Zanzibar is a semiautonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. Also known as the spice island, it is not only a coastal touristic paradise but has a very rich history and culture.
The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre Stone Town is a World Heritage Site and located on the west side of the island. Stone Town’s streets and townhouses reminds me a lot of Oman, and the reason of it is that it was once the capital of Oman.
Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman back in 1698. As it was a base for traders from African Lakes region, India and Arabian Peninsula – it is different than Tanzania or even East Africa. It has its own leader, governing bodies and unlike other African countries, 95% of the population’s religion is Islam.
Many nationalities get Tanzania visa at the border by paying 50 USD. They asked for vaccination record and I didn’t have it but it was still ok.
More details about visa can be found here.
The main language is Swahili and you will hear it from the locals approaching you all the time, so better to know a few words beforehand. Below are the most common ones you will hear:
Jambo Jambo: Hello
Ashanti Sana: Thanks
Hakuna Matata: All is good, no worries
You can use either US dollars or Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) in Zanzibar.
When to visit:
Zanzibar has two rainy seasons in a year. The long rainy season lasts from March until May and booking a beach holiday during this period is not a good idea. The short rains generally take place between November and December, but aren’t nearly as intense. Even though we were there at the beginning of May, it didn’t rain at all and the temperatures were perfect.
Don’t expect to have safari experience there as the only wildlife in Zanzibar is under water. Want to go for diving while you are in the island? The high diving season is July to September and December to January, and if you have limited time, make sure to reserve your diving experience beforehand.
How to get there:
There are two ways to get to Zanzibar by plane – either by flying to Dar Es Salaam and taking a small adventurous plane from there, or flying directly to Zanzibar.
If you fly to Dar Es Salaam and don’t have the guts to fly with small planes or want a cheaper option, you can also take a fast ferry to the main island. The high-speed boats run four times a day each way, take about two hours, and a ticket will run you less than half of what it costs to fly.
Where to stay:
The coastline offers some of the best beaches of the world, and different areas of the island offer different experiences to visitors. If you’re looking for a beach escape with other Westerners, head north to Nungwi and Kendwa. North east on the other hand is where many top accommodation resorts are set on. Meliá Zanzibar is one of them, and that’s where we stayed during our 3 days trip.
First thing to know about the island is that it gets more remote and quieter when you go up to north, and more populated when you go down to south. Stone Town on the west coast is good for being explored in a full day with a guided tour but not to stay unless you want to be in the historical centre.
Melia Zanzibar is a luxury beach all-inclusive resort situated on the north-east coast of the exotic island of Zanzibar. The hotel has private villas, an infinity pool, a spa, 5 restaurants and 4 bars providing guests the opportunity to experience culinary delights from around the world.
One thing to know about Zanzibar is that the whole island is under the effect of Indian Ocean tides, caused by the moon’s gravity against the mass of the ocean. At Melia, swimming is possible only at high tide. The difference between the low and high tides are 6 hours but don’t worry – walking on the beach and finding colorful star fish when there is low tide was also fun.
Offering spectacular views especially when the sun is shining, it is a perfect hotel if you want to stay in and relax. About 1 hours away from Stone Town, it is far from all the night life and you feel a bit stuck with the hotel’s entertainment at nights.
The hotel’s Gabi Beach is accessible by a shuttle from the main building. There are hammocks and a bar/restaurant for a perfect day on the beach. Diving club is open during diving season if you wish to go diving as well.
For the evenings, I strongly recommend a tapas dinner at Jetty Restaurant but make sure to have a reservation as it is always fully booked.
What to do:
If you don’t want to spend your days on the beach, you can visit Prison Island which is a former prison for slaves and quarantine station, or head to north to see Nungwi and Kendwa beaches.
Unlike us, you may want to spend more time in Stone Town and take a famous spice tour which usually takes 5-6 hours. You will be overwhelmed by the abundance of spices growing in spice plantations such as cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla or black pepper.
Other places of interest in Stone Town are House of Wonders, the Palace Museum, the market and the house where Queens’s Freddie Mercury was born in. Freddie was born in Zanzibar in 1946 in this house in Stone Town and it is now a guest house and unfortunately you cannot enter the building.
In short, even though 3-4 days is enough to see the island, you can stay longer to discover Zanzibar and relax a bit more.
Zanzibar focuses on tourism to boost its economy, so prices of taxis, souvenirs, hotels and taxes are pretty high.
- Transfer from Dar Es Salaam to domestic flights and the plane costed 65 USD.
- We were asked to pay 10 USD tax entering Zanzibar at the airport
- The taxi from Zanzibar Airport to Melia Hotel costed 60 USD
- Melia Hotel to Zanzibar Stone Town with a 2 hours city tour (all arranged at the hotel) costed 90 USD
On our way back, we preferred to fly from Zanzibar with a stop in Kilimanjaro. It appeared to be a good idea as we got to see the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain of Africa from the plane’s window.
Sharing the same ocean as Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles, Zanzibar is a place that is worth a visit and a few more.Personally, I’d prefer Zanzibar over Maldives. While Maldives provides one of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the world, you don’t have to be stuck in a single hotel in Zanzibar. What do you think?