10 things to know about Zanzibar
Pole Pole means slow in Swahili. Food takes longer to prepare and the internet net might also be slower than what you are used too. But that is what you would expect and want from an island get-away?
East Africa Diving
1. Life is a little slower
Africa is a great place to unwind from city life and we all expect (and want) life on an island to be a little slower. You are in luck! In Zanzibar you will hear the saying “pole pole” (Swahili for slow) everywhere. Slower does it on Zanzibar. Meals take longer than you think is needed, things don’t always work and the internet exists, but not at the speed you might be used to. But hey, you are here to have a new experience? If you can embrace and enjoy the change of pace, you will have a great time.
2. Zanzibar has internet, but just.
You can get a local sim card or connect through wifi at your hotel or tourists office, but do not expect fast connection. You are here to relax and disconnect from the world, after all.
3. Wildlife is on the mainland or under the water!
Zanzibar does not have any lions. For that, you can visit one of the many parks on the mainland, Tanzania, where you will encounter your fair share of African animals. All the wildlife on Zanzibar is UNDER the water! The tropical water surround the island is filled with coral and colourful sea life you have to see! Choose a reputable diving centre (like us) and book your scuba or snorkel trip. We offer a variety of dive courses and scuba diving trips. If you are lucky, you might even swim with turtles or dolphins.
You can, however, visit the conservation and rescue centre if you are pressed for time.
Boats are known to need a lot of care and maintenance, whether it is a traditional wooden one, a sailboat or a motorboat. In our 15 years on the island, we learned a lot about DHOW maintenance from the Zanzibaris. There are three main ingredients in dhow maintenance: You need FUNDIS (experts), KALAFATI (coconut rope) and MAFUTA (coconut oil) to stop the boat from leaking.
4. Getting there and back
You have two options for your transit to Zanzibar: by plane or boat from Dar Es Salaam. Flying there is a flight in a small Cessna of 30min, or you can opt for a ferry (much cheaper) with great views as you cross the 1.5h trip to the island. The ferry’s are modern and safe and run regularly. As you step off, prepare to step back in time as you enter Stonetown.
5. Great shopping
Stonetown was declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2000. It is a mix of worlds and culture, mostly Indian, Arabic and African. The streets are narrow, confusing and charming, to say the least, and nothing was built straight. Souvenir shops are along Kenyatta Rd selling wood carvings and paintings. For a more interesting shopping experience, make sure to venture off intro the labyrinth of small alleys. Dress modestly (women in longer dresses and covered shoulders) and enjoy getting lost. You will get lost! No one uses the street names and everything is a maze filled with small shops selling art, fabric, leather goods, spices, food, antiques and jewellery.
As you walk the streets of Stonetown it will be hard to miss or ignore the large and imposing wooden doors. There are an estimated 560 doors in the city that are over a century old. They are all pieces of art, the original occupants social status and religion was captured and advertised through them. There are three main styles of doors in Zanzibar:
Indian doors (called gurajati) –
they have small, square shutters embedded in the door, often with great brass studs (once used to stop elephants beating Indian palace doors down)
The oldest and more humble in design. The giant Swahili doors are usually carved in twisting vines, flowers and other emblems.
Very intricate work around the frame and lintel, often featuring Arabic script.
7. Scooters, Motorcycle and car rental
You can rent your own transport with an international drivers license. Roads are either tarred or sand/coral. Driving is erratic – the locals often drive too fast or too slow and some roads do not have enough space for oncoming traffic to pass (but they still do). Road markings do not exist and roads are not in perfect condition. There are no streetlights and generally no rules. There are no significant difference between car rental and scooter fees. It is fun to rent a motorcycle for a few days and you will be able to explore more (just be warned that driving on the beaches are not allowed although it is being done). All hotels and tour operators offer transport options, so there is no need to self-drive unless you really want to.
This late legend was born on Zanzibar and it will not be forgotten. You can visit their old family house, turned museum and learn all there is to know about the family: The Freddy Mercury museum.
9. Streetmarkets and seafood
Mainland Tanzania is a mix of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous groups, but Zanzibar, which the Sultanate of Oman ruled for centuries, is almost entirely Muslim. With such a mix, you can expect interesting food options, in the restaurants as well as the markets. Seafood is everywhere and a fusion of Indian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese and African cooking traditions awaits.
For first timers the evening food market in Forodhani Gardens (located along the main seawalk of Stone Town, just in front of the most famous buildings of Stone Town) is a must do. It is less of a garden, and more of an open area with food stalls competing for your attention. Some dishes worth trying: African ugali, Indian chapatti, Swahili curries, island specialties like octopus curry and urojo (turmeric and coconut-based soup with crispy fritters and spiced potatoes).
Zanzibar is not called Spice Island for nothing. Get your spice on – take a tour to see black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg straight from the source.
East Africa Diving can assist with any of the tour or outing bookings and are happy to assist with recommendations.