Here are some observations and suggestions for your trip to Zanzibar:
- The boat to the island is big and comfortable, but many Tanzanians are not used to being on boats and really hate the experience. I myself loved the trip to the island, and when given the chance will always sit out in the sun on the deck, but many of the locals preferred to stay inside and lay down. The inside areas of the boat were a mess, with some people wailing and crying, some sitting anxiously, and several throwing up into bags or straight onto the floor. So, if you have a chance, just to avoid any unnecessary anxiety or smells, stay away from the main floor. Get up stairs into the sunshine!
- I highly suggest trying the street food, as street food in many or most cases, is the best food. HOWEVER, if you are prone to stomach issues, or even if you aren’t, bring immodium. Just in case, as a general travel rule, this is a good idea. But given the seafood in Zanzibar, and the spices, and abundance of fruits, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- There’s absolutely no reason to stay in an upscale resort or hotel. Go for the local backpacker lodges – you’ll still have a pool, the beach, and a beautiful setting, AND you’ll meet great people. I’ve been to both locally owned lodges, stayed in houses with friends and stayed in the Park Hyatt. While all three are wonderful, the Hyatt loses something. You could be anywhere in the world when you stay at places like this, and you won’t meet the locals the same way, or the interesting people who are volunteering, working or backpacking their way through Tanzania.
- In cities on the mainland, the religion is very diverse, split between Christian, Muslim and indigenous religions. However, in Zanzibar, there is a much higher concentration of Islam. This is something to keep in mind, especially in Stone Town, simply to be mindful of the religion and respectful of it. Of course, the island is very used to travelers, so usually you wouldn’t notice, but in Stone Town in particular, being just a little bit more mindful of your clothing would be wise. As well, it’s worth it to make note of Ramadan dates when planning your travel. This is by no means a suggestion to avoid Ramadan – in fact, my favorite country to be in during Ramadan is Tanzania. The wonderful drinks and foods that are specific to Ramadan should not be missed, and the Futari (the meal with which they break their fast) dinners they have at the end of the day are delicious. Of course, if you’re in Zanzibar for Ramadan, definitely make sure you’re sticking around for Eid too – Eid is so much fun in most places, and everyone parties for Eid in Tanzania, Muslims and Christians alike. So don’t worry if you’ve booked a trip for Zanzibar over Ramadan, you might even have a better trip for it, but certainly it’s worth understanding what Ramadan is all about and keeping that in mind.
- Keep an eye out for the beautiful carved doors that are in and around Stone Town.
- Don’t bother with taxis across the island, find someone to rent a scooter from, ask a local for a ride, or get a bike. Not only is this more enjoyable, but you’ll save some money.