About Zanzibar

Zanzibar is an archipelago located in the Indian Ocean consisting of two main islands Unguja (known as Zanzibar internationally) and Pemba (also known by its Arabic name Al Khundra meaning Green Island) along with several smaller islets.

Located roughly 6° south of the equator, and 20-50km off the Tanzanian mainland, Zanzibar is world renowned for its pristine white sand beaches, beautiful world heritage site capital, seaweed and spice production, tropical climate and colourful history.

General Information

Time Zone
GMT + 3
Tanzanian Shilling (please see a reputable beau de change for exchange rates) >> click here for a currency converter
Official languages
Kiswahili and English
95% Islam followed by Hinduism and Christianity (please be sensitive to this by covering shoulders and knees whilst in Stonetown.
Standard swimwear on the beach is fine but topless is discouraged).
200-240 V AC, 50 Hz (British three pronged plug sockets)
A valid international drivers licence is required to drive or heir a car on Zanzibar. Alternatively you may use your national driving licence
in conjunction with a month long permit which you pay for at a local police station.
International dialling code
+255 (then drop the first 0 then the local number)
Tropical. The kasikazi winds are from the north and occur in October and November bringing short rains. The long rains, known as mwaka, arrive in March and last until late May or June. Annual average temperature is 26°C but it will feel a great deal warmer in the summer and winter months.
Visa requirements
All visitors require a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay. Tourist visas may be obtained upon arrival at Zanzibar
International Airport (be sure to carry 50$ for this purpose and be advised that the international departure tax is 30$). Not all
nationalities require a visa to enter the country so check with the Tanzanian embassy, consulate of high commission. Residency visas for foreign nationals are acquired through ZIPA.


History and Politics
Although lacking in natural products of value (the island is only 2,000 km2) Zanzibar’s strategic location ensured it enjoyed, and endured, a fruitful trading role linking East Africa to the Arab and European world. By the 7th century AD Arab and Persian populations (trading with their home lands) had integrated with the local Bantu people to form a society and language known as Kiswahili (thought to be named from the Arabic word sahil meaning coast). Swahili is now spoken in many parts of East Africa yet only Zanzibar can claim its origins.

By the 15th century Zanzibar, along with the rest of the East African coast, was a Portuguese stronghold – a reign that lasted around 200 years. Although the Augustan mission to convert the Island to Roman Catholicism was largely unsuccessful there are still Portuguese echoes in contemporary Zanzibar – such as bullfights on Pemba, words left in Swahili that originated from Portuguese, and the patterns of the kanga (ubiquitous local cloth) that are said to have originated from Portuguese handkerchiefs.


In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultan of Oman, which developed an economy of trade and cash crops with the rulling Arab elites. Plantations were developed to grow spices thus bestowing Zanzibar its Spice Islands name. Ivory and Slave trade also featured heavily in Zanzibar economics – the later of which ignited the interest of the last outside ruining power, the British, in the 18th century in their qust to abolish the practice. The two powers formed an uneasy allience of true and puppet power which witnessed the guiness book of records shortest war in history (38 minutes) when the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit-al-Hukum palace.

The island gained independence from the British in December 1963 as a consitutional monarchy. Following a bloody Zanzibar revolution (in which thousands or Arabs and Indains were killed and many more expelled) and a brief stitnt as an independent republic Zanzibar and Pember joined with the former colony of Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania in April of 1964.

Although officially part of Tanzania politically Zanzibar still rules itself as a semi-autonamous state. In recent times (since the early 1990’s) the Island has been dominated by two political parties, the Civic United Front (CUF) and the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). The close party rivalry has often concluded in bitter clashes – both in the political arena and on the streets. The height of this tension was perhaps reached in January of 2001 when 35 were killed and a further 600 injured after the government shot into a crowd of protestors. Differences between have by no means been laid aside and as late as April 2008 confrontations (non-violent) have erupted.


At present the Revolutionary Council and House of Representatives (50 seats elected by universal suffrage) is resided over by President Amani Abeid Karume and his chief minister Shansi Vaui Nohodha. The next general election, in October 2010, will herald in a new president, from the same party or from the opposition, as Amani Karume is no longer eligible to run due to longevity of service (each service is five years).

Infrastructure and Economics

Tourism, although still in its infant stage (lest then 100,000 tourists visited Zanzibar annually on average), is fast becoming a staple in the islands economy and the main foreign exchange earner. Through greatly eclipsed by Indonesia (also known as the spice island) Zanzibar is still the world’s third ranked producer of cloves (7%) and spices. Other traditional sources of income include fishing, boat production and seaweed farming – the later of which one should be careful not to disturb when out swimming, snorkelling or, in low tide, walking as it can be hard to determine what is natural and what is farmed seaweed.

Road transport on Zanzibar has vastly improved in recent times with 85% of the islands 1,600km of roads now with a tarmac surface. Sea transport has also witnessed an expansion of late resulting in the strong links to ports such as Dar es Salaam, Pemba, Tanga, Mtwara and Mombasa. Access to Zanzibar by air is not a problem as Pemba and Zanzibar island are furnished with their own aiports. Bar from Italian charted plans, however, the majority of international flights still have to stop of in Kenya or Tanzania on route to Zanzibar due to the unsuitability of the runway to accommodate large jets. This is a situation that the Zanzibar Touirst Commission are in the throws of resolving.


The education system in Zanzibar is slightly different than that of the Tanzanian mainland as compulsory education is from Standard One to Form Two, while on the mainland it is from Standard One to Seven. The national examination of Tanzania is, however, shared by both mainland and Zanzibar during O. Level education. Unfortunatley fewer students from Zanzibar pass the exam than students from the mainland. For higher education the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA), formally the Institue of Kiswahili and Foreign Language (TAKILUKI) is available.

Zanzibar’s energy comes from electricity, petroleum (and related products) coal, wood and kerosene. The islands mains electric, 70% or which comes from mainland Tanzania, can be temperamental with power cuts lasting up to a month (May 19th – June 20th 2008) so back up generators are advisable. The public telecommunications company (TTCL), however, is far more reliable and, coupled with the islands mobile networks, domestic and international calls along with internet connections are not a problem.

The Island

Zanzibar town, and the world heritage quarter known as Stowntown in particular, is a wonderful amalgamation of architectural influences and cultural footprints that creates a truly unique atmosphere and experience. Famous for it’s formidable carved Zanzibar doors, narrow alleyways, bustling markets, cathedrals and abundant mosques Stonetown is a great place to simply wonder around on your own. Safe during the day and compact you will have difficulty getting lost as most alleyways will eventually lead you to a known monument or main road. It is a pleasant way to engage with the local culture and explore the towns many shops, architectural sites of interest and markets.

Alternatively, with plenty to see and do (Arab Fort, House of Wonders, Hammani Persian Baths, Old Dispensary, Dr Livingston’s House etc), guides are available if you are on a tight schedule, or simply prefer a more structure approach. Tours are also available to the small islets such as Chumbe, Chapwani, Bawe and Prison Island that lay just off the West of Stonetown for snorkelling or lunch.

Most facilities – banks, beau de change, internet cafes, post office, travel agents, police stations, supermarkets, hospitals, restaurants and bars etc are available in the capital (to a degree) but are scarce on the rest of the Island. Should you have any serious problems the highly developed port of Dar-es-Salaam is a short flight or boat ride away (at a reasonable expense).

For the best beaches on the Island one has to move away from Stowntown, and the west, and head either to the east or to the north of Zanzibar. The unspoilt north coast ends at Ras Nungwi (Ras meaning tip) a sleepy fishing village on the northern edge of Zanzibar Island. Nungwi is the dhow building capital of Zanzibar and one can witness the traditional methods of dhow construction in action. This area of Zanzibar has some fantastic beaches and nearby coral reefs which are ideal for diving and snorkelling. The north coast boast some of the largest and internationally aware hotels/resorts with many guests taking advantage of all inclusive packages to relax in the sun and enjoy the scenery for two weeks. Nungwi also hosts the infamous ‘full moon parties’ in high season – which are certainly worth a visit for those not of the faint hearted.

The East coast stretches from Michamvi in the north to Kizimikazi in the south and has the largest number of pristine white sand beaches on the Island. Along the cost diving, snorkelling, kite surfing, sailing and other water sports facilities are available to take full advantage of the natural playground. Alternatively, for those wishing simply to relax, there are a number of Spa’s along the beach should you whish to break up your days of lying in the white sand and swimming in the turquoise sea.

For nature lovers there is the Zala Park, Jozni Forest (home to the indigenous Red Colobus Monkey) and bottle-nosed dolphins on this side of the island.

Accommodation ranges from large resorts through to small guesthouses of self-catering villas. Paje, which sports its own large stretch of unspoilt beach, acts as an unofficial centre to the south east due to its strategic location with Bwejuu, Dongwe and Michamvi to the north and Jambiani, Macunduchi and Kizimikazi to the south.

Pemba is Zanzibar’s sister island. Despite many years of isolation from the outside world, Pemba is receiving a small but growing number of foreign visitors. The infrastructure if far more rudimentary than on Unguja, and there are significantly fewer tourists. Beautiful beaches, natural forests and outstanding diving are just some of the attractions on offer. Misali island, off Pemba’s east coast, is idyllic and excellent for diving. For remote beauty and a sense of exotic wilderness Pemba is unforgettable.

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