Zanzibar FAQ: Safety, Interacting with Locals, Tides, Shopping, Exporting Fruits

This post is expanding on topics that are too small for separate posts, but nevertheless, quite useful to know.

How safe is Zanzibar?

Walking at night in Stone Town
Walking at night in Stone Town

Since I have only spent a week on Zanzibar, I can only answer the question from my very limited experience. In general, I felt safe everywhere, be it Stone Town or small villages of the island, day or night. And we walked after dark to the edges of the “old town area”. Zanzibari people are generally positive towards tourists. We are the main source of income for the island and nobody wants to scare us away.

Other factor is that people live in tight-knit communities, so it is impossible for someone to misbehave without others knowing about it. Although, abundance of relationships have another side to it. A criminal could be friends or relatives with someone from the police, so that won’t be helpful to victims.

One more observation was ATMs in Stone Town guarded by a person or two, sometimes even with the AK47 rifles. That can’t be for no reason, right? I also heard of muggings on the beaches, especially on the northern part of the Zanzibar (Nungwi area). However, neither me nor my friends, have not experienced anything negative personally.

There were no issues with the safety of our rented car either. However we did not leave anything at sight inside of it.

I’d suggest reading the Safety and security section of UK’s foreign travel advice website to get a complete overview of safety in Tanzania and Zanzibar in particular. This advice can be overprotective at times, but taking it into account is wise.

Interacting with locals on Zanzibar

Locals are generally very friendly. If you learn a few phrases in Swahili, which is the official language, it should help a lot. Although, English is widely spoken and you won’t have trouble finding someone who speaks English, even in less touristic and more remote villages.

Some of the basic words/phrases you’ll hear most often are:
Jambo (or Mambo) – Hello
Asante (sana) – Thank you (very much)
Karibu (sana) – You’re welcome (very much)
Pole pole – Literally slowly-slowly, it is the way of living on Zanzibar ;).
Hakuna Matata – No worries.

If you’re interested in learning more, there are a lot of resources online to help you, for example Swahili phrasebook on Wikitravel.

Feel free to go into the villages, walk around and interact with people. It might be a good idea getting a local to take you around. This way you will see and learn much more and it is how we explored Jambiani.

Tides on Zanzibar

The Rock Restaurant at low tide
The Rock Restaurant at low tide

Zanzibar is highly affected by tides. This means that in most areas of the island, except some around the northern tip of it (Nungwi, Kendwa), you will not be able to swim in the ocean at all times.

Most of the hotels have nice pools though, and even with tides coming and going, high tide points are twice about each 24 hours. This gives you more or less 2 hours before and after high tide time to swim in the ocean. During low tide locals often come out to gather mussels catch octopus and some fish, like sardines.

Tides is one of the reasons a lot of people choose touristic areas at the north of the island (Nungwi), which are generally significantly more expensive and in my opinion much less enjoyable. However, still, there are lots of people who love Nungwi.

High tide points change every day, so make sure you save or print the Tide calendar. As a reminder – about 2 hours before or after the high tide point is swimmable time at most of the beaches.

Exporting fruits

Fruits on Zanzibar
Buying fruits on Zanzibar

Since there are some delicious fruits on Zanzibar, you might certainly want to take some home. I found no impediment for that, except a little “customs post” behind the first x-ray machine that you pass upon entering the airport terminal.

It is not an actual customs post, but a banner of the ministry of agriculture and a person looking for people bring the fruits out. Banner claims that you need to pay in case you’re taking fruits out of the country and the fee this guy claimed in our case was $5. I choose to pay, however when guy asked if I need a receipt or not, I realized this could be a dodgy affair. Anyway, I have parted with my $5 and obtained a receipt.

The receipt was not checked by anyone anywhere further, so it looks like it is purely a personal choice of paying the export fee or not.

Shopping on Zanzibar

Jenga shop in Nungwi
Jenga shop in Nungwi

You’ll find a lot of opportunities to buy something and take it back home. Zanzibar lives off tourism and by buying from them you also support local community.

There are Masai walking down the beach with souvenirs made in the villages they come from, some well established shops like Jenga, claiming a fair trade status (however you can get many of the same goods for less price directly from Masai or in other shops) and just a lot of small outlets in Stone Town and villages around the island, especially in Nungwi.

No matter what you’ll decide to buy, remember that it is necessary to bargain and negotiate the price. The first price locals quote is always higher than what they are willing to sell their products for. In most of the cases you can expect final price to be 20-50% less than the first quoted, depending on your negotiation skills.

Have more questions or some information that is useful? Please comment below!
Check out the Full Guide to Zanzibar.

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