Since this region is a 23-mile excursion from mainland Tanzania, the culture, customs, politics, religion, and traditions are manifested rather differently. The instinct to lump the country in with this inconspicuous haven is understandable, but there are a few tidbits you will want to keep in mind before traveling as you would in the rest of Tanzania.
The country, the parent is a mingling of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous culture, with more acceptance of variety, while Zanzibar has been a hub for trade with many Arabian groups. This makes for a Muslim-infused culture, which is a beautiful experience. With that, to be respectful, it is nice to dress more modestly, even in its beachy environment. Sure, wear a bikini on the beach if you are comfortable, but slip on more clothes when going into the local eateries and cafes. It is not Miami Beach!
Although it is overwhelming to speak in a different language, it is encouraged that travelers try to dive into the Swahili language like they are going to dive into the beautiful, turquoise ocean. Zanzibar locals will not judge you if you get it wrong, as it is looked upon as polite and respectful to at least give it a try.
It is a rather fluid, detectable language, that allows for a little wiggle room, so play around with it. One of the most important phrases to remember: “Shikamoo”. This is a way of greeting elders and/or people of importance. It is not necessarily tied into class but simply utilized to signify vast respect. This is a trip to a land you most likely have never visited, so have fun and try on newness.
Time might be confusing to you at first, because most locals will keep it in Swahili, which is determined by sunset and sunrise. As Zanzibar exists so close to the equator, this looks like 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. consistently nearly the entire year. When the sunrises, it is 1 o’clock in the morning; after the sunsets, it is 1 o’clock at night. It is best to talk with locals about what phase of the day you plan to meet up, i.e. mid-morning, late-afternoon, after the night falls. I know, it is different, but what is time anyway?
If you are wondering, how will I get from mainland to Zanzibar? No worries! The ferries run at least 4 times a day; they are a far better option than the shaky plane ride you could take in place. Half of the cost, much smoother ride, AND serenely scenic! The boats travel at fairly high speeds to get you there in a timely fashion to enjoy the experiences that await you on the islands.