Welcome to Zanzibar
Zanzibar is the number one beach location in East Africa. It is a wonderful island, with classic tropical beaches, lush plantations, an incredible history and a fascinating culture. Apart from historic Stone Town, with its labyrinth of narrow streets, Zanzibar is known for its beautiful palm-fringed beaches and pristine coral reefs.
The monsoons that blow across the Indian Ocean have allowed contact between Persia, Arabia, India and the coast of east Africa (including the islands of Zanzibar) for over 2,000 years. The first European arrivals were Portuguese 'navigators' looking for a trade route to India. They reached Zanzibar at the end of the 15th century and established a trading station here and at other points on the East African coast. At the end of the 17th century the Portuguese were ousted by the Omani Arabs. During this period, Zanzibar became a major slaving centre. In 1840, the Omani Sultan Said moved his court from Muscat to Zanzibar, and the island became an Arab state and an important centre of trade and politics in the region. Many European explorers, including Livingstone and Stanley, began their expeditions into the interior of Africa from Zanzibar during the second half of the 19th century. Zanzibar was a British protectorate from 1890 until 1963, when the state gained independence. In 1964, the sultan and the government were overthrown in a revolution. In the same year, Zanzibar and the newly independent country of Tanganyika combined to form the United Republic of Tanzania.
The indigenous language spoken throughout Zanzibar is Swahili (called Kiswahili locally). This language is also spoken as a first language by Swahili people along the east African coast, particularly in Kenya and mainland Tanzania. English is widely spoken and understood.
Most of the people in Zanzibar are Muslim and all towns and villages on Zanzibar Island have mosques. Visitors to Zanzibar Town (Stone Town) cannot fail to hear the evocative sound of the muezzins calling people to prayer from the minarets, especially for the evening session at sunset. There are also small populations of Christians and Hindus.
Zanzibar is a few degrees south of the equator and enjoys a tropical climate that is largely dominated by the Indian Ocean monsoons. The kasikazi winds are from the north and occur in the winter months bringing the short rains. The long rains, known as mwaka, arrive in March and last until late May or June. January through March is generally hot and dry with little rainfall. April through June is wet because of the long rains which start to taper off in May. July through October are ideal months for visiting Zanzibar because the average temperature is 25 C, the air is dry and breezy and there is little rainfall. November and December are when the short rains appear. Average rainfall in Zanzibar is about 165 cm (65") and the average temperature is 26 C (79 F).
Cash (US Dollars) and credit cards are accepted at hotels and at any Bureau de Change.
220/230 V. square pin adapter (same plugs as UK)
As Zanzibar is situated in a malaria zone, it is recommended that you consult your physician on the correct preventative medication required before you travel.
WHAT TO PACK
Take along your best beach and casual wear, perfect for the day. Take an umbrella or rain poncho if travelling from October to January or March to June. When in town women and men should have their shoulders and knees covered. Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt are perfectly fine but halter-tops and miniskirts are insulting to the local population. The dress for dinner is smart casual and gents are required to wear long trousers. Sunglasses and suntan lotion are a must.
South African Passport holders do not require a visa.
THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO SEE ON YOUR ZANZIBAR VACATION
Whether you spend your days lazing by the pool, sipping cocktails on the beach at sunset, diving in warm waters with excellent visibility or enjoying a Dhow cruise around small island, your Zanzibar holiday will be a memorable experience.
Diving- With living reefs surrounding the islands, Zanzibar has excellent dive locations. There are plenty of places where the water temperature is warm, visibility is usually excellent, and currents are weak, all of which contributes to an ideal location for first time and novice divers. In addition to the warm and still waters full of colourful fish, there are many challenging dives as well. If you want to surf the current through a ravine, go for deep water, or search for wrecks, there are dive companies that can make it happen for you. Many of the larger resorts on the north and east coasts have professionally-run dive shops as well. Qualified divers must produce certification and log book.
Shopping- Whether you’re in the market for T-shirts, spices, kangas, furniture or hand sewn pillow covers, Zanzibar is one of the last places left for fun shopping and bargain hunts. You will find the inevitable ashtray carved out of a coconut shell, but there are enough Tinga-tinga paintings, woodcarvings and woven goods to keep almost everyone in the market for a tasteful souvenir. Gizenga Street, off Kenyatta Road by the Post Office is an excellent street for finding all the things mentioned above plus postcards, stamps, skin-covered drums, spices, and antiques. Sasik, a store representing a women’s cooperative, is highly recommended for locally sewn pillow covers in traditional Arabic and Persian patterns. There are also some antique stores that, although they may have more of a junk store appearance, have some interesting pieces that may bear historical importance. Kangas, the local cloth worn by women over their dresses and covering their heads, are available next to Darajani and in town near the majestic cinema.
Stone Town- Livingstone House, on the northeast side of the town, this old building is now the main office of the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation (ZTC). It was built around 1860 for Sultan Majid. At this time Zanzibar was used as a starting point by many of the European missionaries and pioneers who explored eastern and central Africa during the second half of the 19th century. David Livingstone, probably the most famous explorer of them all, stayed in this house before sailing to the mainland to begin his last expedition in 1866. Other explorers, such as Burton, Speke, Cameron and Stanley, also stayed here while preparing for their own expeditions. The house was later used by members of the island’s Indian community, and in 1947 it was bought by the colonial government for use as a scientific laboratory for research into clove diseases. After independence and the revolution it became the Zanzibar headquarters of the Tanzania Friendship Tourist Bureau, the forerunner of today’s ZTC.
The Palace Museum- A large white building with castellated battlements situated on Mizingani Road, Originally called the Sultan’s Palace, it was built in the late 1890s for members of the sultan’s family. From 1911, it was used as the Sultan of Zanzibar’s official residence, but was renamed the People’s Palace after the 1964 Revolution, when Sultan Jamshid was overthrown. It continued to be used as government offices until 1994 when the palace was turned into a museum dedicated to the history of the sultans of Zanzibar.
Beit al Ajaib (House of Wonders)- This large, white building dominates the waterfront area of Zanzibar Town (Stone Town), and is one of its best-known landmarks. A perfect rectangle, it is one of the largest buildings on the island even today, rising over several storeys, surrounded by tiers of pillars and balconies, and topped by a large clock tower. After more than a century of use as a palace and government offices, it opened in 2002 as the Museum of History and Culture and contains some fascinating exhibits and displays. It’s a pity to rush your visit: allow yourself enough time to browse. The Arab Fort - situated next to the House of Wonders. is a large building, with high, dark-brown walls topped by castellated battlements. It was built between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi group of Omani Arabs, who had gained control of Zanzibar in 1698, following almost two centuries of Portuguese occupation. The fort was used as a defence against the Portuguese and against a rival Omani group, the Mazrui, who occupied Mombasa at that time.
The Palaces at Mizingani (formerly the People’s Palace)- Constructed on part of the site of an even older palace called Beit el Sahel, which was originally built for Sultan Said between 1827 and 1834. Contemporary accounts describe Beit el Sahel as a two-storey whitewashed palace, with a roof of green and red tiles, separated from the beach by a high wall, with a grove of pomegranates behind. The accounts go on to describe how Sultan Said spent three days of each week at Beit el Sahel, and the rest of the time at his country palace at Mtoni, about 5km north of Zanzibar Town. He often walked from the town to Mtoni even though his stables were full of Arabian horses. Every morning, the best horses were brought out from the stables and fastened to the seaward side of the wall with long ropes, to roam about and wade in the soft sand at low tide.