Travel and visas in Zanzibar

Visas

Foreigners of most nationalities, including the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and most EU states require a visa. An e-visa can be obtained online at eservices.immigration.go.tz/visa. This page also lists those countries whose nationals do not require a visa: a list dominated by other African states. The process costs US$30 for transit, US$50 for 90-day single entry, US$100 for multiple entry, US$250 for business, or between US$50 and US$550 for a student, depending on the category and duration, and is payable by Mastercard or Visa. Visas can also be obtained on arrival in Tanzania at the same cost, but the airport queues can be long, and the payment must be made in hard currency cash, so it’s often best to get them in advance.

If you are planning to come via Nairobi or Mombasa, you may also need a visa or visitor’s pass for Kenya. You may also need a return ticket out of Tanzania or Kenya, or be required to show that you have sufficient funds to cover your stay.

Tanzanian regulations, which also cover Zanzibar, forbid non-residents from importing or exporting the local currency but permit them to import and export foreign currency without restrictions. There is no longer any legal requirement for a yellow-fever vaccination certificate, unless you have come from a country where yellow fever is endemic.

A full list of embassies and consulates in Tanzania (as well as Tanzanian embassies abroad) can be found on embassypages.com/tanzania. Consulates are generally unable to assist with visas or with simple problems such as illness or theft of belongings, but they will try to help in more serious cases such as wrongful arrest or imprisonment. If you lose your passport, you can get an Emergency Travel Document from the Ministry of the Interior in Zanzibar. This will allow you to leave Zanzibar and either go directly back to your own country, or reach Dar where most countries have representation and you should be able to get a replacement.

As the UK is no longer a member of the European Union, documentation requirements for UK citizens may change. Check before travelling.

Getting there and away

By air

There are no direct scheduled flights to any of the islands from the UK, Europe or USA, but several major airlines operate indirect flights to Zanzibar via their home hub city, for instance Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, Qatar via Doha, and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. Alternatively, many visitors fly first to Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro International or Nairobi, then take a regional service across the Zanzibar Channel.

By sea

Zanzibar’s main port is at the heart of Zanzibar Town’s waterfront, towards the northern end of Mizingani Road. Several large passenger ships run daily between Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Pemba, and – more rarely – to other points on the mainland. As the number of flights between Dar and Zanzibar has increased, and their airfares have become more competitive, the number of passenger boat services has declined.

In both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Town, all the ship booking offices are at the main passenger port, very near the city centre. Schedules and prices are chalked up on boards outside each office and you can easily buy tickets on the spot. Reservations are not essential but if at all possible you should buy a ticket in advance (a few hours to a couple of days) to make sure. Non-Tanzanians usually have to pay in US dollars and prices are quoted in this currency.

Note that all non-Tanzanian passengers leaving Dar must pay a port departure tax of US$5. The departure tax office is near the ship booking offices, and tickets are carefully checked before you board. Most of the shipping companies include this charge in the ticket price, so check very carefully whether this is included to avoid unnecessarily paying again at the port tax office.

Getting around 

You can travel around Zanzibar Island in several different ways: by hire car, motorbike, scooter, bicycle, tourist minibus, dalla dalla, bus, taxi, organised tour, walking, hitchhiking, or a combination of all of these. Outside Zanzibar Town, the main roads are predominantly tar these days, while minor routes are dirt or graded gravel. All are highly variable in quality, from smooth, newly resurfaced tar to appallingly rutted gravel, where travel can be slow and uncomfortable. Happily, there are increasingly fewer of the latter. As in the rest of southern and East Africa, traffic drives on the left in Zanzibar; however, the greatest risk on the road is the other drivers: be very aware.

Car hire

Car hire is possible on Zanzibar Island, although whether it’s wise for most visitors is a real question. There are no international car-hire companies on the island, so vehicle quality is highly variable. Driving standards are not good and roads can be in poor condition, so accidents are frequent. We do not generally recommend that visitors hire cars here, but if you choose to do so exercise great caution and never drive at night: it can be exceedingly dangerous.

Motorbikes and scooters 

It is possible to hire motorbikes (almost all are Honda 125cc or 250cc trail bikes or similar) or scooters (mostly Vespas and Piaggios) from many of the tour companies. Prices vary, but are generally around US$25–30 per day for a scooter, US$35–40 per day for a motorbike. As with cars, you should take your scooter or bike for a test drive to make sure everything works before agreeing to hire.

Some tourists to Zanzibar hire scooters, imagining them to be similar to Greek island-style mopeds. However, scooters have larger engines and are harder to handle than mopeds, and there have been a number of accidents and injuries. You should not hire a scooter if you have never ridden one before; the dirt tracks and pot-holed roads of Zanzibar are not ideal places to start learning.

Bicycle hire 

For getting around Zanzibar Town, or going further afield around the island, fit and adventurous visitors will find bicycles ideal. Most bikes are heavy steel Chinese-built roadsters, so you shouldn’t plan on covering too many miles (it’s generally too hot to cycle fast anyway). You can also hire mountain bikes, but most of these are pretty basic all-steel models, and only slightly lighter than the Chinese roadsters. They do have gears, however, which makes them easier to ride.

Taxis 

The saloon-car taxis which are available around Zanzibar Town can be hired to take you further afield, but some drivers do not like to go off the tar roads as the rocky dirt roads are liable to damage the undersides of their beloved vehicles. A short ride through town will cost just over US$3, a trip further afield to Mbweni Ruins or Mtoni Marine Centre up to US$10 (one-way), and an airport transfer to/from Zanzibar Town US$10–15. 

Public minibuses and dalla dallas

For independent travellers, local minibuses and small converted trucks called dalla dallas cover many routes around Zanzibar Island. Minibuses and dalla dallas are faster than buses, and are gradually replacing them on the roads. Fares are cheap: typically about US$0.50 around Zanzibar Town and a few dollars to cross the island.

Buses and dalla dallas from outlying villages heading for Zanzibar Town tend to leave very early in the morning but, apart from that, there are no truly fixed timetables: most vehicles simply leave when they’re full. At any bus or dalla dalla station, don’t expect an information board: you will need to ask around to find the transport you need. 

Dalla dalla journeys are invariably an experience, with time to interact with local people, but comfort is limited. Seating is on hard timber benches along the sides of the vehicle, and it’s quite likely that parcels and packages of all shapes and sizes will be packed in around you.

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