Most visitors fly into Zanzibar these days. But the smart way is still to arrive by sea, which guarantees a view of Zanzibar’s famous skyline from the water. Here’s how.
They used to say it was the scent of cloves on the warm monsoon wind that greeted passengers as their ship was coming into Zanzibar. Even today, the very name of this exotic island spells mystery and adventure. More accurately, Zanzibar is the name of a whole group of islands that are part of Tanzania. The two largest are Unguja and Pemba, and it’s usually Unguja that travelers mean when they say Zanzibar. But no one’s going to quibble.
Zanzibar by Sea
Coming into Stone Town harbor dodging the fishing dhows, the scene that welcomes visitors hardly seems to have changed for centuries. It’s such a pleasure to find it free of high-rise blocks and ugly cargo terminals. Zanzibar still looked like Zanzibar should, with its mosque domes and minarets, Portuguese Fort, the spires of the two cathedrals, and the wedding-cake white of the Sultan’s Palace and the Old Dispensary dominating the waterfront.
Cloves used to be the island’s best-known export. Now the sea breezes can bring a hint of baking bread, cinnamon cakes and roasting coffee, or the incense whiff of cooking fires, mingling with the Indian Ocean smell of fresh fish grilled over glowing coconut husks.
For those without their own yacht, the choice is between the ferry from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s main port, or a cruise ship calling at Zanzibar.
Zanzibar Ferry from Dar-es-Salaam
This is an experience in itself.
- Four ferry companies use the same terminal on the Dar waterfront, providing six reliable daily services, from 07.00 through to 16.00.
- The largest is Azam Marine.
- Cost: US$ 40. Journey time: 90 mins.
- Two-night ferries leave around 22.00. Journey time 3 hours. Cost US$ 25.
Book if you can.
Cruise to Zanzibar
Many cruise lines now visit Zanzibar as part of their Indian Ocean, East African, or world cruise itineraries, including Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Crystal, Discovery World, Swan Hellenic, Seabourn, MSC, and Noble Caledonia.
Flights to Zanzibar
If time is short and it has to be a flight, fit in a boat trip at some point to see that magical skyline – preferably from the wooden deck of a dhow, the traditional boat of the Swahili Coast.
- International direct flights to Zanzibar: Gulf Air, Ethiopian Airlines, and KLM (with Kenya Airlines).
- From the African mainland: Air Tanzania, Kenya Airlines, Air Malawi, SAA, and Egypt Air all have flights to Dar-es-Salaam. Most of the big European airlines also fly to Dar.
- Small local airlines such as Precision Air, Zan Air, and Coastal Aviation fly to Zanzibar daily from Tanzania’s main safari centers.
Zanzibar Visa Requirements
Most foreign nationals require a Tanzanian visa, which covers Zanzibar. There are exemptions for some Commonwealth countries, but UK, Canadian, Nigerian, and Indian nationals definitely need a visa. Apply online where possible. Single-entry tourist visas for US citizens cost US$ 100. Most others, US$ 50. It’s worth it just to see Stone Town, and then there are all those waving palms, spice plantations, clear blue seas, and wonderful white beaches.