By Plane -- Zanzibar airport is connected to every major tourist destination on the mainland via scheduled twin-engine flights, though travelers in Tanzania will have to stop (and probably overnight) in Dar es Salaam or Arusha, both a short hop (20/30 min. and 60/90 min., respectively) from the main island of Zanzibar (Unguja). The principal carrier from Kenya to Zanzibar is Kenya Airways, with a transit stop in Nairobi; note that you will need $50 in cash upon arrival for your Tanzanian visa. Other international carriers all stop in Dar es Salaam; direct international flights to Zanzibar are rare. 1Time (www.1time.co.za), the South African budget airline, flies direct from Johannesburg to Zanzibar twice weekly. During peak season, plenty of charter flights fly direct from Italy, but these are not scheduled. At any rate, facilities are so rudimentary that any international arrival turns the tiny airport into bedlam; best to get here utilizing one of the domestic airlines, the most established being Precision Air, ZanAir, and Coastal Air. If you're flying from Arusha to Zanzibar, newcomer Tanganyika Flying Company (www.tanflyco.com) offers the best experience but is the most expensive; they also do not fly Dar to Zanzibar. Coastal Air (www.coastal.cc), generally considered the most reliable of the remaining airlines listed, is your next port of call. It's worth comparing prices among all the airlines, but at press time, a one-way ticket between Dar and Zanzibar cost around $80, while a one-way "direct" ticket between Dar and Pemba cost around $120. If you choose to overnight in Stone Town, you'll spend $180 (Dar to Zanzibar $80, plus Zanzibar to Pemba $100). Tip: When departing Zanzibar, make sure that your departure airport tax of $50 is included in your airline ticket, or simply keep dollars handy, as this must be paid in cash if not included.
By Ferry -- There are several sea ferry companies that ply the waters between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam daily, the largest and most efficient being Azam Marine (www.azammarine.com), which operates two daily runs with Sea Bus. Sea Bus takes around 90 minutes and departs daily from Dar es Salaam at 2 and 4pm (departing Zanzibar at 10am and 1pm). Economy-class tickets cost $35; first class (which is not hugely different to economy) costs $40: this must be paid in dollars, pounds, or euros. You can pay for your ticket online, which is the most cost-effective way to do so. If you wait to purchase your ticket in Dar (or Zanzibar), make sure you do so a day in advance (particularly in peak season), and don't buy tickets from street hawkers. Other reputable ferries crossing in more or less the same time are Sea Star (tel. 024/223-4768) and Sea Express (tel. 024/223-3002). Sepideh is also pretty reliable but takes a little longer. It's not worth booking Flying Horse or Aziza; while cheaper, you will need to spend the night on board. Note that all foreigners are required to carry their passports when traveling between the islands and mainland Tanzania.
Getting to Pemba from Zanzibar will take around 90 minutes and costs around $40. While the ferries between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar run like clockwork, the ferry run between Pemba and Zanzibar relies on a more fair-weather approach. Ferry trips are not daily, and the schedule can change at short notice, depending on demand. Unless you have time on your hands and a flexible schedule, fly.
Getting from the airport to Stone Town (only around 10km/6 1/4 miles away) is pretty straightforward, as there are plenty of taxis outside; the trip will cost around Tsh10,000. If you prefer a better-looking vehicle, book a transfer with one of the recommended island operators or ask your hotel to arrange a transfer. Hotels charge around $20 for airport transfers to Stone Town and around $70 for an airport transfer to the east or north coast.
If you're going to a hotel in the old part of Stone Town, note that your taxi may not be able to drop you off directly outside your hotel, as the narrow lanes make it accessible to pedestrians only; be sure to have a tip handy for your driver, who will help carry your luggage to your hotel. Once you are in Stone Town, you will not need taxis. All the sights are within walking distance of the recommended hotels; if you opt for a beachfront hotel some minutes north or south of town, make sure they include a free shuttle into town (most do).
Getting around the island is pretty straightforward; your resort will arrange your transfer direct from the airport or from your hotel. If you are the adventurous type and fancy exploring the island on your own, you can hire a jeep; the starting price is around $35 to $40 a day, with no fuel. A tank of fuel will get you around the island and will cost around Tsh60,000. You will need an international driver's license. Alternatively, hire your car through Mohammed at Suna Tours (tel. 077/741-8323).
When to Go
Located around 6 degrees south of equator, with an average 7 to 8 hours of sunshine daily, Zanzibar is a pretty sure beach bet. That said, it can get very hot and uncomfortably humid during the peak season (Dec-Feb); make sure you book a resort along the east or north coast, which is cooled by pleasant sea breezes. The so-called rainy season is April to May; sometimes June can be rather wet, too. Showers continue to fall year-round but never last long.
Festivals -- Ramadan, the most holy month in the Muslim calendar (when Muslims refrain from drinking, eating, smoking, and displays of affection to remind themselves what life is like for those less fortunate), affects tourists, in that everyone is expected to follow suit in public, and some of the restaurants and bars that are open to the street (or managed by Muslims) close down. Its onset and duration depends on the moon but generally runs from the end of August to September. Eid el Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, and a hugely festive atmosphere prevails everywhere, with everyone in a party mood, feasting and giving gifts, and the streets filled with kohl-eyed girls in sparkly new dresses. The Eid celebrations last for 4 days and are best experienced in Stone Town, either at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Kariakoo fair grounds near the main post office.
Events -- One of the most exciting events in Africa takes place during the first 2 weeks of July when Zanzibar hosts the ZIFF Festival of the Dhow Countries, encompassing the African continent, the Gulf States, Iran, India, Pakistan, and the islands of the Indian Ocean. It's a showcase for filmmakers (it's the second-biggest film festival in Africa), dancers, performers, and musicians. If you are interested in Zanzibari music, plan your visit for February, when the Swahili music and culture festival Sauti Ya Busara (Sounds of Wisdom), a 3-day cultural extravaganza of music, theater, and dance, is held.
While the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors and Commission for Tourism have clubbed together to produce a good general-info website (www.zanzibartourism.net), there is no independent tourist bureau in Zanzibar itself, so be aware that any signs asserting as such are actually tour operators. For general information about Zanzibar history, take a look at www.zanzibarhistory.org, an independent site that isn't trying to flog anything. The following operators are all highly recommended.
The upmarket operator Gallery Tours & Safari (tel. 024/223-2088; www.gallerytours.net) is a little more expensive but an excellent choice. Founder and managing director Javed Jafferji is very passionate about Zanzibar and, for years, has captured its beauty and intrigue in his photographs; just about every coffee-table book celebrating the island has his name on the cover. Gallery has handpicked staff offering slick service and a large range of tours, from the obvious to the more specialist (the Freddy Mercury Tour follows the boyhood experiences of the Queen lead singer, born in the heart of Stone Town). They also arrange very romantic weddings. If you're looking for a reliable operator who offers the best price-to-value ratio for his services, look no further than Mohammed at Suna Tours. If you want to self-drive, Mohammed can also arrange a 4WD vehicle, as well as a driver's permit ($10) if you don't have an international driver's license (this is likely to be cheaper than arranging the latter at home). Call Mohammed at tel. 0777/41-8323, or find him at the south end of Forodhani Gardens. Island Express (tel. 024/223-4375 or 077/43-5866; www.zanzibarsafaris.com) is a reliable operator with excellent guides and a fleet of efficient vehicles offering the standard range of tours. Zanzibar Unique (www.zanzibarunique.com) is another top-notch operator that is highly recommended for their staff and vehicles.