Budget friendly Zanzibar holidays
Zanzibar can certainly be done on a budget, but you’ll need to pick your regions with care. Starting in Stone Town you’ll find a range of affordable guesthouses, offering basic double rooms and B&B. Further afield there are two main budget areas – around the northern village of Nungwi and along the south-eastern coast between Paje and Jambiani. Matemwe, northern Kiwengwa, Bewjuu and Kizimkazi Mkunguni all have one or two good budget guesthouses, but the choices are more limited and you may have to settle for something a bit back from the beach.
Pemba and Mafia are not great budget destinations, although you will find some more affordable guesthouses in Chake Chake, Kilindoni and Utende. That said, to make the most of these and the other smaller islands in the archipelago you’ll most likely need to spend a bit more.
Happily, lying on the beach is always free and snorkelling gear can be hired for a few dollars almost anywhere. Local dive trips start at $40 a person and dhow excursions can be from $30 to $80 a trip depending on where you go and how many are in the boat. If you’ve never dived before, then Zanzibar is a superb place to start. Full PADI certification starts at around $500 a person, but for $100 you can try an introductory ‘Discover Scuba’ course which includes a pool dive, some theory and a shallow sea dive to around 12 metres. Whatever you do, don’t leave Zanzibar without doing a spice tour. These can be arranged in Stone Town, with prices starting at around $30 a person.
If you’re planning to stay in Stone Town for a while, then book accommodation in advance for a few nights. This will give you somewhere to aim for when you arrive, but won’t tie you down if it turns out to be less desirable. Once there you can explore the old town on foot and move to a nicer spot if you need to. Don’t try this if you’re visiting in July, however, when Stone Town is packed for the Festival of the Dhow Countries.
You can employ this same strategy in Nungwi, Paje and Jambiani where there are plenty of good budget options within walking distance along the beach. You’ll find huts and bungalows that don’t even take advance bookings and survive exclusively on walk in guests. As with Stone Town in July, there’s always some risk, and along the northern and eastern coasts it’s busiest from July to October. Jambiani is currently one of the quieter stretches of beach and a good place to start if you’re worried about availability.
Be aware that the smaller, cheaper guesthouses almost always require cash and there’s nowhere to draw money outside of Stone Town, Kiwengwa and Chake Chake. Officially all accommodation must be paid for in US dollars, though euros are increasingly accepted and some budget hostels may take Tanzania shillings. The best option is to arrive with all your dollars in cash as you’ll get better rates than if you exchange on the islands. If you do need to change money (a few shillings can be useful for smaller purchases such as street food), then use a private bureau de change in Stone Town. The larger hotels often provide a FOREX service, but usually at much poorer rates.
Expect to pay $10 to $15 for a dorm bed in Stone Town and $40 to $60 for a clean double room anywhere. Single rooms are rare in Zanzibar and you’ll often be charged the full rate for a double. Local food and basic drinks will set you back about $25 a day, so all-in-all you’re looking at around $50 a person a day sharing, for a decent guesthouse on a fairly tight budget.