Zanzibar Expectations

Life is full of expectations. It is when the reality does not match the expectations that there is disappointment.

Over the last 20 years there have been only a handful of people who have been disappointed with their visit to Zanzibar. In discussion with them it has been obvious that their expectations of the island were different to the reality. Perhaps their expectation was to visit a destination similar to places they have visited in Europe and/or other developed countries.

We have therefore made some notes to help people to know what to expect:

  • The majority of people on Zanzibar, and most of sub-Saharan Africa, are very poor compared to “western” standards. There is a high rate of unemployment on the island and the standard of living in terms of housing, dress, public transport, etc is low compared to developed countries. This will be obvious soon after you arrive on the island when you transfer from the airport to your first destination. Most houses are traditional “huts” built with mud and coral with thatched or corrugated iron roofs.
  • However, despite the poor conditions the incidence of malnutrition is very low. The island is blessed with a wide range of fruit and vegetables and the ocean is abundant with fish. The people are of a happy disposition, always smiling.
  • In most villages there is no running water to local houses. You will see women collecting water from communal water taps and taking them to their homes. Some hotels have to bring water in large water tankers to replenish their water supplies. Guests are asked to use water sparingly. Many local houses do not have electricity and rely on “tilley lamps” for lighting.
  • The main roads on the island are in a reasonable state of repair, but minor roads and those in villages are un-sealed with potholes like you have never seen before. Makes for an “interesting” drive!
  • Whilst tourism is a now a mainstay of the economy, along with agriculture and fishing, in many ways tourism is relatively unsophisticated. We feel that this adds to the unique charm of Zanzibar. It is particularly noticeable in the service side of tourism. Do not expect a Dubai, or Seychelles, or Maldives where service staff, normally imported from other countries, are professionally trained and coached to say “Have a good day”. The majority of staff you will encounter at hotels and restaurants are recruited from the local area – thus providing employment to local people – and trained by the hotel. They will be kind and well meaning and the majority will go out of their way.
  • In Stone Town some of the buildings are still in a state of disrepair and some have collapsed completely. This is a legacy from the 1970s and early 80s when financial support to Tanzania and Zanzibar from Eastern Bloc countries ceased and investment in maintaining buildings and general infrastructure declined. Old Stone Town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and buildings have to be faithfully restored to resemble their original structure. Many parts of Town are being put back to their former glory and visitors can wander and appreciate the Omani & Colonial style architecture.

We trust that these brief notes will give you an idea of Zanzibar and will help you embrace the island for what it is. We feel the island and its people have a unique charm.
Michael Sweeney & Natalie Blake
Zanzibar Travel