Pieces of a dream

I’ve always dreamt of going to Zanzibar. Ever since my grade 1 teacher went there on holiday and came back to tell us stories of the endless white beaches. Complete with gigantic seashells that she placed by our ears so we could hear the ocean… such a reverie. But you’re not here for the stories I know. I had a wave of responses following my two week getaway on this magical island. How much did it cost? How did you travel? Did you book through an agency? How MUCH did it cost?! Where did you stay? Et cetera.

As  I was planning this trip, I know I would have valued finding a post like this with ALL the details and ALL the costs… because of the way my bank account is set up. And also because I too, am keen to know all the nitty gritty details, the tips and tricks, and everything else worth considering. Here are all the practical things you’ll need to plan what I like to call; a bougie on a budget trip 🙂 So grab a cuppa. Let’s get right in.

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First things first. I planned this trip with 2 friends, Josh, Tina and my boyfriend, David. Four is a nice round number and easy enough to plan for. We didn’t book through an agency, we planned everything ourselves, both online and once we arrived. I’ll save all the details for a later post but my first piece of advice is that you should try and plan what you can, well in advance so you get the best deals and save where you can.

Mkushi to Dar.

We traveled by the Tazara train which actually leaves from Kapiri, but thankfully we had another friend who got on from there and ensured our cabins were reserved till we got on. The train has 3 classes. Second class has 6 beds, and costs k 2,200 per cabin, so that is k 367 per person. First class has 4 beds, and costs k 1950 per cabin; k 487.50 per person. You can pay for entire cabin even if you’re fewer in number, for your privacy, or just pay for a bed space if you’re fine sharing. You might even get lucky and travel parts of the trip by yourself.

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Meals on the train are very affordable. You pay between  k 15 and k 35 per meal. There is a bar with a variety of drinks too, ranging between k 5 and k 15. A flask of hot water is k 5 if you’re a coffee snob like me, and prefer not to have Ricoffy. 🙂 If the train is on schedule, you’ll spend 2 and a half days travelling so if you buy all meals you’ll spend approximately k 200. But of course you can also carry your own food and snacks and buy nothing at all on the train, so do you booboo. 

NB: Once you get to the border, you’ll have to change some of your money into shillings (save some kwacha for the return!), and costs will thereafter be in shillings. You will get ripped off by the money changers, especially if you haven’t pre-calculated what your cash should convert to. Either way you’ll make a loss, so just be prepared for that. I use xe.com for current conversion rates.

Total train cost:  k 700.

Josh’s brother lives in Dar so he picked us up from the train station upon arrival and was kind enough to let us stay for a couple of nights and drive us around, so that saved us on some costs. Otherwise the recommended way of getting around is the Tanzanian ‘Uber’. That way you avoid getting charged ridiculous amounts by local taxi. Our train arrived just before midnight. And the first ferry from Dar to Zanzibar Island leaves at 7:00 AM. So you could actually get an Uber directly to the port, book a night in a hotel…or wait at the station. This is quite a tricky part to advise on as the train times are unpredictable, the traffic is dense and I’m not sure how much an Uber actually is. You could  expect to pay around TZS 5,000 (k31) per person, or TZS 20,000 in total.

Dar to Zanzibar.

We traveled by ferry to Stonetown, Zanzibar. And one thing worth noting is the crazy traffic and the fact that the ferry leaves right on time. We were really close to missing ours due to heavy traffic, so whatever you decide in the end, leave much earlier than your departure time.

Budget tip; book economy class. This costs $35 (k 506), and there isn’t much difference with first class. The trip took just under 2 hours.

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Once in Stonetown, we had arranged with our host for a taxi pick up. This really worked out well as we would, again have been seriously ripped off. The cost of the taxi was about TZS 60,000 = 15,000 (k94) per person.

Total cost of travel from train to Zanzibar: k 630. 

 Of course there are other options of getting there and around. You might opt to fly there, and around the island you can sometimes get a local daladala which is a lot cheaper than taxi.

Communication.

It’s quite handy to get a simcard, either on the train or on the island, though it is quite a lot of effort to find one! And after we lost David somewhere in the streets of Stonetown, he eventually managed to secure us sims and 7GB of data for a month for TZS 35,000 ( k 220).

Where to Stay.

We opted to stay in an Airbnb on the East Coast at Paje beach. The total cost per person for a week was around k 1,700. The place we found was called Paje Monsoon Villas. It is a 5 minute walk from the beach, extremely spacious and run by a very friendly host. The extra features such as hot showers (not really needed!), WiFi, and a well equipped kitchen meant that we could cook our own food sometimes and really feel at home. This place is conveniently located near a local supermarket, a tourist market, and the only ATM machine on the entire East coast so I would highly recommend it.

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For the second week, David and I relocated to a place in Bwejuu called Bwejuu Garden View which is 20 minutes away from Paje. With a discount we ended up paying around $120 for a week, (k 867 per person), although in terms of comfort and value for money, it wasn’t at all worth it.

Tip; If you’re booking through Airbnb in Zanzibar, what you see is really what you get so book well in advance, rather expect less and be happily surprised, and if you have any preferences, inquire with hosts for clarity.

Total cost of Accommodation for 2 weeks: k 2, 570.

Food.

For basics in the supermarket, you can expect to pay similar amounts to what you would spend in a gas station mini mart in Zambia. Most things are reasonable, some things are overpriced and prices (for anything) tend to start from TZS 1000 (k6.50) or TZS 10,000 (k63). There are also some fruit and veg stalls, but make sure you convert costs before you end up paying the ‘English speaker’s special price’.

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Of all the times we ate out, the prices were around the TZS 20,000 mark. In some places, that was the cost of a full meal with desert and drinks, in others it was just the meal. For all the times we ate out, I spent around k 1, 500 in total. Including coffee dates 🙂

Souvenirs.

It took everything within me not to splurge, and you probably will want to as there are many gorgeous things to buy! I really stuck to the basics and only bought a T-shirt and some soap and spices, which came to k300. And I was a lucky lady to have been gifted a traditional maasai shuka and sandals too. The beach has many Maasai salesmen who sell souvenirs. They will often name an outrageous price as many tourists are oblivious and would easily buy a single bangle for $10. I do recommend supporting their hustle, but get yourself a good bargain if you must.

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Tours.

During our stay, we were able to fit in two arranged tours and one private one.  I can definitely say they were well worth the prices we paid. The best thing is never to go for the first price offered, you always need to negotiate. And take up offers from your hosts who can often negotiate better deals for you. The first tour is perhaps Zanzibar’s most famous one. The Blue safari. Inclusive of an all day boat cruise, fruit breaks, a seafood platter for lunch, snorkeling and more…for what amounted to TZS 60,000 per person. (k378).

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The second was a trip to a spice farm; including fruit, lunch, transport, a drive to Stonetown and a boat ride to Prison Island with the giant tortoises and that cost TZS 50,000 per person (k315).

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On one day we decided to rent scooters for the day and toured the entire East coast, and that totaled TZS 30,000 per person (k189).

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Total: k882.

There are many other tours and activities to do, which obviously depend on your length of stay and enthusiasm. But to be even more budget friendly, there’s more than enough to be entertained by on the beach.

On our way back we got a taxi to Stonetown (approximately TZS 50,000 or k78 pp) and then an Uber which cost around TZS 5,000 (k31 pp). The ferry back to Dar was the same price as before, $35 (k 506).

The train from Dar back to Kapiri is more expensive, and the cost of a bed in first class is TZS 96,000 (k 601). The train food cost about TZS 5,500 (k 35) per meal so all meals would be k 210.

Total cost of return travel ; k1,450.

Other helpful hints

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  • Carry as much cash as possible, in shillings! Like I said, there’s only one ATM and it doesn’t always work so you can end up stranded. The ATM also incurs a hefty charge of TZS 15,000 per withdrawal, and the few places on the beachfront that allow swiping, also include about a 6% charge of your bill to foot the costs, and will swipe in dollars- even if the bill is in shillings. So budget for that.
  • There are not many, if any public toilets, so if you’re out and about, you’ll need to buy at least a drink to use a restaurant bathroom.
  • Be kind! And find a local guide. No matter what you’re planning, someone will always try to make you pay more. So making friends with locals pays off.

So all in all, my total holiday came to just about k8,300.

I hope this helps you in planning your dream destination vacay. Next week I’ll put up a post with places I’d recommend you seeing and so on. For now, ciao my loves!

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xo, Wong.

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