Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar is famed for its breathtaking coastlines, crystal clear waters, spices, and eclectic cultural history. Once a pivotal meeting place for immigrants, explorers, slaves, and spice traders the island is now a coveted beach holiday destination.
The island is an exotic crossroad between Middle Eastern and African culture, with a primarily Muslim population that is a fascinating change from the Western world. In Zanzibar, gap year travelers will be able to enjoy adventure, blissful relaxation, and impactful volunteer work.
Zanzibar is a haven for travelers, volunteers, and adventure seekers. Despite being a spectacular destination to spend a gap year on its own, Zanzibar also combines well with wildlife conservation and community development projects in Kenya and mainland Tanzania.
Zanzibar is one of Go Overseas’ top destinations to volunteer in Africa in 2015 -- specifically for projects involving education and wildlife conservation (mostly marine conservation).
The unemployment of youth is a major problem in Zanzibar making philanthropic work highly gratifying. Education and community development projects are common, many programs using creative strategies like film making to help alleviate the situations of affected locals.
Then of course, Zanzibar’s wildlife and natural resources are another focus for development agencies, and have projects for volunteers to get involved in.
Turquoise waters and white sand beaches out of a movie make this Indian Ocean island a mecca for adventure tourism -- though mostly in the nautical sense.
Diving and deep sea fishing is some of the best in the world in this area. Water sports also abound, giving thrill seekers the opportunity to play on the water’s surface as well as under it.
Interning abroad never looks bad on a résumé, and a destination like Zanzibar can set you even further ahead of the game when it comes to international interest.
A variety of internships are available for gappers on the island, including everything from hospitality internships at beach hotels to journalism and documentary internships.
Zanzibar’s rich culture history and non-western flavor make it an ideal place for young people to gain international experience that will impress future employers!
Planning Your Trip
Culture and Etiquette
Despite having influences from a multitude of cultures across Asia and Europe, Zanzibar’s distinct cultural identity was born out of the unique combination of Arab and African populations. This new identity is called Swahili.
Swahili and English are the national languages in Zanzibar and Tanzania at large. Though English is an official language, it’s not quite as widely spoken as neighboring Kenya, and it’s never a bad idea to learn some Swahili before you go or while you’re there (plus, hey, it’s just fun to order your plate of ugali in Ki-Swahili, right?)
Since the vast majority of Zanzibar’s inhabitants are Muslim, tourists should adhere to common etiquette to avoid offending the locals. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, as is bearing too much skin. Ladies should cover their shoulders and past their knees (we recommend packing loose shirts and knee-length skirts). Men should always wear shirts and at least knee length shorts.
Passing things with your left hand is also seen as an insult in Zanzibar.
Citizens of the United States and United Kingdom are required to purchase a visa to enter Zanzibar. This tourist visa can be purchased at a Tanzanian Embassy before travel, or at a point of entry into Tanzania upon arrival; however, pre-purchasing your visa can reduce risk of delay at ports of entry.
Tanzania is extremely strict when it comes to visas, so it is vital you purchase the correct type for your trip! Anybody who is visiting Tanzania to volunteer or work must purchase a special visa. Gap year travelers should consult their program advisers for more information.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your departure from Tanzania, and you must have at least one blank page available to stamp. Travelers who have also visited a yellow fever endemic country will need to show proof of the yellow fever vaccination.
Health & Safety
Medical facilities are limited in Zanzibar, and are sometimes only capable of treating minor ailments. In case of an emergency, it is important to have medical insurance and purchase travel insurance with medical evacuation coverage.
It is good practice in Zanzibar to only drink bottled water and eat food that is fully cooked or fresh. Washing your hands frequently and using hand-sanitizer can also help reduce your risk of becoming ill.
A good insect repellent is essential in Zanzibar to keep pesky bugs away and reduce your risk of picking up diseases from mosquitoes. In addition to having all of your routine vaccinations up to date before you travel to Zanzibar, you should talk to your doctor about additional medical precautions.
Petty crime is frequent in Zanzibar, particularly Stone Town. You should always be aware of your surroundings and be wary of potential bag snatchers and pickpockets.
You should only use marked taxi cabs, and never enter a taxi with another passenger in it; exit any taxi that stops to pick up another passenger. By being cautious and following basic safety protocols, you can stay healthy and safe while volunteering in Africa.
The emergency telephone number in Tanzania is “111”.
The local currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling (TZS). As international exchange rates tend to fluctuate it is a good idea to use a currency converter to find the latest exchange rate before you travel.
Prices in Zanzibar are low compared to that of the United States and United Kingdom. The cost of food and local entertainment is significantly lower than that of the US and UK. Rent and accommodation will still be relatively cheap, while imported luxury goods and some tourist activities will cost much the same as they did at home.
Cash is the primary mode of payment throughout Tanzania and Zanzibar; very few businesses will accept credit or debit cards.
For more detailed information, visit Numbeo.
Contributed by Caitlin Graaf
Gap Year Programs in Zanzibar
Gap Year Volunteering in Zanzibar
Volunteering is a great way to experience Zanzibar on your gap year
Not finding the program you're looking for in Zanzibar? Check out these other offerings in Tanzania!