Zanzibar Travel Guide: Do's and Don'ts

Zanzibar
Sailing around Kwale Island aboard a dhow with Safari Blue, Zanzibar, Tanzania.Zach Stovall

DO fly into Dar es Salaam and stay at least overnight, preferably at the gleaming, Hyatt Regency hotel. Dar is a vibrant city worth seeing, boasting tourist-friendly nightlife and lively beaches.

DON'T take the ferry from the mainland to Zanzibar. It's far faster and more reliable to fly a reputable carrier that operates multiple flights per day, like Coastal Aviation.

DO visit the petite islands off of Unguja, reachable by dhow or short flight. Charming Chapwani Island, for instance, is close enough for a day or overnight trip from Stone Town. It's a modish private resort featuring a stellar beach, restaurant and diverse ecosystem of starfish, eagles, bats, white and black egrets, herons, dik diks and shy giant crabs. Changuu Island, better known as Prison Island, is the sort of paradoxical place that Zanzibar abounds in. It's both a stunning beach resort and a slice of sad history: a former detention center for rebel slaves, it became a prison and then a quarantine station.

DON'T limit yourself to one area of the island. To fully experience the best of Zanzibar, split your stay between several days' time in Stone Town, and several days at one of the more beach-centered areas of the island, like Kizimkazi or Nungwi.

DO rent a car while visiting Zanzibar. To properly see the island, you'll need to move around, and taxis can be pricey.

DON'T pass on the street food. Handmade chapatti bread, samosas, grilled seafood—these local fixtures are every bit as safe and delicious as high-end restaurant cuisine. And don't neglect the most unique street-food offering: Zanzibari pizza, made from chapatti bread.

DO plan your trip during cultural festivals that dot Zanzibar's calendar. The International Film Festival (July) spotlights African film; the Sauti Za Busara festival (February) provides a stage for East African and European acts; the Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival (September) boasts open-air jazz concerts, poetry readings and open mics.