Zanzibar harbor at sunset - What To Pack For Zanzibar

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Zanzibar was the first remote area in Africa I would be visiting (other than Imsouane in Morocco), and I was nervous. Would there be adequate medical services if I had a major allergic reaction? What am I supposed to wear? What should I bring to not get Malaria? What if I get stomach trouble? Will I be able to handle the heat? These are all questions I had while trying to figure out how and what to pack - in addition to this I would be Scuba Diving in Nungwi and going on a Safari in Tanzania after Scuba Diving - this created another layer of complexity with packing because I had weight restrictions and could only bring soft sided luggage/duffle bag..... Let me help you answer all these questions and show you not just what to pack for Zanzibar, but WHY you should pack certain things. 

As a Physician Assistant in the States I will also go over what immunizations and prophylactic medications I would recommend. I won't be suggesting anything for the Safari, or for Scuba Diving in this article - but check out my other articles in the Zanzibar series to see what I suggest for those specifically. 

Sunset - What To Pack For Zanzibar

Required Documents

If you are a US or UK Citizen, yes, you will need a VISA. If you read online, most of what you will read is to get your VISA once you get there. I did find a way to get it online, and when I went through customs - I was able to go straight through and skipped the long line for the VISA. 

Just make SURE you print every single page, along with your receipt of payment and bring it with you - along with a copy. 

For US citizens, they may require you show proof of Yellow Fever Vaccination - it is a yellow immunization card you can get from your local health department.

Fish Painting - What To Pack For Zanzibar

Immunizations and Costs (for USA)

Common Vaccines for US citizens prior to going to Zanzibar are: Hep A, Hep B, Malaria, Measles, Rabies, Typhoid & Yellow Fever. It really depends on the area you are going to which ones you need - but the health department will let you know. 

Most health plans (I have federal top tier health insurance) and my plan did NOT cover many of the vaccines required for Zanzibar. I ended up spending around $300 just for immunizations and the Premetherin bug spray for my gear and clothing that they recommended. 

Yellow Fever Vaccine is required on arrival (for some airports) and sometimes required when arriving back home (if there is an outbreak). I personally never was asked for my Yellow Fever card, not on arrival, nor when coming back home. It really depends on the day, airport and who is in charge that day it seems. 

Malaria (the P.falciparum (common) type) results in cyclic fevers that can be quite brutal to endure. You need to take Chloroquine prophylaxis that you MUST start BEFORE you leave home. Chloroquine can cause quite severe diarrhea - so make sure to bring some Imodium with you and don't be afraid to take it. 

Depending on where you are traveling in Zanzibar or Tanzania, the US Health Department will recommend based on the area if you need any intervention for these: African Trypanosomiasis, Tick Fever

Mosquito Bites: 

  • Chikungunya: 3 days after bite get fever, joint pain, headache, joint swelling, rash (most feel better in a week) 
  • Dengue: within few days to 2 weeks get mild-severe fever, nausea, vomiting, rash, headache, eye pain, joint and muscle pain. 
Night Market - What To Pack For Zanzibar

The Basics For Travel

We all have our basic needs such as our own personal toiletries, prescription medications, underwear, cool shirts (avoid dark colors), loose fitting pants that are moisture wicking and breathable. However there are a few things I would suggest, for my ladies - I wouldn't wear anything tight fitting or revealing - especially if you are traveling alone. 

I found that bringing a bandana was super helpful for me, either to wipe the sweat or catch the sweat lol. I live in a desert environment so the humidity absolutely annihilates me when visiting any of the more incredible dive sites. I also used it as a headband that was useful to keeping the wild curly wisps out of my face too. Along with that an anti-chaf cream like body glide is absolutely essential, especially if doing a lot of walking in swimming suits. 

Passport is an obvious one, but just make sure that your passport doesn't expire in the next 6 months. 

Toiletries I tend to always bring with me if doing any kind of activity or a unique destination: Hydrocortisone cream, Allergy Medicines, Daily medicines, Migraine medications, Tylenol, oral steroid (I have really bad allergies), Aloe Vera, bandaids, sport tape, tweezers, toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant, body glide. 

Tea House - What To Pack For Zanzibar

Shirts, Coats, Materials To Wear

The predominant religion in Tanzania is Islamic, there is more of a mixed religion of Christian and Islamic in Zanzibar - but you need to be respectful of the culture in what you wear. I found that even wearing my capri Yoga pants (because they were the coolest thing to wear) - I had quite a few second looks. 

I would stick to neutral tones for shirts (especially for Safaris), and moisture wicking shirts that are quick to dry out. For pants, wear something loose fitting, linen does really well here - but doesn't dry out quickly. 

Stone town Harbor - What To Pack For Zanzibar

Swimming and Water Activities

Bring several swimming suits, you will be in the water or in the pool most of the day if you are visiting in the dry season. Bring a swimsuit cover as well ladies - blacks, and bright colors seem to attract the bugs - so neutrals, greens are better.

For my Scuba Divers and Snorkelers, I suggest bringing at the bare minimum a swim skin - long sleeved, and long pants as there are a lot of jelly fish (at times) and urchins in the water. 

There can be a lot of urchins on the shores of Nungwi and along certain coastlines of Zanzibar, or lava rock type rocks that are really hard on the feet so even simple water socks saved my bacon. 

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Sun and Bug Protection

DEET 20% or more - or whichever preferred bug repellent that you prefer. During the day the mosquitos aren't bad in Nungwi or Stone town, however at night these tiny sand flies or no-see-um type bugs come out and really feast on your legs. All the rooms have a mosquito net, and it isn't just to keep bugs out - so I recommend using them. 

Sun hat is a must, the sun here can be absolutely brutal and a moisture wicking neck gaiter for protection from the reflections from the water. This combined with sunglasses, with the 

Sunglasses with croakies (the sunglasses retainer or strings) these are for protection, but also the croakies are for keeping them on your face if you go out for a boat ride. Sometimes the waves can really rock the boat, or looking down into the water you run the risk of slowly watching them fall off your face and sink to the bottom of the ocean. 

Sunscreen that is reef safe and mineral based - the reef systems around Zanzibar are absolutely some of the BEST in the world - would love to see them stay that way. The more sunscreen in the water, the more the chemicals change the colors of the coral and stunt growth and make the fish sick. 

Nungwi Beach Restaurant - What To Pack For Zanzibar

Medications I Suggest Bringing

I recommended different medications that I typically bring on any trip above, but there were a few others I want you to consider. Just for the record I am a Physician Assistant in the states with an active license. 

Imodium is an ABSOLUTE MUST especially if you have a fickle stomach. The Malaria medication absolutely did a number on my stomach and it was hard to keep up with replacing the fluids if I'm honest. I even brought electrolytes and still would come back to the hotel feeling completely drained of all energy, more than just it being hot. It got to a point even with Imodium I just couldn't take the Malaria medication anymore. While it didn't fix my personal issues with the Malaria medication, I was still able to do all the activities and be out and about. It wasn't until I was going to be in the car for several hours that I decided to not take the Malaria medicine. 

The next medication I would highly suggest bringing is Hydrocortisone and Afterbite. The Hydrocortisone is for jellyfish stings, and the afterbite is for mosquito bites. You can also use Hydrocortisone for Sea Urchin stings as well. Just make sure you soak both jelly fish and sea urchin stings in hot water as for about 60-90 minutes afterwards to help break down the venom. 

I briefly mentioned this, but I would absolutely bring electrolytes with you - especially if you are planning on drinking alcohol and doing a lot of swimming. Alcohol specifically gets rid of magnesium and can cause what is known as Torsade de Pointes, or a very specific abnormal heart rhythm. Magnesium is great for those who get constipated while traveling, it is a natural muscle relaxer and can help you sleep. Try to find some powdered electrolytes to mix into your water, or tablets to take. I tend to like the gatorade ones (small easy to pack) or the liquid IV electrolytes. 

Sea sickness tablets, These are also called antihistamines (First generation antihistamines), while these can work well with kids, and adults alike - they often cause drowsiness. For those who are able, try the seasickness patches first. This option can be used with children, but you should check with your Pediatrician or Pharmacist on proper dosing. For males with Prostate issues, or Females with Urinary retention issues - proceed with caution as some of the medications in this class often cause urinary retention. Some examples of these include: Diphenhydramine (Benedryl or equivilant), Hydroxyzine (Atarax), Chlorpheniramine (Aller-Chlor). If you don't want to take pills you also have the option of Scopolamine patches, but you need to put this on about one day before you will be on the boat to help with sea sickness. 

If you are going to be in the water a lot I would also bring tea tree oil to put in your ears to protect your ears. They also have a quick dry ear drops to help with clearing out your ear from any water that could be trapped. 

Sunset in Nungwi - What To Pack For Zanzibar

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Should You Bring A Water Filter? 

Unless you are absolutely CERTAIN that a water filter you bring has a 4 stage filter and can filter out Typhoid and other smaller tropical parasites without risking contamination  - then I would just plan on buying water bottles. This is how people here get clean water, while locals do drink from filtered water towers that are kept on site, you also can run the risk of Legionnaires Disease. 

To be honest, I was determined to not contribute to the plastic water bottle problem here - but my Grayl Water Bottle kept leaking, when I would press filter the water it leaked all over the floor, when I poured the water into my other plastic water bottles to put in the fridge, the water that stays in the bottom ended up pouring out the sides and mixing with the filtered water. 

My guides, who used to live in Tanzania and had brought us to Zanzibar for Scuba Diving, just said as noble as it is to try to not use plastic water bottles - because of the remote nature of the Island, and lack of good medical care on the island it is just safer to drink from the plastic water bottles. 

Just make sure you dispose of the water bottle properly and don't toss it onto the side of the road. There aren't a lot of public garbage cans, so it will be a - pack it in, pack it out sort of situation. 

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Airplane Survival Kit

I was personally traveling from Utah to Zanzibar and even with the shortest flying time I was traveling for over 48 hours. If you have the finances, or the points, I would absolutely upgrade for one of the longest legs of your journey to first class or at the very least the seats that have more leg room for stretching. If you go to a website like, you can also check the specific seat to see what potential issues could be present in that seat for the plane you are on (ie/ you have an unmoveable box, or freezing wall temps because the AC system runs by your particular seat). 

When you are in a seated position for a long time it can cut off not just blood supply but lymphatic drainage from being drained. This can set you up for blood clots, so I would absolutely make sure you have medical grade compression socks - you want ones that don't have seams, patterns or grooves on them (think women's panty hose) - they should also require you to measure your calf and provide 15-30mmHg pressure to help combat the swelling. The 30mmHg socks is what I would recommend to people who are at higher risk for clots, high cholesterol, or have a high body mass index - you can also take a mini aspirin if you are not already on blood thinners or have active ulcers. 

No matter what seat I'm in I always bring my eye mask, ear plugs, glasses, contacts, toothbrush and mini toothpaste, kleenex, sleeping pills, ibuprofen, TUMS (I get heartburn on the plane every time), healthy veggies and snacks, face wipes, clorox wipes (don't forget to wipe the air vent, both sides of the tray, tv screen, and your window cover. I'll also bring a bit of makeup if I'm meeting up with friends, but I don't bother putting it on til I'm getting off the plane. I found that these tiny little tidbits really help me have a better experience on the plane. 

If you are feeling generous, you can also bring a little gift for your plane partner, the stewards/stewardess' and maybe a sucker for an unruly child (of the parents are ok with it of course). 

Scuba Diving Nungwi - What To Pack For Zanzibar


I brought Tevas with straps that allowed by feet to be really secure and would be ok both in the water and on land, they also have a 1.5" thickness sole to help protect agains the rocks. If you bring thin sandals your feet can often get bruised by walking on cobblestones all day, you also don't have as much ankle stability with them. 

As mentioned before, I also lived in my water socks - yes I looked like a grandma, but the little rubber sole on the bottom really saved my feet from urchins, sharp lava rocks, and the unknown issues with walking to and from the scuba shop with all my gear. 

If you are going on a safari, then I would recommend your comfortable, breathable tennis shoes. If you go into Tanzania then there are a lot more bugs and plants that you want to protect your feet from. The Safari trucks generally don't have air conditioning, and when the sun starts beating down, or the cars are stopped it can get pretty hot in the car - so being able to have shoes that are breathable will be a good idea. Safari's are NOT meant to be a fashion show, the jeeps are pretty close quarters and you will absolutely want breathable clothing and shoes. 

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Tipping Culture & Safety Measures 

Bring $200 cash in small bills - hide in different places, getting the local currency can be extremely difficult to find a bank that will order the money. If you can't get local currency before leaving (the exchange rate is usually better doing it this way) - then get some cash in small bills at the airport and hide the money in several different places. Don't show all your money you have, always turn your back or step away when accessing your money. 

There is a major tipping culture here, and the culture tends to be one that they can get quite pushy with wanting to help you. You think, at first, they are trying to be nice, but they do ask for money at the end. I asked my guide (The African and Oriental Travel Company) Francesca and Raf who both lived in Tanzania and both said that 1-2 American Dollars to help with bags, for taxi rides etc... is all that is expected. Depending on the taxi ride though - if it is into the city, maybe $5, if it is a guided tour or driver during the tour it is about 20% tip. They don't mind American Dollars, but having local currency will cost you less in the long run because the exchange rate can vary from person to person. 

As far as safety measures, there are men dressed in Swahili garb that wander the beaches most the day and night. Our guides called them Canine Visa's and they typically go for white women who are a little older. They woo them, say they are the love of their life, and then the next morning or few mornings later you take them to the VISA office to get married and they bring their 'sister' who is actually their wife and there ya go..... It seems a bit far fetched to me personally, but my guide said that is way more common than you think. When I asked my spice tour guide (see that article for her amazing tour), if this was true she emphatically said, 'YES, but you know how you can tell the difference - the 'fake Swahili' will have a very nice earring - a real Swahili will have a very plain round earring in his ear if he has one' - I don't know if that is true but honestly it sounds like the best thing to do is just keep walking and NOT engage AT ALL. Do NOT even say good morning, hello, or anything. I made the mistake of saying hello to one, and they ended up following me all the way to my hotel entrance - it wasn't comfortable AT ALL. 

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Make Sure You Do This Before Going....

I always put an itinerary together with addresses, phone numbers, emergency contacts, my credit card numbers, address of the local American Consulate, where I will be staying, what tours I'm going on, with who, hotel addresses, and local phrases for the basics (finding hotel, bathroom, any food allergies, hello, goodbye, please, thank-you, and no-thank you). I always make sure to send a digital copy to trusted family member or friend, the print two off - one for my purse and one for my luggage - just in case they lose the luggage you can have one for your purse. 

I also make sure to put an extra pair of underwear, PJ's, and an extra outfit in my carry-on luggage. I have found that after the pandemic, more and more luggage is getting lost. I do still put my apple air tag into each luggage and take a photo of my luggage from different sides in case I have to file a 'find my luggage' - it makes it so much easier for them to find the luggage if you have a distinguishing feature on it like a sticker, unique luggage tag, or color. 

What To Pack For Zanzibar

Zanzibar Dream Vacation Takeaways

I was really really nervous to go to Zanzibar, it seemed so remote - and my medical mind seems to catastrophize possible scenarios and prepare for each. Just take some big breaths and realize that there is no way to prepare for every eventuality - but with these little tidbits know you will be just fine. The thing I realized after going to Zanzibar was this, no matter where we go in the world - we are all human, and while there are scenarios that could be dangerous - most humans are kind, understanding and are just working to better their own lives and are more than happy to help someone in need. 

You are going to be blown away by the sunsets, the slow nature of the people where the the term 'Pole Pole' is put into practice - you are forced to drop the American hustle hustle attitude with vacationing and really sit and enjoy observing nature, all of which forces you to relax - which is what a vacation is supposed to be anyway. 

Please let me know if you have questions in the comment section below. If you have been to Zanzibar and have any additional suggestions please let me know.  

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My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's TravelAtlas Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTubeInstagramTwitterFacebookPinterestTikTok.  To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here