Visas-on-Arrival at Dar Es Salaam Airport
When Andrew and I arrived at Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) airport, the first thing we had to do was get visas (on arrival). A visa agent helped us through filling out the forms, etc. All-in-all it was a very quick and painless process, except for handing over the US$100. Americans and Irish pay $100; all other Europeans pay $50. The visas are very pretty and even have our picture on them, taken by webcam at the desk. I guess we would have waited longer if we had gotten visas ahead of time because the line of people waiting for the immigration stamp was very long.
Getting to Zanzibar
Our flight arrived into Dar at 2:30pm making it highly unlikely we’d catch the last fast ferry (4:15pm) to Zanzibar so we opted to fly. We were hand-held through the process of booking air tickets, which was surprisingly quick and efficient for Africa (in my opinion). Just 2hours after we’d arrived and $171 later ($100 for the visa, $71 for the plane ticket) we were on a Precision Air flight out to Zanzibar. That means by 5pm we were on Zanzibar Island looking for a taxi to take us into town. We shared a $10 taxi with a couple from the airport to Stone Town. We were a bit nervous about having the driver follow us around looking for hotels because all drivers on Zanzibar get commission for bringing guests to hotels, which means we can’t negotiate a lower price.
We ended up at Baghani House Hotel, recommended by LP East Africa. We managed to negotiate down to $65 for the cheaper downstairs room. It was a nice, though very dark, ensuite room with Zanzibari furnishings, air-con, safe, and minifridge. The next morning we’d find out it came with a wonderful fresh fruit breakfast, a welcome change to the bread and cheese breakfasts we’d had for the past 3 weeks in Egypt and Jordan.
After settling in, we went looking for a place to exchange money or as they’re called in Tanzania, Bureau de Change. Many things can and should be paid for in US$ such as hotels, but local currency is required for food, drinks, internet, etc. Money exchange rates range from $1= 1000 to 1160Tanzania Shillings so it makes sense to shop around for the best rates. Rates for US$ depend on which notes are being exchanged with $100 and $50 notes getting the best rate. (The best rate I found was in Arusha $1=1164 when exchanging a $100 note).
In the morning we went looking for malarone anti-malaria tablets and a wonderfully kind local man took us running all over town to find a pharmacy that carried them. We found more than one pharmacy that had them but most were charging upwards of $6.78 per tablet. So I decided to not to buy any. (I continued looking through Tanzania and Nairobi and even with bargaining, never found them below $5/tablet. In the end, it was good I didn’t spend the money on them because one of the other passengers on the safari had extras and since Andrew left early he also gave me his extras).
Zanzibar is one of the Spice Islands from the time when Arab traders controlled the Indian Ocean. Therefore you find spices for sale everywhere; there are also ‘spice tours’ offered, which will take you to the spice plantations to see what spice look like when they grow. Zanzibar was also one of the main places from which slaves were exported; a church now stands on the ground of the Old Slave Market in Zanzibar Town. As a result of the Arab traders, most of the island is Sunni Muslim and almost all of the girls wear head coverings. This is distinct from other Arab countries where only women above the age of 12 (I think) have to have their head covered.
Having explored Stone Town on our quest for malarone, we signed up and paid $6each to take the 1pm shuttle-van out to the north shore beaches: Nungwi and Kendwa. We’d planned to go to Kendwa but after looking into accommodation around there we found our 1st choice places were filled; it also felt too quiet for us. We opted to try Nungwi, the supposed party beach, though I can’t say we we ever found any party. After shopping around a few hotels at Nungwi, we ended up at another LP recommendation: Amaan Bungalows. At this place we paid $50/night for an ensuite, fan only room. The room was fine but didn’t have a sea view, in fact, it was about a 5min walk to the beach, which we had to find in front of another hotel. That night we ate at the restaurant at Amaan, which turned out be awful: it had bad service, mediocre food and was very overpriced.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why we stayed there and paid so much if everything was so below par. To be honest, Amaan was the best value for money we found of any place we looked at along the north shore. I’ve decided Zanzibar is not a place to go if you’re looking for value, because there is none. Zanzibar, like all of Tanzania is not cheap, and by Asian standards its very expensive. The cheapest meal I had on Zanzibar, a vegetarian curry, was 6000TSh, just under $6. That was in Stone Town which had cheaper meals than at the beach. In fact, eating at the beach was so expensive we only paid for 1 meal per day, lucky breakfast was included!
This is not to say that the beach itself isn’t nice; it’s absolutely gorgeous with some very white sand and radiantly clear blue water. But when you’re lying on the beach persistent salespeople, even some dressed in the characteristic red Masaai blankets, keep trying to get you to look at their wares. This does not make for a very relaxing beach experience. The internet is also rather overpriced and slow on Zanzibar. Myself and these other two American girls kept comparing Zanzibar to Thailand and decided that Thailand is all around a better value and just a better beach destination largely because there’s less hassle and better value. While I enjoyed Zanzibar and am glad I went, I’m certainly in no hurry to go back (as evidenced by the fact that I went to the beach on the mainland during my extra week rather than going with friends to Zanzibar again).
To occupy our days on the beach and distract ourselves from the stress of trying to deal with canceled trips in Kenya, Andrew went sport fishing with some guys from South Africa. During his 6hours of fishing he caught a Dorado, but it jumped off the hook. I instead opted for a 1hour massage, which cost $15 (perhaps the most value priced of anything on the island, aside from the local beer).
Returning to Dar Es Salaam
We again to took a shared van back to Stone Town; however this time it cost us 8000TSh/person. They dropped us off at the ferry terminal where we bought tickets for the overnight Seagull ferry (not listed in LP, but actually newer and nicer than the cheaper Flying Horse, which is listed). We paid $25 for a VIP class ticket. They let us store our bags in the ticket office while we went to eat dinner, a nice perk. The ferry departed at 10pm and arrived 6am. This is a bit curious as most of the ferries take 1.5hours so you have to wonder how they manage to take 8hours on the overnight route. On what little sleep we got, we bargained a taxi driver down from 20,000TSh to 10,000TSh to take us to the airport for our flight to Nairobi where we’d start our safari.