Zanzibar is a derivative of the Persian sentiment ‘black coast’. Made up of small, beautiful isles, it also consists of two well known, larger land masses: Pemba Island and Unguja. If you are interested in pretty coasts, African culture, and fresh-catch dinners, this might be a perfect escape for you.
Also known for its trade routes along the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar was pivotal in the modern importation and exportation development for the times. The city has served the Persian, Indian, Arab, and Swahili trade communities since the mid-8th century. In this part of Tanzania, clove plantations climb all over tropical grassy hills, spicing up the air.
Much of the country and continent’s clove, nutmeg, and pepper comes from the region that is sometimes endearingly referred to as ‘Spice Islands’. Zanzibar is laced with historically-birthed culture and gorgeous views, making it one of the most highlighted regions in East Africa.
Swahili (Arabic and French)
Celebrations, Festivals, and Dates in Zanzibar
- Eid-al-Fitr Festival (held at the end of Ramadan) : This festival celebrates the conclusion of Ramadan, which is held for one month each year. While the Islamic calendar does differ from that of the Christian calendar, Ramadan shifts each year, with the lunar cycles. By the observation of fasting, Ramadan signifies the remembrance of brothers and sisters who are less fortunate. At the end of this month, ‘Stone Town’ gives light and love with a colorful festival with food and music, as it is prohibited to eat, drink, or commune in public during the entirety of the month before. It is a renewal, a new chapter.
- Zanzibar Music Festival (In July) : If you are a music junkie, who loves to travel, see new things, meet new people, and enjoy new beats, you might want to plan for this festival during your travels. It runs for a week in July, as Zanzibar brings in Asian and European artist to compliment the African line up. Here, you will listen to tunes of all varieties, with an emphasis on cultural tempos that reflective the coastal vibes and the deep roots of ‘Motherland’ culture. It is an incredible space for meeting new people, enjoying new life, and falling into new experiences.
To find more fun in Zanzibar, explore here.
Good to know
You must first touch down in Tanzania before entering into Zanzibar, so make sure you are educated about the travel documents and visas that you will need to acquire before your big adventure. Discover more.
History, Culture, and Etiquette in Zanzibar
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.