If you follow us for some time, you already know we prefer to travel on our own and organize everything the way we like. This is way we always try to rent a car when we want to visit things in a larger area, so we can keep our flexibility. It was the same for our 9 days holiday in Zanzibar, where I couldn’t even imagine no being able to move on our own peace, so we rented a car to drive on Zanzibar roads.
I did my research before leaving to Zanzibar, to be aware about the roads and driving over there. I have to admit I read lots of negative opinions, but the conclusion was that it is not very complicated. And our decision to rent a car in Zanzibar was great; we had a wonderful holiday on the island and the fact that we could visit in our own style was really important.
Car rental in Zanzibar
If you want to rent a car and drive in Zanzibar as a tourist, you need to get a local driver’s licence. This is really easy to get, through the car rental company. It only costs around 10 dollars and most rental agencies include it in their fee, so you don’t have to pay anything extra. Well, Zanzibar local driving licence sounds a bit fancy, it is actually just a piece of paper with a low quality photo from your original document.
For the car, we were recommended on a Facebook group to try Best Car Rental, a local company and we were really happy with their service. You can speak directly on Whatsapp with Mohammed at +255 776 393 259. We contacted him in advance and agreed to wait for us at the airport when we arrive. Then we just inspected the car and that was it. We paid cash 240 $ for 9 days, no guarantee needed. When we left, as it was early morning, he instructed us just to leave the car in the airport parking, with the key inside. So you can imagine how safe it is over there and how much they trust all tourists!
Mohammed assisted us with some administrative stuff too (where to buy gas, exchange money etc.), gave us useful advice about driving in Zanzibar and he also recommended us a guy to take us by boat to Prison Island. It was easy to ask him for the local information we needed, as he was very nice and helpful with everything.
As a general advice, you should get a car with high clearance.
Driving in Zanzibar
As it used to be part of the British empire, Zanzibar kept driving on the left, which can be a problem if you are at the first experience of this kind. I’m not a very good driver, but my husband had no issues with it. He used to drive on the left before, when we rented a car in Sri Lanka, then in other countries too and he says it is not a big deal.
Driving in Zanzibar appeared to be easier than in other exotic countries we’ve been. Except for the area around the capital city, there traffic is really light. But in Stone Town we’ve had quite chaotic traffic jams. Most of the cars you see on Zanzibar roads are touristic minibuses or small trucks, plus scooters and bikes. There are no sidewalks, except for the capital, but there are lots of pedestrians, so you need to be extra careful in villages, especially when kids go to or leave school.
We’ve seen police quite often on Zanzibar roads and at first we were worried they will approach us, as it was clear we were tourists. But we were stopped by the Zanzibar police just once, for speeding (for real). Of course Andrei discussed with the policeman and, as in the advices he read before our trip, he left 20 $ for the guy on the side of the road. However this sounds, it is the norm over there! And speaking about speeding, the speed limits are very low, which makes sense considering the poor infrastructure (narrow roads, potholes, no sidewalks and lots of pedestrians, including many kids). Around schools the speed limit is even lower and there are huge artisanal speed bumps were you really need to almost stop,
Roads in Zanzibar
The roads in Zanzibar are exactly the way we expected. Main roads are paved and narrow. But when you leave the main road to get to the hotel, for example, there is just a very bumpy dirt road. This is why high clearance is advisable; actually I’m not sure there are other types of cars available over there.
While we drove around Zanzibar, we used only Google Maps. We had a local phone card for Internet access and also downloaded the map to be available offline. But, in Nungwi, we had a big surprise: the village was not matching the map and it was just a labyrinth of dirt huts. We drove around for a bit, until we asked a local driver who very friendly showed us the right path to exit.
If you plan to get to Zanzibar, you might find useful our accommodation recommendations: a boutique hotel in Paje and an all inclusive hotel on the north-east coast of Zanzibal.