Nairobi to Zanzibar: How to Get to Zanzibar by Ferry

A trip from Nairobi to Zanzibar is like one of those far-fetched dreams until you actually step off the gangplank of a ferry, through immigration, and into the hot streets of Zanzibar. The Zanzibar Archipelago is a cluster of islands, the largest and most popular of these islands being Zanzibar (Ugunja) and Pemba. Of these two, Zanzibar is most popular as a beach safari destination.

Nairobi to Zanzibar by bus takes more than a day. A 13 hours bus ride takes you from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, and the following day, you leave Dar es Salaam for Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is just 85 km long from North to South, and 30 km wide. Other names for Zanzibar are Zanzibar Island and Ugunja. Zanzibar comes from two Arabic words. Zenj means black and barr means land.

Early immigrants knew Zanzibar as the land of the blacks but you will find out that Zanzibar is a melting pot of cultures and races not just the Zanzibari people. Zanzibar’s charm has always been so great that even Said bin Sultan, who was the sultan of Oman, moved his headquarters to Zanzibar in 1832, from where he ruled until his death.

A dala dala on the streets of Zanzibar.
A dala dala on the streets of Zanzibar.

Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar

To continue with your safari from Nairobi to Zanzibar, leave Dar es Salaam in a 9 a.m. ferry unless you want to explore Dar es Salaam first. Get tickets from sellers stationed outside the Dar es Salaam ferry terminal. Be warned that ticket agents flock around you touting as soon as you step out of a taxi.  Therefore, expect a few seconds of fear and confusion as you try to make out what the five or so men around you are saying in their Swanglish (sorry Oxford and Cambridge, but if we have Spanglish, we can as well have Swahili English). Once you have your ticket, head through immigration, and into the boarding area.

The view of Zanzibar from a speed boat. Salt water stains on the window spoilt my shot.
The view of Zanzibar from a speed boat. Salt water stains on the window spoilt my shot.

As you approach Zanzibar from the Indian Ocean, you are greeted by the coral stone buildings of Stone Town. It is the town centre of Zanzibar, situated on the west coast. Stone Town’s architecture marries Arabic, Indian and European designs to serve a picturesque town with narrow alleys, weathered coral stone fortresses with balconies overlooking the streets and wooden doors.

The Old Fort, one of the landmarks in Zanzibar.

If you have made arrangements to be picked up from the port, expect to find a taxi waiting for you as soon as you walk through immigration in Zanzibar.  However, if you have no means to get to a hotel in Zanzibar, hail a taxi from the port. You can stay in Stone Town, or prefer the pristine lavish resorts of Nungwi, Paje or Jambiani. Once settled in a hotel or resort, get down to business; plan what you want to see or do in Zanzibar. Add a tour of Stone Town to your plan.

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