I’ve been backpacking Zanzibar on a budget many times over the last 11 years. It’s one of my favourite places in Africa and I love taking my Rock My Adventure tour groups there and showing them just how magical it really is!
A lot of people think of Zanzibar as a honeymoon or romantic couples destination, but it is also a great place for budget backpackers and solo travellers too! Plus there are loads of amazing things to do in Zanzibar, so you won’t get bored – it’s not all about just lying on a beach (although you can totally just do that if that’s what you need).
I usually divide my time with a few days in Stone Town, followed by a few days at the beach resorts. Some people stay in one place, but this would mean quite a bit of driving around, so I’d definitely recommend splitting your time.
Zanzibar isn’t actually an island, it’s an archipelago that lies in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania. There are 3 main islands called Unguja, Pemba and Mafia, plus a number of smaller islands. Unguja is the largest island, where you will find the capital Zanzibar City (more commonly referred to as Stone Town – which is an area of Zanzibar City) and is what most people mean when they refer to Zanzibar. Pemba is north of Unguja and Mafia is to the south, near Mozambique.
Backpacking Zanzibar is fun always makes a nice break during any longer Africa backpacking trip, especially after you’ve been on safari in the Serengeti or climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s more expensive than mainland Tanzania, but there are plenty of ways to visit Zanzibar on a budget.
So here are my essential travel tips to help you plan your own Zanzibar adventure, including when to go, what to do, where to stay, where to eat and where to meet other travellers!
For the purpose of this guide, when I talk about Zanzibar, I am referring to the main island, Unguja.
I first wrote this post in 2017 and it has been updated for 2021.
Backpacking Zanzibar on a Budget: Everything You Need to Know
The Best Time to Visit Zanzibar
June to October is generally the best time to visit when it’s cooler (but still pretty hot) and dry. January and February are also good, when it’s hot and dry (but a little bit more humid).
March to May sees the long rains. November and December have short rains. The short rains aren’t so bad and there will be sun, but it does get very humid and you need to be prepared to spend some time sheltering indoors. On the plus side, you can often get good deals on hotels in the low season.
I have visited during the short rains (in November) and it was fine but again, pretty humid, but I would probably avoid March to May personally. I prefer it when it’s dry! But of course, it is a tropical island so it can rain any time of year.
If you’re also planning to visit Kenya or mainland Tanzania for safari or to climb Kilimanjaro, you might want to have a read of this guide to help you decide when and where you want to go.
During Ramadan quite a few of the restaurants in Stone Town shut down during daylight hours and some close all together, but you will be able to find food.
Most of the beach resorts will operate as normal, however you must observe Ramadan etiquette everywhere else.
You shouldn’t drink, eat or smoke on the streets and ladies should keep covered (see the What to Wear section below).
Don’t forget to greet people with ‘Ramadan Kareem’ – they will really appreciate it!
If you do go for Ramadan, consider staying on for Siku Kuu (Eid al-Fitr), a 4-day celebration, an exciting time to be in Zanzibar, when everyone convenes at Forodhani Gardens, dressed in their finest and in holiday mode, spending time with friends and family.
If festivals are your thing, the Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) takes place (almost) every February. I went a couple of years ago and it was fantastic.
If you’re into kite surfing, the best months to visit are January, February, June, July and August as they are the months when the famous trade winds blow.
Between June to September, the Kusi winds blow from the south and between December to February the Kaskazi winds blow from the north.
You can go scuba diving in Zanzibar all year round, but the best times for visibility tend to be between June to October in the north and November to March in the south.
March to May is generally the worst time for visibility due to the more rainy weather, but it can depend on the day.
I’m not a diver but one of my readers recommended Scubafish and diving in Matemwe – thanks Lily! The Mnemba Atoll is probably the most famous dive spot in Zanzibar.
How to Get To and From Zanzibar on a Budget
Usually, the cheapest way to get to Zanzibar is by ferry and Azam Marine ferries are the company I recommend. there are other ferries, but they are slower and not viewed as safe as Azam.
The ferries run between Dar es Salaam and Stone Town and the journey takes approximately 2 – 2.5 hours. Ferries depart at 7am, 9.30am, 12.30pm and 3.45 pm in both directions (from Stone Town and Dar es Salaam).
The ferry costs around $35 (one way) for an adult economy class ticket. Make sure you buy your ticket from the official ticket office, not from touts on the street. If you can buy your ticket in advance, I would advise you to do so as they often fill up. I have on a few occasions had to wait a few hours because the next ferry was full.
You need to show your passport when buying your tickets. If an agent is getting your tickets, they’ll usually need a picture of your passport details.
For all the info, take a look at the complete guide to taking the Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar ferry.
You can also sail to Zanzibar from Bagamoyo. The ferry doesn’t run every day, but it does run frequently and is safe and reliable and a similar price to the Dar – Zanzibar ferry, but without the cost of getting to and navigating through Dar es Salaam. Book through Firefly hostel.
You can fly into Zanzibar from most domestic airports, including Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Dar es Salaam and the airstrips in the national parks.
There are also a number of international airlines that fly to Zanzibar, usually via Europe, the Middle East or elsewhere in Africa (like Nairobi, Kilimanjaro, Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam or Johannesburg).
These include; Kenya Airways, Etihad Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Mango Airlines. From Dar-es-Salaam, the journey takes around 15/20 minutes.
I always use Skyscanner to book my flights. As of December 2020, one-way flights from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar are between $35 – $65.
Getting To and From Pemba & Mafia Island
Ferries from Stone Town to Pemba Island run on Wednesdays and Saturdays and do the return journey on Thursdays and Sundays. You can fly to Pemba from Zanzibar, Arusha, Tanga and Dar es Salaam.
The quickest and easiest way to get to Mafia Island is to fly with either Coastal Air, Tropical Air or Auric Air, but flights leave from Dar es Salaam, not Zanzibar. You can also get the ferry from Nyamasati, which is around 4 hours south of Dar es Salaam.
Entry Requirements for Zanzibar
Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, so if you’re flying straight into Zanzibar you’ll get your Tanzania visa there, this will cover you if you go to the mainland too and vice versa.
Some nationalities are exempt from visas, but for most people, they cost $50 for a single entry, or if you’re American your visa is $100 but it’s automatically a multi-entry visa.
Some nationalities can buy visas on arrival and some have to apply in advance, so check before you attempt to enter.
The rules around Yellow Fever certificates can be a bit tricky, so I’ve written a whole post dedicated to whether you need a Yellow Fever vaccination for Africa, so maybe have a quick read of that if you are travelling to multiple countries.
However, for Tanzania and Zanzibar only, if you’re flying in from places without a Yellow Fever risk (Europe, USA etc), you shouldn’t need a Yellow Fever certificate. But if you are transitting through a country with a risk of Yellow Fever (Kenya, Ethiopia) for more than 12 hours – sometimes less, they may ask for it.
You can find a list of countries with a risk of Yellow Fever here.
If travelling by ferry from mainland Tanzania, you shouldn’t be asked for your Yellow Fever certificate unless a) you have transited through a Yellow Fever risk country for more than 12 hours or b) you have recently visited a country that poses a risk. But they may well ask for it and I think sometimes it depends on who is on duty.
Last time I flew into Zanzibar, I met some Zambians, who were living in Abu Dhabi (not a risk zone) who were made to get a shot on arrival in Dar es Salaam. Where as none of the Europeans were asked to, even without certificates.
If you are travelling long term in Africa and visiting multiple countries, having a Yellow Fever certificate is pretty handy (and often required) so regardless, I’m glad I have it. Plus, the vaccination lasts for life now.
What To Do When You Arrive in Zanzibar
Arriving By Ferry
When you get onto the ferry in Dar es Salaam, you’ll be asked to place your large bag in a cage that gets locked. Don’t worry, this is normal! Just remember where your bag is and what cage so you can be ready to pick it up at the end.
The ferry itself is fun. I recommend standing outside as it always helps me feel less seasick and you may also spot dolphins. I once saw a pod of about 30 on the way over.
Arriving at the ferry port in Stone Town can be a little overwhelming. When you get off the ferry, head straight for the walkway and head towards the terminal. Get in the passport queue first, but keep an eye on the cages and try to spot your bag. Once you’ve had your passport stamped, collect your bags and head out of the terminal.
Outside there will be loads of people about and loads of touts after your business. Don’t feel the need to take anyone up on their offers to show you where you need to go or take a taxi straight away.
If you turn right out of the ferry terminal, Mercury’s Bar is just there. It’s a bit touristy, but it’s a good place to go, have a cold beer, use the wifi and get your bearings. The guys at the bar can usually point you in the right direction or help you with a taxi should you need it.
If you are staying in Stone Town, chances are that your hotel or guest house is just a short walk away anyway, but the alleyways can be a bit confusing at first. Google Maps works well in Stone Town, so you have internet or offline maps, you’ll be good.
If you do need directions, shopkeepers are usually very helpful. Just be aware that you will probably attract touts wanting to show you the way and if they do, they’ll want a tip.
If you decide to get a taxi, it shouldn’t cost you more than $5 to anywhere in Stone Town. Just be aware that if your hotel is down one of the small alleys, you’ll probably need to walk the final part. Your taxi driver will usually park up and then walk you the last few yards.
If you need to go outside of Stone Town, see info on how to get around the island below.
Arriving By Air
A taxi from the airport into Stone Town should cost you no more than $10. You can arrange this in advance or grab one a the airport.
Or you can get a local minibus (called dala dalas) which are around 300 – 400 TSH. The buses leave from just outside the airport and will usually be running (despite what the taxi drivers tell you). The buses will drop you near to Darajani Market.
Again this is walkable to pretty much any hotel in Stone Town.
Getting Around Zanzibar on a Budget
Around Stone Town
Geeting around Zanzibar on a budget is no problem. Journeys within Stone Town by dala dala mini bus shouldn’t cost more than around 300 TSH one way. Taxis are usually $5 one-way for a normal-sized car, but may be more if you are moving outside of the main tourist area.
Getting Out of Stone Town
The cheapest way to get to the beach resorts (Kenda, Nungwi, Paje, Jambiani etc) outside of Stone Town is to catch a dala dala from Darajani Market.
Darajani is in Stone Town and easy to get to from most hotels. If you’re arriving at the ferry terminal, turn left out of the terminal, then take a right at the roundabout, walk a bit and you’ll be at Darajani.
To get to Nungwi and Kendwa by minibus, you’re looking at around 2,000 TSH and to get to Paje and Jambiani it’s around 1,500 TSH, but they take longer as everyone is getting on and off all the time and they don’t leave until they are full.
If you like an adventure, this is the way to travel. I’d recommend getting a window seat near to the front if you can.
Finding the right bus is another skill all together. If I’m struggling to find the right one, I usually ask another woman, who looks like she’s also waiting for a bus or a shopkeeper/market trader. Most people are very friendly and will be more than happy to help you.
Check with the conductor before you get on. He’s usually the guy hanging out the door and flicking coins in his hand. You pay your money to him once on the bus, not the driver.
If you tell the conductor where you want to go, he can tell you where to get off. I say he, as I’ve never seen a female conductor yet…
If you want a taxi, you can organise a taxi yourself via a taxi company, through your hotel or negotiate with a local taxi driver.
A taxi from Stone Town or the airport to anywhere on the island shouldn’t cost you more than $40/$50 – although some will try to charge you double that. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
I usually pay around $30 – $35 to Paje or Kendwa. I once managed to get a taxi from the ferry terminal to Kendwa for just me for $20, which is really cheap for that distance and the driver also took me to get a SIM card in Darajani Market on the way. But I think he was going that way anyway and I just got lucky.
Another alternative is to get a share taxi, which are around $10 pp. These can also be arranged via your hotel and will usually pick you up.
Travelling Between Destinations
If travelling between the various beach resorts, the same principles apply.
You can either get taxis, share taxis or dala dalas. Your accommodation can point you in the right direction to pick up a dala dala. Just be aware that you will usually need to go back through Stone Town, unless your next destination is on the way to Stone Town. ie. to go from Kendwa (north) to Paje (south east), you’d need to go back through Stone Town.
Or you can take a taxi, which is a lot more expensive but much quicker. You can negotiate with one of the taxi guys out on the street (they’re often waiting around outside hotels) and if you find a good, reasonably priced taxi driver – take his number.
You can of course also hire your own vehicle. I haven’t done this personally, but there are a number of places that you can hire from like Zanzibar Car Hire. I would just check that you are renting from a reputable company and that everything is in good condition.
You will need an international driving licence and your rental company should be able to provide you with any paperwork that you need for the police checkpoints.
Best Places in Zanzibar for Solo Travellers & Where to Stay on a Budget
Zanzibar has an abundance of amazing accommodation and there are lots of different places to stay around the island, but a lot of these tend to be geared towards couples or the luxury market.
Don’t worry, there are still some great accommodation options for backpackers or those on a budget and if you are travelling solo and looking for some buddies there are a few hubs that the solo travellers tend to gather in.
When I’m in Zanzibar, I like to move around a bit. Whilst the island isn’t that big, getting around can be expensive unless you take local transport all the time, so I would suggest that you spend some time in Stone Town, then at one or two of the different beaches.
Zanzibar has a lot to offer and by staying in one place, you won’t see the best of it.
Airbnb have some good, cheap options, but if you’re looking to meet other travellers, sometimes a hostel or gusthouse is better.
When I travel solo, I usually look for accommodation that is good value for money, in a good location, has a good atmosphere, nice communal space which makes it easier to meet other travellers/locals and things to do.
So here are my top places to stay as a solo traveller in Zanzibar (also have a read of my blog post about the best places in Africa for solo travellers).
Whilst it’s probably not as backpacker friendly as the beach resorts, there are still friends to be made in Stone Town at your hotel or perhaps some of the popular evening spots, like Tatu or Mercury’s Bar.
Where to Stay:
- Lost and Found Hostel: This is good budget place which is in an excellent location. They have nice dorms, with big beds with privacy curtains, power sockets, lockers and individual lights. Check prices here. UPDATE: Lost and Found is temporarily closed.
- Z Life Hostel: Great choice for solo travellers. Check prices here.
- Ten to Ten: Great backpacker hostel. Check prices here.
Kendwa & Nungwi
Kendwa and Nungwi lie on the north-west coast of Zanzibar and are good places to meet people. This is where most of the overlanders and backpackers tend to congregate. I’ve stayed here whilst travelling alone and easily met other travellers at the bar and on the beach.
Kendwa is pretty chilled most of the time, however, it does get lively at the weekends. Each Saturday they have a party which is always fun and they have a Full Moon Party every month, also usually on Saturdays which is pretty packed. They are a lot more low key than the Full Moon Parties you get in Thailand but more fun in my opinion.
Nungwi is generally busier and has a better range of accommodations and more restaurants.
Where to Stay:
- Kendwa Rocks: I usually stay a Kendwa Rocks. There are cheaper options, but for meeting other people, Kendwa Rocks is probably the best as they have a sociable bar, right on the beach. They do have a dorm although It tends not to be advertised anywhere so to book you need to contact them direct! A lot of the overland groups stay next door at Sunset Bungalows. Check prices here.
- Makofi Guesthouse: This is a great and sociable hostel/guesthouse in Nungwi, close to all the action. Check prices here.
Paje & Jambiani
Paje on the south east coast is another great spot for a solo traveller as there are a lot of backpacker places, more so than in the north.
Where to Stay:
- New Teddy’s Place: Friendly hostel, greta place for solo travellers. Check prices here.
- Drifters Backpackers: Similar to New Teddy’s, Drifters has a great bar, is very sociable and is a great place for a solo traveller. Check prices here.
- The Waterfront: This is a great hotel, more upmarket than New Teddy’s or Drifters, situated behind (and owned by) the popular Mr Kahawa cafe. This tends to be where many of the backpackers hang out during the day and it’s always pretty busy. Check prices here.
Jambiani is also one of my favourite beaches, and is absolutely beautiful, but it has less backpacker accommodation than Paje, which is why it isn’t included here (they are really close by so easy to travel between the two), but it is well worth checking out!
To find a full list of backpacker hostels in Zanzibar and check prices and availability click here. A good alternative is to stay in a guesthouse or Airbnb nearby one of the hostels and just go there to hang out! There are also usually loads of friendly locals who would be more than happy to make a new friend!
Where To Eat in Zanzibar on a Budget
Zanzibar is known for having great food and great restaurants, but there are lots of amazing places on Zanzibar to eat and drink on a budget.
Zanzibar isn’t called the Spice Island for nothing and with the mix of cultures you can expect something really special from the Zanzibari cuisine. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Food Stalls: There are tons of food stalls all over town which generally cater to the locals, so you can pick up some really well-priced and fresh food for cheap. These include things like mango with chilli, baobab fruit, chapatis, cakes, samosas etc. ($)
- Darajani Market: There are a number of street food places around Darajani market selling lots of different things, from coconuts to fruits, to burgers and kebabs to rice and beans. ($)
- Luukman: A Zanzibar institution, serving local food such as Zanzibar Mix and Biryani. ($)
- Passing Show Hotel: Another quite famous Zanzibar restaurant, serving local food. ($)
- Jaws Corner: A local spot serving coffee and snacks. ($)
- Forodhani Gardens: The nightly food market, famous for seafood, urojo (Zanzibar Mix), Zanzibar pizzas and sugar cane juice. This is a must-visit! In this post, I talk about some of my favourite places to eat in this post. ($)
- Zanzibar Coffee House: Nice place serving great coffee, cakes and light bites. ($$)
- House of Spices: They serve local and Mediterranean style food as well as homemade spiced liqueurs. Closed on Sundays. ($$)
- Emerson on Hurumzi: My favourite restaurant in Zanzibar, with a set menu and Taarab music. Great rooftop views. It’s not cheap but not expensive either, so worth the splurge. Closed on Mondays. ($$$)
- Emerson Spice Tea House: Fine dining, slightly more formal than Emerson on Hurumzi. Rooftop setting. Closed on Thursdays. Both of the Emerson restaurants book up in advance so I would advise making a reservation. I’ve not been to their Secret Garden restaurant yet! ($$$)
- Local Fisherman Restaurant (Kendwa): Really nice and cheap food and I love their sweetcorn soup. ($)
- Kendwa Rocks (Kendwa): The service in the beach bar can be pretty crap at times, however they do a great Swahili Curry. ($$)
- Okala’s Restaurant (Jambiani): Great local food and they also offer Swahili cooking lessons. ($)
- Stone Culture Restaurant (Jambiani): Small and simple local place with great seafood. ($)
- Bahari Pizza (Jambiani): Not sure why but I always get a craving for pizza when travelling in Africa, so you can get your fill here!
- Red Monkey Lodge (Jambiani): Nice food and great setting. It’s pretty nice to eat here prior to the Monday Night Jam. It’s a lot busier on a Monday, but it means you get a table! ($$)
- Mr Kahawa (Paje): Amazing breakfast and lunch spot with lovely fresh food including sandwichs, avocado toast and salads. ($$)
- The Rock (Michamvi): Zanzibar’s most iconic restuarant, with a fabulous setting and great food. Even if you don’t eat here, head over and take some pictures at high tide! Check out my guide to dining at The Rock restaurant. ($$$)
- Upendo (Michamvi): Opposite The Rock, Upendo is a great place for cocktails and food. Fabulous setting! Popular with the expat crowd tends to head on Sundays. ($$$)
Where to Party in Zanzibar
Whilst Zanzaibar is very culturally rich and quite religious, it is also quite a party island. Not compared with Ibiza… but there’s always something going on, somewhere on the island.
- Monday: The action usually takes place in Jambiani at the Monday Night Jam at Red Monkey Lodge, followed by the after-party at Coral Rock next door. Monday nights are also fun at Tatu Pub in Stone Town.
- Tuesday & Saturday: On Saturday, the place to party is Kendwa Rocks and every month they have a Full Moon Party. They also open their club on Tuesdays!
- Wednesday & Sunday: On a Wednesday and Sunday, everyone heads to Coccobello in Nungwi, which has been renovated in the last couple of years and is now pretty cool. Wednesday is reggae night, whereas Sunday is a bit of a mix. Despacito is guaranteed.
- Thursday: Cholo’s Bar in Nungwi is the Thursday night hot spot.
- Friday: On Fridays, a popular place is Jambo Beach Bungalows in Paje. The music is really good and you dance in the sand, but the bar prices are steep and there are a lot of ‘lurkers’ here. Keep an eye on your belongings, pickpockets target tourists here quite frequently. Paje by Night also hold regular parties!
The Best Things To Do in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is known for being a beach destination, but Zanzibar has an incredible history and mix of cultures, so you could easily fill two weeks on the island!
From boat trips, to spice tours, to snorkelling, to stand up paddleboarding and yoga, there’s literally something for everyone.
For an idea of the incredible adventures that await you, check out my top 40 things to do in Zanzibar post where I go into lots of detail about all the activities on offer.
Etiquette in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is very conservative in the most part, so here are a few tips to make sure you don’t offend anyone or accidentally get yourself into trouble.
- Do not take photographs of specific people unless you ask them first (hence why there aren’t many people in my pictures). Younger people tend not to mind so much (many have smartphones and Facebook), but some people can take offence. It’s getting more relaxed as tourism grows and it’s fine for a general scene from a bit of a distance, but if you want to take a close up of any people, ask first. Some will be fine with it, some will say no and some will ask for money.
- As with many places in Africa, it’s often illegal to take pictures of government buildings and people and at border control. You risk getting into trouble if anyone sees you and you may well lose your camera.
- Zanzibar is unfortunately very behind the times in some ways and homosexuality is still illegal and punishable by prison, that goes for tourists too.
- During Ramadan, you should observe Ramadan etiquette. No drinking, eating or smoking in the streets (or singing), no public displays of affection.
- See below on what to wear.
What to Wear in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim island, so women should keep shoulders, cleavage and legs covered (at least to the knees) when walking around Stone Town and in villages especially. Men shouldn’t walk around shirtless either, except on the beach.
People are very used to tourists these days, so you won’t be lynch-mobbed if you show a bit of shoulder or your knees, but it’s still seen as respectful to cover up.
In hotels and at the beaches outside of Stone Town, it is fine to dress how you like (no topless sunbathing though). However, if there are fisherman or seaweed farmers working on the beach, it’s also polite to cover up.
It’s also pretty hot and humid, so lightweight clothing, like maxi dresses and harem pants are good. I usually carry a scarf or sarong with me to cover my shoulders or wrap around my waist as a long skirt.
I have a few of the long dresses you see in the picture above. You can buy these in Stone Town and they’re great for wandering about in.
During Ramadan, it is polite to keep legs fully covered (for both men and women) and women should cover their shoulders and cleavage.
Is Zanzibar Safe for Travellers?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about Zanzibar is ‘Is it safe for travellers?”
I’ve never felt unsafe in Zanzibar and have been there many times with no issues, but you do need to remain vigilant as incidents can occur. So here are my top tips for staying safe on Zanzibar:
- As you would in any place, keep an eye on your bag and keep it zipped up – as with most holiday destinations there are pickpockets about who target tourists, especially in Stone Town and at the beach bars.
- Don’t wander the alleyways of Stone Town – especially alone. It’s fine earlier in the evening when people are around, but after about 10pm, things start to shut up. Stone Town is confusing even in the day, so it’s easy to get lost. At night time it’s even worse because many of the shops that you use as landmarks may have packed everything away, so it can be hard to get your bearings at first. If you are out at night, ask someone from your hotel to come and escort you home or travel in a big group.
- Same goes for the beaches. Earlier in the evening when there are lots of people around, it should be fine but some parts of the beach are dark and secluded at night so don’t wander around, especially alone.
- Always take a licenced taxi. You can ask your accommodation to call you a taxi they know and trust.
- Don’t drink to excess. This goes without saying wherever you travel.
- Leave your expensive jewellery at home.
- Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach and keep anything valuable in your hotel safe.
- If you are exchanging money or getting money from an ATM, try to count your cash in private and stash your money away in your bag as soon as possible.
- On a day to basis, just carry a small amount of cash. I have some in my day purse and any other money hidden somewhere in my bag or back at the hotel.
- Be respectful of the culture – this is very important.
You can find up to date safety information for Zanzibar here.
Avoiding Hassle on Zanzibar
So this is slightly different from safety as these are more the general annoyances that you may face, but not necessarily dangerous. There is a lot of poverty in Zanzibar so as a tourist you will stand out and a lot of people will assume you have money and they’ll want your business.
Touts & Sellers
People will come up to you constantly in Stone Town, offering tours, taxis and trying to sell things etc. The Swahili word for these guys is papasi, which means ‘ticks’. If you don’t want what they’re selling, be polite and friendly but firm if you don’t want to buy anything. Say (with a smile) “hapana Asante” which means “no thank you” or “sitaki, asante” which means “I don’t need, thank you” – usually does the trick.
People will look disappointed, but if you bought from everyone who tried to sell you something, you would end up with no money left and a load of stuff you don’t want (trust me on this one).
Everyone on Zanzibar is a “Tour Guide”. If you stand still long enough, someone will come up to you to offer their services. Don’t take them up on it. Well you could, but your tour will likely be crap. If you want a good guide with great knowledge, organise it through your hotel or through a recognised organisation, like Colors of Zanzibar or with my pal Farid who is the best tour guide in Stone Town.
There are also a lot of beach boys in Zanzibar. They’ll sit down, chat to you for a while, shake your hand, be your friend and then before you know it, they’re offering to sell you something – bracelets, coconuts, tours, marijuana… These guys are usually pretty harmless, this is their livelihood, but if you don’t want what they’re selling, again, a friendly but firm no is all you need. No thanks in Swahili is “Hapana asante!”
And just to remind you that weed is illegal in Tanzania!
Most men in Zanzibar are perfectly lovely and respectful and during the day, you’ll very rarely come across an issue. But on a night out, you may get a lot of attention as the men are very forward and Zanzibari girls do not really go out partying.
Guys will come up, take your hands and try to dance with you or stand just behind you, grinding. Moving slightly out of the way does the trick. If they persist, just drop in mention of your ‘husband’ or ‘boyfriend’ and they’ll usually back off and move onto the next gal they see – these guys don’t seem at all picky if I’m honest. Wearing a wedding ring also helps.
This is a weird one, but quite often, if you’re out dancing at a club in a group, you’ll pick up a few lurkers. These are guys that either just hang around where you are or dance behind you, sometimes right behind you, like they’re in your group, but not. They often seem to be alone, although I assume they have pals around somewhere, probably lurking around another group.
Usually, I think these guys are just trying their luck. They see a group and hang around for a bit to see if anyone takes the bait. Or maybe they just want to make some friends. I don”t know. It can get annoying, especially if they’re right up behind you, but again, moving usually works.
Whatever you do, keep your cool and avoid getting into an argument, it never ends well.
Money in Zanzibar
The official currency is Tanzanian Shillings (TSH), but many hotels and tourist activities accept dollars and cards. But you can always ask for the price in local currency and compare exchange rates.
For smaller payments in shops, markets etc local currency is best and most things are slightly cheaper in local currency. I recommend you download an app like Units Plus so you can keep track of the exchange rate.
As I’m from the UK, I tend to carry a mix of currencies – GBP, Dollars and Tanzanian Shillings. I use dollars for visas and some activities, and then take GBP which I change to Tanzanian Shillings. Tanzanian Shillings are only available in Tanzania and Zanzibar, so you will need to get them there.
Dollars must be in good condition and ideally dated on or after 2013.
If coming from Dar es Salaam, I suggest you change money there as you’ll most likely get a better rate – the different won’t be huge though.
There are Bureau de Change facilities in Stone Town too, and lots of hotels around the island will exchange money although we had trouble with this in the low season as lots of hotels didn’t have much physical cash. We ended up exchanging money in a supermarket for a not so great rate.
There are ATMs in Stone Town and at the airport, and one in Paje, but that’s it! So make sure you have enough cash and don’t get caught short.
If you use a credit card, many places will add on a surcharge. I’ve known this to be as high as 10%.
The Cost of Traveling in Zanzibar (and how to save)
Zanzibar is not a cheap destination compared to many other places in Africa, it’s a paradise island after all, however, you can still enjoy it on a budget!.
Dorms cost between $15 – $25 per night and are usually cheaper in Stone town than on the beaches. Privates usually start from around $50, but if you look around you can usually find cheaper options – try homestays, Couchsurfing, smaller local guesthouses that aren’t on booking sites and Airbnb, alternatively, stay somewhere further inland.
Zanzibar food is not expensive in general and you could easily eat for less than $7 a day.
To give you an example, a Zanzibar pizza at Forodhani Gardens will cost you around 3000 – 4000 TSH ($1 – 2) depending on what ingredients you ask for. A piece of fruit from the market or some chilli covered mango slices (buy these on the street – they are amazing) will only cost you a few cents.
But there are nice restaurants in Zanzibar and they are very worth the price. The set meal at Emerson on Hurumzi (my favourite) is $30 pp excluding drinks. I think this is still very reasonable.
I would budget between $15 – $30 a day for food and mix it up between street food and nicer restaurants.
Water is pretty cheap at around $0.50 for a small one and $1 for a big one, but all those waters add up, plus the plastic bottles are bad for the environment. To save money you could always take a LifeStraw water purifier. These things are great as they kill 99.9% bacteria, allowing you to drink the tap water!
Sodas are around $1. Beers usually go for $2 in restaurants and bars but you can find them cheaper at some local places. Spirits + mixer prices vary, depending on where you are, but usually somewhere around $4 – $5. Wine is approx $4 a glass. For a cocktail you’re talking around $5 – $7.
The cheapest alcohol is the local speciality Konyagi, which is like gin and you can buy a big bottle for the same price as a normal drink, but be warned this stuff is strong!
Activity costs on Zanzibar vary, massively. There are loads of free things to do, but then there are lots of expensive things to do also, like scuba diving or a dolphin-spotting trip (just make sure you choose an ethical one)!
For a two week trip, I’d probably recommend taking a minimum of $500 for activities (just in case) however it really depends on what you want to do. if you just want to lie on the beach all day, you’ll need much less. If you want to scuba dive every day, you’ll need more.
Transport is a tricky one as it depends on a lot of factors and again, this really depends on how much you move around and how you travel. But for argument’s sake, let’s say you spend time in 3 main locations.
If you take local transport, you’re probably talking around $20 or less for a two-week trip. If you take share taxis, or you’re travelling in a group (share the taxi costs) or your negotiation skills are shit hot, you’ll likely spend $40 to $70. But if you are travelling alone and take regular taxis, you could be spending $150.
Zanzibar has lots and lots of great shopping opportunities. If you’re not a shopper, then you’re fine. But if you are… God help you! From paintings to jewellery, to clothes, to fabrics to little trinkets, Zanzibar has it all. I hate shopping at home, but last time I was in Stone Town I think I spent around $200 on paintings and fabric.
Excluding any pre-costs (your costs for getting to/from Zanzibar, your visa, medical, insurance etc), on a budget, you’re probably looking at spending around $30 – $60 a day, but you could easily spend much more!
The Best Travel Insurance for Zanzibar
However, these insurers don’t currently cover for Covid-19, so you would be better getting insurance that does offer cover for Covid-19 related cancellations or medical bills. The companies that I know of that currently have some* Covid-19 coverage include Battleface, Nationwide, Virgin Money, Allianz Assistance, Staysure, Trailfinders and the Post Office.
* Just be aware that many of these policies don’t cover you if you travel anywhere that is against the government’s travel advice, meaning your cover won’t count if you travel against it – including Covid-19 cover.
Please always read the small print.
How To Make Friends and Influence People
If you want to make friends with the locals, learn some Swahili. You can find a list of my favourite and most used English to Swahili words here.
I hope you enjoyed this guide backpacking Zanzibar on a budget and I hope it helps you plan your trip!
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