Insider Tips About Zanzibar from a Local
When it comes to Tanzania and Zanzibar travel, Zanzibar is always hot topic among travellers. When to go, is it safe, what to see… and although Zanzibar is quite small island, there are always places you will not find in the guide books. Those places and insider tips are best obtained from locals.
And this post is all about insider tips about Zanzibar from Lukman, the face of Friendly Taxi & Tours that knows Zanzibar better than anyone. Lukman is 26 years old Zanzibari guy, formally trained and licensed tour guide and taxi driver. Clients on Tripadvisor praise him as the friendly and fun, yet professional, punctual and knowledgeable person. He is also well known Zanzibari soccer player and one day he hopes to open a guest house in Nungwi.
We asked him about Zanzibar the most common questions I usually get from readers. Hope this interview will help you with planning your Zanzibar trip and you get some valuable insights about Zanzibar behind the tourist scene.
As a local, what is your recommendation of one place a first time visitor to Zanzibar should not skip?
A visitor should not skip a visit in Stone Town. We call this a city tour because Stone Town is a place you can discover the culture and traditions, so as to know Zanzibar Island and East Africa. You have to go so you can see the slave trade market, visit the slave chambers, and see the big market where you can also buy souvenirs, if you want.
All of this shows the culture and traditions of the people of the island. Zanzibar is a historical island, a spice island, and a paradise island. So as to know all of this you need to visit Stone Town. You will get the history and you will see how people are nice. You can discover the way they live in a lovely way.
For example, in one place you can see a mosque and a church. It is a place that always gets a lot of attention. Don’t forget, Freddie Mercury house is in Stone Town. You can also get a boat to Prison Island (more about this later), so in one place you can do two things.
People are often worried that travelling to Zanzibar during April is not good idea. How is Zanzibar in low season?
Most people say that and that is exactly the way it used to be! But, nowadays it’s a little bit different. I remember when I was a boy, when it was raining during April, the rain was really heavy. It was raining seriously, but nowadays we don’t have such rain.
Normally it rains, stops, sunshine. Rain, stops, sunshine. This means it will not stop people to do their holiday. If you visit in Stone Town, it can rain like 30 or 40 minutes. You can stay in the restaurant, near the market, or in your car and when it stops, you continue.
It rains on different parts of the island too. So, it is very possible for it to rain while you are in Stone Town. But, if you leave Stone Town and go to the beach hotels, there won’t be anymore rain. So, I do recommend people to visit in Zanzibar.
In the rainy season things become cheap like accommodations and transportation to the restaurants. Also, it is not so busy at the places you may visit. You can go to the beach, there aren’t a lot of people, so you will enjoy it more.
In the hotels, again not a lot of people, so you will enjoy it more. You will probably get great service too. Of course, you can get great service every time you visit in Zanzibar, but during April you can get even better service.
With drivers, the great thing is they have umbrellas, so they are prepared. It is okay, you can visit Zanzibar in April. It can be like 2 days, no rain. It’s April. Some days there will be a cloudy, but no rain. Sometimes, it rains a little bit and then it stops. For sure, it is okay to visit Zanzibar in April.
Travelling to Zanzibar During Ramadan – yes or no?
The answer is yes, why not? You can visit in Zanzibar during Ramadan. In Zanzibar, we have very good religious tolerance. That means we respect each other. That’s why we are called the paradise island.
The locals respect the tourists and the tourists respect the locals, which are Islamic. They know that you are Christian, you have your culture and tradition. We are Islamic, we have our culture and tradition. You can do your holiday. But, the good thing is to get more information from the locals. I mean, if you visit in Stone Town, then you should cover your body. Do not put on short clothes, so people won’t see your body. You just cover.
The second thing during Ramadan on Zanzibar is, you can go everywhere and you can do any activity you want to do. You can drink and eat. But, it is recommended that when you want to eat, you should go in the hotel.
Some of the restaurants will not allow you to eat outside because the local people practice their own culture. It is great to respect it and you should respect each other. There are hotels that are on the beach and this is where you can eat, even when you are outside. Most of the local population is in Stone Town, but at the beach, you can eat and drink like you want.
It is a good thing to do that because this is the way we are, people from Zanzibar. We are always very respectful of each other and even after Ramadan, we celebrate together. This proves that we have very good religious tolerance in Zanzibar. Mosque and church; same place.
People pray differently, but after praying, they come and have a seat together. So, life goes on. You can do your holiday in Zanzibar, even during Ramadan. The most important thing is to make sure the tourists are not disrespectful to locals because the locals are always respectful to the tourists. Life goes on. So, the answer is yes, it is possible and I recommend for tourists to visit Zanzibar during Ramadan.
For more curious travellers that are looking for less visited spots on Zanzibar, are there any off the beaten places usually under the average tourist radar, but are worth to visit?
Nowadays, there are very few places on Zanzibar I will say tourists don’t go because some tourists are already here and they have been looking for places where tourists don’t go. Because they find such places, there are places tourists do not visit frequently.
When I was a boy, tourists were not visiting Tumbatu Island. This island is near to Nungwi Village. From Nungwi, there’s a place where there’s a natural cave. Before, people were not visiting there. Nowadays, they do a little bit.
There’s another place in Jambiani, it’s a cave that tourists do not visit a lot. I think nowadays they do, but before, they were not visiting. But the other places, tourists do go. Sometimes, it happens that there are some tourists, but they want to go to a place where there aren’t other tourists, only locals. So, there are villages in the countryside that I can take them to go visit. For example, there’s Uzi Island.
In the center of the island is where there are no hotels, so most of these places there are no tourists. So, when people want to do things sans other tourists, I take them there. Then, they can see how locals live, they can experience the culture and tradition. They will be very interested.
Near Stone Town, there’s a place called Prizi. There’s a very big baobab tree and in this place, tourists do not go. A long time ago, around 2002, the government wanted to name this place as a historical site. But, then they canceled.
The Chinese came and they wanted to do this place for tourism. But, they canceled. That means most tourists do not go to this place. The interesting thing about this very, very big baobab tree in Prizi, is that it is surrounded by local houses and local houses are surrounded by the tree. It is very big.
The roots of the tree are very tall. You can even hide in the roots, they are that big. With some of the houses, the root passes over them and then on the top, there’s another house. It’s in a place called Prizi. Again, the interesting thing there is the very big and old baobob tree. They say it is the 3rd biggest baobab tree in the world. But, I am not sure about this; it is not guaranteed. This is just what people say, but it is huge!
Which are best beaches for parties, fun and young crowds that want to party on Zanzibar?
At Kendwa Rocks, you can party to the beach. There’s another place in Paje, it’s called Jambo Brothers. In Nungwi there’s another place, Cholo’s. It is a bar, but it’s on the beach. The thing is, every place on the beach where people played music and then saw more people come, they would then build a bar right there, as a business.
First it happens only for locals, but when they see “ohhhhh, a lot of people visit this place”, then they build a bar for everyone. Cholo’s started like this. It was an empty beach, just dancing and then they built a bar. They can drink and everything like this. That’s it. Kenda Rocks was the same.
Sometimes the locals can have their music to the beach and play it all of the time. Finally, they will build a bar. Kae Funk in Michamvi is the same. They started out with music, but they have a bar already. So, that’s what happens a lot.
The trend is that many travellers want to go local. Is there a chance to safely visit local village on Zanzibar and experience village life?
Yes, there is. They can visit to Mkokotoni Village. Those are the locals that deal with fishing. They can see how to make a dhow – the typical Zanzibari boat. They can visit in Nungwi Village, it is also safe. They can see how they make dhows and do fishing.
Then, near to Kizimbani Village, there’s a Persian bath and then near a place where people do spice tours, there’s a village they can experience to see Swahili culture and traditions.
What is the best way to travel around Zanzibar and why?
To the east coast of Zanzibar is the best way to travel by car – taxi, because, on the way to there, first of all, the road is very good. There’s not a lot of bridges versus on the way to the north coast, where there are a lot of road bridges.
Second, there aren’t a lot of police stops. Also, to the east coast, you can stop on the way to the different places, to see some of the interesting sites. For example, when you go to the east coast, specifically Paje, there you can pass through Bungi.
In Bungi, there’s Bikhole Palace. There’s a history about Bikhole, dealing with the sultan’s daughters. Hole is the name and bi is an old woman, so Bikhole. Normally you can see a lot of mango trees there, like a garden. And there’s history with the mango trees. I know the history and it’s an interesting story.
You can also go to another interesting place called the Butterfly Center. After the interesting Bikhole story and the Butterfly Center, you can pass to Jozani Forest. These are the activities you can do on the way. Then, you can go straight to Paje beach.
But, if you say no, this place is not interesting for me, then you have another option from there. You can cancel the beach and then go to The Rock to have lunch. But, if you are not interested in all of these things, the Bikhole, the Butterfly Center, the Jozani Forest, the Paje Beach, The Rock restaurant, and the Kae Funk Beach, you still have an opportunity.
I will drive you for like 15-20 minutes and then you will arrive to Kizimkazi Village where you can see the dolphins. So, if you’re not interested in the other things, you also have an opportunity to take a boat and go see the dolphins. There are many options and you don’t have a disturbance, bad roads, on the way going to the east coast. So, east coast is excellent place to drive.
Zanzibar has also surrounding islands. What are the top islands to visit from Stone Town?
From Stone Town, there are 3-4 islands which are really interesting. First of all, there’s Chumbe Island. It’s like 10 minutes driving from Stone Town. The activity you can do there is snorkel. You can see the blue ocean and nice coral reefs, this makes the snorkelling amazing.
Two options; you can do a half day trip from morning to evening and then you come back to your hotel or you can spend the whole day to the island and sleep there. There is a hotel there. I can drop you to the city called Mbweni at the hotel called Mbweni Ruins. Once I drop you there, you can go to Chumbe Island.
So, how long you stay depends on you interests. It is your choice, you just say if you want to go see it and sleep there or if you want to come back. The main activity is to do snorkeling, to see coral reefs and the small fish with nice colors. They’re very colorful, they’re very good. This is the first one, Chumbe Island.
The other island near Stone town is Nakupenda Island. This you don’t need even 10 minutes of boat ride. Just in Stone Town, near to Tembo Hotel, you take your boat and you can spend the whole day to the island. First of all, you can do the same activity of snorkeling.
But then, there’s also a nice shore, a beach where you can spend your time. Right there you can have your barbecue seafood and you can have fruit. On the way back, you will sail on the dhow. If you come back late, you might get to see the sunset. It depends on the time you come back and how you want me to organize it for you. This is Nakupenda Beach and it is very nice.
Another island near Stone Town is Prison Island. The distance between Nakupenda Beach and Prison Island looks similar, 35-40 minutes driving in the boat from Tembo Hotel (near Forodhani Gardens in Stone Town).
So, to Prison Island, there are three activities to do. You can visit the tortoise chamber. There are a lot of tortoises in there and you can take even one million pictures with them. Hakuna matata. You can feed them and take more pictures.
After that, because it was a plan to be a prison, although no one was brought there as a prisoner, you can visit the Prison Island chambers. And you can also view the prison cells. When you finish to visit Prison Island, there’s also a restaurant there if you want to have some drinks, coffee, or eat food.
When you are done, outside Prison Island there’s a place to go snorkeling. Also, you are allowed to take pictures near Prison Island, on another island called Snake Island. Nowadays, there are no snakes. But, a long time ago, there were snakes. It’s just a name now, like Prison Island. No one was brought there as a prisoner, but we still call it Prison Island.
If having only one full day in Stone Town – what to see and do?
For a full day in Stone Town, you can do the Stone Town City Tour and Prison Island. Or, if you are a bit quick you can do three activities. You can spend 25-30 minutes driving from Stone Town to Kidichi or Kizimbani Village to do the Spice Tour.
You can do it in the morning, that afternoon you can do the Stone Town tour, and the rest of your day you can finish in Prison Island. So you can do Spice Tour, Stone Town tour, and Prison Island in the same day. That’s the first option.
Spice Tour is a half day trip and you will go to a spice farm where you will see different spices; cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, curry powder, and more. You will see a guy that will climb a coconut tree for you.
During the Stone Town tour, you experience culture, traditions, the market, Old Fort, see the House of Wonders, slave chambers, and can buy souvenirs. You can see the Freddie Mercury House in Stone Town too. For Prison Island, you can take a boat.
Go to feed the tortoises, take pictures, snorkeling, and enjoy. You can do three tours in the same, one day. But, if you’re not interested in doing these tours and prefer to spend your day at the beach, you can spend it at Nakupenda Beach. There, you can spend your whole day. That’s easy. That’s how you can spend your day in Stone Town.
Safety on Zanzibar, tips advice?
Zanzibar is very safe. There are no terrorists and people are nice. We respect each other’s culture and traditions. But, everywhere in the world there are good people and bad people. When bad people see this, they take advantage.
For example, there are some people that are not from Zanzibar. They normally stay on the beach and they can steal the camera or phone from tourists. So everyone is supposed to be very careful. When you go to snorkel or swim on the beach, and you see there’s no security or police from the hotel, you need to be very careful with your bag (phone, camera, or laptop) at the beach.
It is also recommended around 8:30-9PM if a solo traveler or family is out, for them to take a taxi on the way back. It is good because you never know and it is better to be safe. Again, even though there are no terrorists and people are nice, other people sometimes use this to their advantage. Then they can steal things from tourists.
Nowadays in Zanzibar, there’s a motorbike called a boda boda. It is not recommended to take this because it is not safe. Sometimes, the drivers are drunk and sometimes they ride motorbikes when they do not have a driver’s license.
It is very cheap, but sometimes becomes expensive. So, it is not recommended not to take the boda boda. It is great if they take a taxi. The good thing is that there are many taxis near hotels, so if you go to a party nearby, the taxis are not expensive.
You can get a good price, especially if you get a good driver. But, it is even better to schedule a taxi. We do have a lot of clients that will schedule us to pick them up, before we even drop them off. Others find my WhatsApp number from my website and will text me. They will tell me where they are and will say they want me to pick them up later.
For those that stay in Stone Town, if they go out in the evening and want to have dinner in Stone Town, they also need to be careful with the seafood in Stone Town. At Forodhani Garden, they need to be careful with the seafood.
Some of it is kept for a long time. It can be kept in the fridge and resold the next day. So, it is more lovely to go with your local guide or driver and they can show you a good place to find seafood. If you go as a solo traveler or as a family, you can just choose the food and they can cook it for you right there.
Like Zanzibar pizza. If you choose fish, it is fresh fish and they cook it for you right there. If you choose one with meat, same thing. It is security for your health to you avoid getting sick and having stomach issues. So, tourists need to be careful with this. And for those that will go party in the evening, they are not recommended to drink too much.
If you are looking to book tours and taxi transfers anywhere on the Zanzibar Island during your stay on Zanzibar, you can arrange all tours by visiting Lukman’s website Friendly Taxi & Tours . He can be the friendly face waiting for you at the Stone Town airport or taking you on any tour around Zanzibar. You can also contact him through Whatsapp, you will find his number on his website.