Zanzibar is an island partner within the United Republic of Tanzania, located in the Indian Ocean about 38 km off the coast of mainland Tanzania at six degrees south of the Equator. Zanzibar is made up of many islands, the main two being Unguja (sometimes called Zanzibar) and Pemba. The highest point is 390 feet above sea level.
Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers to its shores for centuries. The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English have all been here at one time or another. Some, particularly the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly Islamic (97%) – the remaining 3% is made up of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The earliest visitors to Zanzibar were Arab traders who are said to have arrived in the 8th century. The earliest building that remains on Zanzibar is the mosque at Kizimkazi, which dates from 1107, and is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed with the monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices. The two main islands, Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs, being relatively small, and therefore fairly easy to defend. Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate from Muscat to Zanzibar, perhaps making it easier to protect, where he and his descendants ruled for over 130 years. Most of the wealth lay in the hands of the Arab community, who were the main landowners at that time.
Widespread intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans gave rise to a coastal community with distinctive features, and a language derived in part from Arabic, which became known as Swahili. The name Swahili comes from the Arab word sawahil, which means ‘coast’. The Zanzibar descendants of this group were not greatly involved in the lucrative slave, spice and ivory trades. Instead, they immersed themselves mainly in agriculture and fishing. Those Shirazi that did not intermarry retained their identity as a separate group. Indian traders arrived in connection with the spice and ivory trade, and quickly settled as shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans and professionals. The British became involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa, and attempting to suppress the slave trade centred in Zanzibar.
Goods from Britain docked here before they moved on to other parts of Africa. No longer very prosperous in the fiscal sense, the island has a wealth of historical monuments to visit which commemorate the African, British and particularly Arab influences- sultan’s palaces, cathedrals, mosques, fortresses and old colonial houses. “Spice Tours” are the ideal way to see the island’s historic sites and spice plantations. There is also a sanctuary for the rare Zanzibar duiker and the red colobus monkey in the protected Jozani Forest, just twenty-five kilometers from the town.
The main language is Kiswahili. Even if you only use a few words whilst you are in Zanzibar you will make many friends. English is widely spoken and many people also speak Arabic. Other European languages such as French and Italian are known by some local people, especially around the tourist areas.
The combined population of Zanzibar including Pemba is approx 1,000,000.
About 95% of the local population is Muslim. The remainder are Hindu or Christian and some with traditional beliefs. As well as many many mosques, Stone Town hosts an Anglican and a Catholic Cathedral and a Hindu Temple.
3 hours ahead of GMT.
Power system is 220-240 volts ac, plugs 13amp usually square pin.
The population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a rich Swahili culture. Because of religious and cultural traditions dress code is important, and men and women should dress appropriately when away from the beach, ie covering shoulders and legs too below the knees. Beachwear on the beach is fine, although nude or topless bathing is not tolerated.
When in villages or in Stone Town wearing beach wear would (and does) cause offence. Try to wear loose-fitting, non-transparent clothing when in public.
Zanzibari people are generally very warm, open and hospitable, and your respect for permission before taking photographs or filming local people is appreciated. Do not take photos or film at sensitive government sites including the State House, seaport, airport or military sites. If uncertain, it is always better to ask.
Public consumption of alcohol is not permissible, except in hotels and tourist areas, bars and some restaurants, where it is no problem.
Public displays of affection such as kissing are not customary and generally considered offensive, unless behind closed doors. Local customs should respected. Mosques are sacred places an there is generally no entry to non-Muslims, unless accompanied by a person of the faith who can show you around except during the times for congregational prayer, which are five times daily. When offering or accepting things, try and remember to offer and receive with your right hand. This is the hand which should also be used for eating.
Zanzibar experiences ideal holiday weather for most of the year, with the exception of April and May, which are seasonally subject to the long rains. Short rains can occur in November but are characterized by short showers, which do not last long.
The heat of summer is seasonally often calmed by windy conditions, resulting in pleasant sea breezes, particularly on the North and East coast. Being near the equator, the islands are warm all year round but officially summer and winter peak in December and June respectively. Zanzibar is blessed with an average of 7-8 hours of sunshine daily.
SUMMER – November to May Hot, some humidity with some rains in November, May and June. WINTER – June to October Warm with rains in June, otherwise sunny. BEST – December to March and July to October
The unit of local currency is the Tanzania Shilling (TSh). American dollars in cash or travellers cheques are acceptable in many places around town. Credit cards are still almost unknown in Zanzibar, and if you do manage to find a place to use them there will usually be a surcharge of at least 10%. Bartering about prices is common in Zanzibar marketplaces. Hotel, restaurant and tour operator prices are generally non-negotiable.
A variety of locally produced crafts can be found in the shops and bazaars of StoneTown. Buying such goods benefits the local community so we encourage you to look out for such goodies.
All visitors must have a valid passport and visa to enter Tanzania. Visa fees vary according to the country you originate from. Visas can be obtained from Tanzania Diplomatic Representatives abroad.
Visitors traveling to Tanzania don’t need anymore a valid international certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever and Cholera!
Anti-malaria medication is recommended when traveling within East Africa. Anti-malaria tablets are recommended to be taken a few days prior to arrival, during your stay and for a short period after returning home.