What should I wear in Zanzibar?

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Zanzibar is a beautiful island off the coast of East Africa in the Tanzanian Archipelago. Ah, but then you already knew that, didn’t you? You’re here because you’ve already made up your mind to visit Africa, or rather Tanzania, and you’re trying to figure out whether you should club in Zanzibar with the other destinations in Tanzania.

Or maybe you’ve heard a lot of the beautiful beaches in Zanzibar, but also a lot about the different customs and culture in Zanzibar, and you’re wondering whether it is a good idea to book your trip to Tanzania including Zanzibar Island?

Put your mind at ease. Yes, Zanzibar is a haven for many travellers from across the globe, but still has a strong Muslim heritage. Although it is part of Tanzania, the island has strong and distinct cultural and religious norms.

With over 90 percent of its population being Muslim, Zanzibar is not just a happening holiday destination, but also home to normal families living normal lives.

When you visit Zanzibar for some well-deserved rest and relaxation after completing your safaris in Tanzania it is important to research what you can and cannot do, and can and cannot wear.

That being said, most visitors prefer to visit Northern Zanzibar, staying in the resorts at the villages of Paje, Ras Nungwi aka Nungwi.

Here, there are no problems with tourists wearing sundresses in public or swimsuits while at the pool or the beach. However, going topless or wearing thongs is not permitted. It is advisable to dress moderately at all times.

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When you first get to Zanzibar Island, you reach the historic centre of Zanzibar called Zanzibar City or Stone Town. Stone Town has strong Islamic cultural influences and one must be careful to dress appropriately in this area.

Men should wear shorts that are longer than the knees, while women wear skirts or dresses that fall below knee length. Alternatively, the local version of sarongs called kanga are worn by many locals and available at decent prices.

Shoulders must be covered at all times, and showing cleavage in town is an absolute no-no. Although not a necessity, wearing headscarves is taken as a sign of respect for the local culture.

Wear comfortable or closed shoes while in town since some of the cobbled roads in parts of Stone Town are dirtier than expected and strewn with garbage.

Back at your Stone town hotel or restaurant, you can wear anything depending on the location. Keeping a shawl or scarf handy is advisable, while flat sandals and flip-flops are fine for the resort areas.

While packing for destinations in Tanzania, apart from wearing culturally appropriate clothing, it is also important to pack for the hot and humid weather. So light and loose-fitting clothing such as cotton, linen or silk are good choices.

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Sunglasses and hats are essential to beat the heat during the day. Avoid wearing dark-coloured clothing as they attract the tsetse flies that bite and give you sleeping sickness. Wearing long sleeves and long skirts or clothing in the evening is advisable, to prevent mosquito bites, just like on the safaris in Tanzania.

Respect local culture and dress moderately in Zanzibar; and you’ll enjoy this beautiful island with its cobbled streets, spice markets, turquoise waters, and white sandy beaches.

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