The Culture: Unique, Diverse and Cosmopolitan
The name Zanzibar is derived from a combination of two Arabic words, 'Zinj', meaning black, and 'barr', being the Arabic word for land, resulting in the ancient title 'Land of the Blacks'. As Zanzibar absorbed peoples from as far as The Orient and Iberia, Assyria and India, so the tapestry of Zanzibar cultures became more diverse in its range, more unique in its expression.
Zanzibar is the birthplace of Kiswahili, a lingua franca forged from global dialects, upon which legends were carried, trade routes opened and a Sultan’s empire prospered.
Excluding the other islands, Zanzibar (Ungunja) is 60 milles long and 20 milles wide. It has a total area of approximately 650 M². This makes it easy to explore since distances are very short.
The strident laments and exultant overtures of Swahili taarab were born, their rhythms and melodies carried and honed between Zanzibar and the Arabian Gulf until they became the sounds of the islands’ own musical narrative.
The architectural styles of Stone Town were borne of the social convergence, while the tangled mass of stories, woven from centuries of lives lived, bestow a folklore and legacy that permeate life on the archipelago.
Zanzibar is a small archipelago consisting of Unguja (commonly referred to as Zanzibar Island), Pemba and several small surrounding islands. It is located in the Indian ocean, just off the coast of East Africa, lying at 39 degrees East of the prime meridian and 6 degrees south of the equator. The islands have a total of 2,332 square kilometres.
Pemba is the second largest island of the Archipelago, named Al-khudra "The Green Island” by the Arabic mariners. It is famous for its clove production and its channels offer some of best diving experiences in East Africa.
The population of Zanzibar is estimated at about One million people.
Zanzibar is 3 hours ahead of GMT
230/240 volts AC
Value Added Tax (VAT):
98% Muslim, other religions include Christian, Hindu and traditional beliefs.
During Ramadhan, the holy month, Muslims fast from morning to evening. You may find it difficult to find food during the daylight hours. However some specified restaurants are allowed to serve the tourists. Obtain further information from the Commission for Tourism (link to enquiry form)
There are churches and temples that hold regular services available.
The official languages in Zanzibar are Swahili and English
Staple food and special foods:
Seafood is a favourite in Zanzibar.
Major income activities:
Small-scale farming, clove growing and fishing are the main activities carried out on the island.
Tanzanian shillings are the local currency. Notes are in denomination of 500, 1000, 5000, and 10,000 shillings. Coins are in the order of 10,20, 50, 100 and 200 shillings.
Currency can be changed at banks and the widely available bureaux de change as well as other accredited points such as hotels. It is illegal to change money on the streets. Exchange rates vary; check the current exchange rates (link to opening The name page) for guidance.
Kenya Airways operate daily flights from Nairobi. One can also fly from Kilimanjaro, Arusha or Dar es-salaam. One can use a ferry from Dar es-salaam.
Malaria area - minimize mosquito bites by wearing light, long sleeved clothing and using effective insect repellents (containing Diethyltoluamide DEET) on exposed skin. Sleep under treated mosquito netting or ensure that the doors and windows of your accommodation are screened against mosquitoes. Having a fan or air-conditioner on at night will further suppress mosquito activity.
Currently, the three effective anti-malaria tablets are Mefloquine (Lariam or Mefliam), Doxycycline and Malarone (Malanil). It is still possible to contract malaria while on malaria prophylaxis. Note that Lariam may present serious side-effects - please test before you depart.