About Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a smattering of stunning coral islands (known as an archipelago) in the beautiful Indian Ocean and also part of Tanzania, East Africa. Although lots of people think of Zanzibar as one island, the archipelago consists of two large islands (Unguja – the main island, usually referred to as Zanzibar – and Pemba – its greener, hillier, less explored sister) and numerous small islands (which are also beautiful – we can take you there, no worries).

Today, the buzzing,atmospheric capital of Zanzibar is Zanzibar City, located on Unguja, and its historic centre, Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site well worth visiting. Here you can see centuries of Portuguese, Omani and British influence in its dusty, winding alleyways. Closed doors, courtyards, sudden vignettes of Zanzibari life – we can help you to navigate its streets and unveil its mysteries to you.

The main industries of Zanzibar are tourism and spices – combine these two and you understand why the islands are called the Spice Islands. The ancient and the modern combine unblinkingly – fishermen fish as they have for centuries while chatting on their mobile phones, women in long buibuis ride scooters fast through the street and local hiphop stars wear the traditional kofia and kanzu (hat and robe).

The colours of the islands are mindblowing, as Zanzibari women dress in rainbow coloured kangas with pictures of flowers, fruits, telephones, lightbulbs, anything! Each kanga carries a motto – often a semi-disguised message to a partner, family member or neighbour, or sometimes an expression of piety. The wildlife is also vibrant, with tropical flowers such as hot pink bougainvillea and the bright red flaming tree, setting Zanzibar alight with colour.

The smells of fresh spices like cloves and cinnamon; the lush earth after a monsoon shower; and the fragrant blooms of jasmine, frangipani, ylang ylang and Queen of the Night also enchant visitors.

Zanzibar is an exciting and vibrant place, which is why it is a shame that some tourists come and stay in resorts that could be anywhere in the world. We want to show you the reality of Zanzibar and the fun that can be had here.

Zanzibar today
Today, Zanzibar has become a destination in the Indian Ocean famous for its white beaches, turquoise waters, palm trees and the intriguing history of Swahili culture. Oh, and the spices. Although Zanzibar is rich in history, it is a developing country with many Zanzibaris living in poverty. However, they remain hospitable and good natured and make every visitor welcome on the island. Children in the streets or on the beach will shout a loud Jambo at every tourist, the men sit in street corners playing bao (a local game, similar to backgammon, played on a carved wooden board with polished seeds – ask us for a lesson!) or chatting over tea, and you will see women in colourful kangas doing the shopping.

Zanzibar is a Muslim country and visitors to the island should respect the local culture. If you are drinking alcohol, stick to bars. And in Ramadan , don’t eat, drink or smoke in the street when everyone is hungry. But do join in with the very special celebrations for Eid! Boys, when you are in town or in any villages please wear something on your top and at least shorts. Girls, in any settlements it is respectful to cover your shoulders and wear at least knee length shorts or skirts. We are used to modern styles of dress and the beach scene is relaxed, but the older generation are really happy when you make an effort. If you learn some basic words of Swahili (below), you will be rewarded by much more real responses from Zanzibaris. If you don’t have time before you come – don’t worry! Either just watch The Lion King (joking!) or we can help you with a simple lesson, you can even learn while you’re lazing in your hammock with a fresh coconut!

Read more about the history of Zanzibar, its culture and the beautiful nature.

More Zanzibari goodness
The Jambiani Tourism Training Institute is where we all learnt our skills – it’s a great all-round school offering lessons in everything from customer service and computer skills to food preparation and hygiene. We took two-year diplomas here, so really know our stuff – and we encourage you to find out more about this fantastic place.

Mambo magazine is THE online magazine for Zanzibar archipelago, with loads of original and exciting ideas for visitors – we are separate businesses but we share a name and an ethos, which is to connect travellers here with locals www.mambomagazine.com There is also a travel advice section with tips on things such as health, money, travelling with kids, female travellers, older travellers and backpackers. 

The Wikitravel open source guide to Zanzibar is another good source of info, including advice on ferries and airlines, and travellers’ own experiences of the island  You can even add to it after your trip!

Made in Zanzibar is a great website for visitors wanting to stock up on Zanzibari goodies and presents to take home to their family and friends – these are all locally produced items from screen printed T-shirts through to spice-infused soaps and colourful woven bags. You can’t order direct but it gives you great info on these shops and we can take you to any of them! 

Festivals are big in Zanzibar, and the three main arts festivals are Sauti za Busara in February (music), ZIFF in July (film) and Jahazi in September (literary and jazz). You can find out more about them on their homepages:

Sauti za Busara: http://www.busaramusic.org/
Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF): http://www.ziff.or.tz/
Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival: http://www.jahazifestival.com/

A more purely local festival is Mwaka Kogwa in July in the village of Makunduchi, near our base in Jambiani. In this festival the men settle grudges from the year past by fighting with banana sticks, the women and the men sing bawdy songs about one another, and a hut is ceremonially burnt down. It’s the one day of the year that people can do what they want and follow their desires with no repercussions... Let us take you to this friendly but dramatic event! 

Basic Swahili terms
Swahili is pretty much phonetic so just pronounce words as they look unless we tell you otherwise!

These are most important words in Swahili. Polite, thoughtful greetings count for a lot in Zanzibar.

Mambo? This means How are you, how is it going? (literally it means ‘matters’ – how are matters?) The answer is Mambo poa – Things are cool! Or if you want to be clever you can use another variant and reply Safi (literally ‘clean’), salama (fine), freshi (fresh), nzuri (good).
Jambo tends to be addressed to tourists, to which you can reply Sijambo to indicate you are well. Or hatujambo if there are more than one of you.

As-salam alaikum is the traditional Muslim greeting and can often be respectful, especially going into a formal group situation. The correct response if someone says it to you is wa alaikum as-salam.

If you want to impress the wazee (elders), greet them with Shikamoo (pronounced sheek-a-mow), to which they will reply Marahaba (thanks)

If you want we can teach you to advance onto more sophisticated greetings such as asking about someone’s family, health, work, harvest etc

Polite words:

Tafadhali Please (pronounced ta-fa-dah-lee)
Asante (sana) Thanks (very much)
Hodi! Please may I come into your house/space?
Karibu You are welcome

If you master all of these words, you can be fairly polite, and this will get you far. If you want more in-depth lessons, we can help to organise them for you. It’s also worth bringing a phrase book. You can learn more about the origins of Swahili here.  And if you want to avoid accidentally making some rude mistakes then it’s worth looking here

Mambo Poa Tours Zanzibar © 2012