I have to say, Zanzibar was not on my travel radar. I didn’t really know much about it and had no plans to visit, that was until I ended up booking a spontaneous trip to Tanzania (thanks to Skyscanner and their ‘All destinations’ feature!). It was only when I was researching Tanzania for my trip that I realised Zanzibar was an option and I got super excited! I’ve since started noticing more and more photos of Zanzibar on Instagram and it seems to be growing in popularity. There’s no denying that it’s a super beautiful island, with plenty to offer, but it’s also not the cheapest destination. So, having been there on a budget myself, I wanted to share a few tips I picked up along the way that helped me to save money while exploring this tropical paradise.
Tip 1 – Don’t take the ferry, book a flight instead
If like me, you are visiting Zanzibar as part of a wider Tanzanian trip, you will likely be flying to Dar Es Salaam on the mainland and travelling over to Zanzibar for a few days. A quick google and you’ll soon realise you have two options for getting to the island; a ferry trip or a flight. Now while the ferry seems to be a popular option, I was wary of booking myself a ticket as Tanzania does not have a great safety record for ferries. There have been a couple of big ferry disasters in recent history where ferries have been overloaded and have sunk, and well I just didn’t feel comfortable using them (I also get very seasick!). So, I looked into booking flights to the island instead. Surprisingly I found that I could book a flight for pretty much the same price as the ferry ($35-40). What’s more, the flight, which only takes 20 minutes (the ferry takes 2-3 hours) was a whole experience in itself. When we turned up to the airport, we saw that we would be flying on a small 10 seater plane. We sat right behind the pilot and got to see some spectacular views. I booked with Flightlink via vivaair.com, the only thing to bear in mind is that there is limited luggage space on the plain, so only soft luggage is allowed (fine is you are travelling with backpacks).
Tip 2 Check into the Lost and Found hostel in Stone Town
I can vouch that this was a great hostel, very clean, aircon, double beds, curtains around the bunk beds so pretty private for a hostel dorm room. It was also very central (opposite the Freddy Mercury House). As the bunk beds were doubles, we shared a bed and they only charged us the one fee. It made a great base for exploring Stone Town.
Tip 3 Be smart when booking your accommodation
As taxis on the island seemed to be quite expensive, you’ll save money if you book accommodation close to the beach (walking distance). It’s also worth getting somewhere with breakfast included. We spent most of our trip in and around Nungwi, and apart from buying fruit from the local shops, there didn’t seem to be many small shops or places you could pick up a simple snack. It seemed to be mostly restaurants catering for tourists and the food generally isn’t cheap so we made sure we filled our boots at breakfast each morning at the hotel, and most days this kept us going until our evening meal.
Tip 4 Visit the night market in Stone Town
When in Stone Town be sure to pay a visit to the night market, where you can find all sorts of hot foods and drinks for very little money. A lot of the foods are fried and so generally are pretty safe to eat (I have a sensitive stomach but was fine). I recommend trying a Zanzibar pizza, which, before you get excited is nothing like an actual pizza, but it is pretty tasty. Head to the Forodhani Gardens after sunset to find the night market, you won’t be disappointed!
Tip 5 Eat at Lukmaans in Stone Town
We heard about Lukmaans after asking our taxi driver what his favourite restaurant in Stone Town is. It goes to show it’s always worth asking locals for recommendations as I really don’t think we would have come across this great restaurant is we hadn’t. Lukmaans is one of the rare places that are enjoyed equally by locals and tourists. If you wander in, you’ll find a canteen-style room with a fresh juice bar in the corner. It looks rough around the edges but it’s always full and it really lives up to its great reviews. We found the staff super friendly and helpful, which was great as we had no idea how it all worked.
Tip 6 Buy local fruit
There’s one cheap and easy snack that’s always readily available throughout the island…fresh fruit! As I mentioned before, we mostly only ate out once a day in the evening (having had breakfast at our accommodation), so to help get us through to the evening, we often bought fresh fruit from the many local stalls. What’s more it was nice to be able to buy sometime from the local families that don’t seem to benefit all that much from the tourism on the island. Just make sure you have small change on you when paying.
Tip 7 Get the local bus
I was really surprised by how expensive taxis are on the island. They all seem to charge in US dollars, and despite trying to negotiate, they seemed pretty fixed on their prices. We had planned to travel from Stone Town to Nungwi at the northern tip of the island, but taxis were quoting us $50 for the trip. After a bit of research, we found that there is a local bus to Nungwi that leaves from the market in Stone Town. Tickets for the bus were really cheap (the equivalent of $1 or thereabout), so we thought we’d give it a go! It was a little stressful finding the right bus, but an old man showed us to the right one for a small tip. The buses are just pick up trucks with seating in the back. We climbed in and waited to depart. Once we got going, everything seemed fine, however, the bus kept stopping and picking up more and more people! I honestly have never seen so many men, women, babies and children squished into the back of a pickup! It wasn’t the comfiest of journeys, to say the least, but we arrived in Nungwi quids in! If you really are travelling on a tight budget, it’s worth taking the Bus, but if you have a bit of money to spare then a taxi is a much more comfortable option.
Tip 8 Bring your own snorkel
One of the most popular activities in Zanzibar is snorkeling tours. If you are planning on doing multiple tours, it’s worth bringing your own snorkeling gear as you can normally get a discounted tour price if you have your own snorkel.
Tip 9 Visiting Prison Island? Hire a boat from the beach
If you want to visit Prison Island and say hello to the giant tortoises that live there, there’s no need to book a tour. Just pop down to the beach in Stone Town and hire a boat straight from the shore. Expect to pay between 40-60,000 TSH. The boat will wait for you at the island, while you explore.
Tip 10 Use the resort pools for a fee
One thing I’ve learnt from backpacking is that expensive resorts will often let you use their pools for a fee. So even if you are staying in a budget hostel, you don’t have to miss out on the luxury experience, just walk into any resort that takes your fancy and speak to the pool staff. We came across this beautiful resort while walking along the coast, we were able to sit around and use the pool as long as we bought something from the pool bar, so we treated ourselves to some ice cream and spent an hour sunbathing and swimming.
So, there you have it, my 10 tips for doing Zanzibar on a budget. Have you been to Zanzibar? Do you have any more budget tips? Tell me in the comments below!