With Dr Felicity Nicholson
People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are most likely to carry you off. Road accidents are very common in many parts of Zanzibar so be aware and do what you can to reduce risks: try to travel during daylight hours, always wear a seatbelt and refuse to be driven by anyone who has been drinking. Listen to local advice about any areas where crime is an issue.
Preparations to ensure a healthy trip require checks on your immunisation status.
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.
Officially, proof of vaccination against yellow fever is only needed for entry into Zanzibar if you are coming from another yellow fever endemic area, but for some time the Zanzibari authorities have been asking for proof of vaccination for visitors coming from Tanzania – which effectively incorporates most visitors.
In addition to the various vaccinations recommended above, it is important that travellers should be properly protected against malaria. There is no vaccine against malaria, but using prophylactic drugs and preventing mosquito bites will considerably reduce the risk of contracting it. Seek professional advice to ascertain the preferred anti-malarial drugs at the time you travel. In addition to taking anti-malarial medicines, it is important to avoid mosquito bites between dusk and dawn, which is when the Anopheles (malaria-carrying) mosquito is most active. Pack a DEET-based insect repellent and take either a permethrin-impregnated bednet or a permethrin spray so that you can treat bednets in hotels.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
As in most countries, crime on these islands is gradually on the increase. Similarly, problems tend to occur with greater frequency in the cities and tourist heartlands than in the rural areas. Perhaps inevitably, the juxtaposition of relatively wealthy tourists and a high density of relatively poor local people causes envy and leads to the occasional crime.
Zanzibar Town is notorious for opportunist pickpockets, and occasionally tourists do have bags and cameras snatched while walking around the narrow streets of the Old Town. There have also been robberies on some of the beaches around Zanzibar Town; it is better not to go there alone, especially at night. There are very few crime problems on Mafia Island – but then this is a small, rural island with a low population density.
Theft from hotel rooms is unusual, though not unheard of. Most hotels have safes, where valuables can be stored, although reports of stuff disappearing from the safes of more basic budget hotels are not unknown.
Islamic terrorist groups are present in East Africa, and to a varying degree, pose a threat across the entire region. In Zanzibar specifically, there were two explosions in Zanzibar Town in 2013. With the rise of global terrorism, some travellers have looked nervously towards East Africa, but the truth is that the large Islamic communities on the islands are generally very peaceful, though they probably have their extremist elements, very much like the extremists who live in communities in the UK, Europe and the USA. So whilst Zanzibar has many factors that may cause initial concern, at the time of writing the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office do not cite the risk from terrorism as higher than in Western Europe or the USA.