Hacks to Visiting Zanzibar on a Budget

by | Last modified on Jan 17, 2024 | Tanzania, Travel

Although noticeably more expensive than the mainland of Tanzania, it is still possible to visit Zanzibar on a budget. In this guide, I’ll cover how to get to the island, where to stay and what to do. As well as a complete budget breakdown.

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How to get to Zanzibar on a budget?

Firstly, you will need to catch an international flight that gets you into the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam.

From there, the quickest and easiest way to get to and from Zanzibar is via a small plane. This costs $60-80 in advance, although it is possible, if you have time, to haggle a better deal at the airport – flexibility on dates and times is essential.

Pilot on flight to Zanzibar

Alternatively, if you really want to get to Zanzibar on a budget, you can catch the ferry, which costs $35. To get to the port, you can catch a local bus outside Dar airport, although check the timings of the ferries as the last one leaves early afternoon. The ferry ride is 2 hours and fairly comfortable, although their safety standards aren’t always the best.

How to get a transfer from Zanzibar airport?

Zanzibar Airport is about a 30-minute drive from the capital, Stone Town. Catching a taxi is one option, costing $10-15 (depending on how good you are at haggling). This price will be reduced if you can pair up with other tourists.

The cheapest option is to catch a local bus called Dala-dala. They are very easy to use, although expect cramped hot conditions. The dala-dala stop is just outside the airport – ask airport staff for directions (not the taxi drivers, as they will tell you the buses aren’t running!).

A journey to Stone Town on a dala-dala costs 300TSH (roughly $0.15). The end stop is Darajani Market, or they will drop you anywhere along the way as there are no set stops.

How to travel around Zanzibar on a budget?

Getting comfortable using data-dala’s is inevitable for anyone visiting Zanzibar on a budget. They are a cheap and easy way to get around the island. From Stone Town, you can travel to the northern beaches, Nungwi and Kendwa (which are beautiful and well worth a visit), in about 1.5 hours. The cost is 2,000 TSH (roughly $1). This is the most expensive journey you will pay.

To get to the east side of the island from Stone Town, the dala-dala costs 1,500TSH (roughly $0.75). All small journeys within Stone Town are 300TSH (roughly $0.15).

The dala-dala’s are either minibuses or converted trucks (the backs are open, and you sit all facing each other). Grab a window seat if you can at the front, for the most comfortable journey.

Everything you will want to see in Stone Town is within walking distance. It is very easy to get lost in the narrow winding streets of the city, so get hold of a map or have Google Maps on your phone handy.

Dala dala on Zanzibar Island

Best affordable accommodation in Stone Town?

To really experience Zanzibar, you need to spend some time in the capital, Stone Town, and then some time on the beach. You can see all the main sites of Stone Town in a day easily, although I would recommend adding a second day so that you can also visit Prison Island and Nakupenda sandbank as a combined half-day trip and also a Spice Tour.

The best place to stay in Stone Town, if visiting Zanzibar on a budget, is in ‘The Blue House’ on Airbnb. If you’ve not used Airbnb, follow this link to get £34 or $34 off your first booking.

The Blue House costs roughly $18 per night for a 2 person double room. You will be living with a friendly local right in the heart of the residential area of the town.

The house is clean, spacious and nicely decorated. It is also just a 2-minute walk from Darajani Market and a 10-minute walk to the centre of Stone Town. It is worth bringing earplugs as the locals and nearby mosques have a noisy early start. If you get the dala-dala there from the airport, ask them to drop you off at Kisiwandui School, which is right opposite the street where the house sits (the owner will meet you there if you let him know in advance).

Visiting Zanzibar on a budget, stay at The Blue House

Zanzibar: Best Cheap accommodation on the beach?

For the ‘beachside of my stay on Zanzibar, I choose to stay at Kaure Sands Beach Lodge, $50 per night for 2 sharing a double, including breakfast (low season).

This has to be one of the best beachside lodges for travellers visiting Zanzibar on a budget. The beach there is much less touristy, meaning you can relax without all the noise of sellers and bars playing music. It has a comfortable, relaxing area and all the rooms are beachfront, meaning you step straight out of your room onto the soft white sand.

5 minutes’ walk away is some local restaurants (behind the lodge) for those looking to save money. The hotel restaurant is a little pricey, although the portions are very large. All the major excursions can be organised from the lodge (snorkelling, diving, dolphins, etc). The flat seas and breeze also make it a popular spot for kite surfing.

Kaure Sands in Zanzibar

Alternative budget beach accommodation..

The north beaches, Nungwi and (especially) Kendwa, are the most beautiful but also the most popular. There is lots of nightlife, bars and restaurants available. Things are, therefore a bit pricier and the sellers and beach boys can get very annoying. I visited Kendwa beach as a day trip from Stone Town and was happy that I had decided not to stay here but on the quieter East side instead.

If you want to be close to the nightlife and cocktails, there are some cheap and comfortable options which include a splash of luxury including:
Varadero Zanzibar Hotel
Daeli Apartment (highly recommended!!)
Kendwa Rocks Hotel

For even cheaper options, you will need to look on Airbnb where there are dorm rooms as low as $10 a night.

What are the best budget food options on Zanzibar?

The absolute cheapest place to eat in Stone Town is in the Darajani market, although the food section doesn’t appear until the evening. Pick a table that takes your fancy, and the ‘chef’ will make a plate for you based on the food that they have cooked at home and transported that day.

If you are visiting Zanzibar on a budget, you will need to get used to eating rice. Thankfully, the rice there is amazing, cooked to perfection and with coconut milk. The chapatis (500 TSH, roughly $0.25) are tasty and filling. I always had a vegetarian option of rice, beans and vegetables, which cost 1,500 TSH (roughly $0.75). Portions are big and the people are welcoming.

Don’t forget to budget for water as you will need to buy this as you go. Head to a local shop where a 6 pack of 1.5 litre bottles costs 4,500 TSH (roughly $2.25). They will likely try to charge you a more expensive tourist price. If you are ever unsure, just speak with a friendly local and ask them what it costs before going in to buy.

Breakfast

For breakfast and lunch, go to the fruit market to get a huge fresh pineapple (4,000 TSH, roughly $2) or a mango (1,000 TSH, roughly $0.50). Dotted around the local area are small bakeries that sell pancakes, breads, doughnuts and other small pastries made from beans or fish. These are all very cheap and cost between 200 – 500 TSH each ($0.10 – $0.25).

Coconut from the market

Foods not to miss

The night market in Forodhani Gardens is definitely worth a visit, although it is slightly more expensive. You can pick up all sorts of seafood there. Make sure you try a famous Zanzibar pizza (3,000 TSH, roughly $1.50) and a sugar cane drink (2,000 TSH, roughly $1).

When you need a break from local food, head to House of Spices, the best restaurant in the Capital. While taking in the rooftop view, you can enjoy incredible fusion dishes that combine local spice flavours with an Italian twist. I can really recommend the smoked cheese pizza (18,500 TSH, roughly $9.25), made in their resident fire oven, and the mango and chocolate dessert (8,500 TSH, roughly $4.25).

House of Spices, Stone Town

Top things to do in Zanzibar?

  1. Get lost in the old city: spend half a day wandering the winding streets, checking out the shops and crafts
  2. Do a day trip to visit Nakupenda Sandbank (for snorkelling and a BBQ lunch) and Prison Island to see the giant tortoise
  3. Try a Zanzibar pizza in the night market, open every evening on the waterfront in Stone Town
  4. Try different flavours on Zanzibar’s world-famous spice tour
  5. Eat like a local in Darajani Market in Stone Town: While most tourists flock to the night market, Darajani will give you a taste of real Zanzibar life
  6. Spend a couple of hours visiting the Slave Market Museum in Stone Town
  7. Snorkel or dive at Mnemba Atoll (note the coral has been pretty damaged by boats and tourists, so don’t have too high expectations for your water activities in Zanzibar!)
  8. Head to the East side of the island to try kite surfing lessons
  9. Spend a day on Kendwa beach in the North of the island for the most picturesque, white sand, blue water views imaginable

Please do NOT do a dolphin tour, deemed inhuman by many conservation charities because of the local’s aggressive tactics when it comes to tourist dolphin swim tours!

How to get the cheapest tours on Zanzibar?

There are big tour companies operating on the island that offer slick tours at a high price. For every activity, though, you can go with a local and haggle a cheaper deal, which will save you a lot of money if you are visiting Zanzibar on a budget.

It is worth noting that you will often compromise on the quality of snorkels or guiding, though. You might want to weigh up the experience if you are doing a bigger activity, such as scuba diving. For the below activities, here’s how to get a bargain….

Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach

This is a great activity and can easily be done on the cheap for anyone visiting Zanzibar on a budget. Head to the beach area outside Tembo Hotel, where you will find all the ‘captains’ searching for tourists to take out for the day. They will be there from 8 am. The best thing to do is to try and find other tourists to pair up with. The more of you there are, the cheaper the deal you can haggle. In a group of 7, we managed to haggle, paying 15,000 TSH (roughly $7.5) per person. This included 2 hours on Prison Island, 1 hour on Nakupenda sandbank and snorkel gear. This is a very good price and took a lot of bargaining.

You will also need to pay an additional $4 entry to see Prison Island and the giant tortoise. If it is windy and the sea is choppy, you will not get good snorkelling opportunities at the sandbank.

Giant tortoise on Prison Island

Snorkelling and diving

The best place to do snorkelling is Mnemba Atoll. Unless the sea is calm, the rest of the places on the island will likely not see much. The beach boys will tell you differently, but do not listen to them – I saw many unhappy people returning from bad snorkelling trips (including ourselves on one occasion). I joined up with some other tourists and haggled a half-day tour to Mnemba (including transport, fruit, water and gear) for $18 each, leaving from the East side of Zanzibar.

Diving is pricey, $110 for a double dive, and the most I was able to get off was $10. Mnemba is also the best diving spot. If you want these activities cheaper, you can head to Matemwe, which is the closest point. From there, you should be able to negotiate the cheapest deal.

Snorkelling in Zanzibar

If you are planning to do multiple activities, find a ‘captain’ that you like and negotiate a package. To haggle prices lower, you can always cut things out. For example, included food or by shortening the trip from 3 to 2 hours. Equally, ask for snorkel gear and transfers to be included. With all the activities, though, the best thing you can do is to make friends. Share the cost between you massively cuts prices.

Stone Town streets

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Top tips for Zanzibar

  • If you catch a flight over from Dar es Salam, ask the pilot if you can sit in the front. The airline sells the co-pilot seat as a ticket, meaning that you can get a great front-row seat of the island as you fly in
  • Most things on the Island will be paid for in cash (especially if travelling to Zanzibar on a budget as you will be paying the locals). Although dollars are accepted, paying in the local currency is cheaper.
  • Flight delays into Dar es Salam are extremely common. I met around 10 other travellers, myself included, who missed their connecting flight to the island due to delays. If this happens, you might be able to wrangle moving your flight with just a fee to pay, although I ended up losing the full cost. Stay a night in Dar to be sure this doesn’t happen. Equally, losing bags is common (as I found out the hard way as well! It took a week to be returned with my luggage). Keep medication, chargers and a change of clothes in your hand luggage – just in case!
  • There are a lot of sea Urchins off the shores of Zanzibar. I saw a lot of tourists stepping on their painful spikes. It was a daily occurrence. Bring some sandals or sea shoes with you.
  • NEVER pay for any tour on the island up front. I had one seller who was really pushing for upfront payment, although I stood my ground. It turned out the ‘snorkelling’ tour was to an area that was so choppy, with such poor visibility and so many jellyfish, that I only managed 5 minutes before needing rescuing. We asked them to drop us off straight away and refused to pay. Don’t give dishonest sellers money. This is a common occurrence. If they are being honest about what they are selling, they won’t ask for upfront payments.
  • You don’t have to tip, even if they start hinting; it’s your choice. I didn’t tip the activity guides. The ones I went with seemed to earn a good living (I also had a lot of bad experiences with them trying to rip us off). I left my tip money with the street sellers and the people in the local markets and restaurants.
  • Don’t do the dolphin tours. The guides use aggressive tactics that are damaging and intimidating to the dolphins. You just have to read the reviews online to realise that even people who spot them leave with a bad experience, realising what is happening is not right.
  • Don’t give the kids candy! I saw a lot of tourists do this. Not surprisingly, I had to deal with loads of kids shouting at me. ‘Give me candy’ or ‘give me money’. Sometimes even dangerously running across the road. Candy rots their teeth (they don’t have dentists!) and creates dependency on our attitude toward tourists. Teach them a song or game instead or perhaps a few useful phrases in English. If you really want to help the kids, find a good local charity that you can donate to.
  • If you are considering visiting Zanzibar on a budget but aren’t set on the location, consider Mafia Island. Mafia can also be visited cheaply. I had a much better experience. I found the people nicer, I wasn’t ripped off once, and the snorkelling and diving better. The best part as well is that the Island is empty of tourists, so is much quieter. And you can swim with Whale Sharks!
  • The island has suffered heavily from overfishing. Please consider doing your bit for the environment by not tucking into seafood platters or excessive amounts of seafood.

Have you considered Mafia Island as an alternative?

Everyone going to Tanzania has heard of Zanzibar, but not many have heard of Mafia Island. This neighbouring island is quieter and offers Humpback whale tours in the summer and an opportunity to swim with whale sharks over winter. (You can read about my experience swimming with whale sharks on Mafia Island here)

If you need more convincing, check out my budget Mafia Island guide and also the Top Things to do on Mafia Island. Or watch this short video I made about my stay on Mafia Island….

I hope you found this Visiting Zanzibar on a Budget guide helpful.

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40 Comments

  1. merle glass

    Well written, I enjoyed this. I hope to go someday !

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thank you Merle! I can also really recommend visiting Mafia Island if you do head that way…the island has lots to offer and is a real contrast to Zanzibar 🙂

      Reply
  2. Chris

    Hi Bex, thanks for your website, I found a lot of informations on it, well done ! We are a swiss family and planned to go to Tanzania in october. We have three children (15-13-9), and the plane price looks expensive for us five to reach Mafia. Do you think is it realistic to reach it by boat with the children ? If no, than we will go to Zanzibar which likes more easy to reach. Thanks in advance, greetings, Chris

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks, Chris – glad it was of help.
      I personally wouldn’t take children on the Mafia ferry. It is pretty uncomfortable and scary. The cheapest place you can get flights to Mafia is from Afro Whale Shark….you can try seeing if they can get you a discount if you book more than 1 person.

      If money is a factor than Zanzibar is probably your best choice as it is much more structured for tourists so there are more restaurant choices and hotels.

      hope that helps? 🙂
      Bex

      Reply
  3. Ru

    Thanks for your helpful article.
    I’m looking at wanting to visit prison island and nakupenda but ideally would like to avoid an expensive tour. I would only want to spend 1hr max at prison island and a couple of hrs at nakupenda beach. Is this something that could be negotiated with the “captains”?
    Cheers

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Yes, it is all negotiable. Although the cheapest way to do it is to find other tourists that you can share the boat with and split the price. You’d then have less flexibility with timings but would save money.
      Enjoy! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Gloria Britain

    Thanks for your Top Tips. They sound very useful. I was keen on the Dolphin swim

    Reply
  5. Caroline

    Hey Bex,
    A reply from the Netherlands. We (my husband and i) are going to Zanzibar 20 nov. and stay for 3 weeks. We also want to visit Mafia Island. And hope to see the whale sharks. Thank you for your info.

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Amazing! You are going to have a fantastic time. Make sure you book with Afro, you won’t be disappointed. And tell them Bex says ‘hi’ 🙂

      Reply
  6. Mateusz

    Great post! Since yesterday, I’ve read like 8 to 10 of your other posts and all of them were inspiring and helpful. What I like most about your travels is that you always explore many options before making a decision and haggle like a boss to squeeze as much as you can from each adventure. Backpacking beginners should read your content instead of Lonely Planet guidebooks which point them to touristy places (or their publications make them touristy) and suggest paying high prices for stuff. Keep doing great job!
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      That’s so kind, thanks Mateusz. There really is no better comment you could read as a blogger than that 🙂
      Thank you!!!! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Kristina

    Hi Bex,

    Hope you are doing well.

    I have another quick question please… would you happen to know if I need to hold yellow fever vaccine certificate when I fly from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. I am flying from the UK directly to Zanzibar so I was not going to get vaccinated but planning to take a 2-day trip to Dar (possibly another 2-3 days on Mafia Island) and I am slightly confused as to whether I should get it done or not…

    Also, do you have any experience with Auric Air? I am looking to book my flight to Dar with them…

    Thank you ever so much in advance.

    Best wishes,

    Kristina

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I can’t help with the Yellow Fever…the best is to speak to your doctor or go to a travel clinic so they can give you all the up-to-date advice. A lot of vaccinations are optional but I think Yellow Fever might be compulsory.
      Yes! I’ve flown with Auric Air twice. They were great…no problems at all 🙂
      Bex

      Reply
  8. Kristina

    Hi Bex,

    Thank you so much for your response… I have now received advice on Yellow Fever vaccination (its not required) and booked my flight with Auric Air 🙂

    Wishing you all the best.

    Kristina

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Amazing….have the best time!!! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Zuzana

    Hello Bex, amazing article thank you ? Would you happen to know how long it takes to go by ferry from Dar to Zanzibar and if it’s suitable for young teens please? Thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks for your kind words! The ferry is 2 hours and is fairly comfortable. As with any transport like this in a developing country, it comes with a level of risk as their safety measures are different. However this is a very well used route by locals and travellers.

      Reply
  10. Alex

    Hello! There is a new door-to-door shuttle service running on the island. It is a great option for people travelling on a budget – much cheaper than a taxi and far easier than catching a public bus. Most journeys cost less than US$10 and can be booked online. The shuttle collects you from your current accommodation and drops you directly at your next place, basically all the convenience of a taxi at fraction of the price. Check out the Hakuna Matatu Bus website for more information: https://www.hakunamatatubus.com

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks for sharing this Alex. It looks like a great option 🙂

      Reply
  11. Mejed Heni

    Hello Bex, very good article, so helpful!
    We are intending to visit the island next week, and it seems that making a guided tour in Stone town is a quite helpful, any contact ou recommand?
    Also do you know if there is any transport by night from stone town to uroa? we’de like to visit market places before going back to the hotel in Uroa.

    Thaks a lot
    Mejed

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thank you Mejed! I don’t have any guides to recommend…they are easy to find on the island so I just spoke to a few and went with one who I thought would do a good job. I remember the buses travelling quite late into the night although I’m not sure when they finish….I’m sure late enough for you to visit the market in Stone Town.
      Have the best time!

      Reply
      • Mejed Heni

        Allright
        I’ve just found someone interesting.
        For the buses, it should be ok then. Thanks again.
        Thank you Bex

        Reply
  12. Mahlet Abdella

    Hey Bex,
    I am very happy to find your blog as i am traveling in a low budget; this is very helpful. I have one question though,,i pay a ticket direct to Zanzibar,,,so does it mean i have to make transit in Dar es Salam – if so then if they make a delay must i have to pay since my ticket is from my home town direct to Zanzibar ? or i go straight to Zanzibar ?
    tnx, Mahi 🙂

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      If you booked the flights with the same company then they usually cover you if there is a delay in transit. I don’t know for sure though so you’d need to check with your airline 🙂

      Reply
  13. Romain

    Many thanks to you for all your tips and stories… Im preparing my trip to Tanzania and I feel almost there, even if the best is to come 😉

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      No worries at all! You really are in for a treat….Tanzania is a fantastic country!

      Reply
  14. Vini

    Hi Bex, Thanks for this very informative Blog. My husband and I are on a budget and are looking for the cheapest way to travel around the island starting from the South East area to page beach for example. How can we estimate how much this should cost by taxi and is it something that could be done by local boat?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      No worries Vini! The taxis are fairly expensive. I’m not sure about boat taxis but there are local buses you can take. They’re very cheap and go all over the island so it’s easy to get around (you can just ask locals to point you in the right direction).

      Reply
  15. Yuris

    HI Bex,
    Your insight is amazingly helpful. Thank you for sharing! Preparing to hit Zanzibar in early March.
    Wanted to check out your other link “Things to do on Zanzibar” but unfortunately, page is not available.
    Any chance looking into it or maybe emailing a copy?
    All the best!

    Reply
  16. D

    Hi Bex!
    How was your flight with Coastal and what do you think of the pilot?
    Sorry was reading your story and came across the picture of the handsome pilot (my husband 😉 )
    btw nice blog 🙂

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Lol….he was an exceptional pilot!! What a coincidence! 🙂
      Thank you!

      Reply
  17. Alex

    The company is now called The Zanzibus, still the same deal $10 to/from anywhere on Zanzibar – http://www.thezanzibus.com

    Reply
  18. joana

    Hi, can thanks for sharing your experience!
    I was wondering how did you manage to get to Mnemba Atoll, and how much did you pay for the transportation?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      We went to Mnemba Atoll via a boat as part of a snorkeling tour. I can’t remember how much we paid but it may have been around $25 each. If I’m honest it was not a great experience…..our provider didn’t bring enough masks and fins and some of them were broken. Make sure you check your equipment before leaving!

      Reply
  19. Sonia

    Great post! I am going to be visiting Clove Island at Makunduchi Beach and I am for sure going to use some of your tips during my trip!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks for reading Sonia and have the best time 🙂

      Reply
  20. colm burns

    Hi Bex, we are going to Zanzibar as part of out honeymoon in August for 8 nights. Thinking of spending 3 nights in Stone town, 3 nights in Nungwi and 2 nights on east coast maybe in Michamvi. Have you any advice / thoughts on our itinerary?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I think that sounds like a great itinerary! Have the best time on your honeymoon 🙂

      Reply
  21. Dikki

    thanks for the info sharing here
    i wanne ask how would it be for long stay budget travelers? is it possible to find a house with kitchen in nice area?
    is it so that scooter rent are expencive?
    thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Using Airbnb you should be able to find a cheap stay with a kitchen so absolutely do-able. The local market is very cheap, just avoid the tourist market.
      I’m not sure about scooter hire but can’t imagine it would be very expensive!

      Reply

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