Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers to its shores for centuries. The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English have all been here at one time or another. Some, particularly the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly Islamic (97%) - the remaining 3% is made up of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The earliest visitors to Zanzibar were Arab traders who are said to have arrived in the 8th century. The earliest building that remains on Zanzibar is the mosque at Kizimkazi, which dates from 1107, and is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed with the monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices. The two main islands, Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs, being relatively small, and therefore fairly easy to defend. Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate from Muscat to Zanzibar, perhaps making it easier to protect, where he and his descendants ruled for over 130 years. Most of the wealth lay in the hands of the Arab community, who were the main landowners at that time. They kept themselves to themselves, and generally did not intermarry with the Africans.
This was not true of the Shirazi Persians who came from the Middle East to settle on the East African coast. The story goes that in AD 975, Abi Ben Sultan Hasan of Shiraz in Persia (now Iran) had a terrible nightmare in which a rat devoured the foundations of his house. He took this as an omen that his community was to be devastated. Others in the Shirazi court ridiculed the notion, but Sultan Hasan, his family and some followers obviously took it very seriously and they decided to migrate. They set out in seven dhows into the Indian Ocean but were caught in a huge storm and separated. Thus, landfalls were made at seven different places along the East African coast, one of which was Zanzibar, and settlements began.
Widespread intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans gave rise to a coastal community with distinctive features, and a language derived in part from Arabic, which became known as Swahili. The name Swahili comes from the Arab word sawahil, which means ‘coast’. The Zanzibar descendants of this group were not greatly involved in the lucrative slave, spice and ivory trades. Instead, they immersed themselves mainly in agriculture and fishing. Those Shirazi that did not intermarry retained their identity as a separate group. Two smaller communities were also established. Indian traders arrived in connection with the spice and ivory trade, and quickly settled as shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans and professionals. The British became involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa, and attempting to suppress the slave trade centred in Zanzibar.
Zanzibar was once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries. The spices that it grew, so desired by the rest of the world, made it so. The wealth derived from the spice trade was augmented by the slave trade, indeed the spices and the slaves went hand-in-hand as Zanzibar’s spice plantations depended on slave labor, and there are still sad relics of this trade in human flesh to be found on the island. Furthermore, Zanzibar was one of the most important ports in Africa.
Goods from Britain docked here before they moved on to other parts of Africa. No longer very prosperous in the fiscal sense, the island has a wealth of historical monuments to visit which commemorate the African, British and particularly Arab influences- sultan’s palaces, cathedrals, mosques, fortresses and old colonial houses. “Spice Tours” are the ideal way to see the island’s historic sites and spice plantations. There is also a sanctuary for the rare Zanzibar duiker and the red colobus monkey in the protected Jozani Forest, just twenty-five kilometers from the town.
USEFUL INFORMATION BEFORE GOING TO ZANZIBAR
To enter in Tanzania a valid passport for at least 6 months from the date of entry is required. Kindly ensure that you have at least 3 blank pages for the entry and exist stamps. A valid return ticket is also required. Visitor from the following Nationalities do not require visas; British, Danish, Irish, Finnish, Icelandic, Kenyan; Norwegian, Singaporean, South Africa, Swedish and Zimbabwean. For the other countries please consult with your nearest Tanzania consulate about visa requirements.
Traveling within Zanzibar
Travelling within Zanzibar is mainly facilitated by the initiations of the private sector small enterprises. Several companies operate shuttled transfers to and from the entry points. It is important to note that in self driving services you have to fulfill certain requirements including possession of a valid international driving license. Currently most of the roads are tarmac and are passable throughout the year. Zanzibar uses the left hand driving model.
Health & Safety
All travelers to Zanzibar are advised to have their vaccination at least 36 hours before their journey in the countries of their residence. In the circumstances or any reason that a traveler could not have yellow fever vaccination in his/her county of origin can be obtained at the major entry point in Tanzania. It is wise to be up to date on tetanus, polio and diphtheria, and hepatitis A. Immunisations against meningococcus and rabies may also be recommended.
Money & Currencies
Tanzania uses shillings (Tanzania shillings) as its National Currency, which is both, notes and coins. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at the Bureaus, Banks and some Hotels. Credit cards including Traveler’s cheques are widely accepted in Zanzibar, most common Master Cards, Visa and America Express.
Climate in Zanzibar
Zanzibar temperatures are relatively high and humid condition almost throughout the year. The islands experiences two rainfall seasons the longest and heaviest rain in March to May and short rain in September to November. Temperatures are relatively higher throughout the year with a an average of 25°C.
As an Island Zanzibar can only be reached either by air or water. It is connected to international World by several airlines directly or otherwise, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Air, Fly Dubai, Oman Air and Kenya Airways connected to the rest of the world. Zanzibar is also served by scheduled charter companies.
There are several taxes which are imposed by the government of Zanzibar that visitors must abide. An Airport tax of US $40 for every departure travelling outside Tanzania and Tsh. 10,000 within Tanzania and you’re advised to check if this is included in the ticket.
Importation of goods to Tanzania is very strict, but a special consideration is made or items of personal use, without incurring custom duty. Currently visitors are allowed to take 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, 1 liter of wines or sprit, 250ml of perfumes.
Clothes and Custumes
Being situated near the equator Zanzibar is generally warm and humid throughout the year and as such it is advisable to wear light and decent clothes. In winter time along the beach, the condition may be relatively cooler and sometime windy.