Having grown up in a fairly conservative part of Dubai, I usually keep my off shoulder dresses and bikinis for overseas beach holidays (or for day spends at beach properties in new Dubai).
Well, the ignorant tourist in me is currently thanking my lucky stars for having carried a variety of outfits to Zanzibar this weekend.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in Stonetown and spent most of our time on this side of the city. And here’s what I wish someone told me:
- Stonetown is predominantly Muslim. Our driver mentioned this and so I put on a decent knee length skirt and top for the walk around. Despite my modest hemline, I couldn’t help but feel on display as I received a few uncomfortable stares from young school girls. Don’t get me wrong though, the locals are very welcoming and tolerant, but I would recommend being mindful when picking your attire.
- I didn’t know the level of influence from the time of Arab rule in Zanzibar, but it really is quite apparent in the food, culture, and way people interact here. You can get liquor in almost every restaurant, but don’t forget that your server is probably not a consumer of alcohol and may not be able to guide you on ‘local’ cocktails and beers. It’s important to be respectful in this regard as well.
- You do not need a guide to explore the streets. Stonetown is all about picking your own journey. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the little alley ways and enjoy the carved doors and architecture. You can always ask someone if you’re having issues finding your way home, but do remember that ‘go straight’ doesn’t always make sense -some alleys fork in to two, in which case straight may mean left or right.
- Park Hyatt is one of the swankier hotels in the area and we always found a number of locals attempting to sell us things as soon as we’d step out. Don’t be afraid to say no. They will ask you 3-4 times, but be patient, as they’re just trying to make a living and will back off if you’re firm. A man tried to sell us a tray of spices. My husband gave him some money out of goodwill and said no to the spices. He took the money and insisted on selling us the tray for more, stating that his relegion didn’t allow him to just take the money. As he began to tell us his story of not being able to afford half a kilo of rice, a second man hurried over to sell us magnets. We were late to catch on to what was happening but had managed to cut ourselves off.
- Exchange rates vary. The standard in Stonetown is approximately 2000 Shillings to a US Dollar. Exchanges will give you (approx) 2100, and tour guides will charge you (approx) 2200. Prison Island however, has their own 2400 shilling – USD1 policy. A bottle of water is USD2, and a bottle of Coke is USD2. But the Diet Coke is USD3(go figure). This barely pinches, but if you’re on a budget it can get pretty annoying! You can’t fight it, and I guess this really is the case in every tourist spot in the world. Just be mentally prepared to see crazy fluctuations!