On the Ground in Tanzania: Zanzibar

(If you missed it, you can read Part 1 of Mark's travels to Dar es Salaam here and Part 2 in Kilimanjaro here.)

From Kilimanjaro I took a direct flight to Zanzibar, a beautiful resort island off the coast of Tanzania and 2 hours away on the speed ferry from Dar es Salaam. Stone Town, the historical city center and UNESCO heritage site, is absolutely charming (if not mostly blighted) and Arabic influence is evident everywhere from architecture to customs. Zanzibar was under the Arabic rule prior to the British (essentially the entire 18th and 19th centuries) and served as an important trading port for the region for centuries before that. Apart from Swahili, Arabic is widely spoken there and the population is predominantly Muslim.

While in Zanzibar, I stayed at the house of a local named Psam, who hosted me through the couchsurfing project and offered me an absolutely unforgettable "local" experience. (If you haven't heard about that project before, in short, it is basically a website where you can find people living in the area of your planned travel destination and stay at their home for free for a specific period of time. Everything is based on a good will and, after the stay is done, one can leave a reference -- positive or negative -- which takes care of the safety aspect of the project.)

The best thing I like about the project is you never know 100% what you are going to get when you arrive. And indeed, it was quite a surprise when I finally entered Psam's bachelor apartment. I used to be a student and a bachelor myself a few years back, but I'd definitely forgotten how a single guy's apartment can look and (smell!)... especially considering that the apartment was very "traditional" (for the lack of a better word) and located in one of the poorest places on the planet.

But not to scare you too much, because Psam did do everything to make me to feel comfortable, and his kindness and open-heartiness compensated for all the deficiencies of his dwelling. Without such a guide as Psam, I would not have been able to learn and see even a portion of what I managed to experience during my stay on that truly exciting island.


Prices on the island, as in much of mainland Tanzania, ranged from inexpensive to extremely inexpensive. Half an hour in an Internet cafe cost 500 shillings (30 cents), while a nice breakfast for two cost 1.5 USD and lunch always came to about 8 USD (for two again). One of the best and most "expensive" bars on the entire island, the Sunset Bar, was cheap as well with beers at 2 USD and a glass of wine at 2.5 USD. The bar is popular with expats and has a big open space to view beautiful sunsets on the Indian Ocean.

No Big Macs in Tanzania

A day later, after I got used to the decaying surroundings of Psam's apartment, I had the opportunity to enjoy narrow streets of Stone Town, the local food, and especially the people. The locals are extremely nice, especially when not trying to sell something to you. A popular item for sale was the local music compilation CD called "Jambo-Jambo" (if I bought one every time I was offered, my entire backpack would be full with just this piece of artwork.)

While talking with various business owners, I inquired about how difficult it was for them to run a business. Everyone complained about bureaucracy to some degree, but said that their interaction with the government was normally minimal.

I did not see many western brands over there. In fact, Tanzania might be the only country I have been to where I haven't encountered a single McDonalds! (I did, however, see a Subway in Dar es Salaam.) Not that I missed it even a bit, but this to me seemed like an opportunity. As for Zanzibar, obviously a tourist-related business with good customer service should do well.

Also, I took my towels and slippers and tried to go to one of the Persian baths in Stone Town, just to find out that they shut down something like 30 years ago. At the moment, there is no operational bath on the island and in my opinion renovating that particular bath and making it operational again would make a lot of sense. Similar fully operational establishments I've been to in Turkey are incredibly popular among visitors.


After my visit to Tanzania, I stopped thinking about Africa as a broken continent that would be impossible to live in. While many places in Africa are not overly welcoming and as quiet as Tanzania, there are definitely countries where expats can thrive economically as well as personally.

Shortly after I left Tanzania, my friend Goodluck, with whom I've kept in touch via email, became ill with malaria (though only his second time in 30 years), so precautions must be taken. Basic tools such as mosquito nets (most locals don't own or use them) and mosquito sprays minimize risks. Also, many expats I personally know have lived in Africa for years and never got infected with anything of that sort. HIV, of course, is another threat as it is reported that about 6% of Tanzanians are infected with the virus. Therefore, special care should be exercised in areas concerning personal hygiene (e.g. do not share your shaving blades) and obviously with the people you mingle (i.e. prostitutes are in the high risk group). To tell you the truth, I was a bit worried and spent quite some time brushing up on my knowledge about HIV/AIDS before the trip. I came to conclusion that, if all basic precautions were followed during your stay in Africa, the danger of getting infected is rather negligible.

Frankly speaking, if it weren't from my wife's persistent and long-lasting aversion to Africa (she has never been to the continent and refused to go with me this time as well), I would definitely consider Tanzania as a place to move and start a business. In addition to stunning nature (the Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar areas ARE beautiful), very friendly people (at least those that I met), and a growing economy with ample business opportunities, Tanzania could make a very reasonable destination for the adventurous type of expat.

Also, if you are further interested in Africa, there was recently an interesting post by Doug Casey on Africa that I found very spot on.

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