In Zanzibar, as in most other parts of Africa, prices are fixed in the larger shops and in outlets supporting local cooperatives. At smaller shops and stalls, prices are negotiable and bargaining is expected. As in the rest of Africa, there are no rules; the aim is simply to reach a price that's agreeable to buyer and seller.
Dangers & Annoyances
While Zanzibar is relatively safe, Zanzibar Town does see occasional robberies and muggings.
- Keep your money and valuables out of sight (and reach), especially in crowded areas like Darajani Market.
- Avoid isolated areas, such as the beaches to the north or south of Stone Town.
- At night in Stone Town, especially in the port area, take a taxi or walk in a group.
- If you leave Zanzibar Town on the night ferry, take care with your valuables, especially when arriving in Dar es Salaam.
In Zanzibar Town you will undoubtedly come into contact with street touts, known as papasi (street touts; literally, ticks), offering to set you up with boat trips, spice tours or a hotel. Some carry false Zanzibar Tourist Corporation identification cards, and lurk around the ferry port, beach and main shopping streets. Some can be genuinely helpful, others can be downright irritating.
If you decide to use the services of a papasi to find a hotel, tell them where you want to go and your price range. Make it clear you won't pay, as you know they get commission from the hotel. If the papasi tells you your hotel of choice is full, they may be directing you to another hotel where they get a bigger kickback.
If you go for a papasi-arranged boat trip, it may be with an unregistered boat, which could mean compromised safety. Also, if anything goes wrong you won't get your money back.
If you want a reliable and knowledgable guide for a spice tour or to show you around Stone Town, it’s better arranged via your hotel or a local tour agency.
If you’re not interested in papasi services, explain this firmly and politely. You may have to do it several times.
If you get your passport stolen, get a written report from the police, then Immigration officials can issue a travel document that will get you to the mainland.
Some visitors report a scam when paying for hotels where genuine US dollar bills are switched for fakes by unscrupulous staff, then a second payment is demanded. To avoid this, pay for your hotel when you leave if possible, and get a receipt.
Most hotels in Stone Town (and many cafes and restaurants) offer wi-fi, either in the lobby/bar/restaurant or in all rooms – although this can be sketchy in historic buildings due to the thick walls.
Some hotels also have an internet-enabled computer for guest use.
Zanzibar Town has a few banks with ATMs, although not all function with non-Tanzanian bank accounts. For changing cash, it's best to use licensed bureaus.
Officially, accommodation on Zanzibar must be paid for in US dollars, and so prices for hotel rooms, as well as various other tourist-related services, are often quoted in this currency. However, it's almost never a problem to pay the equivalent in Tanzanian shillings.
Shangani Post Office offers international calls at Tsh2000 per minute and Skype at Tsh2000 per hour.
The official Zanzibar Commission for Tourism has a tourist information desk just inside the entrance to the Old Fort. It's worth stopping to pick up leaflets or get information on upcoming festivals and events. For advice on anything else, the staff's knowledge is limited.
Also be aware that many local tour companies around Zanzibar Town display signs claiming to offer 'tourist information' – but mainly they want to sell you stuff.
Travel agencies sell plane and ferry tickets, while tour companies sell tours and excursions; many do both. You should make bookings only inside the official offices of travel agencies and tour companies, and not with anyone outside claiming to be staff.