Shopping for bargains in Zanzibar

13 December 2016

Zanzibar feels like the island that time forgot – virtually untouched by mass culture – with traditional artisans and tradesman producing their wares in the same way that their ancestors did before them. Added to this, it’s one of only a handful of destinations where the South African Rand stretches really far. This makes it the ideal shopping territory for one-of-a-kind, value-for-money products and artefacts that will always remind you of your travels to the exotic Spice Island.



Where to shop in Zanzibar

Stone Town is where most of Zanzibar’s best shops are situated – and its worth dedicating an entire day or more to exploring its maze of tiny alleyways and narrow pathways seeking out treasures to take back home. Certain parts of the town are known for selling specific products, but some of the must-visit shopping areas include Cathedral Street, Kenyatta Road, Hurumizi Street and the Forodhani Centre. While serious shoppers should focus their attention on Stone Town, most of the resort villages like Nungwi and Kendwa are dotted with small shops where travellers can buy local souvenirs and clothing.



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What to buy in Zanzibar

Food and drink: Spices and teas are Zanzibar’s speciality – and come in a vast number of variations: vanilla, chai and ginger to mention just a few. You can also find soaps and oils infused with aromatic vanilla, cloves and ylang ylang.  Spices come wrapped in little wicker baskets for easy transportation home, but those after bigger quantities should visit the spice section in Darajani market.

Clothing: Kaftans, sarongs and colourful fabrics are made on the island, with beautiful prints – and at bargain prices. There are also some upmarket boutiques on Kenyatta Road, where you can pick up beachware and bags.



Antiques and crafts: Wooden carvings, brassware, brightly coloured tinga-tinga art and handmade furniture are some of the most iconic wares available in the ancient shops throughout Stone Town. Many artefacts are completely unique – and larger items can be shipped back home if you’re short on suitcase space.  



Useful shopping tips

  • Some may approach you selling jewellery made out of seashells, coral or even animal products like ivory or tortoiseshell. Its best to avoid buying these items, for the protection of Zanzibar’s natural heritage. It’s actually illegal to take seashells out of Zanzibar, so you could end up with a hefty fine if you’re caught on the wrong side of the law.
  • Many shops won’t have credit card facilities, so its best to carry cash – either Tanzanian Shilling or US Dollars.
  • Bargaining is commonplace in the markets and smaller shops – but not in the bigger boutiques and air-conditioned stores. Greet the seller with a friendly “Jambo” and when trying to drive the price down, you can try the Swahili phrase: “Ni ghali sana” which means “It’s very expensive!”.

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