Crime is apparently on the rise in Zanzibar.
Both drug-related assaults and thieving are now a reality in Stone Town. so, don't advertise valuables, don't walk alone at night, and don't resist a group of people demanding your belongings. Our tour guide strongly suggested we did not go out without a male escort at night (we are 50+ yo ladies!)
Always be aware of the people around you. No one will try to rip you off in a crowded market or square unless you make it easy for them by putting your camera or bag down unattended.
The local response to thieving is amazing, if a thief is caught local citizens may stone them (to death?) before the police arrive.
If you are robbed, report it to the nearest police station. Therer are three Police Stations and we saw many police on the streets.
Street Touts are often called ‘Beach Boys’ even when they are 40-50 years old. The local name for them is ‘Papasi’ the Swahili word for ticks. So what do they want? Most are friendly, definitely persistent and can be downright helpful sometimes. They will approach you just about anywhere. If you truly do not want any service of any kind, then be prepared. Here is what services they provide:
• Tour of Stone Town
• Other tours (Jozani Forrest, Spice Tour, Prison Island, etc.)
• Souvenir shops/crafts
• Help with bags
• Directions to a specific place (they walk you there)
Be polite. If you tell them ‘I already have’ and list several of the items above, they start to realise that you know how things work. I ‘hired’ one, or he hired me and I paid $7 for a 2 hour tour of Stone Town. I was shown everything and had a fascinating explanation of local life. They work on a commission. So if you go to ‘my brother’s shop’ and you buy something they get paid a small amount by the shop owner later. Always keep some small coins on hand. If you get lost or really need help you be able to give them a small reward for their assistance.
If you are here for a short period of time or just off a cruise ship, size them up first. Persistent, but polite is ok.
On the other hand.
I did have an older one who kept talking to me in a bar. I am pretty sure he had a substance and/or mental health issue. The next day he saw me and was convinced that I had agreed to pay him for a tour of Stone Town. I had done this with another Beach Boy 2 days before. I even tried to hide in a shop who told me the obvious problem with our little friend. I ended up having to have a security guard running him away. Other than that episode I had good relations with these guys and they would always shout ‘Jambo’ at me when I was out and about.
Please note: This tip is also on the ‘Cultural Tips’ as I found most of these guys were OK.
It is not my intention to put anyone off holiday plans but felt it would be irresponsible of me to not recount my experience on tourism sites. I am a seasoned traveller in my mid thirties and have travelled to many countries across the globe including the continent of Africa for both work and pleasure. Before I recount what happened I would like to say that the British Embassy were incredibly supportive and that it was a very unusual incident for Zanzibar. Crime is a much more frequent occurrence on main land Tanzania than on the Island. The islanders are helpful, friendly, welcoming, good-natured people that were as shocked as we were by what happened.
My partner and I visited Zanzibar in late November 2011 for a holiday. We were looking for a romantic retreat where we could partake in some reef diving in a paradise environment.
We had already been on the South East of the Island for a week before deciding to move up to the North East of the island. We booked into accommodation (which I will not name) that was listed in guidebooks including Rough Guide & Lonely Planet. The staff were very friendly and the location was beautiful. On the second night at 3am, two men broke into our room using a crow bar to break the Yale lock and were armed with Machetes, they woke us up by shining torches in our eyes and then slashed down the mosquito net around our bed they told us they would kill us if we made a sound and to give them all our money and belongings. One of the men held a machete to my throat whilst I kept my girlfriend behind me. I obviously told them to take everything they wanted. They remained in our room for about 10 minutes as they went through all our things. Including our wash bags, clothes & rucksacks. They turned the furniture upside down and wrapped us both together in a sheet from the bed so that they could look under the mattress (this was the most traumatic part of the ordeal). Shortly afterwards they left the room. As soon as we realised they had gone we barricaded the door with the bed and shouted for help until local villagers gathered outside our room. It turned out that there were seven men in all. The other five had tied up the hotel staff including the security guards. One of the guards was beaten so badly that he was rushed to hospital.
On reflection we were lucky to escape unharmed. I can only speculate that it was their intention to intimidate us and extreme violence was to be used as a last resort.
The police weren’t particularly helpful. They showed an interest and came to visit the scene of the crime but in a country rife with corruption (the Islanders tend to not have much confidence in the police) and without a developed infrastructure (there is no concept of finger printing or forensics) it was clear that there was little they could do. In fact they seemed more interested by my religious beliefs being agnostic on my report than anything else. All questions were directed at me being the ‘man’ in the couple and my partner wasn’t asked a single question but then one must remember that we were the guests in their country and we mustn’t criticise a culture for being different to your own.
We managed to get back to England safely and again we are grateful to the British Embassy and our booking agents who were very sympathetic and processed everything with a sense of urgency.
We thought twice about posting this online but various authorities including the Zanzibar police speculated that it was an attack organised by pirates diversifying in different forms of crime (the incident occurred at high tide and they escaped via the beach). I would be very interested to know whether anyone else has heard of such a thing in Zanzibar as it is possible that these attacks may become more frequent and unfortunately if Zanzibar wants to retain it’s reputation as a tropical paradise holiday destination they will need to ensure that their tourists are well protected.
Malaria is widespread in Zanzibar even if authorities try not to talk much about it because that would threaten the tourism business.
We could personally experience that the illness is very common on the island, so the best advice is to get tablets against it.
Precision air WARNING!
This happend November 2011
We hade a lovely vaccation at Zanzibar, we went there from Mombasa, and where going back also to Mombasa with Precision Air.
Howewer, On the way to Zanzibar the scedule where changed, delayed several hours and not a direct flight, but a stop over at Dar. Well this is not a bigger deal, smal changes happend al the time.
The bigger problem happend on the way back. Since this is a smaler company they require to confirm the tickets one weak ahead, we did so, and when we got to the airport, the problem started.
It was like they did not know that we where going on that plane. We talked a lot and argued, to no succes. Finaly they find four of our five tickets. We where a group, so we did not want to split.
Ok, finaly we handed over a kreditcard to buy the last ticket, wich was payed month ahed together with the other tickets.
-No,no! she said, -we take only cash.
Ok! That was it! No way back, time to find out other way to get to Mombasa to get the flight tomorro, and then back to Sweden.
Just some moments after this, when it was tolate to get that flight we find out that there was an ATM on the airport. This lady should just told us; -Go around that corner and take out money, and then you have the ticket.
Yes we got to Mombasa the day after, but after spent more money and time.