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April 27, 2024 / by Zsolt Soczó

Random thoughts and useful tips for a Zanzibar holiday

Random thoughts about Zanzibar islands and why a local guide is more valuable than you might have thought.
TLDR: I wrote about my good experience in Zanzibar and endorsed Abdull Halim as an excellent, friendly guide. It is a long story, but you can learn valuable lessons from it if you come from a developed country.
I plan all my trips alone. I use the internet, collect all information, and make a plan for each day. I’m introverted, so I don’t like to be with people I don’t know. Despite all this, I’ve had a guide, and I’m glad I had one.
We as a family went to Pemba Island before going to Zanzibar (Unguja). Pemba is much less documented than Zanzibar, and I read that driving in Pemba is not for the average driver. So, I wanted to rent a car and rent a driver as well. There are many car rental companies in Zanzibar but very few in Pemba. A guy offered car rental and driving service in Pemba when I asked in a Facebook group. I was very reluctant to start a conversation with him. Based on American movies, I had a very biased view of Muslim people. I live in a country where 99.99% of people are white and Christian or not religious, so I could not imagine how an African Muslim person behaves. My reluctance was not even about race or religion, Europeans and Africans handle things very differently, so it makes doing business harder, simple as that.
But Pemba seemed too unknown and exotic, so I decided to start negotiating with him. He offered to help with the activities, but I did not want it at first. I just wanted a silent, invisible driver and no more. But he said he would prepare things in Pemba before we arrived. He was born in Pemba but lives in Unguja because of the very limited opportunities in Pemba. To put it bluntly, Pumba people are poor.
He welcomed us to Pemba with a big smile. It soon turned out that he was just a normal guy like we are, despite the huge cultural gap. His brother drove the car, and he talked with us and our plans. Everything went much smoother than I anticipated.
In the following days, he organized everything for us. Because he knows the locals, he can access facilities the big hotels do, but his profit margin is much thinner. We had private boats for a fair price. His daily fee was also very fair, we saved much more on the deals than what we paid for him.
Because we had a private boat, we could stop anywhere to watch birds in the mangroves or elsewhere. For example, we went around Njao island, snorkeling anywhere we wanted to. Njao is probably excellent for diving but not for snorkeling. I tell you this to avoid disappointment. We had a great boat trip, but the snorkeling was not that good. But we had a long, beautiful boat trip around Njao Island.
Due to the poor education the English knowledge of the local citizens is almost nonexistent. So, we could not negotiate with them without a local guide. I did not consider this fact in the planning phase. I would not have bought food alone on the road, but he bought everything we needed. This was also a pleasant experience.
He showed us local fruits I had never heard of, like shoki shoki (Rambutan). It is delicious. Also, you must taste local bananas and pineapple (the best I ever ate, and a huge one costs no more than $4). We bought tons of mangoes, a big one for $1. I always paid in TSH. 1 $ is about 2500 TSH.
The poverty of locals and the cultural differences are shocking for a Western person. He dampened this shock by acting as a bridge between us and the locals.
We got used to this African way of life so much that in Zanzibar, that by the end of our trip I bought many fruits alone. It was a pleasant surprise that they did not want to cheat me and apply the white man’s price as it’s commonly mentioned in the forums. I honored them with tips naturally. I don’t say everybody is honest; the gas station lady probably filled the tank less than we paid. Be on alert; not everyone is nice.
Back to the main topic, the guide. At Pemba, we wanted to go on the long trip inside Ngezi forest. The official guide did not want to do it. Our guide explained he makes the same money regardless of whether he walks 2km or 7km. So Abdul argued and “motivated” the official guide by employing a small monetary transaction. We visited everything we wanted and more. The official guide explained everything in the forest. The weather was very hot, so the guide politely tried to convince us to shorten the path. To his disappointment, we were persistent in doing the whole path. 🙂 So, we did it. Without an assertive personal guide, we would have finished the Rainforest tour disappointed. (To be honest, western people eat much more than Africans do, so it might be unimaginable for us, but they must conserve energy for survival.)
In contrast, we visited Jozani Forest alone (Zanzibar, Unguja island) because A. was in Pemba for one more day. Jozani was a real disappointment. The official guide was unmotivated, and the tour was short and unimpressive. No one gave her a penny tip.
I don’t think a personal guide could make the tour longer in Jozani because it seems to have an officially restricted path. Still, he could’ve found a knowledgeable and motivated official guide.
Another exciting thing is that I did not find the Blue Safari tour during preparation. He suggested that it would be a nice trip, and the food would be good. He organized a private boat with excellent meals. We visited the exact locations as the ones who paid four times more and were put in an overcrowded boat. We even ate at a separate table, not with the herd.
To avoid disappointment, I must warn you that African boat standards differ significantly from Western ones. Don’t expect an environmentally friendly solar-powered electric boat. They work, period. Most “official” tours have the same quality of boats; you won’t see Western-quality ones at all.
Mnemba is a must-see program. You probably have never seen so many fish around you. It is as if you were in a marine aquarium. Everybody knows this is a local highlight, so it is priced accordingly. Just check the official tours. Again, with the help of A. we managed to get precisely the same experience as others for a deeply discounted price. Yes, we brought fruits we bought on the road for pennies, and we did not ask for more food because 2-3 hours of snorkeling is perfectly enjoyable without eating a cow.
Interesting fact: when you approach the harbor from which you go to Mnemba, there are two government checkpoints. The outer one asks for 5 dollars per person. The second one wants 3. But you must overcome the first hurdle. You know the way of it. 🙂
One of the best experiences near Pemba was snorkeling at Misali Island. It has fewer fish than Mnemba, but there are more rare species, and the coral is more beautiful. We approached it with a private boat too for a very fair price.
On the beach, I was always afraid of our valuables when we were in the water. A local guide helps in this too; he protects your packages. I was not aware of this fact beforehand.
With a local guide, you can also customize your day. You can decide which places you want to visit on a day, and he drives for you and helps assess the time needed realistically. The roads on both islands are so tragic that the average speed will be less than you expected despite the short distances. So, a realistic plan is needed to pack everything you want in a day.
To summarize, despite my initial bad feelings, employing a local guide gave us a much better experience and better experience density, and it was also so much more affordable than it otherwise would’ve been.
So, I wholeheartedly suggest to you to employ Abdull Halim for your holiday. You won’t regret it.
You can chat with him on WhatsApp at +255 777 791 602.

An “ordinary” forest in Pemba – it was marvelous to watch from the car
Abdull with his freshly bought fish
A huge crab (20-30 cm) at the apartment on Zanzibar (Unguja)
Butterfly labour room
Chameleons for everyone
Catch of the day
Cats of the day (Stone Town main square)
Our private chef at the apartment
Abdull sea sickness exercise – the sea won :)
Ngezi forest in Pemba
Git merge is hard – but this is harder
Flying foxes – there are hundreds on a big tree
An average part of Pemba north
Misali Island near Pemba. It is so isolated that our boat carried the official guard from Pemba :)
A cute crab
Out boat at the entrance of Misali Island – yes, it is so secluded
Private boat trip in the mangroves – it is magical for nature lovers
Birds in the mangroves
Pemba is simply beautiful
Pemba Misali Sunset Beach from the water – we miss it
All of the red ones are flying foxes
I bought pineapple near the road – the most delicious I have ever eaten
Monkey in the Jozani Forest
Fish auction market in Kizimkazi
Mtende beach
One of the three destinations of Blue Safari tour

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  • Krisztián Gyuris April 29, 2024

    Love the story. Sounds like a great place to visit!

    Do you have photos posted somewhere ?

    • Zsolt Soczó May 2, 2024

      Yes, Zanzibar is a place worth visiting. I added some photos to the article.