In a recent trip to Zanzibar, I quickly realized there was some advice I could have used before I got there. I had done some research, but nothing really prepared me for the beautiful chaos called Zanzibar. Here are seven Zanzibar tips I wish I knew before I went.
Learn Some Swahilli
Everyone here is pretty friendly and will be a lot more respectful if you learn how to say hello or good afternoon in Swahili. You will find that everyone loves saying hello there. Don’t be afraid to smile and greet them.
On the contrary, learning how to say “no thank you”, “I don’t need”, or “I don’t want” will save you some headaches. First, I was telling everyone “no thank you” in English when I was approached for boat tours or market goods. This would turn into being followed for a couple minutes trying to negotiate a price for something I wasn’t interested in or sometimes begging. So, I asked someone how to say “no thank you” in Swahili and they also taught me “I don’t want” and “I don’t need.” The results were completely different. If I was approached by anyone for anything and I spoke any three of these phrases in Swahili, I was quickly left alone.
Take Out Cash Before You Go
All of the better things can be bought by cash such as the street food, local clothing, and crafts. Before heading over to Zanzibar whether by ferry or plane, make sure you bring enough cash on you to not use the ATM. ATMs are few and far between on the island and I personally had my ATM skimmed on an ATM that was guarded. Try to avoid the ATMs here.
Tips for Traveling by Ferry
First, buy your ticket online before you get there. If you don’t, they will try and tell you they only have VIP tickets which are $10USD more. The risk of the ferry selling out is plausible too. If you reserve online, then you can just pay cash when you get there. Again, it’s cash only USD.
Second, when you get dropped off to the Zanzibar ferries, you will be bombarded by ticket agents trying to sell you tickets. Ignore them and head straight into the ferry operating building.
Third, don’t let anyone handle your luggage. Workers for the ferry will spot you and try to take your luggage to the boat. In doing this, expect to tip them. This is pretty common anywhere but apparently, they are infamous for mixing up luggage. Try to hold on to it and put it on the luggage rack yourself if you must. You can mostly keep all carry-on luggage and backpacks with you on the ride.
Tips for Traveling Around the Island
Taxis can be very costly and will vary in price depending on location. When getting off the ferry into Zanzibar, you will be overwhelmed with everyone trying to get you into their taxi. These guys will be a lot more expensive than down the road. Also, they won’t take no for an answer so just walk away. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with different taxis if you’re not in a rush. Everyone wants to make a special price for you.
The Dala Dala is the local transport. It’s not pretty or comfortable but it will save you A LOT of money. Not recommended if you have a ton of luggage. You can strap your stuff to the top, but that’s a risk you’re willing to take. Backpacks will fit on your lap so you don’t have to stress about your luggage elsewhere. The price for the Dala Dala is around TZS2500 per person to head north, which is a lot cheaper than a TZS50000 or so taxi to Nungwi. Be careful, some will try and charge you about TZS5000 to get on.
Things to Know About Zanzibar
Island life is slow and nothing is really on time. You will find many things don’t make sense, don’t work out, or take forever. This can often stress people out or become impatient. You have been warned. There is Africa time and then there’s Zanzibar time. Zanzibar Island time makes Africa time look fast.
Stay Away From Beach Boys
These are the men who carry the cute little pet monkey with them. What you don’t realize is that “pet” has a tragic history that led him to the leash you’ll see them on. These monkeys are stolen from their mom as babies, malnourished so they stay small, and then have their teeth filed off so they can’t bite. Don’t let these beach boys make money off the torture of animals.
Tips for Buying Goods
First rule – the people on the street and beaches are usually a lot cheaper than people in stores. You can often bargain with them a lot more also. People in stores have rent to pay and people will often come to them, so their prices are higher.
Most of the shops all carry the same stuff so make sure to shop around. The closer you are to resorts and tourist areas, the more expensive the stores will be.
Don’t forget to check out my guide to foreign marketplaces here and apply those rules.