Zanzibar Zanzibar – What and how?

ZANZIBAR: THE ARCHIPELAGO

Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. Zanzibar Island (known locally as Unguja, but as Zanzibar internationally) is 60 miles long and 20 miles wide, occupying a total area of approximately 650 square miles. It is characterized by beautiful sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs, and the magic of historic Stone Town – said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa.

STONE TOWN: THE CAPITAL

It may not have a particularly romantic name, but Stone Town is the old city and cultural heart of Zanzibar, little changed in the last 200 years. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand Arab houses whose original owners vied with each other over the extravagance of their dwellings. This one-upmanship is particularly reflected in the brass-studded, carved, wooden doors – there are more than 500 different examples of this handiwork. You can spend many idle hours and days just wandering through the fascinating labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. Stone Town was recently and deservedly declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More information can be found at the UNESCO website.

Most of the houses that can be seen today were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important trading centers in the Indian Ocean region. The coralline rock of Zanzibar was a good building material, but it is also easily eroded. This is evident by the large number of houses that are in a bad state of repair. Several buildings have already been renovated and the Stone Town Conservation Authority has been established to co-ordinate the restoration of the town to its original magnificence.

Map of Zanzibar

PARADISE BEACHES

Zanzibar’s brilliant white beaches lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean provide the perfect place to relax, soak up the sun and take a break from some busy sightseeing. The beaches in Zanzibar are a paradise, interspersed with picturesque fishing villages, where the people live a simple way of life, unchanged over the years. There are more than 25 fantastic beaches in Zanzibar, and some are so peaceful and remote that the only noise breaking the silence is likely to be the ocean.

At the northern tip of the island is Nungwi, approached by a road lined by banana palms, mangroves and coconut trees. This is the dhow building capital of Zanzibar island, so it is a good place to see traditional craftsmen at work.

On the west coast of Zanzibar, Mangapwani beach is worth a visit, and to the east are the beaches of Matemwe, Pwani Mchangani, Kiwengwa, Uroa, Bwejuu and Jambiani, all with stretches of beautiful white sands.

Zanzibar also boasts several small offshore islands which are ideal for a day-trip. Prison (or Changuu) island is the most popular with tourists because it is only a short trip from Stone Town. Other islets near to Stone Town are Chapwani, Chumbe and Bawe.

PEOPLE, RELIGION AND LANGUAGE

Zanzibar’s local people are an incredible mixture of ethnic backgrounds, indicative of her colourful history. Islam is the dominant religion, and practiced by most Zanzibaris, although there are also followers of Christianity and Hinduism. Population is estimated at 800,000, with the largest concentration being Zanzibar City which has approximately 100,000 inhabitants. Zanzibaris speak Swahili (known locally as Kiswahili), a language which is spoken extensively in East Africa. Many believe that the purest form is spoken in Zanzibar as it is the birth place of the language.

FOOD

Zanzibari food tells much about the history of this island, reflecting a number of different influences from many different places around the World. Here you’ll find the Swahili heritage, mixed with ingredients coming from Arab, Portuguese, Indian, British and even Chinese cuisine.

First inhabitants of Zanzibar were Bantu as origin and mainly fishermen. Their diet consisted of fish and seafood (tuna, mackerel, lobster, squid, octopus and oysters) mixed with ingredients from Africa mainland, such as beans, sweet potatoes, manioc, yam and plantains.

Coconut, mango, citrus and rice has been brought by Arabs and Persians during the colonial period. But most of traditions about spices come from India. During the Omani sultanate, commercial relationships between Zanzibar and India intensified, influencing also cuisine with recipes like chutney, masala, biriyani, curry and samosa, adapted with ingredients available on the island.

Portuguese introduced large use of manioc, maize and pineapple. Germans and British instead, even if not mixing much with the local population, left traces in recipes such as pepper steak. The most recent influences come instead from China, and ingredients like soy sauce are becoming popular during the last years.

But what to choose, if you want to taste the best of Zanzibar cuisine tradition? One of the most typical recipes is pilau, a dish made with rice, meat, coconut, nuts and spices, which clearly reflects its Arab origin. Tasty, not to be missed!

WILDLIFE

There are no large wild animals in Zanzibar, and forest areas such as Jozani are inhabited by monkeys, bush-pigs, small antelopes, civets – and rumor has it, the elusive Zanzibar leopard! Various species of mongoose can also be found on the island. There is a wide variety of birdlife, and a large number of butterflies in rural areas. The coral reefs that surround the East Coast are rich in marine diversity, and make Zanzibar an ideal location for snorkeling and scuba diving.

FESTIVALS

Zanzibar’s most famous event is the Zanzibar International Film Festival, also known as the Festival of the Dhow Countries.  Every July, this event showcases the best of the Swahili Coast arts scene, including Zanzibar’s favorite music, Taarab.

GOVERNMENT

Zanzibar is an island state within the United Republic of Tanzania, and has its own semi-autonomous government made up of a Revolutionary Council and House of Representatives. The present government is led by the island’s President, Ali Mohamed Shein.  The President is also the chairman of the Revolutionary Council, whose members are appointed by the President, and some of which must be selected from the House of Representatives of Zanzibar. The government body responsible for tourism promotion is the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism.

ECONOMY

Fishing and agriculture are the main economic activities of the local people. Zanzibar was once the world’s largest producer of cloves, and her economy was based on large incomes thus derived. Although cloves are still a major export along with coconut products and spices, tourism has been ear-marked as the primary foreign exchange earner, with more visitors coming to Zanzibar each year. Zanzibar’s tourism private sector is represented by the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI).

GETTING TO ZANZIBAR

By air:

Intercontinental flights:  At present, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Dubai and Kenya Airways offer international scheduled flights to Zanzibar. Several large carriers fly into Dar es Salaam, which is only a short trip by air or sea from Zanzibar. Amongst them are British Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates Airlines and Swissair.

Continental flights: Kenya Airways, Precision Air and Ethiopian Airlines have regular flights to Zanzibar. Dar es Salaam is also served by them, as well as by Air Zimbabwe, Egypt Air, Air Malawi, South African Airways, British Airways and others.

Domestic flights: Precision Air, Coastal Aviation, Tropical Air, Regional Air and Flightlink offer a range of scheduled flights between Zanzibar and Tanzania’s main cities. Domestic flights van be booked through Zama Tours & Safaris.

By sea:

There are several sea ferry companies that ply the waters between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. The largest of these is Azam Marine. You can book ferry tickets through a Zama Tours & Safaris.

VISAS AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

All visitors require a passport, valid for the duration of their stay.

In Tanzania visitors are able to obtain visas at any entry point; this time-saving facility is also available to visitors arriving at Zanzibar International Airport. Please be aware that upon arrival you normally have to fill out 2 forms: the Visa form in A4 format and the smaller, blue colored Entry form. Fees are for most visitors 50 USD per person (among the exceptions are for example US and Irish citizens). We advise you to have cash in USD ready entering the airport building. Other points in Tanzania currently offering visa on entry are Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airports, and Namanga on the road border between Tanzania and Kenya. Latest entry requirements and visa information can be found at the website of the Tanzania Embassy in your country or on http://www.tanzaniaconsul.com/visa.html.

Though there is much confusion about the necessity of having a Yellow Fever certificate for Zanzibar, we recommend you to be prepared with this vaccination, as there are regular checks upon arrival.

CURRENCY AND PAYMENTS       

The local currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (Tsh). Presently the approximate exchange rate is US$ 1 = 1,700 Tanzanian Shillings.

Most hotels and restaurants accept credit cards, but be aware that almost all of them will levy a surcharge. Most establishments also accept foreign currency in US$, British Pounds and Euros, and travelers checks. For local shopping, you will need currency in Tanzanian Shillings. You will get the best exchange rate in Stone Town.

ATM: PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ONLY ATMs ON THE ISLAND ARE IN STONE TOWN.

US$: BE AWARE THAT 100$ NOTES OLDER THAN 2006 ARE NOT ACCEPTED IN TANZANIA AND ZANZIBAR

WEATHER & CLIMATE

Zanzibar experiences ideal holiday weather for most of the year.  The heat of summer is seasonally often cooled by windy conditions, resulting in pleasant sea breezes, particularly on the North and East coasts. Being near to the equator, the islands are warm all year round, but officially, summer and winter peak in December and June respectively. This is illustrated statistical weather information shown below. Zanzibar is blessed with an average of 7-8 hours of sunshine daily. Short rains can occur in November but are characterized by short showers which do not last long.  The long rains normally occur in April and May although this is often referred to as the ‘Green Season’ and it typically doesn’t rain every day during that time.

4 seasons are distinguished:

–          From June till September is the long dry season with all four months seeing low levels of rainfall and average temperatures around 25°C. During this period blue skies are likely to be uninterrupted.

–          From October till December Zanzibar is a period smattered with short rains called ‘mwaka’.  Temperatures rise, often getting into the 30s.

–          January and February comprise Zanzibar’s short dry season. The heat soars with average highs at 29°C and while there is very little chance of rain, humidity remains high.

–          March till May receive the prolonged and heavy monsoon rains. However between rainy periods the sun is bound to come out and days still seeing an average of six hours of sunshine.

TIME ZONE        

GMT + 3

OFFICIAL LANGUAGES

Kiswahili & English

ELECTRICIT

220 – 240 V AC, 50 H

INTERNATIONAL DIALING CODE               

+ 255 24, followed by 7-digit local number

HELP US PRESERVE ZANZIBAR’S MAGIC

Zanzibar is unspoilt by the unpleasant effects of mass tourism – the number of visitors to the island is still low, but has been on the rise throughout the 1990’s. It is our hope that increases in tourism do not impact adversely on the magic of Zanzibar, and we humbly ask all visitors to follow a handful of guidelines, ensuring they will not offend the traditional values of the local people or harm the environment in any way. It is typical of the Zanzibaris’ friendly nature that they will not harass you for infringing these guidelines, but you should be aware that this is merely politeness, and is not an excuse for ignoring them!

Please ensure that you dress modestly when off the beach. Women should not expose too much leg and chest, and topless sunbathing is also strongly discouraged.

If you have children and are bringing them to Zanzibar, please make sure that they don’t display their expensive toys in front of their Zanzibari contemporaries. This may instill a false sense of values in the local children, whose parents are unlikely to be able to afford such luxuries.

If you are diving or snorkeling, you may be tempted to collect some pretty shells from Zanzibar’s many coral reefs. Please do not, as this kills entire reefs, the devastating effects of which can be seen in the well-trodden areas of East African coast. Although there are shell sellers, you are asked not to buy shells from them, as it simply encourages this harmful industry.

Zanzibar is an amazingly photogenic place, but if you want to take photographs of people, please ask their permission first out of courtesy.

If you are non-Muslim, then please do not enter any of Zanzibar’s many mosques.

KARIBUNI ZANZIBAR !