How to start planning your beach holiday to mesmerizing, colorful Zanzibar, Tanzania
I honestly don't even remember how I originally learned about Zanzibar, but as soon as I started browsing some Google photographs, I became completely enamored with the thought of its flawless, white-sand beaches on the Indian Ocean. Although Morocco had always been on my mind—especially as it is nearer to Europe and Germany, where I currently reside—I had never gone to Africa, and something about Zanzibar captivated me.
There are numerous options in Zanzibar once you get there, whether you want a luxury resort on the beach or a backpackers hostel with hammocks and a bustling bar with live music. I believe I did more homework before this trip than I did before moving to China alone since I traveled alone. Money, culture, and the safest and most efficient method for me to get around comfortably were all things I was unsure of. I've had too many experiences in my childhood where not planning just made everything lot harder and more expensive than it needed to be, so I'm not at an age where I really prefer to wing it anymore.
I definitely advise doing your research in before because Zanzibar might seem a little disjointed and unclear logistically. Do you need to go with a tour? No. Just read on and if you heed my advice, you'll be off to a solid start and be able to cross the essentials off your list. :D
Listed below are some useful details if you're planning to go there and aren't sure where to start:
Transportation Arriving to Zanzibar:
Zanzibar, Tanzania is an archipelago with connecting flights from most major international cities to Daar Es Salam. Flight prices vary according to the tourist season.
Flights: via flights from Daar Es Salam, Tanzania to Stone Town.
Ferry: It’s also possible to arrive from Daar Es Salam by ferry in about 2 hours
Taxi: From the airport, it’s easy to book a taxi in advance online or you can get a taxi from there.
Transportation around Zanzibar
There is a public bus system that runs around the island. The buses are known as Dola Dolas and are very inexpensive (only a few dollars). This is a low-cost option that is ideal if you are not in a hurry, want a more local cultural experience, and are not picky about where you sit. However, keep in mind that they are not always on time, and you may have to wait beside the highway for them to pass.
Taxi or Shuttle
I decided to hire a taxi to take me from one city to another because I was traveling alone, had my bag with me, and didn't have much time. Prices can range anywhere from $20 to $40, and they can be lower if you book the rides ahead of time and pay as you go, which I did.
I recommend this if you want AC and comfortable transportation. Also, I frequently found people in my hostels who would split the cost of a taxi to the next city with me.
I booked everything with Mr. Alii from Zanzibar Taxi. He was friendly, on time, and very helpful. His van was comfy and is was a nice way to get around.
Best time to go:
Zanzibar's seasons are diametrically opposed to those of the Northern Hemisphere. It's actually better to go in July or August, when the rest of the world is having summer, because the beach isn't as hot. Even in August, the temperature is around 27- 30 degrees Celsius, which is cooler than many places in Europe, including the south, during peak summer when schools are out.
It's important to note that the sun is extremely strong in Zanzibar, with little shade or available sun umbrellas, so if you're prone to sunburn, I'd recommend bringing 50 SPF sunscreen.
While I normally use 30 SPF in Europe without issue, you will be beet red after only an hour in the sun in Zanzibar. Furthermore, many people take malaria medication before visiting Tanzania and Zanzibar in general, which teaches the effectiveness of sunscreen and causes many people to burn more easily.
You do NOT want to burn while you're there as everything amazing you'll want to visit is outside. Don't make the mistake of buring yourself to a crisp and not being able to go to the beach or enjoy your time outdoors!
I recommend that you purchase a SIM card as soon as you arrive at the airport. Yes, it's a little more expensive, but trust me when I say you'll want to have the Google Maps feature in Stone Town right away; there are many tiny alleys, and it's very easy to get lost without it!
If you don't buy a SIM card at the airport, you can definitely get one in tourist areas around town. However, as a female solo traveler, I prefer to get one right away so that I never feel lost in a new city or unable to find my way back to my hostel or hotel.
I recommend changing a bit of money (like 30 USD see XE.COM exchange rate here) at the Zanzibar airport when you arrive to have some local currency (Zanzibar Shilling) on you as if you arrive at night, it’s not as easy to change money or find an ATM and they are not so easy to find. There are many places around the island in Zanzibar that accept USD for accommodation prices or even at restaurants and they will give you change back in local currency. More info on the Zanzibar Shilling here.
However, if you’re going to one of the smaller towns or coastal villages, change a bit of money beforehand as ATMs can be harder to find except at some more upscale hotels and resorts. Zanzibar is one place where paying by card is available only at more expensive places so it’s important to have enough cash on you. If you’re someone who feels uncomfortable carrying cash, get a money belt and carry locks for your luggage if you’re leaving it in hostels or hotels.
Be sure to carry small denominations if you're not staying in expensive places or they might not always have enough change to give you so avoid carrying 100 $ bills if possible.
You need a visa to go to Tanzania and this part can actually be a bit unnerving so make sure you consider planning this step in advance.
There are two options:
1- Dar Es Salaam Airport upon arrival: If you haven’t planned in advance, you can get a visa at the airport arrivals. However, I would honestly not recommend this as if many planes are arriving at the same time, crowds of people are waiting to apply for their visa and you just have to wait there until you get to the counter. Then you have to wait again. Then finally you get your visa. When I went, it was a sh$t show..
2- Apply for Tanzania visa online: With this option, you apply online and upload your passport information, pay and they send you your visa. I would honestly recommend this as you will save yourself possibly hours upon arrival and headache. It could be that since COVID they have updated this process but I will always choose online options whenever I travel when possible.
Lodging in Zanzibar, whether hostel or hotel, is extremely affordable depending on your budget and comfort expectations. There are numerous options available. I stayed in hostels with shared rooms and toilets on occasion, but you can also stay in a comfortable bungalow with your own toilet and shower. If you want something a little more luxurious, there are guesthouses, hotels, and high-end resorts with pools and restaurants to choose from. Because the seaside villages are small, I recommend making reservations ahead of time.
Zanzibar has a long history of international influence and spice trading, so there are many flavors and price ranges to choose from. There is a night market in Stone Town with a variety of grilled seafood options, as well as restaurant options of various cuisines and prices.
There are restaurants serving local cuisine, British-style pubs, Indian restaurants, Italian restaurants, and so on. Prices are very resonable and you can eat for as little as a few dollars or spend 100$ on a piece of fish.
Chips Mayai - a french fry omellete which is absolutely delicuous and an amazing breakfast, snack, dinner, whatever.
Locals communicate in English and Swahili, and a little Swahili goes a long way in Zanzibar. A simple Jambo (hello) will bring a smile to anyone's face, and Asante is a much more friendly way to say thank you.
Local People -
I spent the majority of my time in the beach villages and found the locals to be extremely friendly and really fun to be around. I went out with my hostelmates several times, and we met groups of locals at dance parties and beach bars karoke, live bands, etc.
There was always lots of music and a super lively atmosphere. What was really cool is that most the hostels I stayed at had restaurants with a bar there so it was easy to talk to the people staying there as well as the people who worked there. When I travel alone anywhere, aside from dinners or tours, in the evening I always go out with a group from the hostel or or hang out at the hostel in the evenings.
These guys worked at Sagando Hostel in Michamvi, it was a fantastic atmosphere, they had music every night and it was super easy to just head to my bungalow when I got tired.
The "Beach Masai"
Interestingly enough, the Masai, who normally live in the Serengeti, go to Zanzibar to sell their handcrafts, art, and jewelry. I have to say I had some of the most interesting conversations with them and really loved hanging out with them. I saw the same group every day and would end up chatting to them. They're quite amazing and I think it was fascinating to ask them questions about life and to attempt to explain US politics to them (they asked).
Some of them spoke some English and Italian (maybe other languages but that's what I heard).
Incidentally, if you're as curious as I was at how they don't go to the dentist but have sparkling Colgate smiles, they use miswak twig.
The Eastern side of the island is greatly affected by the tide, so when you plan your trip, it’s very important to keep this in mind. Otherwise, you could end up on a beach without water during the day - this happened to me in Michamvi!
There are various snorkeling areas on the southern portion of the archipelago but I stayed on the eastern side so cannot speak to how it is but there are other blogs you can check if you'd like more information.
Here are some I found helpful:
Zanzibar Beaches I like..
This beach is fantastic for swimming and walking on the beach, and there are many activities available, such as snorkeling and a sunset cruise. There are many guys selling these on the beach, so make sure to bargain and compare prices before booking something. In the evenings, there are numerous restaurants to choose from. Because this is one of the more popular beaches, it is not as cheap as the others, and staying on the beach costs more. It's also close to Kendra, which you can walk to in the afternoon before the tide comes in.
Nungwi has an awesome sunset boat trip that goes I think everyday.. Zanzibar boat Adventure
Michamwi is one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches I have ever seen. I arrived early in the evening and the beach was a light pink color, and I could count the number of people on it.
This place is nice to chill and they have nice beach bars with music in the evenings and some great hostels. But keep in mind that due to the tide, sometimes during the day, the entire beach disappears completely for about a kilometer!! I’m not even kidding. I woke up one day in Michamvi and the beach was gone in the morning and came back around 5 pm! That day, I decided to go snorkeling on the other side of the bay in Pingwe since there is always water no matter what time of day you go.
The food there looks incredible and the seafood is super fresh. It's a really cool atmosphere even if you just grab a coffee or a cold drink on their terrasse in the back.
This beach is absolutely beautiful and fantastic for a fun atmosphere, great restaurants and beach parties and there are a variety of lodging options. The water is mostly shallow and present the whole day despite the tide although it does rise in the evenings.
Since Paje a long beach with shallow water it’s the top one for kite surfing and there are many schools to choose from although I recommend checking the ratings to be sure they have trained instructors and take safety precautions as there are random guys on the beach who offer to teach you but they don’t have teaching licenses usually.
Here are some of the kite schools:
Lodging in Paje:
Absolutely loved this place. Had my own bungalow with a huge bed, mosquito nest, and the room rate included breakfast.
They have a restaurant and bar there which made it super easy to meet people and the people who work there are awesome. There are always people there to have breakfast with or a snack and in the evening people meet up and go eat a restaurant or go walk around or check out the local music nights or beach parties.
While I didn't stay at this place myself since I wanted a hostel to meet people more easily, I heard good things about this place from people that I met.
Stone Town is the capital of the former Zanzibar Sultanate, and also the eastern connector for both the spice trade and unfortunately the slave trade for Eastern Africa as well. The city has a rich history combined with a mix of architectural influence from Swahili culture, Arab, Persian, Indian, and European design influences.
The coast line is dotted with 19th century buildings while the Old Town is filled with winding labyrinths of small alleys with beautiful painted doors and colorful, decorative elements. There is a night market by the water with all sorts of different foods to try as well as
Check with your doctor beforehand to see what vaccine recommendations you should get. For people who are going to mainland Tanzania for safaris first there is always a recommendation for malaria pills and different immunogists will tell you that you need them in Zanzibar or not. I'll leave that up to you.
So there you have it! This is by no means everything available to do in Zanzibar there are so many more places you could go and things you could do! But I wanted to share this wonderful place so that if you're looking for something off the beaten beach path, this is an affordable option with a lot to offer. I will definitely be back I absolutely loved it!!
ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany
I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).
If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.
Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life.
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