When heading off to a beautiful tropical island you have visions of uninterrupted white beaches, turquoise seas and fruity drinks. But before you, your sparkly ring and your brand new husband fit into the picture, you’ll need to find out a little more about your idyllic destination. Where do you buy currency? Do you need a visa? How do you choose which malaria pill to take? Where do you get inoculated and for what? What should you pack? Here are the answers – five things you need to know about Zanzibar before you take off in post-wedded bliss.
Zanzibar is a malaria area (although how much so depends on the time of year). Tourists should buy their anti-malarial a few weeks before going, and use the medication as indicated. There are three main types of anti-malarials, and you can read about their various dosages and side-effects here. Your doctor will recommend the one most suited to your age, lifestyle and income.
You will only contract malaria if bitten by a mosquito that has bitten someone else with the disease. Make sure to wear mosquito repellent from just before sunset and, if possible, to cover up from ankles and wrists from sunset to sunrise (see long floaty clothing below). While taking precautions however, don’t become a crazy person and insist on covering up in a burka from 4.00 pm, unless that’s your style anyway. Use the mosquito nets provided on the bed of your hotel to make sure you’re inaccessible while sleeping.
You should also make sure to pack a medicine bag with tummy-bug medicines (Buscopan, Immodium and Valoid), after-sun cream or gel, mosquito repellent, anti-itch cream and any other meds that you take routinely. Avoid tap water and all the usual jazz, but make sure you fill up on the fresh fruit – as long as it’s at a reputable restaurant or you’ve peeled it yourself.
To visit Zanzibar you need to be inoculated against yellow fever – it’s compulsory. Visitors might also like to get voluntary inoculations for Hepatitis and Tetanus. You can get your inoculations anytime before you go, from a travel clinic in your area. Make sure to keep the ‘certificate’ they give you and to pack it with your passport – you may be asked to produce it when going in or out of the country and is especially required when arriving back into your home country.
3. Visas and Currency
A visa will be issued to you at your port of entry into Tanzania. Although various Commonwealth nations are exempt from this, South Africans do need visas to enter into the country. Visas can be paid for in US$ but the price is variable and changes routinely. Click here for more information and current pricing.
Although the official Tanzanian currency is the Tanzanian Shilling, most transactions are done on one of the big three – US$, Pound Sterling or Euro. The easiest thing to do is to exchange an amount of your home currency for dollars (this will come in use when paying for things like excursions, extra hotel costs etc) and a smaller amount in Tanzanian Shillings (useful for tipping, local restaurants and curios). Try not to pay informal traders or small businesses in dollars, as you will be losing money in the exchange rate which will be rounded up – and not to your benefit! Banks in Stone Town will easily be able to change more Dollars or Rands into Shillings if you run out.
4. Religious Customs
Although Tanzania is home to people of various religious, the majority of which are Muslim or Christian (government religion surveys were outlawed in 1967, so any stats are difficult to state with certainty), the vast majority of Zanzibari inhabitants are Muslim, many of whom are very conservative and devout.
Whereas much of the island is geared towards bikini-clad visitors bringing in foreign currency, tourists should be aware and respectful of local norms and customs. Bathing wear on the beach or at resorts is acceptable, but topless bathing is not (believe me, nothing scarier than a turkey-fried topless Italian woman trying to clutch a Zanzibari child in breaking waves long enough for a photo – I would have screamed blue murder too).
While walking through towns and villages, it is considered respectful for both sexes to have their shoulders and legs (down to knee length) covered. Women should enter places of worship with a head covering.
Photo opportunities are endless, so make sure you have the memory space and battery power to snap away, but be careful when taking shots of people. Locals in the tourism sector are well-accustomed to photography, but many Zanzibari people view it with suspicion and dislike. Even though it may be the perfect shot, ask for permission and accept the answer.
So, if hot pants and halter pants are out (at least when away from the resort), what are you supposed to pack? Cool, floaty clothing is great, preferably in light colors (it covers the mozzie-spots as well).
We were on the island at the same time as Cate Blanchett and she set the bar – far from the um, lady mentioned above, she and her friends were willowy visions in draped white and pastel linen in a historic Stone Town church and a few days later just as lovely in bikinis on a yacht off the private Mnemba Island – hashtag suitcaseenvy.
Other than that, all you really need for a wonderful honeymoon is a hat, a book and the person you love most in the world.
Zanzibar is not only affordable and closeish to home, it’s an exotic and fascinating place full of wonderful people and vibrant beauty. For some additional pre-holiday reading, check out:
This post is written with even more love than usual – and dedicated to my beautiful friend Janet, who deserves a Zanzibari honeymoon more than anyone I know!