The Ultimate Zanzibar Travel Guide Series: Planning Your Trip
Have you always wanted to visit Zanzibar but you get so overwhelmed with all the detail and complications that you just give up altogether? A lot of people struggle with planning for a trip so much that they either keep procrastinating or they just don’t bother with it at all. This post will help you plan your trip, from finances to choosing dates and finding cheap flights to Zanzibar. So ‘alla’ y’all who’ve been wanting to visit the beautiful island but don’t know how to go about it, this one’s for you.
I decided to make this into a series because of the amount of detail I plan to share, which would be way too much for one blog post. I’m sure you’d either get bored with the amount of information or it’ll just add more to your already existing travel anxiety that you’d give up even before the third paragraph.
This was my first major trip all planned by myself, my first venture into the travel world. I know it can get a little overwhelming or scary or even seem impossible, but I’m going to walk you through it step by step. So I’m asking you to trust this first process, the other posts in this series will help with the rest of it. This one will be solely about how I made the decision, finding really cheap flights and the other details about planning the trip.
Did you know Zanzibar is a country on its own? Well, sorta. It is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, with its own government and laws. It is made up of the Zanzibar Archipelago, which consists of two large islands and several smaller ones. Unguja, which is generally referred to as Zanzibar, is one of the large islands, with Pemba being the second. Stone Town in Zanzibar City, on the island of Unguja is a World Heritage Site. Zanzibar is a Swahili speaking country and it is a majorly muslim country. The currency used in Zanzibar is Tanzanian Shillings. Most hotels, restaurants and service providers will transact in dollars, but it is advisable to transact in Shillings, as they convert at a lower rate, causing you to have to pay more.
After sitting at my office desk everyday, searching for cheap flights to Zanzibar, playing around with the dates, eventually finding those cheap flights and staring at my screen wondering if I could do this, travel to a new country all on my own, for my first time, ah! But I had initially promised myself I’d travel twice in 2017 since I was reaching a major milestone, 25. I had set that as one of my goals this year and I wasn’t going to start a chain of failing on promises I’d made to myself. So, one day after I’d planned my finances thoroughly, I clicked “Book Flight”, and I COULD NOT contain the excitement I felt after that. I mean, I was traveling to a beautiful island. For the first time in my life I’m doing something so big, all by myself. It was so exciting and butterflies-in-my-tummy inducing.
I had initially checked on Skyscanner for the cheapest flight dates, since it shows flight prices per date when you choose the whole month option. I saw it was cheaper to fly out on a Tuesday and fly back in on a Wednesday. So I headed over to CheapFlights and chose the exact dates. Cheapflights always has cheaper flights than Skyscanner or any other flight booking site I’ve ever used, so make sure to put CheapFlights at the top of your list. You usually would be directed to the actual website offering those flight prices, and for mine I was directed to budgetair using Ethiopian Airlines. My return flight ticket eventually totaled somewhere around R4400 ($350), including Visa card payment option fee.
Zanzibar is a really “easy” destination, especially if you live in Africa, that is why I chose it as my first travel destination. It’s visa free for most African countries. Once you arrive at the airport, you are made to pay for a 3 months single entry visa. That already makes the process so much easier, you get to skip the hassle of applying for a visa. A 3 months single entry visa costs $50, which I think is quite fair.
Soon as you step out of the airplane, you’re welcomed by the hot and humid air from the shack-like airport arrivals, like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Just as I got in, a lady asked me for my yellow fever card (so take yours with you guys), which I actually had no clue that I had to bring with me. She then took me into a room and asked me a few questions after seeing my passport was a Nigerian one. Luckily I had my South African ID in my passport case and soon as she saw it, she let me go. Although, I knew she just wanted some money so I just pretended I really had no money and needed to use the ATM. So definitely take your yellow fever vaccination card with you and don’t pay nobody no money.
After finding an AirBnB R600 discount online and that leading to me being torn between using AirBnB and Booking.com, I eventually went with Booking.com, I’d tell you why. Flipping through the pages on AirBnB and realizing that based on my budget, I’d have to stay at a really crappy accommodation because most of Zanzibar isn’t very developed, but it is an expensive island. So a small average room would be going for a completely unreasonable price, without much to offer.
I eventually figured booking a hotel will be better, offering a fairly better price, and most will offer breakfast and free wifi and you’ll end up getting your money’s worth. So I went with that. After going through a lot of hotels and their offers, I miraculously found Nur Beach Resort (there will be a review later on this AMAZINGG resort), and the pictures and reviews were all it took to get me to make a booking. Luckily a friend decided to join me last minute so I was able to split the $378 for 7 nights bill into two.
You can definitely get to change your money while at the airport at a very reasonable rate actually. I didn’t really notice a difference between the exchange rate outside the airport and that within the city. But if you’ve booked a hotel by the beach, and not close to town, I’d definitely advice you change all your money at the airport. Except you’re willing to spend the 55,000 Tanzanian shillings (if you’re good at negotiating), which is about $25, for a one way drive into town, every time you need to change money.
Otherwise, you can exchange before your trip at your bank or any company that offers foreign exchange. I found that the rate at the airport (R1 = 110 Tanzanian Shillings) was way less than the rate my bank was offering (R1 = 155 Tanzanian Shillings) at that time. So I’d suggest you change your money at a bank in your country before your trip.
Most hotels will offer airport transfer for $50 but we were able to get Zanzibar Airport Transfer who offer it for $40, with an air conditioned bus. Ask for Masoud on +255 777 043 720, you can also WhatsApp them or check their website here. But funny enough, our trip back to the airport when we were leaving was only $25, so always remember to negotiate. Although I don’t know how possible it is to negotiate before initial pickup, because you kinda have to be friendly with them before they’d be fine with negotiating. They’re usually not very open to negotiations while you’re still in your home country and have never met them.
Always remember to negotiate.
BASIC SWAHILI WORDS YOU SHOULD LEARN BEFORE VISITING ZANZIABR
- Hakuna Matata – No worries
- Jambo/Habari – Hello/How are you?
- Karibu – Welcome
- Asante Sana – Thank you
- Tafadhali – Please
- Samahani – Excuse me
- Pole – Sorry
- Poa Poa – Take it easy/Calm down
- Kiasi Gani – How much?
- Kaka – Brother
- Dada – Sister
- Ninakupenda – I love you
Zanzibar is a really beautiful place to visit, with the many islands and the brightest turquoise blue water. Have you ever visited Zanzibar? If yes, what was your experience like, where did you visit and what was your most memorable experience? Or have you never visited? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit and has this post fulfilled its purpose, and made it easier for you to decide? If yes, do let me know, I’d be happy to know this post was helpful.
There will be posts following this one with one-week fun packed itinerary (things to do), cost breakdown, where to stay/visit, and outfit ideas. You can subscribe to the blog now, on the right of this page or at the bottom, to get immediate updates of new posts on the blog. Looking forward to sharing my amazing experience in Zanzibar with you guys. Believe me, I have a lot of exciting and hilarious stories. Till next time, xx.