When it comes to safety in a destination, it’s obviously always important to trust your instinct and use your own initiative. I personally try to avoid any situations that might put me in danger or at risk. (Outside of adrenaline and adventure activities!). If you are wondering, is Zanzibar safe for solo female travellers, I will share my experiences and thoughts from my 10 day solo trip to Zanzibar.
Solo Travel Zanzibar
The capital of Zanzibar island is Stone Town. This is where to ferries from mainland Tanzania arrive into and the international airport is around 7.5km away. There’s lots to see and do in Stone Town, so obviously it’s a popular visiting spot for tourists.
As I was staying on the east of the Island, I only did a day tour to Stone Town. I paid for a private taxi transfer from Paje to Stone Town. I then had a guide for Prison Island. He then stayed with me and gave me a tour of the city.
Stone Town is like a giant mass of pedestrian only alleyways. By having a guide it was nice not having to think about going down long alleyways on my own, getting lost or potentially missing out on must see sights. Plus I had the benefit of a personal tour guide to tell me about the history of the city and island!
What To Wear
When it comes to Zanzibar, it’s quite a conservative country. The rule of thumb when it comes to what it wear, especially away from beaches, is that shoulders and knees should be covered.
As mentioned, my tour consisted of two main parts: Prison Island and then the city. Prison Island definitely had a lot more tourists compared to the city tour. Around Prison Island a large portion of the tourists didn’t seem to care about dressing respectfully.
Unfortunately it seemed that a lot were more dressed for the Instagram photos they planned on taking.
One of the stops on my city tour was to Stone Town Market. I was definitely in the minority, it was PACKED out with locals. I could count the number of other tourists that I saw there on one hand.
No matter how I dressed, I was never going to ‘blend in‘. Of course this got the attention of the market traders. But with my guide it was very easy to say no thank you and move on without pressure. No meant no.
On The Beaches
When it comes to the beaches, things are more relaxed. Bikinis were fine, as were vest tops and shorter shorts. However, my hotel in Paje had a sign up saying if you go into Paje village, shoulders and knees should be covered again.
The main way I travelled around Zanzibar as a solo female traveller was by private taxi. Many of which I organised through my hotel as part of day tours, so they handled the payments. The taxis were probably the most fancy taxis I have EVER been in during my travels.
They were spotlessly clean and if any one remembers to MTV show ‘P!mp My Ride’, the taxis looked like they had just rolled out of that workshop. They had neon lights, giant TV screens, all sorts of decorations. There was even a shop in Paje that purely sold car and truck customising stuff!
The drivers were ALWAYS early for pick up times and were very polite and friendly. I often sat in the front with them. Swahili is the official language of Zanzibar but many locals speak English.
Most of the time they just wanted conversation practise. Several of the drivers even asked if I was happy with their speed/driving. Some locals can drive a bit crazy and they didn’t want to put me in danger.
Even though I had paid for private transport, a couple of times the driver asked me if I would mind if they could pick up or drop off a friend or family member. They needed to travel part of the same route.
For example, on one trip between Stone Town and Paje, my driver asked if we’d mind picking up his sister. She lived in Paje but was working near Stone Town. He was explaining how many women in Zanzibar can’t drive.
It’s very expensive to pass and so it’s mostly just men that learn and eventually go into professions like taxi driving. (Paje to Stone Town is more than a 1 hour drive).
Because of this his sister usually travels by Dala Dala (the local buses). The same 1 hour 15 route, can sometimes take her up to 3 hours! She was very thankful that I had agreed to pick her up. She jumped in the back and I continued to ride in the front.
I never felt pressured to agree. I wasn’t in any rush, and honestly, as another woman, I would have felt terrible saying no. I was more than happy for her to travel with me. The taxi drivers never detoured though or made other stops along the route.
As mentioned, I spent the majority of my time based in Paje Beach. This is beach town on the east coast of the island, popular with kite surfing. It was definitely more slower paced than Stone Town. The beach had plenty of other tourists, thanks to the multiple accommodation options available.
Not so much feeling threatened or unsafe, but definitely as a solo female traveller in Zanzibar, I did receive a lot of unwanted attention from the Maasai men that wander the beach. Again, I never felt unsafe. They never touched me or tried to ‘hit on’ me (for want of a better word).
Although they did sometimes ask questions like: where are you staying, are you here alone, how long are you here for? These are all questions I avoid regardless when I’m a solo female traveller, I just make up answers. I’m not sure if it was just general small talk or with something else in mind.
It can be a little intimidating though, as many times it was often ‘two against one‘. So tiny 5″4 me with two giant 6ft tall Maasai men then following me. Often there is nothing you can do to escape either, they spot you and make a beeline for you!
But it was very persistent, to the point where they would walk alongside you for AGES and they would span the full length of the beach, so you could never avoid them. Being there for nearly 2 weeks, it happened all day, everyday.
Their main ‘tactic’ is to have a conversation with you and then try to get you to see their ‘little shop‘. They are not allowed to have stalls set up along the beach, so often carry tote bags filled with jewellery, keyrings etc. If you say no thank you or I have no money on me, they would then usually just wander off.
I actually experienced more ‘rudeness‘, from the female beach sellers (not part of the Maasai). They would almost demand me to make a purchase. But they were few and far between.
When I travel I like to speed walk up and down the beach, but the Maasai would tell me to ‘slow down because I was going too fast for them to keep up’. I would just be like ‘yep, sorry, exercising!’. I also got to the point where I would wear earphones and walk in the ocean, just to try and deter them.
While there I did hear things like maybe some of the Maasai weren’t legit. That they were doing it because they know tourists like it. I also saw several older ‘western’ women that seemed to have ‘adopted’ them and would take them to dinner at restaurants, which is apparently against Maasai beliefs.
They also all had brand new iPhones (newer ones than my cheap iPhone 2020). I can’t say for sure exactly what happens, but your may find this article interesting, if you wanted to read more about it.
I often liked to go into Paje village to some of the restaurants and food stalls. Again, I made sure I covered up a bit more when in the main local area. Honestly, I mostly got completely ignored and felt pretty safe walking around alone. I just kept my head down, phone away and walked with purpose!
The only time I did really get stopped, was when walking by the souvenir shops between the beach and the main Jambiani to Paje road. Just the usual ‘come look at my shop’ type comments. If you go into one they do try and encourage you to buy, just say no thank you and walk on.
I did meet another solo traveller at my hotel and she asked if I would go to the souvenir shops with her. For her, she said she didn’t like being the subject of all the attention and so felt more comfortable in those situations when there is someone else. I was more than happy to go with her.
One of the little 24hr supermarkets also require you to leave large backpacks on the shelves near the door. They have a worker watching over them, but apparently they have had some problems with shoplifting. For this reason they now only allow smaller bags into the shop. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your bag, it’s best to just take a small bag in.
I stayed in two hotels while in Paje and both had good reviews from other solo female travellers. My first hotel, Heart of Zanzibar Bungalows, I believe was ran by a European family with kids.
The gates were locked at 10pm but guests have a gate key along with the room key. I actually went to bed early that night, but I felt safe enough there. My airport taxi took me straight to the main door on arrival.
The majority of my stay in Zanzibar was at Paje By Night. Honestly I have nothing but good things to say about this hotel (other than a gecko ATE my earphones on my last night)! I loved the staff at the hotel, with several giving me a hug goodbye when I left, they felt like family.
Unlike Heart of Zanzibar Bungalows, they didn’t lock the property perimeter fence at night. A corner of the garden was actually used as a bit of a cut through for locals from going from the village to the beach.
However I never saw anyone other than guests or staff in the area where the rooms were. My room door locked and I always felt safe enough.
I actually ended up meeting some other travellers (including a couple of others that were solo travelling too) while at the yoga class. We ended up having meals together a few times as well as spending some time together during the day.
My rule of thumb is that I don’t often go out by myself when it’s dark. This is the case for almost all places I go to. I made sure to avoid the beach after dark, instead either eating earlier or going to restaurants in the slightly busier village area. When going out I took minimum belongings with me, made sure to cover up and just walk with purpose.
I still made sure to be back to my accommodation by around 8pm. There are no lights, other than those coming from businesses and vehicles, and some of the streets are literally PITCH BLACK. I made sure to walk it first in daylight, so I knew my bearings come evening. Although, I did get completely ignored.
Before I visited I had heard to avoid the main Jambiani to Paje road, especially at night. But I found walking to short distance where the food stalls were fine in the evening when it was still busy out. Admittedly, I didn’t do this route any later though.
Overall, when it comes to is Zanzibar safe for solo female travellers, in my opinion, yes I felt comfortable enough taking my usual solo travel precautions. The only thing I found to be a little relentless were the Maasai on the beach.
I’ve travelled to many destinations where beach sellers hound you constantly and it didn’t really feel any different to those. It can just be a little annoying but I was never concerned for my safety and at least they never tried to scam me or anything!
Out of 40+ countries that I’ve travelled to, many solo, I can honestly say that Zanzibar is in my top 3 favourite countries. I loved it!