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What to take to Zanzibar: 10 travel tips for first timers (+packing list)

What to take to Zanzibar: 10 travel tips for first timers (+packing list)

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In this article you’ll find all the useful information you need for your first trip to Zanzibar. This includes a packing list, information about weather and seasons in Zanzibar, how to dress appropriately and which local attractions are the best if you are short of time. These insights come to you first-hand from our last trip to Zanzibar. You’re welcome.

Zanzibar is an island where less is more. When the water is so turquoise that it looks photoshopped, or you just can’t wipe that smile off your face every time you share a ‘Jambo!’ with a local, then you know you are closer to understanding the meaning of life.

[Jambo = ‘Hello’ in Swahili, the language spoken on Zanzibar island]

Here are some important tips for traveling to Zanzibar:

1. You can get your visa at a Tanzanian consulate prior to arriving, or receive it at any of the following border points:

  • Dar es Salaam International Airport
  • Zanzibar International Airport
  • Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA)
  • Namanga Entry Point (Tanzania-Kenya boarder point)

You can find detailed visa information here. The visa fee depends on your nationality. 

Zanzibar | ©

2. Consider the seasons before you plan your trip to Zanzibar:

  • The dry season or ‘winter’ in Zanzibar is from June to October – the weather is sunny and dry, and the temperature hovers around 25ºC (77ºF)
  • The peak rainy season (with long rain storms)  from March to May
  • The lesser rainy season (with shorter rain storms)  from November to December or the beginning of January
  • The short dry season or ‘summer’ in Zanzibar  January to March

3. What clothes to take to Zanzibar: Take light clothes, but remember to pack long sleeves and trousers/skirts. These are a good idea because Zanzibar is a Muslim state, and you should take care to dress modestly. Another option is to get a large shawl (or kanga as it’s called Zanzibar) to cover your shoulders or wrap around your waist.

4. Every hotel on the island offers more or less the same tours to the best attractions in Zanzibar. If you’re traveling in a group of more than three people (or if you can make friends with other people in your hotel), feel free to negotiate with your tour operator to get a cheaper price.

Zanzibar | ©

5. Take the Safari Blue tour if you are into boats, snorkeling, swimming in lagoons, hugging huuuge baobabs, feasting on seafood on the beach or basking on a sand dune in the middle of the ocean. We haggled the price of this tour down to $60 per person, but later we heard that we could have got it for as little as 50$.

6. Visit the house where Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar City. Be warned though, that this is a place for true worshipers, as there is not much to see. The house has been turned into a hotel and there’s only a small sign and a few posters for decoration. After you’ve payed homage to the Queen vocalist, continue to the old part of Zanzibar’s capital, known as Stone Town. Sit down for a cup of coffee on a terrace with an ocean view and you’ll be rewarded with a memorable sunset.

Here’s the address of Freddie Mercury’s House in Zanzibar City:

7. The fish market in Zanzibar City is one of the main attractions on the island, but this is no place for the fainthearted. The stench is horrible and some of the sights are hard to swallow (we only recommend swallowing them after they’ve been cooked). If these lines make you cringe, you’d better head to the spice stalls and skip the fish area.

8. Speak with the locals. Those who work in the tourism industry speak English fluently and, more importantly, are very friendly and open-minded. It’s a good idea to take a few small souvenirs from your country and give them to locals you’ve befriended. This is something very few tourists do, and I can assure you it will bring a broad smile to the face of your new friends.

Zanzibar hammock life | ©

9. What to eat in Zanzibar: Zanzibar is a foodie’s heaven, especially if you like fresh tropical fruit (mango, pineapple, coconuts, passion fruit, etc). Fish and seafood dishes grace menus everywhere and are always delicious, but you might struggle to find proper meals if you don’t eat fish. Local beers typically consist of drinkable lagers, while the wine is usually imported from South Africa and is suitably tasty. I can thoroughly recommend trying a cocktail made of Tanzanian vodka and fresh mango juice.

Zanzibar beers | ©

10. A packing list for Zanzibar:

– water shoes

– antibacterial gel or wet wipes

– mosquito repellent (but double check if it’s specially formulated to ward off tropical mosquitoes)

– beach towels

– snorkeling mask and flippers

– sunscreen with the highest available factor

– sunglasses (according to research, this is one of the most common items for travelers to forget at home)

– enough money in cash, as ATMs are scarce on the island and, due to some sketchy technology, better avoided altogether

– yellow fever vaccine (although this is not obligatory for Zanzibar)

– malaria prevention medication (there are pills you can take in advance)

Fun fact:

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Its name is composed of zengi (the name of the local people) and barr (meaning shore). Back in 1964, the states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one country, Tanzania, whose name is a clipped compound of the two former states.

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  • comment-avatar
    Freya 5 years ago

    Hi Marina, Yiu mention bringing enough cash but what’s your recommendation for currency?

    • comment-avatar

      Hi Freya, it’s best to bring US dollars with you. Just make sure to take banknotes that are not from the 2003 emission or earlier, because they won’t accept them. There is no need to exchange dollars for the local currency.

  • comment-avatar

    Thank you for writing this guide, it helped put my mind at ease! Just an extra tip, make sure to take the Yellow Fever vaccine around 10 days before the trip as it takes a few days to work in your system! Also, when I had mine the doctor said that they ask for the Yellow Fever certificate at immigration at the Zanzibar airport?

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