights are cool and it is a mosquito free environment in the countryside of Zanzibar.
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 -- travelers should avoid eating and drinking during the daytime.
When returning to your own country, you will be charged $30 as an exit tax. The customs sign asks for dollars, so it's probably safer to keep $30 in cash for when you leave. Check first to see if you can pay the tax in Tanzanian Shillings. Many travel agents on mainland Tanzania are not aware that this tax has to be paid in cash only and may add it to your ticket fare so it is better to cross-check before you purchase the ticket.
You can take the night ferry to Dar, it's the cheapest option, $20, and you also save a night's stay in a hotel. It leaves at 22h00, and arrives at about 06h00 in Dar.