5 HILARIOUS SCAMS IN ZANZIBAR
Nobody likes to be scammed, and there are a lot of people who will try to scam you in Zanzibar, particularly if you catch the ferry from Dar Es Salaam…
It can be stressful and intense, and overwhelming - particularly if you’re feeling tired or hot (and you will ALWAYS be hot in Zanzibar) - but if you look at it with a sense of humour like we did, you’ll survive it with all your money in your wallet and some entertaining encounters to reflect on later.
Without further ado and in no particular order, here are the top 5 scams we encountered in Zanzibar...
1. ‘Official’ Ferry Tickets As soon as you arrive in the ferry port at Dar es Salaam you’re going to be mobbed. It feels like a hundred men are trying to take your luggage and literally pull you in the direction of whatever ‘company’ they work for to sell you ferry tickets. Whatever you do HOLD ON to your luggage and say ‘no’ to everyone until you get to the official ticket office, which can be hard to find, but you’ll know it when you see it. On the way back from Zanzibar it was less chaotic but more hilarious. As soon as we got out of our taxi a guy pounced on us:
‘Tickets here!’ he said, pointing to a grubby tent ‘office’. ‘Here, buy them through this window!’ ‘That’s not the official office,’ we said, and he nodded understandingly.
‘Ah yes, ok,you want official, sure, let me take you to the official office.’ Stupidly we followed him around the corner, where he pulled back some security fencing, beckoned us through, and led us into the SAME tent ‘office’, only this time we were INSIDE it. Yeah, this didn’t make it official, but I guess it was worth a try, and it gave us a bit of a laugh.
‘It’s still not official.’ we said. ‘This is the same office!’
The guy shrugged and pointed us in the direction of the proper office which was across the road. To be honest, most of the tickets will work. We unwittingly bought unofficial tickets on our way TO Zanzibar and had no problems, but they weren’t any cheaper (in fact they tried to charge us more) and to be on the safe side I’d recommend going to the official office.
2. The Town ‘Guide’
One of my favourite scams is the ‘town guide’. When you get off the boat in Zanzibar you’ll be mobbed (again) by people trying to take your luggage, offer you taxis, accommodation, tours, nuts (?) etc. Don’t expect them to leave you alone when you cross the road though. This is where the town ‘guides’ are lurking. They’ll ask you where you’re going, what you’re looking for, and suggest ‘excellent’ places to go - then hassle you for money as payment for their efforts. The hilarious part comes when they rush ahead of you and try to ‘follow’ you by walking in front of you, so that when you stop, they can pretend that they led you there and take credit (and hopefully money) for their excellent tour guiding skills.
3. Policemen There are quite a few police checkpoints along the roads in Zanzibar, and they love flexing their power muscles - particularly when it comes to tourists. There are so many tales of police corruption that it’s considered a bit of an epidemic on the island, and the authorities are TRYING to crack down on police asking for bribes, but this just means that they are getting a little more creative with how they extort money. We hired a motorbike in Stone Town and our first police encounter was about 40 mins later along the road from Stone Town to Nungwi. We got pulled over because he had decided we were speeding, just from looking at us. Apparently we were going 67 in a 40 zone (none of these facts were true, but ok). Your best bet is to always be polite and accepting, so we apologised for the mistake, showed our license, and awaited our fate. Apparently, according to Mr Policeman, our fate was to ‘go to the court of law.’ At this point, we decided the best thing to do would be to keep smiling and nodding our heads. ‘Sure,’ we said. ‘We’ll go to the court of law.’ Mr Policeman folded his arms. ‘The court of law is where we take people for their punishment. Prison.’ We kept smiling and nodding. Sure thing. Let’s go to the court of law for punishment. Mr Policeman wasn’t overly happy. He said the court of law was closed now, so we would have to go there at 8am the next morning for our punishment.
After a while of us all awkwardly looking at each other, he went and got an ‘official’ document from his patrol car and told us to read section six-point-something-or-other. Apparently we could either go to prison for punishment, or pay him USD$75.
We assured him that we wouldn’t need to pay. We would show up at prison for our punishment at 8am the next morning, and he finally let us drive away.
We had a couple of other encounters after this one, but most were resolved with smiling and nodding, or showing our bike permit, which we had received when renting the bike.
4. Safari Blue Tours I don’t know if this one really counts as a ‘scam’, as you still get what you pay for, and it’s an awesome day out, but its still worth knowing about if you’re planning on taking a snorkelling trip in Zanzibar. The original ‘Safari Blue’ tour began in 1995. It was (and still is) geared towards giving western tourists a ‘luxury’ snorkelling experience by visiting a number of small islands in the Menai Bay conservation area on a traditional wooden dhow. Since the tour began, and became wildly popular, a number of locals started their own ‘Safari Blue’ tours, which are, essentially, slightly crappier versions. We knowingly decided to book one of these ‘non-original’ tours (as we didn’t need any bells and whistles), so we took all the weirdness that ensued in our stride, but we noticed some other people looking bewildered at what they thought was going to be a luxury day.
To begin with, instead of meeting the boat in Fumba (like the original) we were taken through a pot-holed track in the jungle to Unguja Ukuu (I think… I actually have no idea where we were). A range of people joined us here, all of whom had bought their tickets from different companies for different prices - some had even brought their own ‘guide’ with them. Regardless, without explanation, we were then piled together onto random boats (about 10 guests per boat) and taken into the bay. After about 45mins on the boat, they deposited us on a beautiful sandbar for a swim, and said they’d pick us up later. A couple of guys from the crew put up a shelter, cut up some fruit, and everybody swam about in confusion for an hour or so. Finally our boat returned, and they took us out into the middle of the ocean and said we could now jump off the boat and go snorkelling (which was incredible), before heading to the next island for lunch (which was also incredible) and to look at a tree (our ‘guide’ said he didn’t really know why he was showing us the tree. I think it might have been really old). We were on the lunch island for a quite a long time, without anyone really knowing what was going on - this seemed to be the ‘norm’ for the day, though - before heading back to the main island (via a few swimming stops). Overall it was an awesome day and we were fine with it not being the ‘original’ tour, but the complete lack of communication about what was going on was rather bizarre.
5. Hawkers in the water
In Nungwi, as you laze on the beach, you’ll often be approached by people trying to sell you tours and experiences. In other places, the beach is protected somewhat by the supervision of a resort (who understandably don’t want their customers disturbed). Then on other places you will have an experience where you’re sheltered by the resort when lounging on the beach, but not in the water. Such was our experience in Uroa.
Instead of patrolling the beach looking for tourists to make their sales pitches to, you’ll find plenty of locals wading through the water, fully clothed, being very friendly and trying to get you to visit their shop or restaurant.
For the most part, we actually found it amusing. The locals were quite fun to chat to, they told us about their life on the island, and weren’t trying to get money out of us straightaway - and also how can you be truly cross when you’re floating in that beautiful water??
The best pitch we had was for a local seafood restaurant that was pointed out to us from the water. We could choose any fresh seafood we liked, as the chef bought it off the boats in the afternoon according to what we ordered that morning. He’d cook it to perfection and it was only(?) USD$50 per person…
So we chatted to good ol’ Raphael about his restaurant for a while, and said we’d wander by later and have a look at it. We passed it that evening on our way to dinner at another local restaurant and discovered it wasn’t quite what he had described… it was literally a concrete floored shelter with a vending machine in the corner, fluorescent tube lighting, and a guy sitting on a plastic chair (the only piece of furniture in the shelter) having a smoke...