The Zanzibar archipelago is a series of islands in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. It is considered part of the Republic of Tanzania, though it is a semi-autonomous region. The island boasts pristine white sand beaches- some of the best in the world, and tourists from all over flock to this hidden gem.
Haven't made up your mind to go yet? Zanzibar is the perfect add-on destination if you are planning an East African safari.
Why Zanzibar should be your next destination:
1. Beaches: The water temperature is incredibly warm (85 degrees in December!). The sand is white and fine, and the water is that turquoise color that you've only seen in your dreams. The best beach on the island is Kendwa beach, so try to look for hotels on it, if you can.
The inland is remarkably green. Thick trees grow substantially and the flora is truly stunning. Did we mention there are indigenous red colubus monkeys in Jozani National Park?
3. History and Unique Culture:
Zanzibar is seeped in rich history. It has been inhabited by a native population for 20,000 years, and has also been ruled by the Portuguese and the Sultanate of Oman. Stone Town is the cultural heart and main city on the island and boasts a unique blend of Arab, Indian, Persian, European and African architecture and influence, reflecting the cultural mix that emerged from eras of trade and rule on this island.
I know you are sold on coming now, but be wary; Tanzania charges hefty visa fees for tourists, as tourism is now their main economic source.
Most nationalities will need to apply for a visa prior to arrival, but Canadians, Americans and Europeans can buy their visas upon arrival to the airport. For Europeans and Canadians an entry visa costs $50 per person, but for Americans it is double that(!) --$100 per person (irrespective of age) to enter Tanzania on a single entry tourist visa. Because we travel as a family of four, we were looking at having to shell out a whopping $400 just to enter the country.
However, you know we are all about travel hacks and exploring the world using the least amount of money possible, so of course we hacked our way in for cheaper!
We researched different visa options and discovered that Tanzania issues transit visas which are much cheaper than a tourist visa.
In order to obtain a transit visa, you must:
This transit visa is only $25 per person, which saved us $300 as a family. Cha-ching!
Know before you go:
A yellow fever vaccination is required if you are traveling to Tanzania from another yellow fever endemic country, such as Kenya. We did actively see officers stopping people for proof of vaccination and we did see them turn away visitors.
When we landed in the airport we were surprised by its extremely modest size and scope. We expected it would be a small airport, given we were on a small island, but it was still underwhelming. The airport consists of one landing strip, and a 1 room outdoor covered area to clear customs and pick up your bags (which doubles as both arrival and departure terminals).
As we approached a large series of lines, there was an officer waving people through and asking what kinds of visas people needed so that he could heard them in to the appropriate line. We politely told him we would like transit visas to Kenya and showed him all of our paperwork and proof. Either he was really oblivious to the regulations of the transit visa, or he was pretending that he did not know it existed, because his first response was to tell us that there is no such thing as a transit visa in his country. We patiently explained to him how we had gotten the information from the official United Republic of Tanzania Ministry of Home Affairs Immigration Department Website, and if he had access to a browser we could show him. He reluctantly let us use his phone and we pulled up the country's official website. There, on the website, we showed him the language spelled out loud and clear- that if you are traveling on to another country within 7 days and are already in possession of a visa to the next country, that you are considered "in transit" and are entitled to a transit visa. He still denied our request, and his reason, strangely enough, was that "whoever wrote the website didn't know what they were talking about." We also showed him that the same verbiage is present on the official website for the U.S. Tanzanian Embassy as well as the official website for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consulate Affairs, but to no avail.
We went back and forth with the customs agents, as they handed us off to different "higher-ups" and we explained the situation several times. After about an hour as we were all dripping with sweat from being in the sweltering heat, the officers began to threaten us that this is their country and they get to run it how they want. They said they are going to call Kenya airways immediately to expedite us leaving the country. In other words, they wanted to deport us. Yikes! Were we ready to be deported over $300? Not quite lol.
At this point, it was a standoff. It didn't seem like they were going to back down any time soon, and we did have an amazing 5 star resort waiting for us on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (Review coming soon!) So, we agreed to pay the $100 per person tourist visa. We went to the cashier to do so, and just as the $400 credit card payment authorized, the head agent showed up again (I guess he had a guilty conscience) and told the cashier to refund us $75 per person as they had decided to grant us transit visas after all. Victory!
If you plan to use our Zanzibar visa travel hack, be sure to pack lots of persistence and patience! It's worth it when you have $300 extra to spend on good food, drinks and fun experiences. We hope it works for you, too!