Is there a place on the planet that sounds as enticing as Zanzibar? By simply uttering the word, you can almost feel the sea breeze, hear the rustle of palm leaves, and smell the spices. Zanzibar is a four-island archipelago off the coast of East Africa and because of its strategic location on the spice and slave trade routes, it has been a stronghold for numerous kingdoms throughout history.
In 1832, Oman made Zanzibar its capital for 30 years. Zanzibar thereafter remained a British protectorate until it merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in the 1960s. Spices and tourism are the two mainstays of the economy today. Planning a holiday to the islands can be fun but there are a few things to know before travelling to Zanzibar.
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1. Greetings matter
Stop and introduce yourself: Swahili is a simple language to learn, and the learning curve is short. Even just knowing the basics will get you a long way. Don’t mistake people’s continual attention on the street for an attempt to sell you something or lure you into taking a tour—this does happen, but saying hello is also an important part of the Zanzibari’s local culture.
2. Explore Stone Town
The historic city, which was designated as a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2000, is beautiful, but it’s a maze. Getting directions from locals to navigate the town’s meandering alleys usually entails a series of perplexing hand gestures and head nods, and it’s unlikely to get you places quickly. On the plus side, Stone Town is a small and safe town where not knowing where you’re going is part of the fun.
3. Take it slow
Slow travel is a way of travelling that encourages connection to the people, customs, food, and music of the place you’re visiting. It is based on the premise that a vacation should educate as well as have an emotional impact. Zanzibar is exactly that but at a much slower pace. Life in Zanzibar moves ‘pole pole’, which is Swahili for slow. In Zanzibar, things don’t always make sense, don’t always work, and take a long time. It’s crucial to appreciate the quiet chaos and take inspiration from the relaxed pace.
4. Variety is the spice of life
Get a taste of the world. Over the years, Zanzibar has had many rulers, and its tragic history has resulted in one of Africa’s most intriguing cuisines. This is the first fusion cuisine, a delectable mix of Indian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, and African cooking traditions, all of which are fueled by the presence of spice. Eat as much fresh seafood as humanly possible, and while you’re visiting Zanzibar, we highly recommend trying African ugali, Indian chapatti, and Swahili curries.
5. Don't expect Tanzania
Zanzibar isn’t like the rest of Tanzania. Although it is technically part of Tanzania, the semi-autonomous archipelago lies 23 miles from the mainland, and life there is different in practically every way—from politics and religion to culture and food.
6. The two rainy seasons of Zanzibar
There are two rainy seasons in Zanzibar. Every year, long rains and brief rains alternate. Zanzibar’s long rainy season, which runs from March to May, follows the sweltering and sticky summer. If you’re looking for a beach vacation, this is not the time to go The short rains usually occur between November and December, but they aren’t quite as intense—they tend to come in short, torrential spurts before rapidly dissipating and returning to the blue sky.