How to bargain well in Stone Town (even if you’re British and it’s all rather awkward)

One of the great delights of visiting Stone Town (and if you are on holiday in Zanzibar, this is the No. 1 on our do-not-miss list) is in buying treasures to bring home. There’s the fun of discovering some hidden gem you’d never find anywhere else, the post-holiday boast-factor (“Oh this? I picked it up in a little shop I know in Zanzibar…”) and above all, the fun of the bargain.

First of all- know where to bargain. Stone Town hotel boutiques or swanky air-conditioned shops where all of the stock has price-tags are unlikely to be as flexible as cash-only market stalls and owner-run shops.

Stone town

Perfect bargaining territory – visiting Stone Town from Matemwe Retreat

Serena Inn Zanzibar

Exploring Stone Town from the Serena

Do your research… If you spot something you like and want to buy it, ask around before you approach the store owner and get embroiled in negotiations. Who to ask? Well- ask the staff in your hotel (though don’t follow them to their brother’s shop) or our guide if you’re on a tour of the town.  It’s also possible to ask multiple store owners for a rough guideline price before you buy so you can compare, but you must make it clear you’re not looking to buy right away, or be  entangled in hours of unwanted bargaining and the poor stallholder will get his hopes up.

Remember, you really, really like the person you’re bargaining with, even if you’ve only known him for 5 minutes. Charm- and a touch of Swahili- always gets you the best price.  Try “Ni ghali sana” (“it is very expensive”) to help your cause.

Bargaining is supposed to be fun– be prepared for the odd touch of melodrama (“Oh, my friend, my children won’t eat if I sell it at that price”/”But my wife will divorce me if I spend $200 on a Zanzibar chest”). Making a good deal is fun. Be prepared to walk away if you really feel you’re being ripped off, but don’t come back unless you’re seriously planning to make a deal- it’s not fair on the man or woman who’s devoting half an hour of their day to you and not their other customers.

If you reach a price that you’re happy with, and the stallholder will sell to you at- go for it! There’s no perfect price- just the perfect one for two people in that moment. You might pay more or less than others, but you’ll always have a memory of striking a fun deal with a proper Zanzibari merchant.

What it’s like visiting Zanzibar in the short rains. Trip report- November 2014

A lovely email from Faye and Alan, who’ve just got back from  a beach honeymoon in Zanzibar, where it was (allegedly) the short rainy season! Lovely reading on a chilly morning at Extraordinary Africa HQ- thanks guys!

Hi Alex 
It certainly does feel like another world over there now we’re back! We had just the best time – really interesting place and so beautiful. We found everyone really friendly and lovely too. 
Stone Town was great and a real eye opener. We had a good look around by ourselves and a big night out actually on our first night! Emerson Spice was wonderful – what a location! Thank you for the recommendation, it was the perfect start. We then want onto the bar on the seafront and had a lot of drinks with the owner of the bar, very random! Serena was amazing and so nice to arrive at after a long journey. 
Stone Town on Zanzibar

Stone Town

Shooting Star wonderful, the pool incredible and we really enjoyed the beach here. Had it to ourselves and swam in the sea for hours each day, which we loved. Only 5 cottages were in use, which was good as it meant there was plenty of space around the pool etc. 
Anna was just incredible. Our favourite place… So attentive but relaxed at the same time. And the management were great too, really helpful. Nikki said to say hi!
Zanzibar Beaches

Relaxing at Anna of Zanzibar

We went to a spice farm from Shooting Star and added in a stop at Jozani on our transfer to Anna, which worked well. The monkeys were amazing! Then we did a morning of snorkeling at Anna. Apart from the first couple of days the weather was perfect and so hot. We loved every minute and didn’t want to leave at all. 
So nice to remember it all again!! Thank you for everything, definitely somewhere we’d like to go back to and would recommend to others. Maybe with a safari first next time! 
Thanks

Flying South for the Winter: Winter Sun in Africa

It’s no surprise than when the weather turns cold, phones start ringing at Extraordinary Africa HQ. As much as we love snuggling up beside a blazing fire and listening to the windows rattle, sometimes we’d really just rather feel the sun on our skin and the warmth breathing out of the sand. So, if we could fly south with the swallows for summer, this is where we’d pick.

Cape Town: Food, wine, and African sunshine…

For an easy winter break with reliable sunshine, an incredible gourmet scene, and barely any time difference Cape Town would be difficult to beat. During the chilly northern hemisphere winter, there are direct flights from London to Cape Town, so you as you leave work on a Friday evening,you can wave goodbye to your colleagues, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow be eating lunch with a glass of rosé on the Waterfront. Hotels in Cape Town are boutique and effortlessly chic, the glamorous beaches of Clifton and Camp’s Bay are the perfect place to spend a few days snoozing, Table Mountain provides incredible views and fabulous hiking if you really must, and there are world class restaurants scattered throughout the city (just ask us to book early for you- many of them fill up months in advance).

If you have longer to spare, hire a car (we love whizzing around in a soft-top mini) and head out to the Winelands, where you can ride from vineyard to languorous lunch, or head down to Cape Point to see the utterly adorable penguins.

Tanzania’s Tropical beaches

For something a little more remote and wild, Tanzania’s beaches are incredibly low-profile, but utterly gorgeous.  During our winter temperatures are hovering at a balmy 30 degrees, conditions are perfect for diving and snorkelling and deep-sea fishermen will have a serious challenge on their hands.

Zanzibar’s beaches are the real show stopper, and perfect if you want to combine your beach with island life- exploring the ancient streets of Stone Town, being guided through spice plantations, and cycling through the fishing villages. There are some seriously lovely 5* hotels here, as well as some adorable boutique options, so we can almost always find a perfect option for you somewhere.

For divers and snorkelers there’s really only one choice: Mafia. We probably wouldn’t rate the beaches on Mafia Island as highly as those on Zanzibar, but if you want somewhere utterly unspoilt and charming and impossibly laid back, this is it.  If you want to cut yourself of from a frenetic job and the rest of the world, Mafia is the place to be.  Plus there’s the chance to dive with whale sharks. And if that’s not worth travelling for, we don’t know what is.

Finally, over on Tanzania’s mainland coast, visiting Pangani is like stepping back in time to a Zanzibar of 40 or 50 years ago.  You’re more likely to see a fisherman, pushing his bike along the beach with a cheery wave, than you are to see another tourists. Ladies sing as they wade into the sea to haul in the nets, and dhows potter past, sailing gently by as they have for centuries. Bliss.