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Its tumultuous history includes rule by the Portuguese, Omani Sultans, and the British Empire, before gaining independence and merging with mainland Tanzania in 1964. The islands’ status as a crossroads of the Indian Ocean has created a fascinating syncretic culture.
Of the islands in the Zanzibar archipelago, the largest and most well known, and that which is generally referred to as Zanzibar, is properly called Unguja. (Acknowledging popular parlance we also use Zanzibar to refer to the main island.) Another large island, Pemba, is to its north and much less developed economically and as a tourist destination. Pemba has a handful of mid-range to high-end lodges, often specializing in scuba diving. Mafia is also part of the island group, though it lies more than 100km to the south. It has a small permanent population and a few small and excellent tourist lodges.
Among the other islands – just short boat rides from the main island – are tiny Chumbe and Mnemba. Each has its own boutique tourist facility (and otherwise no permanent inhabitants) for those seeking more exclusivity.
Relax in the evening in a rooftop restaurant as the sweet smell of cloves wafts in on the cool Indian Ocean breeze and the quiet murmur of men playing bao, the centuries old African board game, rises from the street below.
There are daily direct 1-hour flights from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar, as well as light aircraft flights from the Serengeti that connect you to Zanzibar. Please note that the latter have luggage limitations of 15kg (33 lbs) per person (soft-sided bags only).
Departing Zanzibar on an international flight is possible on Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines. To connect with the evening KLM flight to Amsterdam, take the short hop (20-minute) flight to Dar es Salaam, which we can include in any Zanzibar package. Departures from Zanzibar to Nairobi (1hr 15min flight) is another option.
Heavy rains fall from late March through May and lighter rains occur in November and December. As with all tropical islands, at any time of year days on Zanzibar have a mixture of both sun and clouds. Peak season for tourists is August and the Christmas/New Year holiday.
Many hotels are closed in April and May; visiting Zanzibar is not recommended during those months.
Sunscreens using titanium oxide or zinc oxide are harmless to coral. Please look for these when purchasing sunscreen.
Please do not enter a mosque if you are not Muslim.
Ramadan is an important Muslim religious observance during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of extra prayer as adherents seek forgiveness from God and try to purify themselves through self-restraint. The most noticeable aspect of the latter is fasting (no food or drink – including water) from sunrise until sunset. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, each month begins with the crescent moon and the year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year. So the dates of Ramadan are earlier every year (in 2019 it is expected to be from 5th May to 4th June). During this holy month the normally vibrant island can feel a bit quiet during the day. Still, all tourist facilities will be operating as normal and tourists are not expected to fast, though out of respect we suggest you not eat or drink in the streets during the day. Ramadan ends with the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is very joyous and an exciting time to be on Zanzibar.
Regardless of what you wear, you will not be accosted, but you may get disdainful looks and undesired attention, and you will certainly be insulting local cultural customs. Unfortunately, you will still see many tourists insensitive to these customs as they prance about Stone Town.
Swimsuits and lots of exposed skin are acceptable on the beach, and inside the private grounds of tourist hotels western beachwear is normal.