Zanzibar – the mention of the name brings to mind aromatic spices, bustling bazaars and brilliant glistening white beaches…
Unguja Island, often called Zanzibar, is just off the coast of Tanzania and forms part of a larger group of islands called the Zanzibar archipelago, many of which are uninhabited. This exotic and mysterious island has enticed travellers and traders for centuries.
Zanzibar’s history has been shaped by its geographical position which, being in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has influenced the trade routes of both traders and colonists. Zanzibar became a power to be reckoned with in its early years, supplying parts of the world with slaves, gold, ivory and silks. Trade with the east brought Islam to the islands, making it an important part of the culture. The arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th century heralded the end of this golden age and the beginning of a struggle for control of the archipelago. The Omani Arabs took over from the Portuguese in the early 18th century. In 1861, Zanzibar separated from Oman and became an independent sultanate. During Sultan Barghash’s rule (from 1870 to 1888), Britain and Germany divided up much of the area, guaranteeing their economic control over the remaining coastal strip. In 1890, the British proclaimed a protectorate over Zanzibar and helped end the slave trade.
The Zanzibar Revolution upheld by local African revolutionaries on 12 January 1964 overthrew the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government. The country was renamed the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. By 3 February Zanzibar was finally returning to normality, and Karume had been widely accepted by the people as their president.
Today Zanzibar is a place to escape the pace of the modern world, the turquoise seas provide the ultimate place to reflect and unwind. Set your watch back 20 years and experience an idyllic destination for those in pursuit of romance, adventure or simple relaxation.
FAST FACTS ABOUT THE ISLAND
- Population: 621,000
- Currency: Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) Each Shilling comprises of 100 cents
- Electrical Plugs: 220V AC 50Hz
- Languages Spoken: Kiswahili and English
- Time Zones: GMT/UTC +3
- Country Dialing Code: +255
- Weights & Measures: Metric
Zanzibar’s climate is tropical, with high humidity and temperatures averaging 25-29°C (77-84°F). From December to March, temperatures can exceed 30°C (86°F). There are two rainy seasons, with the ‘long’ rains (masika) from mid-March to May, and the ‘short’ rains (mvuli) are from November to January. The best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to March.
Zanzibar Health Requirements
When visiting Zanzibar it is required that you are inoculated for Yellow Fever. (Don’t forget your inoculation certificate!). Other recommended inoculations include typhoid, tetanus, polio and hepatitis A. Malaria is also an issue on the island, so please be sure to take precautions, and protect yourself from mosquitoes. Please check with your GP or with your nearest travel clinic for more information.
There are no flights crossing the island itself. Converted pick-ups or dalla-dallas (minibuses) link all major towns on Zanzibar Island and are common sight. It’s easy to arrange a car, moped or motorcycle rental. An international driving license is necessary in order to rent motor vehicles. Beware of traffic in the Stonetown, even some of the narrowest streets are in fact public roads!
Credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and EuroCard are accepted mainly at most major hotels and resorts, as well as travel agents. Traveller’s cheques may be difficult to cash outside of Stonetown. There are ATMs at many of the banks in town. There are many Bureau de Change around Zanzibar that are quick and easy to use.
It is essential to purchase a visa when visiting Zanzibar. Visas can be obtained before your arrival through your nearest Tanzanian Embassy or Consulate. It is also possible to purchase a Visitor’s Visa at the International Airport when you arrive in Zanzibar. Please check with your travel agent as to the current cost of the visas before departure.
Ramadan and Eid Eid al-Fitr
Ramadan is the annual month of fasting observed by all Muslims worldwide and occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins with the first sighting of the new moon and lasts for around 30 days. During this time Muslims may not eat, drink or smoke from sunrise to sunset.
Visitors to Zanzibar will find most shops, cafes and restaurants closed by day, only to open again after the evening meal, which breaks the daily fast at sunset. Many shops stay open later than usual during Ramadan. You will find some discreet non-Muslim eateries in Stone Town open for business during the day, as well as most of the larger hotels and resorts on the coast. While visitors are not expected to fast, it is considered offensive to eat, drink or smoke in public during the day.
Eid al-Fitr is the festival that breaks the fasting month of Ramadan. When the new moon of the tenth month rises, Muslims welcome the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr festival, to celebrate the coming year.
In Zanzibar, festivities last for four days and mark a time for giving and merriment. Zanzibar’s nightlife comes alive during Eid making it one of the best times to visit the islands.
General Do’s & Don’ts For Zanzibar
The majority of Zanzibar residents practice the Islamic faith and this is reflected in their lifestyle and culture.?? The following is some advice to help the visitor to respect Muslim customs:
- Don’t buy shells, coral or turtle shells from people on the side of the street. It is possible that they were taken from endangered reefs and other marine species and it only encourages the destruction of the ocean fauna.
- Don’t walk around the towns and villages dressed in bikinis or miniskirts. Due to the locals’ Islamic faith, women should have their shoulders and legs covered and should wear trousers or long skirts and men should not walk around with no shirts on. Please wear loose fitting, non-transparent clothing. On resort properties and in tourist areas more relaxed rules apply, but it is best to check with your hotel beforehand.
- Don’t go to the tourist beaches topless, swimwear is acceptable, but please be mindful if there are locals in the area.
- Don’t take valuables to the beach and dont’t go alone to the beaches at night.
- Don’t accept transport from unlicensed beach boys. Only use reputable tour agencies or government guides.
- Do remember that during the month of Ramadan, it is highly disrespectful to eat or drink in the streets as the Muslims are fasting.
- Don’t take pictures of people or private houses without first asking for their permission to do so. Before taking photos of sensitive government offices e.g, the State House, Military bases, etc., always check with your guide. Mosques are sacred places so non-Muslims are forbidden to enter. Photographing the interior of a mosque from the doorway is prohibited during prayers, and permission should be sought before photographing them at any other time.
- Don’t forget that although alcohol is available most places, drunken behavior is considered an offense in the Muslim society, so please be respectful.
- Don’t give money or gifts to children as it encourages begging.
- Water is a precious resource. Please use sparingly wherever possible. Thank you for being mindful of the cultural heritage you are enjoying.