Getting to Zanzibar
Getting to Zanzibar from Nairobi is pretty easy with numerous flights daily from Jomo Kenyatta airport and the smaller regional Wilson Airport. For this leg of the trip we took Kenya Airlines which took only about an hour from Nairobi.
When arriving at the airport you will need to line up at the desk and have the agent check you in, there is no online check in for this airline. Despite Zanzibar bringing in over 500k visitors each year the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport is in really bad shape. The ceiling is falling apart, the terminal is very hot and uncomfortable and you are guaranteed to be frustrated at the numerous inefficiencies. Bring your patience!
Visa requirements for Tanzania
You will need a visa to travel to Tanzania and it will be the most expensive visa you will have to purchase in Africa at US$100 ONLY for US Citizens. This is the time I really wish I had my St. Lucian passport, I would be visa free! The good news is that there’s finally an eVisa for Tanzania! When I visited just last Nov I had to print out the visa form, fill out in advance, have exact cash (credit cards are sometimes not accepted) and run off the plane to beat the crowd, DO NOT get a visa on arrival here!
Once you’re in East Africa, a single-entry visa for Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda allows you to visit either of the other two countries (assuming you’ve met their visa requirements and have been issued a visa) and then return to the original country without having to apply for a second visa for the original country. Thus, if you’re in Tanzania on a single-entry visa, you can go to Kenya (assuming you also have a Kenyan visa), and then return to Tanzania without needing a new Tanzanian visa. This helped us greatly when returning to Kenya to catch our flight home, avoiding another visa.
What vaccines do you need?
There are quite a few vaccines listed on the CDC website but as mentioned in my Kenya blog post, we only got the yellow fever vaccine as that one seemed to be mandatory. The Yellow Fever vaccine is quite expensive in the US as there is a shortage, check your local department of health for availability and pricing, insurance companies do not typically cover travel vaccines.
We got ours at the Miami Dade health department for US$175 (yes, I know, that’s a crazy amount for a vaccine!). If you are able to get the vaccine outside of the US do so, it will be a fraction of the price, friends in other countries got this for as low as US$30! It is also recommended to bring Malaria pills with you, you can get these at your local pharmacy or in Nairobi when you arrive.
TZS$10,000 = US$4.30 (Google for the most updated rates)
US dollars are widely accepted in Tanzania, similar to Kenya most restaurants did not accept credit cards and preferred cash. As with most places you won’t get the best exchange rate on the street, try to get some Tanzanian Shillings to purchase souvenirs and other items.
Getting around Zanzibar
Be prepared for a rush of Taxi drivers when you are leaving the airport, even in the middle of the night! Taxi prices are set and you can research how much your ride will be before you arrive. From the airport to Stone Town was US$15 per person and took about 20 minutes without traffic. During our trip we found a great taxi driver Mansour who we was reliable, nice and had reasonable pricing, checkout his contact information in the photo above! I would recommend him for transportation only, he doesn’t speak much English.
Where to stay in Zanzibar
Since we were only here for two nights we chose to stay in Stone Town and keep this as our base for our short stay.
We opted for the Double Tree by Hilton hotel in the heart of the city staying loyal to the SPG (now Marriot Bonvoy) brand for point’s collection of course! This hotel is a bit hard to find, ask your driver to walk you down the alley on your arrival. The buffet breakfast on the rooftop was good, with a great view of the city! Rooms were a bit outdated but served their purpose, I’d recommend here if you do decide to stay in Stone Town.
While visiting Paje beach I also ran into The Waterfront Hotel, a beautiful, cozy hotel right on the beach! I would highly recommend checking them out even though I didn’t stay here.
If you’re looking for beach front accommodation this can be expensive in Zanzibar and books up quickly during peak season. I received a few recommendations before traveling but most were out of my price range. A few of the 5 star recommendations I got from a friend were the Cliff Resort and Melia both the dreamy Zanzibar vacation spots I had envisioned!
Things to Do in Zanzibar
Checkout Stone Town with caution
I heard so many wonderful things about Stone Town before visiting with its deep history, art and small town feel that you can get lost in. However, I’ll be honest, I was sorely disappointed with my experience and wished we didn’t stay there.
From the moment we walked out our hotel we were harassed to visit Prison Island, take a tour somewhere or asked if we needed a taxi. I know it’s easy to think I’m exaggerating but I’m not, we literally could not breathe we were approached by so many people. We came to Zanzibar to relax, and unless we were inside the grounds of our hotel we just couldn’t do that. Despite being annoyed, there were a few things we did on our short stay here.
Visit the local market
One of the popular things to do in Zanzibar is to visit the local market, this is a great place to get souvenirs and local art. However, beware of many people trying to get you into their stores and calling you to come in. I understand this is how people make money but it made things really uncomfortable as a traveler just trying to enjoy the experience.
Grab some coffee
Famous for their coffee, Zanzibar Coffee House had delicious, inexpensive food with lots of great options in the heart of the city. This place is very hard to find as it’s located in a small alleyway but you can find it using Google Maps or asking your Taxi driver to walk you there. Our driver parked near the market and walked us over which was very nice!
Try a few local dishes
Zanzibar has a large Muslim population which you can easily see from the moment you arrive with the way people are dressed, the architecture and most importantly the food!
One of my favorite things in Zanzibar was Chapati, similar to West Indian Roti! A few other things to try while visiting are Biryani, one of the most famous dishes here where curried fish, beef or goat is combined with rice for one mouthwatering meal. You can also try Pilau rice, Octopus curry or Urojo (also known as Zanzibar Mix) a mix of crispy fritters and curry gravy. Surprisingly, Zanzibar is also knows for their pizza, where chicken beef or fish can be mixed with vegetables and topped with mayo and cheese.
Beware of eating street food when in Zanzibar if you have a sensitive stomach, you may also get hit with a “tourist tax” which is basically getting charged triple.
Visit the beach
You can’t go to Zanzibar without visiting the beach, there are so many beautiful ones to choose from!
Since we only had a day we took a trip out to Paje Beach located on the East side of the island and stopped at Mr.Kahawa café, a cute coffee shop with stunning ocean views.
Go Kite Surfing
Have lunch at the Rock Restaurant
One of the most famous restaurants in Zanzibar is the Rock Restaurant, located on a rock in the middle of the ocean! This restaurant is on the higher end and will be something you splurge on but is worth the experience.
You will have to make reservations online in advance or you may not get a table! Try to get a table out on the deck rather than inside to catch the sea breeze and amazing views. They will also provide transportation to and from your hotel (at a higher cost) if needed.
The only thing I regret from this experience is visiting for the late dinner time (6pm) rather than the earlier reservation (4pm), we missed out on the views during dinner with darkness starting to approach at 6pm! Lunch is also an option but may be a little hotter.
A few other things to checkout one your visit if you have time are the Jozani Forest tour and if you’re up for it, Hiking Kilimanjaro! Both I didn’t do due to my short stay here. Checkout more of my adventures on my Instagram Stories!