Driving around Zanzibar can make or ruin a fairy-tale holiday. There are pros and cons to self-driving but there are also some serious pitfalls which could get you locked up in a Zanzibar jail.
So before you decide make sure you read this article right through to the end:
Pros of Self-driving Zanzibar:
Zanzibar is a very poor island, and whilst there are some beaches and areas of outstanding beauty and interest, they tend to be spread out across the island. Getting a taxi from Stone Town to one of the top beaches on the island (Fumba to the South, Nungwi to the North, Pongwe to the East) can cost around $120 return which is more than you would pay for 4 days car rental.
We calculated that if we had taken taxis everywhere on our trip we would have paid over $500 in taxi fares as opposed to the $200 we paid for car hire.
Hiring a car can unlock the island and certainly gave us a feeling of adventure and freedom. It allowed us to explore the island and stop in small villages or jump out of the car to take photos of beautiful sunsets, amazing beaches or just plain weird things we saw by the roadside.
Driving around Zanzibar is an adventure in its own right. The roads are a microcosm of the island itself. Around Stone Town they are cramped, bustling, and at times a frenzy of people, traffic, and animals. The roads in the rural parts of the country are wild and open and occasionally you’ll pass a bus of people commuting to work.
Sure you too can take the bus and avoid the high taxi fares. However, make sure you get on early as otherwise you may have to hang off the back and or stand on a wheel arch. We’re not THAT adventurous.
Cons to self-driving Zanzibar:
The first thing is to check that your hotel has parking. If you are staying in the heart of Stone town, you’ll be hard pushed to get a car down those narrow streets. Our car rental company, Kibabu Cars, was extremely helpful and accommodating when we picked the car up at the airport. They drove us in the car to the hotel, dropped us off, and brought the car back the next day when we checked out.
The next thing is to be wary of the model and make of the car. Zanzibar is a small island, so don’t expect to rent a brand new Ferrari or Tesla. Most cars on the island are old and many rental companies don’t offer any kind of breakdown or insurance package, which means if you break down… you fix it. Make sure the car you rent has been recently serviced and you check it thoroughly before driving off.
The dangers of driving in Zanzibar
If you are up for the adventure then there’s one more thing you need to be very aware of: police road-blocks.
Zanzibar has a lot of policeman on low wages and the island is littered with police manned road blocks. Some of whom are not averse to trying to get a bribe out of unsuspecting tourists.
The first thing they will ask for at a road block is your Zanzibar driving license. This is a document that a reputable car hire company (like Kibabu Cars) will arrange on your behalf before you arrive and will give to you when you take ownership of the car. Do not drive without one as you will be stopped and fined.
Be careful when driving up to road blocks. Any minor traffic violation could get you taken into the police headquarters. I got arrested for improper use of an indicator light when stopping at a police road block. Thankfully a fine was avoided after the policeman called Mr Kibabu to sort things out.
We loved road tripping around this special little island… even if we had a few snagging problems along the way. You can read about more of our misadventures here.
However, we would strongly advise anyone who is thinking of self-driving around Zanzibar to make sure they go with a highly recommended car rental company that will:
· Provide a good quality car that is serviced and won’t break down
· Provide a Zanzibar driving license for you
· Will be able to give you advice about road blocks and any other support you might need.
We can’t recommend Kibabu Cars enough, without them we would have started the holiday by trying to park a car in a town with no parking and probably ended the holiday being either fined or put in jail.
Last modified: 27th March 2017