TIPs for planning a budget trip to Zanzibar.

We went to Zanzibar in February 2015,
stayed there 3 weeks, during a complete trip (8 months), 
through Southern and Eastern Africa.

If you are travelling around East Africa, you´d like like everyone visiting Zanzibar, this famous african island, tropical and super big tourist spot.
But, ¿is Zanzibar affordable for low-cost and independent travellers? ¿How much money do you need to reach the island? ¿Is Zanzibar really interesting to visit if you are backpacker? Everything you need to know to travel to Zanzibar is here.

Remember, this is Africa, East Africa and Tanzania, tourist places are always quite expensive, in this cheap country. Zanzibar is not the exception. 
But, YES, backpacking in Zanzibar it´s STILL possible, but it´s NOT SO CHEAP cause finding a cheap place to sleep is becoming very hard.

We were really lucky in Zanzibar, things turned right and finally stayed 3 weeks on the island. And now we can share some tips to save money in Zanzibar, if you are planning a low-cost and independent trip there.

  • Take a slow ferry from Dar Es Salaam to reach Zanzibar. You save 15$ each way travelling in the slow ferry instead of the fast boat. And the way back from Stone Town to Dar you stay all the night on board, saving 1 night of accommodation.
  • Stay longer on Zanzibar. As the slow ferry costs 40$ return ticket (fast boat costs 70$) which is not too cheap, try to stay more days on the island. Even if the accommodation is expensive in Zanzibar, it´s also possible to find a few cheap rooms near the beach. Good plan if you like the beach, cause walking and swimming are still free and you will relax in the tropical island.
  • Move around Zanzibar  in dala-dala (vans, minibuses, public transport). It´s the cheapest way to travel around the island, connecting Stone Town and beaches. It only costs 2.000 Sh (1 €)!
  • Mix Stone Town and Zanzibar beaches. Accommodation is more expensive in Stone Town than at the beaches (but food is cheaper). Stone Town is an interesting place to visit in subsaharian Africa, a medina full of history, which transport you to Middle East or Morocco. Completely different of East Africa towns. We liked it, walking in the small streets, getting lost there. But it´s also a noisy and hot place. So beaches are a perfect mix for balancing, relaxing,calm tropical atmosphere there.

  • Look for accommodation in local places. Accommodation prices in Zanzibar are growing very fast, and nowdays it is very difficult to find a cheap room. In february 2015, the average minimum price for affordable accommodation was around 30-40 $ for a double room. But you can find some cheaper spots as we did: we never paid more than 20 $ for a double room, really lucky (read the complete information in each place we visited... thanks for reading!).
  • Bargain the room price without breakfast. Usually in the accommodation price, breakfast is included. You can maybe get a discount if no breakfast wanted and staying a few nights around. Always easier at the end of the season (as it happens to us) or during low season. In high season, it´s really hard, if everything is fully booked.
  • Attention: Camping is forbidden now in Zanzibar! Finish, over! It was the cheapeast option before. Businesses can only offer rooms now. So it will be really difficult (but not impossible!) to find a place to pitch your tent; unless you go out of the main beaches and far away from the big hotels, it can be tiring to find a spot. But, you always can try! Maybe in a smaller camp somewhere...
  • Eat in local restaurants of Zanzibar. Tourist restaurants are expensive, prices are often in US$! Even for a bottle of water, tourists restaurants charge you 2 or 3 times more. We recommend eating in local places, it´s really cheaper. In Stone Town there are a few very good and clean local restaurants (we give details in the special post). On the beaches, more village atmosphere, food offer is more limited and hygienic conditions too, but we were not sick and always found something, don´t worry! And there are also some shops and markets!
  • Bring enough cash to Zanzibar beaches. Stone Town is the only place in Zanzibar where you will find ATMs, so before going to the beaches don´t forget to take cash. The cheapeast lodges usually don´t accept bank cards.
  • Buy bottled water, big containers are cheaper. Tap water is not safe to drink (it is in some places in Tanzania!). Specially on the beaches, some times quite salty. So better buy bottled water. Prices are 1.000 Sh for 1.5 l, big 12 or 15 l containers around 4.000 - 5.000 Sh. In Stone Town we tried the fountain where locals drink, but it was not good, salty.
  • Enjoy the Zanzibar beaches for free.  The island is a nice destination if travelling around Africa, with its tropical feeling and mix of people. After 4 months travelling around southern and eastern Africa, we really enjoyed the place, because if you don´t want spend a lot of money doing activities or tours, you don´t have too many things to do sometimes and cities in Africa are have no real interest. It was great to swim, walk, and relax on the beach, and it´s still free.



   WHAT WE LIKED IN ZANZIBAR   

  • Different atmosphere, mix of people (African, Arabs, Indians), tourists and travellers. More than 1 million inhabitants on Zanzibar. The island is big enough to see local life, fishermans, it´s not only tourist ambient.
  • Stone Town. Back in history, a medina full of small streets, hectic place, market place. Walk and get lost, seat down (there are benches on the sides of the streets) and observe.
  • White sand and turquoise sea of Zanzibar. Incredible colours and light when you approach the coast... even if big tides and seaweeds.
  • The best place for swimming in Zanzibar: Kendwa and Nungwi-south (northwest coast), always possible even at low-high tide and no seaweeds or jellyfishes at least in February).
  • Long beaches great for walking in Zanzibar: the southeast or northeast coasts (Pingwe-Jambiani or Matemwe-Pongwe) will suit you...with its huge tides, perfect for a long walk at low tide and to see fishermen and seaweeds collectors.
  • Zanzibar is a muslim island, but things have changed and now local people are used to tourists. Tourist beaches are a world apart and bikinis are tolerate on the beaches. But the island is still quite conservative. So when going to villages, taking transport, in Stone Town, avoid wearing shorts and please respect the locals. Attention: Ramadan. Outside the big resorts and hotels, it will be difficult to find food, local restaurants and small shops will be closed till late afternoon.



   WHAT WE DIDN´T LIKE IN ZANZIBAR   

  • Huge tides, seaweeds, jellyfishes and few corals left in Zanzibar: cause of tides and seaweeds, swimming is not always the best activity to do, specially on the east coast. Also there, the sea was too hot in february and many jellyfishes. Very few corals left near the coast, don´t expect too much snorkeling from the beach... maybe reaching the reef by boat (quite far away) or Mnemba island where all the tours go... Not so many beaches in Zanzibar, many km of rocky coast and mangroves.
  • Big international resorts, parties and noise in Zanzibar. There are many hotels and big resort clubs on the beaches, but beaches are still public, you can walk and swim. The snorkelling boats in Nungwi, with drums and music and drinks and local young guys... depends what you are looking for during your tour...We didn´t find a party atmosphere in general on the beaches, we found Paje and Nungwi calm, but if looking for a party, for sure you will find it. But expect to pay a fee maybe...
  • Garbage in Zanzibar. The island is really dirty, garbage everywhere. Just walk around Nungwi, terrible! Even if the cows help in “recycling”. Walking on the beaches, also some places with bad smell, specially around big resorts (back door), maybe the sewage is not perfect too.
  • Deforestation in Zanzibar: don´t expect too many coconuts and palms on the beaches, not many left. Same inland, not too many trees, the island suffers big deforestation. If there a small patch of forest with a few monkeys, you pay. If there are a few spices trees and garden , same, another tourist scam. We don´t like these places, sorry.
  • Sexual tourism in Zanzibar. Just have a look at the beaches in Nungwi... you will see many foreign women, specially italian, walking hand by hand with black guys and masais. Yes, masais, exotic, are allowed around and inside big resorts... selling crafts and other services.No need to go to remote villages around Arusha to see masai people, just head to Zanzibar beaches. Weird! 


 Same location with high and low tide

   OTHER TANZANIA COAST DESTINATIONS   

We just went to Zanzibar and stay almost 3 weeks there. But here´s some information we picked and what travellers told us… In fact not so many "beach" destinations, many mangrooves too...

MAFIA ISLAND:
Famous for diving, there´s a marine NP (fees).
 Boats from Nyamisati (150 km south of Dar Es Salaam, buses from Rangi Tatu station).
Tourist offer is quite limited to expensive resorts, so if on a budget maybe not easy to find cheap places in Mafia. Try maybe in town (Kilindoni), at The New Lizu Hotel (20.000 Sh/rooms?).

PEMBA ISLAND
Another island, 50 km north of Zanzibar. Not so many beaches (only in northern part). Conservative muslim island.
Limited offer, focused in expensive resorts, not many cheap places except in main towns, Wete and Chake-Chake.
Ferries from Dar via Zanzibar. Check if connections from Tanga working (enquire in hotels).Airport.
 
PANGANI
50 km south of Tanga. A few resorts and hotels around, north and south from a river (the sea can be not too clean). For better beaches, head to Ushongo, 16 km south of Pangani, taking a public ferry to cross the river (no bridge). Camping at Drifters Lodge in Ushongo is 5 $/pp.

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