Getting Started on your Zanzibar Vacation Planning
If you are considering an exotic sun and sand vacation, Zanzibar is high on many-a-bucket list. For many, this will be a once in a lifetime adventure, so let's prepare!
A Minute About Zanzibar
Zanzibar islands have a rich and tumultuous history.
Being an island off the coast of Africa means that it's where cultures collide! You'll find strong influences from African, Middle Eastern and European cultures. The architecture in Stone Town is something at which to marvel.
Stone Town, Zanzibar was the trading post for African slaves going east to Europe and the Middle East. What we know today as the Stone Town waterfront used to be a buying and selling point for slaves heading east.
Lastly, it's the birthplace of the beloved Freddy Mercury. A bar and a museum remain in his honour, which is a strange juxtaposition next to a culture that is still quite conservative in its attitudes toward religion, gender norms, sexuality and drugs and alcohol.
Getting to Zanzibar
Perhaps the easiest way for most of you will be flying into Nairobi. Nairobi, Kenya is the host of one of Africa's hub airports. Many carrier options exist for a flight to Nairobi. Once you land in Nairobi, you can fly Precision Air (a Kenyan Airways partner) directly to Zanzibar.
If you're already in Tanzania, or you have an easy flight path to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there are many direct flight options. There is also a ferry that goes between Stone Town and Dar es Salaam daily. I've been told that the ferry takes approximately 2 hours, departs multiple times daily, and the ride can be choppy!
Many of you will be able to get a visa on arrival (Canadians, Brits and Americans) at your first port of entry into Tanzania. If that first port is Zanzibar, it is worth noting that you will need to pay for your visa with credit card, not U.S. cash, as with most other visas on arrival in Africa.
You will also need a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. You will not be permitted to enter the country without this!
Starting in Stone Town
My major recommendation would be to spend a couple of days in Stone Town first, where there are fun night markets, funky bars and restaurants and a very laid-back vibe. After a couple of days in Stone Town, head north to the pristine sandy beaches.
In Stone Town, take in the spice tour to see why Zanzibar is called Spice Island. Spend an afternoon roaming around and experiencing the unique architecture. Buy into the kitschy Freddy Mercury obsession.
Then, in the evening, head down to the waterfront to take in the night market. If you've packed your Cipro antibiotics in case things get a little dicey, indulge in some amazing street food! Honestly, between the upset tummy side effects of my antimalarial meds and unfamiliar bacteria on my foods, things always get a tad dicey for me in Africa, food-wise. :O I like to refer to it as my African weightloss plan.
If you're looking for budget-chic in Stone Town, try the Tembo Hotel. It's one of the few hotels in Stone Town with a pool. It's quite nice, while being budget friendly. It's located in the heart of Stone Town, so you're a short trot to whatever you'd like to see!
If you're looking for a little more luxe, but still African authentic, try my favourite African hotel chain, the Serena.
Due to the still largely conservative Muslim population of the island, many hotels do not serve alcohol, including Tembo. But there are still plenty of bars around! If you decide to stay at Tembo, there is a great beach bar right next door that I took a shine to during my 2014 visit!
You won't find a great beach to relax at here. The beaches tend to be crowded, a little polluted and generally not as nice as other parts of the island. Stone Town is not the place for a beach vacation.
As a friendly FYI, Stone Town, Zanzibar still remains on many advisors no-go lists for gay friendly vacations. Again, quite odd considering Stone Town's obsession with Freddy Mercury.
Head North for Some Rest & Relaxation
Next, head on up to the northern part of the island for a nice resort stay for a few days, where the beaches are white sand, and the water pristine with that beautiful teal hue.
It'll take you about an hour to travel to the north side of the island. Take your time to peruse online for resort options and get yourself a decent deal, if possible. Although, these resorts can be quite expensive.
If you don't plan to eat and drink a lot, you can sometimes save money by opting out of the all inclusive package.
Just like at the resorts in the Caribbean, each hotel usually has its own private beach area.
Personally, I've stayed at the Melia Zanzibar Resort. The facilities and the beach were phenomenal. But the service did not match the $500 CAD per night all inclusive price-tag.
** I didn't pay this price for the room. I was transferred to this hotel when my original hotel could no longer accommodate my reservation and rebooked me to another hotel.
Taking a trip to Africa and want further travel or destination suggestions? I'm happy to be a sounding board! Comment below!