My Solo trip to Zanzibar, Tanzania
Jambo (a Swahili greeting when translated to English means) Hello!
I embarked on my journey to Zanzibar on Christmas day, many would ask why but having lived in Malaysia, a Muslim country for the past four years, Christmas had become just another day that I had gotten accustomed to not celebrating. However Christmas greetings and hugs with my family were shared before I had to board my plane at 06h45.
Thank you South African Airways and Precision Air my connecting flights to and from Windhoek to Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar and vice versa which were nothing short of amazing. Although I had concerns about Precision Air with regards to flight delays and loss of luggage due to a few bad reviews that I had read on TripAdvisor prior to my trip.
So if you ever are flying from Dar es Salaam, or from any other domestic places within Tanzania such as Arusha perhaps you can try and source for another airline such as ZanAir or Coastal Aviation but I would still advise you read up various reviews on those airlines as well just to be sure.
Why Zanzibar you may ask?
Well, from pictures, videos and a great conversation between a Tanzanian friend and I whom I had met during university I just knew that it was one of those places on my bucket list that I wanted to tick off.
To be honest when I kick started of planning my trip over a year ago, I had initially planned to go to London but then I remembered how horrible the weather was in December the last time I was there, so I opted to go somewhere warmer because you don’t get to explore much when it’s cold.
Mauritius was another island I had considered but taking into consideration all the admin work that needed to be done and recalling the not so great one night stay experience I had in the country two years ago, I decided that I was not going to put myself through that kind of stress again.
So Zanzibar it was, plus being a Namibian citizen meant that I did not need a visa to enter Tanzania as Namibian’s are exempted for about 90days.Tanzania and Zanzibar make use of the same visa so you don’t have to worry about being stopped by immigration at both Julius Nyerere International Airport and Abeid Amani Karume International Airport.
For any of you who do not hold a passport that offers visa exemption to Tanzania do make sure with your individual country visa requirements as to what procedures you should follow to obtain one.
So what and where is Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is a city located east of Africa and is found about 70 kilometres from the mainland of Tanzania. It is split into parts where one can find Stone Town which is UNESCO World Heritage. This part of Zanzibar is also where one would mostly find a lot of people conducting various businesses either through selling hand made goods, excursions or even operating hotels, stores etc.
Then there’s the island side of Zanzibar which I believe we have all seen through the media. There are a number of islands with two main big ones namely Unguja and Pemba Island. Do make sure too visit and stay in Stone Town for a few days before heading down to any island of your choice.
NB take note of:
Currency used in Zanzibar is US Dollars or Tanzanian Shillings, they accept both but also note that they do not accept any USD made before the year 2007.
Departure tax, sometimes if this is not paid for in your flight ticket you will have to pay USD 50 when leaving Zanzibar airport.
Zanzibar has a large population of Muslims, remember to dress decently as it is very important to respect other people’s way of life, when in Stone Town try and cover up as much as you can. However on the islands being in your swimsuits and trunks is not frowned upon.
Get a Yellow Fever injection from your doctor one month before you embark on your journey.
Your passport should have a six months validity.
Zanzibar has fairly humid weather, pack wisely.
Don’t forget to pack yourself mosquito repellent as you will need it.
Main languages spoken in Zanzibar are Swahili, Arabic and English
How I planned?
Whenever I travel I always draft up an itinerary as this helps me a lot with calculations and anything that I might miss if not written down.
Savings - I made it a goal in the beginning of last year (2018) that each month I would save about N$ 3500 (USD 244) for my trip. These savings were to make sure I could purchase my flight ticket, buy a few items, pay for accommodation, food, activities and still have extra money just in case of any emergencies because with traveling one can never be too sure.
Flight – I had an agent from Blueberry Travel Namibia book my ticket for me. Other agents I had also considered were Trip Travel, Rennies Travel and Welwitschia Travel, but I opted to go with Blueberry because they were efficient and also gave me two flight options varying in price difference of about N$ 1800 (USD 125).
In addition depending on which agent you choose to go for please do make sure you request that your agent also provides you with travel insurance because this can save you a lot. I paid about N$ 350 (USD 26) for mine.
Accommodation – I made use of booking.com which is a worldwide site that helps one find accommodation depending on the price you want. The good thing about booking.com is that it comes with reviews, information on services that the place of accommodation offers, pictures of what it looks like, nearby tourist attractions as well as options that allow one to reserve a room and only pay on arrival. So if you change your mind on where you want to stay you won’t lose out on anything and you can easily cancel your reservation.
As I am not big on staying in 5 star hotels because I am more of an experience life on the edge kind of person in most cases I’d either stay at a guest house or a female dormitory backpacker’s hostel while taking safety and cleanliness into consideration.
These types of accommodations are great if you’re looking to interact with people, I sometimes feel that it should be a goal as a solo traveller to want to meet and talk to people and this is a great way to do it.
While in Stone Town I stayed at Ten to Ten Hostel for three days. I had paid N$ 750 (USD 54) with city tax included. In Jambiani which is the island I went to for another three days,I stayed at Vanilla House run by a Polish and Maasai couple. I paid N$ 630 (USD 45) city tax included as well and had slept in a mixed dorm room.
Do make sure that when booking your accommodation through any website that city tax has been included into the price to prevent any surprises of having to pay more than you had budgeted for when you arrive.
Food – I had a budget of about N$ 270 (USD 20). This was only for lunch, dinner and snacking food items in between as my breakfast was included in both my accommodation packages. Food is relatively affordable in Zanzibar, one would normally spend about USD 10 per meal. And there is an array of food choices.
Transport on the ground – Stone town is very small you can go anywhere within the area by foot as everything is close by. However you will have to pay for transport if you plan on going to any of the Zanzibar islands as they are quite far depending on where you go.
My accommodation provided shared transport to various islands. The total cost of the transfers are usually around USD 40 if you go by yourself but if you choose the sharing van option depending on the number of people in the van you might end up paying a quarter of the full price. I only paid USD 10 as opposed to USD 40 for the shared transfer I was in. Spesho the driver of the van was a ball of fun to drive with I highly recommend him you can WhatsApp him on +255715297037.
There is also another mode of transport called Dala dala, the cheapest mode of transport for about USD 3 you can take one towards the island of your choice but note that it takes much longer to reach ones destination.
Activities – I did not spend much on this because exploring is basically free unless you opt to go for city tours. There a many local people who will approach you for tours but politely decline if you do not want one.
The only activity I paid for was a village tour as I am very into interacting with communities. This tour was offered by @colorsofzanzibar on Instagram for about USD 50 which included a tour to a sea weed village, local school, a woman who taught me how to make rope out of coconut fibre, a local traditional meal of choice, a visit to the local hospital and a tour around the village and its local homes which are called Kibandas.
Starting off from Stone Town
If I could describe Zanzibar to someone it would be that it is not like what I have seen on TV or in magazines, it was is so much more than I expected it to be. Every little detail in Stone Town was beautiful. The name Stone Town says it all, it gets its name from the ornate houses built with local stone by Arab traders and slavers during the 19th Century.
When I travel I always look to see if a place is able to make me feel at home and that’s exactly how I felt when I arrived. From the moment I landed people were very welcoming, everyone smiles and greets you with a jolly Karibu which means welcome and I knew then and there that I was going to have a great time.
The airport is rather very small so don’t be surprised, just adapt. There are also various airport transfers that can take you to your destination. I made use of Bennito who came highly recommended on all the research sites when I was planning my trip. Noting that I had arrived in the evening I wanted to make use of a reliable and safe transfer so Bennito it was, you can find him on Instagram @zanzibardestination or WhatsApp him on +255 743 072 597 and he charges USD 12 to Stone Town which is a 40 minute drive from the airport.
Just a heads up, there are no traffic lights or stops in Zanzibar so people drive like maniacs however don’t worry too much about the driving because they know their roads so trust that you will be okay.
When I arrived at my hostel, I noticed how filled the streets of Stone Town were with many tourists from all corners of the world as well as its residents walking around and socialising. As I mentioned earlier I stayed at Ten to Ten hostel which was very welcoming. Since it is somewhat of a newly built accommodation everything was really clean which I liked and it was centred basically in an area that was safe, surrounded by a number of places to eat and attractions.
My Highlights of Stone town.
I explored Stone Town by myself and whenever I got lost people were always willing to direct me the right way. I visited the Secret Garden at Emerson spice tea house where I had lunch and I was taken on a free tour of the hotel itself. It’s always good to ask if this can been done because you never know what you can score for free.
I also took a walk to Forodhani Garden which was a minute away from my accommodation. Basically this is a food market near a waterfront and every day just before sunset young teenage boys gather at the water front and jump off into the water to cool themselves.
I then also went to Darajani Market and the local fish market which was a free activity as welll. Along the way I stumbled upon Jaws corner, which is a corner where men usually meet every day to drink a cup of spice tea while discussing various life topics.
In addition I also went to a traditional spa called Mrembo Spa, where I chose a head, neck and back massage. This spa also helps Swahili females who are in the process of getting married prepare their bodies by clearing their skin to make it smoother before the big day. It also offers workshops where one can learn how to make incense sticks among other things. Mrembo spa can be found on Instagram @mrembospa or visit their website at www.mrembospa.com for their contact details.
Another discovery I came across was the House of Spices, which is a restaurant that till this day maintains its Arabic atmosphere and touring around the space was free.
All these places that I had gone too were located really near my hostel. It would take me about 7 minutes to get to each which was very convenient. And then off I was to the island of Jambiani.
Ending off in Jambiani
About sixty kilometres, southwest of Stone Town was where my island of choice Jambiani was situated. Why Jambiani, well I wanted to truly experience and live the Tanzania local life that is away from all the touristy stuff.
Jambiani is a very big village, it’s so big that it has been split into two parts and has two local chiefs that run each side of the village. The village is home to Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
Since it is a seaweed village local fisher men are usually seen in the early hours of the morning pushing out their boats for fishing as most of the residents from the village survive on sea food. They also make their income from this. In addition local women from the village assisted by their children also make a living from seaweed farming which is very common.
Arriving at my accommodation, Vanilla House I was welcomed with smiles and a fresh glass of mango juice before they had taken me to where I would sleep. On the very same day I found myself amidst a small intimate beach wedding that my place of accommodation was hosting where a polish couple eloped. This was amazing because it was my first time experiencing a beach wedding and now I am definitely left wanting to someday have a beach wedding of my own.
On the very same day which was a Friday, I also got the chance to attend another wedding but this one was much bigger. It was a local Muslim wedding and I had been informed Muslims usually celebrate their weddings on Fridays. Most of the people from the community gathered around in a circle and had a joyous dance off. Jambiani was truly just amazing.
During my time there I also awoke to the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen while overlooking the soothing sound of the oceans waves.
Throughout the three days I spent on Jambiani I explored the beach this too was a free activity. I also took a bike ride that was offered by my accommodation for US 5 along the beach.
I as well had the opportunity to get on the local boats of Zanzibar called Dhow boats with a young man called Harry and is father. Although language was somewhat of a barrier Harry and I communicated pretty well as he knew a little bit of English.
All the meals I had throughout my stay were freshly prepared depending on whatever I wanted to eat and many restaurant on the beach were affordable as well.
There is so much I can say about both Stone Town and Jambiani but I would want you to experience it for yourself to see exactly what I mean by it is nothing short of amazing. I hope that this write up will help you plan your trip or any other trip in general that you might want to take.