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Facts at a glance

The word "Zanzibar" probably derives from the Persian Zangi-bar ("coast of the blacks"); ultimately from the Arabic words of the same meaning. Once a separate state with a long trading history within the Arab world; Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964, and still enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the union. 

Zanzibar's main industries are spices, raffia, and tourism. It is still sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands (a term also associated with the Maluku Islands in Indonesia), because of the significance of its production of cloves, of which it used to be the world leader, and also nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. The ecology is of note for being the home of the endemic Zanzibar Red Colobus and the elusive Zanzibar Leopard. 

  • Official name: Zanzibar is an autonomous region of The United Republic of Tanzania (Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania).
  • Location: An island off the coast of Tanzania in Eastern Africa.
  • Capital city: The island's leading port and largest town is Zanzibar; located on the western coast, it has a fine landlocked harbour. The old town is known as ‘Stone Town’. 
  • Stone Town: The capital city, Zanzibar, is divided into two sections: Stone Town, a World Heritage site, and Ngambo. The buildings are predominantly white coral stone with a noticeable Arab architectural style. Balconies in Stone Town surround central courtyards and open-arched rooms to ensure that the interiors are always cool. The exterior doors are intricately carved and inlaid with brass. Narrow roads meander between buildings some over a century old, leading you to picturesque bazaars with carpenters, jewellers, hawkers, tailors and coffee sellers. Along the island’s eastern shore runs a protective reef, which is as beautiful as it is functional.
  • Area: A low-lying island of coral formation, it has an area of about 1,650 sq km (637 sq mi). Zanzibar 3,354 km, Pemba 1,537 km.
  • Climate: Zanzibar enjoys a typical Equatorial Climate. From December to March the weather is hot and relatively dry. The cooler, dry period from June to October is also pleasant, with temperatures averaging 25 degrees centigrade. Expect heavy rains from March to the end of May and short rains during the month of November. Humidity averages 78 per cent.
  • Ethnic make-up: The population is predominantly Shirazi, a mixture of Arab and the local population. 
  • Population: 1,000,000 approximately
  • Religion: Strongly Islamic with small numbers of Christian and indigenous beliefs.
  • Language: Kiswahili or Swahili (official), English (official, primary language of commerce, administration, and higher education), Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar), many local languages. 
  • Culture: Zanzibar is a conservative, Sunni Muslim society. Its history was influenced by the Arabs, Persians, Indians, Portuguese, British and the African mainland. Stone Town is a place of winding lanes, circular towers, carved wooden doors, raised terraces and beautiful mosques. Important architectural features are the Livingstone house, the Guliani Bridge, and the House of Wonders. The town of Kidichi features the hammam (Persian baths), built by immigrants from Shiraz, Iran during the reign of Barghash bin Said.
  • Trade: Zanzibar, mainly Pemba Island, was once the world's leading clove producer, but annual clove sales have since plummeted by 80% since the 1970s. Explanations given for this is a fast-moving global market, international competition and a hangover from Tanzania’s failed experiment with socialism in the 1960s and ’70s, when the government controlled clove prices and exports. Zanzibar now ranks a distant third with Indonesia supplying 75% of the world's cloves, compared to Zanzibar's 7%.[5]. Zanzibar exports spices, seaweed and fine raffia. It also has a large fishing and dugout canoe production. Tourism is a major foreign currency earner.
  • Communication: International Direct Dial is available. The country code for Tanzania is +255. The outgoing international code is 00 for the United States, or 000 for all other countries. Public call boxes in post offices and main towns operate on a card system, available from most small shops. Several cellular phone companies operate in Tanzania and roaming lines work near most major cities and towns. Internet cafes are plentiful in major city centres.
  • Currency: The Tanzania shilling (Tsh or TZS), divided into 100 cents. There is no limit to the importation of foreign currency. 
  • Currency exchange: Most hotels offer forex facilities, though sometimes at disadvantageous rates. Forex facilities remain open at the main airports.
  • Banking: Banks and bureau de change are available at airports and in all major towns. Banking hours are from Monday - Friday 8.30 am - 3.00 pm, Saturdays 8.30 am - 1.30 pm. A few branches in the major towns are open until 4.00 pm. Please note that banks are closed on Sundays. 
  • Credit cards and traveller’s cheques: Credit cards (Access, MasterCard, Visa, American -Express, and Eurocard) are accepted only at major lodges, hotels, and travel agents. A surcharge may be added for this service. ATM and 24-hour cash machines are available in branches of major banks. Travellers’ cheques in pounds sterling or US dollars are recommended, though it may be difficult to exchange them outside the main cities. 
  • Tipping: Tipping is appreciated. Most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge.
  • Time: GMT +3 all year-round.  Tanzania maintains an almost constant 12 hours of daylight. Sunrise is typically 06.30 and sunset at 18.45. 
  • Electricity: 220-240 volts AC.  
  • Water: Tanzanian tap water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is readily available.
  • Landscape: The islands of Zanzibar are an archipelago. The largest, Zanzibar, is a low lying stretch of land, crab claw shaped and lying 37 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania. Pemba Island is fifty kms north of Zanzibar Island and is the main source of cloves. Mafia Island is 160 kms south of Zanzibar and is the most southerly and smallest of the main Tanzanian islands. There are also a number tiny islands just off the shores of the main island, such as Chunguu Island (Prison Island), Grave Island, Bat Island and Snake Island. 
  • World Heritage Sites: Most of Stone Town is a World Heritage Site; namely, The National Museum of Zanzibar, the Kidichi Persian Baths, the House of Wonders, the Arab Fort, Livingstone’s House, Mangapwani Slaves Caves, the Maruhubi Palace, the Old Slave Market and the People’s Palace.
  • Entry requirements: A valid passport. Most visitors to Tanzania require a visa to enter the country. Three-month single-entry tourist visas are available from all Tanzanian embassies (price subject to nationality). For further information contact: 
  • Health certification: A yellow-fever vaccination certificate is required for entry into Zanzibar – though not for the rest of Tanzania.
  • Vaccinations: A number of vaccinations are recommended for visitors to Tanzania (check with your doctor in advance). 
  • Malaria: Malaria is endemic in tropical Africa and protection against it is necessary. 
  • HIV/AIDS: HIV/AIDS is a serious problem throughout Africa. 
  • Medical insurance: Travellers to Tanzania are recommended to obtain medical insurance prior to arrival. 
  • Security: Tanzania is a safe country to travel in. Tanzanians are warm-hearted and generous people and are eager to help visitors get the most out of their stay. Tanzania is a politically stable, multi-democratic country. As in all countries, a little common sense goes a long way and reasonable precautions should still be taken, such as locking valuables in the hotel safe and not walking alone at night.
  • Travelling to Zanzibar: By air: there are regular flights from Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Mombasa into Zanzibar International Airport, which is located approximately 7 km from the centre of Stone Town.  
  • Driving: Driving (international driving licence required) in Zanzibar is on the left-hand side and traffic signs are international. 
  • Public transport: Buses and taxis operate in most towns. Price is open to negotiation and should be decided in advance. 
  • Dressing: Zanzibar has no winter and lightweight clothing is worn all year-round. It is considered insulting by local tradition to dress scantily or improperly.
  • Do’s and don’ts: It is an offence to: deface a Tanzanian banknote; urinate in public; sunbath topless; hire a prostitute; buy or take drugs; remove wildlife products from Tanzania, export products made from elephant, rhino or sea turtle derivatives, or to remove coral. Swearing and blasphemy are inadvisable. Visitors are requested to stand when the Tanzanian anthem is played, or the national flag raised or lowered. They are also advised that photographing the president without prior permission or any military installation is not permitted. 

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