While Zanzibar makes up one half of the United Republic of Tanzania, it has remained semi-autonomous and has it’s own unique history, culture, customs, and norms. This East African island has been inundated with influences from all over the world, but a strict Muslim heritage has remained the most discernible impact. Zanzibar attracts a steady stream of Westerners on holiday, but unfortunately not everyone takes the time to understand or appreciate the Islamic culture or, most obvious, research what is appropriate to wear.
Most foreigners flock to the beach resorts in northern Nungwi or the parties in eastern Paje. In these towns, it is permissible to wear a swimsuit on the beach, or a sundress to a restaurant. But in order to get to these places, travelers must first pass through the main city of Stone Town, a place where Islamic practices remain steadfast, meaning women need to take special care to dress modestly there.
While wandering the twisty, narrow cobblestone streets, a good pair of walking shoes is advisable. Women definitely need to wear skirts or pants down to the knee, and shirts that cover your shoulders. A head scarf or covering is not entirely necessary, but taking this extra step to show respect will be appreciated. It can be uncomfortable wearing such conservative clothes in the heat, but it’s incredibly important to respect the culture of the country you are in, to be mindful of the way you dress, and to be aware of how it could be interpreted as offensive.
Zanzibar is an amazing place to visit, but it’s not a tourist destination to everyone. People actually live there, go to school there, make a living there, and raise their families there. If these residents witness foreigners defying their customs and laws every day, it’s not going to breed positive feelings. Although these occurrences are extremely rare, some Muslim extremists have even attacked foreigners.
Just about everyone you meet on this beautiful and historically rich island will greet you with kindness and respect. Return the favor by dressing appropriately and thoroughly appreciating all Zanzibar has to offer.
How did you dress when traveling through Zanzibar?