Zanzibar is an amazing place, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, where I have been lucky enough to return to regularly for the past eight years. Here I’ve included some technical information about research permits and language instruction and also included some information about the wonderful food and activities on the island.
•For those who want to do KiSwahili language lessons, I can highly recommend the Institute of KiSwahili and Foreign Languages at the State University of Zanzibar, which is on Vuga Street. (The Institute is often referred to as “Suza” or “Taasisi.”) You can arrange lessons either officially through the Institute, or privately with teachers. Prices range between $10-$15 per hour. My favorite teacher is Mzee Jecha Jecha (reachable at 0777 482511 firstname.lastname@example.org). You can read more about Mzee Jecha here.
Research in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is an excellent place to do historical research, especially if you can read Arabic and or Swahili. The Zanzibar National Archives are just a short bus ride from downtown, are well organized and comfortable, and have a mass of materials that have not been well utilized by foreign researchers. During the colonial era Zanzibar acted as a repository for colonial materials from all of East Africa, so you will find many documents pertaining to Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda.
Although it’s unlikely you can obtain research clearance prior to arrival, it is likely to be a relatively painless process once you arrive, visit the archives, fill out the relevant paperwork and pay the fees.
If you will be doing solely archival research in Zanzibar, your research application form can be submitted through the Zanzibar National Archives. Research fees total roughly a few hundred dollars, and if you are applying for a Resident’s Permit, that will be an additional fee, and will entail working with Immigration.
If you are conducting research in both Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, your research must be approved by the COSTECH (Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology) which is based in Dar es Salaam. Forms are also available online and can be sent in prior to arrival, although there is a small chance of being given research clearance without making at least a few visits to the COSTECH offices.
Books and Literature about Zanzibar
There are many great books about Zanzibar, some written by Zanzibaris, some academic texts, and some fiction. A few recommendations:
•Laura Fair, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890-1945
•Laura Fair, Historia ya Jamii ya Zanzibar na Nyimbo za Siti Binti Saad (in Swahili!)
•Jonathan Glassman, War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar
•Eric Gilbert, Dhows & Colonial Economy in Zanzibar, 1860-1970
•Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar; Zanzibar Under Colonial Rule; History & Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town
•William Bissell, Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar
•Kjersti Larsen, Where Humans and Spirits Meet: The Politics of Rituals and Identified Spirits in Zanzibar
•Emily Reute, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar
•Abdulrazak Gurnah, Desertion
Food, Drinks and Eating
Unless you are visiting during Ramadan, the local food--which is generally fast, cheap and healthy--should be one of the highlights of your trip. If you are an intrepid eater, here are some food recommendations that should not be missed:
•“Mixi” Soup is aptly named, since it is a soup made up of mixture of items. It starts with a tangy yellow broth (urojo) that comes from pounded unripe papaya, and into the broth is added a whole host of treats: fried cassava bits, fresh grated coconut, potato cutlets, meat (sometimes), and fried balls that’ll remind you of falafels. Sounds strange,it’s but delicious, and more importantly--addictive! It’s sold all over town, oftentimes by women from their home during the morning hours. It’s also sold at night at Forodhani. Look for places where there are plastic bowls and spoons, and you will find it...Costs anywhere from 1000-1500 Tsh ($1) per bowl.
•Halwa is a sweet that is prepared across the Middle East, and also in Zanzibar, although in a form that may surprise some. In Zanzibar, halwa is thick and soft and sticky. It can be bought in the market in a variety of sizes and a finger-full is best paired with strong black coffee.
•Aforementioned strong black coffee. Get it from one of the guys who walk around town hawking it, or look for a more established location in Sokoni (near the mosque), at Jaws Corner, near Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, or at Forodhani. Normally it is 50 Tsh per cup, but near the sokoni mosque it will be 100 Tsh. Still worth the price and the walk, and the vendor has a great sense of humor.
•Sugar cane juice is available, is delicious, and as long as you aren’t worried about cavities, it’s even better than a Coke.
•Baked and fried sweets in the form of kisheti (donuts), kashata (nut candies), mandazi (donuts), biscuits, cookies and sweet bananas with coconut milk. Easier to find in the morning, although some small stores will have large containers with these items available all day. I think the best donuts are to be found in the morning across the street from Mnazi Mmoja hospital.
•For those that are looking for something healthier, fresh unripe mangos with chili powder, cucumbers, and young coconuts (dafu) are all good and good for you!
•Octopus (pweza) soup is said to give a particular type of “strength” (nguvu) to men, although women might also enjoy it. It should be spicy! For those who just need a snack, in the evenings, bites of grilled octopus are sold for 100 Tsh per toothpick bite.
•The foods that makes up the staple diet in Zanzibar are also delicious. Make sure to sample maharage (beans that are often cooked with fresh coconut milk), rice, and fresh greens (mboga/mchicha). The rice dishes biriyani and pilau are considered more special occasion food, but can also be found at restaurants around town.
That’s not the say that there aren’t plenty of more formal eating establishments that aren’t also worth your time. Some of my favorites from summer 2011:
•Msumbi Coffee, near Kilele Corner. Order the “doppio,” which is well presented and is served with a shot of water. Bring along your own kisheti to nibble on. The service and quality of the coffee is far superior to anything else you’ll find in town. (ie, Zanzibar Coffee House, with it’s nice ambiance, but terrible service, dry pastries, and over-priced coffee.)
•It is hard to find a better lunch than at Luis Yoghurt Parlor, on Hurumzi Street, right near the large mosque. The proprietor--Blanche’s--homemade yoghurts, lassis and juices are excellent, and make sure to order the whole wheat chappatis to go with your main dish. It’s the perfect sized meal, healthy, and will leave you with just enough space for a coffee at Msumbi. A good value, and you’ll get an earful about life in Stone Town. There’s also now a facebook page for the Yoghurt Parlour here.
•Stone Town Cafe has excellent fresh Turkish style coffee that’s best to share with a friend unless you’re prepared to be hyper-caffeinated. Opens early. Also has a changing pad in the bathroom and is baby/kid friendly.
•Stone Town Cafe and Archipelago are owned by the same couple, and the Sticky Date Pudding at either place is easily the most satisfying dessert on the island.
•If you are a non-drinker, the best made mocktails are at Green Garden Pizzeria (which also has good pizzas and excellent octopus). Any of their virgin drinks, fresh made juices or milkshakes are well worth the price, and you’ll probably find yourself heading back the next day.
The owners of Archipelago and Stone Town Cafe have begun renting apartments above the Stone Town Cafe on Kenyatta street (right near the Post Office). Information can be found on their website.
I haven’t stayed at any hotels in Zanzibar for a number of years now, so I feel unqualified to provide specific recommendations.
Since Zanzibar is an island, unless you’re planning on staying only in Zanzibar, you’ll need to get back and forth to the mainland. This means flying or sailing. Boats can be dangerous, especially if you are not careful about what boats you sail on. In September 2011, there was a terrible ferry sinking that killed nearly 200 people. Be careful about what boats you get on!! (I provide more information about this on the Travel Info page.)
There are multiple companies that fly between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, and also between Zanzibar and other points on the mainland. Be forewarned that many of these are tiny 6-10 person planes, such as those operated by Tropical Air,and Coastal. Precision Air flies larger planes, and also allows for tickets to be purchased online.
• Newly refurbished Forodani park and evening food market. Huge children’s play area, and is a true mixture of local residents and foreign visitors. You can read more about the multi-year revitalization effort at the park, funded by the Aga Khan Foundation, here.
•Jozani Forest is about 40 minutes outside of town, on the road going to the East Coast. It’s worth a trip since not only can you walk through the forest and get to see the Red Columbus monkeys, but by crossing the road you can walk through a mangrove swamp. Interesting and on the way to the beach! Can also be reached via public transportation by hopping off any of the buses going to the East Coast (final destination of Paje, Bwejuu, Jambiani)
•There are two big festivals that happen on the island. The Zanzibar International Film Festivalhappens during summer and the Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) music festival happens in February each year. Both are worth attending.
•There is snorkeling and diving from Stone Town, Nungwi or the East Coast. Unfortunately since I’m not a diver, I can’t give any recommendations.
•The East Coast of Zanzibar has the best beaches. For those looking for “rustic” accommodations (without electricity or hot water, and communal dinners), many people like Robinson’s Place. There is a nice dinner each night, but there’s no lunch available.
•Also in Paje is a relatively new place, the Cristal Resort. I’ve seen the facilities (which are beautiful) and had friends stay there over the past 3 years--all of whom were happy. There are various types of rooms from Eco-bungalows on the beach to more luxurious rooms with AC. Prices range from $90-$130 per night and reservations are recommended.
•If you’re looking for slightly more pampered lodging on the East Coast, I would recommend theBlue Oyster Hotel in Jambiani. Hands down this is some of the best food you can get on the coast: a delicious seafood salad with big pieces of fish, shrimp and lobster. There are also great crab cakes and a full bar. (For some reason the East coast hotels are plagued by terrible food at ridiculous prices.) The rooms are also nice, if a bit pricey since they run in the $60-$85 range per night.
•Although the East Coast may have the nicest beaches, the north coast--Nungwi area--has a far better developed tourist infrastructure. This means the quality and the price of the food is superior, there are a large range of hotels. Can recommend the locally owned Nungwi Inn Hotel which has excellent food and drinks right on the beach. Beware of fly season.