Zanzibar, Tanzania - Stein Travel
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Zanzibar

Located about 22 miles (35km) off the east coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an archipelago consisting of the main island of Unguja (commonly known as Zanzibar), Pemba Island famous for its deep-sea fishing, and about 50 smaller surrounding islands and coral reefs.

Also known as 'Spice Island', Zanzibar evokes images of an exotic paradise with white palm-fringed beaches and turquoise coves, dreamy dhows with billowing white sails, and ancient Islamic ruins. Today's idyllic beach resorts belie the island's haunting history of slavery, and Zanzibar combines Arabic alleyways and historic monuments with coral reefs and excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities.

The island's varied history has brought with it seafarers, explorers and traders, and it became a major centre for the slave industry. Its heyday was during the 19th century, when the island became the world's leading producer of cloves; its plantations still produce more than 50 different spices and fruit, and guided spice tours are a Zanzibar speciality.

Stone Town, Zanzibar's capital, is a captivating place built by Arab and Indian merchants in the 19th century from the island's coral stone. A walk through the disordered twisting alleys, past intricately-carved wooden doors and beneath ornate balconies, and with the lingering scent of spices in the air, takes one back in time to the days of a prosperous slave and spice industry. Decaying architecture, numerous mosques, a bathhouse and old fort, cool interior courtyards and lively markets are the remaining influence of the Persians and the Omani Arabs who established themselves as the ruling power here.

For centuries Zanzibar has enticed those in search of business; today it remains an irresistible attraction for those seeking a heavenly beach holiday or an exploration into its exotic heritage - or a bit of both.

Information & Facts

Climate

Zanzibar is warm throughout the year with 7-8 hours of sunshine a day. The coastal resorts on the north and east coast are tempered by sea breezes. Stonetown and the centre of Zanzibar Island have showers throughout the year. There are heavy showers throughout the island in April and May when most tourists avoid the island and hotels close.

Language

Swahili and English are the official languages. Several indigenous languages are also spoken.

Money

The official unit of currency is the Tanzanian shilling (TZS), divided into 100 cents. The tourism industry prices everything in US Dollars and they are the preferred unit of currency. Major currencies can be exchanged in the larger towns. Foreign exchange bureaux in the main towns usually offer a better rate on travellers cheques than do the banks. ATMs are available in major cities only. Major lodges, some hotels and travel agents in urban areas accept credit cards, but these should not be relied on and can incur a 10% surcharge.

Night Life

Zanzibar is strongly influenced by Muslim culture and therefore has a fairly subdued nightlife. There are however a couple of places, especially in Stone Town, where visitors can go to enjoy a holiday sundowner, and even a bit of dancing! Blues, at the Forodhani waterfront, and Pichy's Pizzeria and Bar are good for drinks with an ocean view, while the roof-top bar at Africa House and the Serena Inn's Msasani Bar are also quite popular. Serena Inn puts on a great 'Swahili Night', with Taarab music and an African buffet, and the Old Fort is also good for local music performances. Trendy late-night venues include the Starehe and Garage clubs on Shangani Street, and the Bwawani Hotel's Komba Disco.

Shopping

Shopping in Zanzibar is a varied, cheap and cultural experience. The best shopping is available in Stone Town, where local goods and items imported from other African nations, as well as India, Arabia and the Far East, are good value provided you bargain.

There are a number of shops on Gizenga Street and Kenyatta road that sell quality local artefacts, clothing, jewellery, massage oils and spices - everything Zanzibar! Here visitors can find colourful kangasor kikoys(sarongs), a great souvenir. Wooden chests and tinga tinga paintings are also sought after Zanzibar souvenirs. Look out for street-side stalls with Masaai women sell curios, jewellery and batik fabrics.

The silver shops on Gizenga, as well as in Sokomohogo Square, trade in antique or handcrafted silverware and jewellery, while gold is offered in stores on Tharia Street. One Way on Kenyatta Road sells a vast selection of 100% cotton leisure wear, and on Darajani Street visitors can buy almost anything, including fresh produce from the Central Market.

Most Zanzibar shops are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 12pm, and then from 2pm to 6pm. Few shops will accept credit cards, so be sure to bring enough cash. US dollars are accepted at resorts and on the beaches, but the exchange rate will not be in your favour and you'll get a better deal by using local Tanzanian shillings.

Time

GMT +3.

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