Have fun and stay safe during a trip to Zanzibar 

Quick notes

  • Zanzibar is an island with beautiful beaches and rich history and culture

  • The island is fairly safe, but concerns for tourists are related to crime, safe transportation, and possible scams

  • Travelers should keep in mind safety precautions and stay alert during their visit 

Zanzibar lures travelers with its beautiful beaches and its proximity to other African adventures, like safaris. The island is part of Tanzania and is located about 22 miles off its coast. Zanzibar, and more specifically, an area in Zanzibar City called Stone Town, was essential to trade during the 1800s. Today visitors can see this UNESCO World Heritage site’s mix of Swahili, Arab, Indian, and European cultures. 

From cultural tours of Stone Town to snorkeling on the beach, Zanzibar has natural beauty and culture that draws travelers in. However, travelers should be informed about how to stay safe in Zanzibarjust like they should be wherever they travel. Here’s what to know about safety in Zanzibar before you plan a trip there. 

Check government travel advisories before your trip to Zanzibar

Before traveling, check the U.S Department of State travel advisories for Tanzania. As of September 27, 2019,  Tanzania has a level two advisory, which means the government recommends having increased caution if you travel there. 

The U.S. government reports that robberies, muggings, carjackings, and sexual assault are common in Tanzania. LGBTI people may be purposely targeted, arrested, and harassed. Also, terrorist groups have been known to plot attacks there, especially in places where people from Western countries go. 

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The U.S. government advises travelers to Tanzania to take precautions such as always carry a copy of your passport (and keep the real one in a safe location), be alert and aware, and don’t leave food or drinks unattended. 

General safety concerns and tips specific to Zanzibar 

It’s worth noting that Zanzibar is generally considered to be reasonably safe for tourists. Tourism is the main industry on the island, so local authorities work to ensure the safety of visitors, according to travel company Enchanting Travels. However, tourists should still exercise caution. 

Specifically, in Zanzibar, the U.S. government advises citizens to watch for pickpockets, people stealing bags, and assaults. It also warns tourists to be vigilant when walking, whether along the beach or on roads. 

Most of the population on Zanzibar is Muslim, so travelers should ensure they are respecting local religious and cultural customs

In the area around Stone Town, especially, travelers should be cautious. Lonely Planet recommends keeping valuables out of sight, avoiding isolated areas (including empty beaches), and taking a taxi or walking in groups at night. If your passport gets stolen, go to the police station and get a written report. 

In addition, most of the population on Zanzibar is Muslim, so travelers should ensure they are respecting local religious and cultural customs. To that end, the U.S. government advises wearing clothing that is not showy or revealing and not drawing attention to yourself. This is especially important on Friday afternoons when people attend mosques, according to the government. 

Possible Scams You Might Run Into in Zanzibar

It’s common in Zanzibar that salespeople in the street try to get tourists to buy tours, make hotel reservations, and more, according to Lonely Planet. These salespeople may direct travelers astray, to a tour or hotel where they get a better commission, and the safety standards of some of the tours may not be adequate. These people may then ask travelers to pay them for their services.

This is especially important to keep in mind when purchasing ferry tickets for travelers who are considering taking the ferry from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. The U.S. government recommends buying tickets from a legitimate source, like the ferry office, your hotel or travel agency, and not from someone on the street. It also recommends traveling on a high-speed boat, and only during the daytime, with good visibility and calm waters. Ensure you know where life jackets are and what the emergency procedures are. 

It’s generally best to book tours and activities through tourist agencies and hotels, not through people on the street

Lonely Planet also reports that travelers might run into scams at the hotel, during which staff will surreptitiously change real U.S. bills for fake ones and insist that people pay for their stay again. 

In the end, travelers need to decide for themselves whether they feel comfortable going to a country. However, with the right information, planning, and research, travelers can feel confident whatever they decide.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

Before your trip to Zanzibar, take a beauty tip from the island, as well as from other places around the world 

The Queen frontman was born in Zanzibar