Tips Zanzibar: what you need to know before you go

Zanzibar is a great island for anyone who loves sun, sea, beach, water sports and adventure. You will find the most beautiful beaches and a beautiful blue and wonderfully warm sea. But there are some handy tips for Zanzibar that you should know before you get on the plane.

Applying for a visa

This also happens to the best of us sometimes: you forget to apply for a visa. Don’t! Because you do need a visa for Zanzibar. If you do forget to apply for it in time, it is not a big disaster and you can also arrange it locally. But it really is a lot easier if you do it in advance.

Read all about a visa for Zanzibar >>

Water from the tap

You cannot drink water from the tap on Zanzibar. This is because the water coming out of the tap in Zanzibar is cleaned with chlorine. Locals therefore simply drink water from the tap without any problems. However, this is not recommended. There may still be certain bacteria in the water that we are not used to and which can make you quite ill. Therefore, when on Zanzibar, drink bottled water.

Nungwi, Zanzibar
Nungwi, Zanzibar Island

Dress appropriately

If you are going to Zanzibar make sure you put light clothes in your suitcase. This is because it is hot there all year round so you will want to carry light fabrics with you. Note that Zanzibar is a Muslim state. So make sure you dress appropriately. That means no provocative clothing. Preferably wear long trousers and t-shirts.

You can also bring a large cloth that you can wrap around your shoulders or wrap around your hips. Of course, you can also buy these locally, this cloth is then called a kanga.

How to communicate?

Swahili is spoken on Zanzibar, an African language spoken mainly in the East of Africa. But don’t be afraid. English is well spoken in the tourist areas. Communicating with locals is therefore no problem at all during your holiday. If you get off the beaten track and enter areas where there are hardly any tourists, it will be more difficult to communicate in English. In any case, it is always good to speak a few words of Swahili.

Learn a few words of Swahili

It is much appreciated by the locals if you teach yourself a few words of Swahili. Therefore a list of useful words & expressions that can come in handy during your trip:

  • Shikamoo – Greeting in a respectful manner
  • Ndio – Yes
  • Hapana – No
  • Asante – Thank you
  • Hodi – May I come in?
  • Habari yako – How are you?
  • Nzuri, asante – Good, thank you
  • Karibu – You’re welcome

Don’t bring seashells

Another handy tip if you are travelling to Zanzibar is that it is forbidden to bring natural materials from Zanzibar. It can be tempting if you find and beautiful shell in the sea or on the beach, but don’t pick up shells. And don’t buy them either. Even with proof of purchase, you are still doing so illegally. And you want to avoid getting into trouble at the airport again at all times, by having to pay a high fine and hand in what you are carrying.

‘Swahili time’

On Zanzibar, time is literally different from ours. For instance, with them, time starts every day at 06:00 in the morning, instead of like ours at 00:00 at night. So if a local on Zanzibar tells you he or she will be there at 1am. Then that could be either at 7am or 7pm. So always make sure that when you agree a time with someone you are sure you are on the same page.

Plastic is forbidden

You might not expect it in an African country, but plastic bags are banned on the island. When you go shopping, you will therefore not be offered a plastic bag any time soon. So always make sure you carry your own bag, or buy a nice (cloth) bag at the local market.

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