Is Zanzibar Safe for Women Travelling Alone?
Is Zanzibar safe for solo female travellers? This is the question I get into my inbox at least twice a week from our female readers. I was planning this post for a while, but to be honest, talking about safety is very relative and also personal thing and depends on many factors including luck and personality of each traveller.
If you ask someone who spent a few days somewhere in a cozy resort, they will say it is super safe, but are these few days or maybe a week on Zanzibar enough to make such strong absolute statements? As everywhere in the world, same applies for Zanzibar. Do people get robbed? Yes, but they also get robbed in Madrid or Toronto or anywhere else in the world.
As someone who spent at least two months on Zanzibar each year in last six years I have seen a lot ( mob justice beating among locals) and heard even more scary stories from expats and local people. Some of the stories i have been told could easily get into ID Investigation channel, but all those crimes occur between locals, mostly out of jealousy, revenge and other conflicts.
It is not always rainbows and sunshines being solo female on Zanzibar, however if you stay in hotels with security and use common sense, the chances are very low to have bad experience as a solo female traveller on Zanzibar. As per my personal experience about safety on Zanzibar, I learned a lot in all these years and am religiously sticking to my own safety rules.
Safety of Solo Female Travellers on the Beaches of Zanzibar
Zanzibar has two sides. The touristy side of Zanzibar, and the side you experience when going more on local level. Being able to spend so much time on Zanzibar I dont stay in hotels, I usually co share an apartment with locals which is great way to avoid touristy vibes and experience local life. And sometimes I rent a place for my own.
I dont consider myself a tourist anymore the moment I step to Zanzibar, but more like an expat. A home away from home. However, living like this makes me more exposed in environment where there are no tourists. Zanzibar is small, people see and notice anything (maybe because they dont have television?) and word and gossip goes fast around.
With my recent experience, word about a white female living a lone in rented house spread so fast that after living alone for a week on remote plot in a beautiful newly built house with just a couple of neighbours I never saw, bad people found out about me. What is better than a skinny female living alone? Great target for robbery in the middle of the night a private house near the Bwejju beach.
I will not go into details about this incident, but believe me it was scary and left some traumatic consequences with which I am still dealing in the present. The lesson learned here is: nobody helped me, neighbours heard me screaming, but nobody actually helped. Afterwards I wanted to call the police, like I would do it at home, to report the crime.
I was strongly advised not to do so, since police is corrupted in this area and I could get into even more troubles. Apparently police works with criminals in this area and protects the perpetrators. Why nobody helped me? Later I was told, people know each other, and helping me would cause trouble to anybody who would want to involve in this incident.
Great! So there is no 911 on Zanzibar. I am not saying the whole police is corrupted, but in my case, it turned out useless option. And I admit I was deeply disappointed for nobody helping me out in dangerous situation, but hearing the fact that people could have problems because of me I kind of understand.
This is just one of incidents I personally encountered. I had more luck than common sense and probably serious army of guardian angels on my side that night. I dont even want to think what could happen to me that night.
Writing about this is not about making you scared of Zanzibar, but I find it important that women are aware of possible threats. Of course, in my case I was not in a secured hotel, had no night guard and you can blame me I personally put myself into this situation. Being blinded by perfect location and low rental price I do admit did forgot about safety as I got too relaxed.
If you are renting property that is not hotel or lodge, make sure you ask around about the safety situation in the village you plan to be and make sure you have night guard – askari, if you can trust him of course.
Muggings on the beach in broad daylight are possible, therefore dont bring your valuables to beach walks and leave other valuables in hotel safe. Specially if you plan to walk alone. Another popular mugging point is on the beach walks between Kendwa and Nungwi.
And there are beach boys, the guys who will be selling you cheap tours or drugs or even hit on you. They are on general harmless and leave you alone when you let them know you dont need their services or help or whatever they are offering.
If you spend some time on a beach in Zanzibar (and almost every visitor does), be careful where you sit. A palm tree may provide some welcome shade, but a coconut landing on your head could cause major injury, possibly even death. Staff in some hotel were pretty vigilant in checking the trees regularly and picking any coconuts that appeared ready to drop.
When the tide goes out, there is a huge stretch of sand and rocks left bare which allows you to walk out to the edge of the reef. A lovely walk, barefoot in the sand, but beware! Firstly there are lots of sea urchins, so barefoot isn’t a good idea!
Secondly, it is further than it looks. This means that, if you happen to be out as far as you can go when the tide turns, the water starts to get deep pretty quickly. Ok if you are a good swimmer, not so good if you’re not.
Dress Conservatively on Zanzibar to Avoid Unwanted Attention
Zanzibar is majority Muslim population and with some proper outfit you can minimize attracting unwanted attention and cat calls by men on the streets. You do not need to pack a burqa or niqab in your suitcase but dress modestly, specially in Stone Town and out of closed resorts.
By modestly I mean, cover your shoulders, dont show cleavage and no mini skirts or short pants exposing your legs up to your butt. On the beaches no topless sun bathing and when going for a walk along the beach, its good to cover yourself in pareo.
Respect Ramadan Etiquette
If you are visiting Zanzibar during ramadan, make sure you are familiar with the ramadan etiquette. You can read about it in this post : Ramadan on Zanzibar
Safety of Solo Female Travellers in Stone Town
Stone Town is lovely town and if you are walking it alone, make sure you know your abouts. In the day light, apart from street vendors trying to sell you something or inviting you to their shops, you should be ok, while in the dark make sure you do not walk alone. Make sure someone escorts you to your hotel or take a taxi.
Personally I always use only taxi drivers by recommendation of other trusted expats or local friends I know for years. Although the tourist side of Stone Town is very lively in the day, it becomes ghost city after 10 pm. Drink in moderation and keep an eye on your drinks like you would anywhere else in the world in a foreign country.
Be vague about your place of stay. Sometimes a casual conversation will lead to a question about what hotel you are at, or where you are headed next. It’s wise to stay purposefully vague, or have a (faux) backup hotel or guesthouse in mind for those situations. I’m always wary of giving too much information about my whereabouts when traveling alone. This applies, of course, to men as well.
How do Expat Women Feel About Women Safety on Zanzibar
I asked two female expats living on Zanzibar to write down their opinion about how safe is Zanzibar for female solo travellers and for advice for future female solo visitors to Zanzibar.
Sine, German expat living on Zanzibar for 6 years: Compared to other places, Zanzibar feels much safer, and in six years living here, I have never felt unsafe. Having said that, smaller incidences like muggings on beach or break ins have increased a bit as has the presence of drugs and what comes with it.
Nevertheless, for single female travellers, Zanzibar must be one of the safest options in Africa. Obviously, you will get some male attention, especially from the beach boys and Massais, but apart from that, you can relax.
Avoid deserted beach areas (try to have some hotels/guesthouses in sight) and when you go for a walk, leave your valuables at the hotel.
Please bear in mind the cultural differences – Europeans might be used to drunken girls, but to locals, this kind of behaviour can be seen as ‘loose’ and ‘immoral’. Even i you don’t mean to, they might see your drunken behaviour as an invitation to try it on and they can be persistent (although would not necessarily cross the line).
When you go to a party, don’t walk home alone – take a taxi or, if your hotel is within walking distance – ask one of the staff if there is someone to escort you home (maybe against a small token of gratitude).
Do not get tempted by drugs – the police might seem incompetent, but they know what is going on and can easily catch you. Just stick to the legal highs, please.
Federica, Italian Expat living on Zanzibar for 4 years:
- Solo in Africa for the first time? Read this: How to Travel Solo in Africa
- Cant decide which beach to choose on Zanzibar? Read Guide to Zanzibar beaches
Have you been to Zanzibar? How safe did you find the island? If not what is your solo travel experience on general?
So sorry to hear about your robbery- that is scary stuff. Good thing it wasn’t worse. I hope you’re able to move past it quickly. I really hope to visit Zanzibar one day soon!
I guess in 6 years this was the second incident, statistically i am doing fine:) It happens.
Sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience – wow that must have been scary. It is great to read posts like these because all you normally hear are the beautiful places and no one ever warns you about your safety. Thank you for sharing.
Thats why i mentioned this incident. I wasn’t warned either.
I’ve never been to Zanzibar, but after reading this post I don’t feel too keen now. I’m sorry about that traumatic incident. I can’t even begin to imagine how you felt. I like how you highlighted how to be safe, but if I’m going on a holiday, I want to feel safe and bring my camera for water shots on the beach. It’s such a beautiful country and living in Asia ruined me. I can walk around at night and not feel like anything is going to happen to me.
The robbery sounds awful. Did you leave Zanzibar after that or do you still live there? I’m sure I would be put off if it happened to me. I’m also surprised to learn there are expats who have lived there for years. What do they do for work?
I moved out of that house next morning and went to Stone town, hired a co sharing house with a local girl. Expats mainly work in hotels or own their own business. Zanzibar is known for property investments.
Thanks for these really useful tips. As it is, I tread on foreign sands with caution and being a woman, with double. This makes it a lot easier if I want to do a solo trip. Cheers
I agree, travelling as a solo female will never equal to men security wise.
This is really informative. It’s always important to learn more about a culture and be respectful when traveling. Thank you for sharing your experiences and those of other expats. You really raised some great issues.
That is such a shame you experienced that – thank you for sharing though, it is important for all women to know and be aware of their safety. Even though doing things alone *should* be safe, it isn’t always, no matter where you are in the world, but especially in countries where it is very uncommon to see women alone.
Thanks for sharing your tips – as you’ve said, your intent is not to scare anyone away, but to help women make wise decisions about how they choose to travel. I think the scariest thing for many women is the fact that nobody would go out of their way to help them if they were in trouble. I’m sorry that happened to you! I think I would travel to Zanzibar with a group to avoid some of these issues.
I travel solo because at this point no one has time for it from my friends and still prefer being solo over being with a stranger travel buddy. Travelling in a pair is nice and cheaper too.
I’m so sorry to hear about the incident you encountered that one night. I hope and pray that you are okay. I thought this post was thoughtful, informative and super important to share because it’s based on personal experience. You gave so many examples and as I head out on my solo adventures, it’s important for me to remember to always be present and vigilant in my safety.
This will not stop me from travelling of course. But sometimes its good to be super careful.
Hi Danielle Des, I am a female traveling solo to Zanzibar. I noticed you said “as I head out on my solo adventures….” would you happen to be traveling to Zanzibar soon too? Just curious, maybe we can meet up around Stone Town, and possibly take a tour? Just a suggestion so we don’t draw unwanted attention to ourselves walking alone
Hello Nina, you write with such honesty and with a view to both sides of the coin.
As you have said, most of this is common sense. And common sense requires an empathy for both culture and circumstance.
Our customer support centre is asked such questions.
Hi Marc, thanks for stopping by! I also got your email but at the moment i am experiencing some server troubles so i will get back to you asap.
my name is Vianni ,,i landed on your post looking out for safety tips about vistors on the zanzibar island as i plan to travel this december with my girl,my sister and brothers girl. i have to admit i love the beach and living in Cuba for seven years spoilt me. and my family. so i got a challenge to see that these free minds and souls i move with enjoy since i know truely there measures on what to put on and what not to put on. i would love to get advice in general what to tell these ladies not to pack and what can be accepted and where to put it precisely on the island. can you please advise me on the dressing codevand safety. i will be glad
Hey Vianni, well Zanzibar is Muslim. There is no need to complicate things regarding clothing. If you are gonna stay in resort or hotel with property, you dress like you would anywhere. In villages or Stone Town, or markets it is respectful to wear loose clothes and to cover shoulders, cleavage and legs, at least a skirt below the knees. That doesn’t mean a female tourist has to be covered in scarf or burka, just normal moderation will be more than enough. Thats my recommendation, because I want to respect local culture and people. However I saw female tourists dressed really improperly too… On the beach no skinny dipping, no topless sunbathing and no public displays of affection.
Hello Nina. Very informative post. Thank you. I will be visiting Zanzibar with a group of friends but will stay on for 5 days on my own. I will heed your advice and will arrange my solo days with it in mind. I do like to travel alone but I think it’s becoming more difficult for solo females to experience that freedom. Take care for all your adventures. Thank you
Hello Mary, thanks for your kind comment. I agree with you. I noticed just on Zanzibar how differently I am treated in some situations if I appear solo or if I have fellow male traveller company with me.I am sure you will enjoy Zanzibar:) All the best to you!
Hi Nina, I’m sorry for the scare and the trauma you’ve been through.
I’m a man and I’m not going to travel alone and I had to read your article because I’m going to Zanzibar in November and I’ll be in Stone City 2 days, 4 days in Pongwe and 3 days in Paje and of course, safety is always an issue. Common sense is advised especially when we are in a part of the globe that is not our home and if possible, “in Rome be Romano”.
My wife and I travel through more than 20 countries, mainly Asians, and whenever we feel safe, we go out at night and the only place where we were robbed was Paris.
Question: I have photographic equipment worth 5 thousand euros; you advise to not walk along the beach in the middle of the day between Jambiani and Bwejuu or between Pongwe and Kiwengwa with this equipment, or even in Stone City?
Hi Carlos, tough question. Follow your instinct i think its the best answer. You know how life is, its unpredictable, each traveller has different experience. I cant advise you because my advice (human nature) would be biased upon my unfortunate experience. But the fact is, crime has increased in last recent years on Zanzibar, specially break ins and muggings. This problem is well discussed in Zanzibar expat groups on FB.
Great info! It’s a very informative topic. Thanks!
HI Nina, sorry for the traumatic events in Zanzibar; hope you’ve completely recovered now. Crimes in Dar are getting much worse (perhaps doesn’t extend to Zanzibar, I don’t know) as many American friends I know are getting robbed at gun point on a DAILY basis. The very realistic video below was taken 10 years ago, but things are getting even worse now. Take care!
I healed my ptsd from the attack and am familiar with DAR situation, thats why i try to avoid it as much as I can:) Thanks for stopping by!
Hi Nina! It’s a great post. Since you always stay for 2 months can you please advise how/where to search for 3 month rentals on South-East coast of Zanzibar? Looking for apartment or small house in safe area near the beach.
Its best to ask around while you are there. I never planned ahead always got what I was looking for. Be careful though, crime increased on Zanzibar!