Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous portion of Tanzania that consists of a group of islands off the coast of the mainland. There are two main ones and several smaller ones. Zanzibar thrives on three main industries: tourism, raffia and spices and is often referred to as ‘Spice Island’.
Unguja is the main island. Its capital is Zanzibar City. It hosts a World Heritage Site known as Stone Town. Apart from the rich history and culture, Zanzibar’s white sandy beaches attract tourists from around the world – even the likes of me.
How I ended up in Zanzibar
My love affair with Zanzibar was not planned. I was looking for something new after a few months of working in Nairobi, following my year and half in Venezuela and Colombia as an English teacher. Hence, I visited the South East Coast of Zanzibar for a vacation. I ended up loving it so much that I decided to go back to stay here for a while as I built a career as a freelancer.
Since tourism is the bread and butter of Zanzibar, start-ups come in the form of small businesses tied to the industry. Hence, there are no official co-working spaces to horn a vibrant start-up ecosystem.
If you are looking for a place to work from, you would have to choose a hotel or a cafe. The coffee shop that I found to be perfect for my needs was in Paje. It’s called Mr. Kahawa. It is a scenic coffee shop right on the beach. Apart from the exquisite Tanzanian coffee, freshly baked treats, you can enjoy the free WiFi either inside or outside watching Kite Surfers do their thing. The coffee, juices and cakes are affordable, at rates between $2-5 dollars. The only downside is that is closes at 5pm.
For places where you can work through the sunset, it is better to go to established hotels. Though they will be pricier they come with fantastic views of the ocean and back-up generators for whenever electricity goes out – which it will.
The ones that were a staple for me were Coral Rock Hotel, Blue Oyster Hotel and Belvedere in Jambiani, Palm Beach Inn in Bwejuu, Pweza Beach Bungalows in Pingwe, Tausi Palace, Dhow Palace Hotel and Seyyida Hotel & Spa in Stone Town.
Religion & Culture
Zanzibar is almost entirely Muslim with a small Christian and indigenous minority.
Shops will stay closed when locals head out to the Mosque – meaning you will have to wait till they get back to do your shopping. Furthermore, inappropriate skin showing for women in town is frowned up – even despite the above 30-degree temperatures. In some cases, even for the men. So make sure you dress accordingly.
Health, Fitness & Marine Activities
Since Zanzibar is rife with hotels, gyms and spas can be found everywhere.
Another thing that can be found everywhere is soccer. You will see it being played in the village and on the beach. Locals will almost certainly let you join in.
Furthermore, Zanzibar is known for having some of the finest beaches in the world. Part of this is due to the impressive coral reef that runs along the length of the coast, making it ideal for snorkelling and diving.
In the past decade, the area has also become very popular with kite surfers. The best wind is recorded from December to March and also from July through to September. A number of hotels now have on-site kite surf centres offering all levels of instruction. Paje is the kite surfing capital of the East coast.
The nightlife, like all other aspects of the island, is determined by the tourism industry’s high and low seasons.
In the South East Coast, parties and theme nights are ‘owned’ by the hotels. During the high season, all days of the week have something going on somewhere. The theme nights range from live band extravaganzas all the way to electronic music raves.
As for Stone Town, be sure to visit the night market to get a taste of the famous Zanzibar pizza and some fresh seafood.
As a digital nomad you’ll most likely be looking to stay longer than 2 weeks so my suggestion is that you get a decent place that will not blow your budget. Places like that will cost you anything between $20-50 a day for bed and breakfast. And they will be anything from single rooms to dorm beds. Yes, the pricing is not like in South East Asia as the Zanzibari government places high taxes on the hospitality industry.
The South East Coast is known to have a lot of budget hostels and small hotels due to kite surfers so you can take advantage of that.
As for expenses, here’s a bit of a summary:
- Meal at an established hotel or restaurant – $ 2-10
- Street food or a meal at a local restaurant – $ 1-2
- Bottled water – $0.50
- Coca Cola – < $1
- Internet Dongle – $ 20
- 5 – 6 GB of 3G internet expiring in a week – $ 5
- 10 -15 GB of 3G internet expiring in a month – $ 10
- Renting a bicycle for a day – $ 5
- Nightclub entry (if any) – $ 5
- Beer – $ 2-3
- Public transportation – $ 1 or less
- Taxi (airport to South East Coast) – $ 30-60
I would spend about $ 20-25 a day (incl. accommodation) by cooking for myself or eating at local restaurants and keeping transportation budget-friendly.
Also, it is important to note that the only ATMs on the island are located in Stone Town!
Amongst all the beautiful things that Zanzibar has to offer, its people are right there in the middle of it all. They are always happy and very hospitable to visitors and tourists. It is part of their culture to always share meals with new friends.
In terms of language, not many people speak English, so expect some communication challenges with the locals.
If you are looking for an exotic alternative to South East Asia or South America, then spending some time in Zanzibar might be something for you. While there is no designated co-working space, you can work from hotel lounges and cafés. And since Zanzibar is well-connected with reliable 3G networks you could even work from your temporary ‘home’, and spend your free time enjoying the sandy beaches, going snorkeling, kite surfing or soaking up the local culture.
*This is a guest post by freelance writer and digital nomad Akumu Fiona.