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Advice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Travellers in Zanzibar

Advice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Travellers in Zanzibar

LGBT travel in Zanzibar

We are occasionally asked “What is Zanzibar like for LGBT travellers?” or is Zanzibar gay-friendly?”. To answer this question, here we’ll cover what we know from our experience, and comment on the current political situation and social attitudes.

Firstly, we’ve been sending travellers to Zanzibar since the mid-1990s, and over that time very few of our LGBT travellers have experienced problems as far as we know. This reflects our general experience that most Zanzibari people that visitors meet are very friendly, regardless of their visitors’ sexuality.

Legalities around LGBT travel in Zanzibar

The law in Tanzania and Zanzibar is not supportive any behaviour which isn’t heterosexual. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and carries a lengthy prison sentence – up to life imprisonment. Homosexual behaviour, such as kissing in public places, is not tolerated under the law and could lead to arrest. Equally, same-sex relationships are not recognised by Tanzanian law.

The LGBT community in Zanzibar and Tanzania has become increasingly marginalised over recent years. The Tanzanian government became less tolerant after the election of President Magufuli in 2015, with politicians voicing the need to protect ‘traditional’ – read heterosexual - values. The following year, in 2016, the Tanzanian government suspended AIDS programs aimed at homosexual men, with the closing of HIV clinics soon after. Since the death of Magufuli in 2021 and the election of Tanzania's first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, the prospects for human rights have improved.

All that said, we know of very few occasions where such laws have actually affected travellers. The primary incident we have heard about occurred when a married, gay couple (not traveling with Expert Africa) with the same surname on their passports were asked what their relationship was. We understand that when they answered that they were married, they were refused entry and deported. So, while incidents of LGBT travellers falling foul of the law in Tanzania and Zanzibar do happen, they are exceptionally rare.

While much of this sounds quite negative, there is a ray of hope. Over recent years there have been a number of protests in support of LGBT rights in Tanzania. We remain hopeful for Tanzania and Zanzibar’s future, and that the government will become more tolerant in the years to come.

Zanzibari attitudes towards LGBT travellers

Most people in Zanzibar live in small, traditional communities, where conservative attitudes are dominant. Islam is Zanzibar’s dominant religion, and most people in these communities are religious.

A recent survey in Tanzania found that 95% of participants felt that homosexual behaviour should not be tolerated in society. As with many other African countries, the subject remains taboo in general conversation.

Public displays of affection and overtly sexual behaviour of any kind are strongly are frowned upon; many locals will consider these as offensive. This is equally as applicable to heterosexual or homosexual displays, and the advice just as relevant in and around Stone Town, as it is in small, rural villages.

To avoid confusion, be aware that in many parts of Africa it is common to see friends holding hands; this doesn’t imply any sexual relationship, but is common throughout traditional areas of Africa. However, to see unmarried visitors from overseas doing the same would be unusual, and might cause problems.

LGBT travellers on holiday

On the whole, the hotels and lodges that we send travellers to in Zanzibar typically have a fairly mixed, international clientele who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The staff here are typically very used to this, and we’ve rarely even had any raised eyebrows when we’ve requested rooms to be configured as twins or doubles. It’s been done without fuss or comment. So regardless of a staff member’s personal views, these very seldom impact on our travellers, or causing tensions or offense.

In early 2023 we did have one gay couple visiting Zanzibar who reported that they were “made to feel very uncomfortable” by one staff member at a lodge who didn’t interact with them as he had with other guests. However, the same travellers also noted that “the other staff we interacted with were polite and friendly” – so we understand that the problem came from just one person on the hotel staff.

Incidentally, we’d always advise our travellers, gay and straight, to behave fairly conservatively while on Zanzibar – avoiding any public displays of affection.

Please do give us a call to talk through any concerns if you are thinking about traveling with us to Zanzibar.

Further sources of advice

A few of the most obvious sources of advice for LGBT travellers to Zanzibar are:

Our top picks for holidays to Zanzibar

We'll always tailor-make your Beach for you. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you.


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Masala Beach Holiday

9 days • 2 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

Two luxuriously elegant hotels offer relaxation on Zanzibar’s beach-front and exploration of Stone Town. Combine peaceful tranquility with fine dining, indulgent comforts and vibrant culture.

US$6,170 - US$8,850 per person

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Turmeric Beach Holiday

7 days • 2 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

Relax on powdery white beaches and snorkel over colourful reefs on Zanzibar’s picturesque east coast before heading on to Stone Town to explore the labyrinth of cobbled streets.

US$2,220 - US$3,470 per person

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Papaya Beach Holiday

7 days • 2 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

A relaxing holiday with a range of activities, where Chumbe Island Lodge and Matemwe offer tranquil atmospheres, considerable exclusivity and the chance to learn about worthwhile local conservation efforts.

US$2,730 - US$4,050 per person

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Red Colobus Monkey Safari

11 days • 3 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

This luxury holiday suggestion combines a wildlife safari in Ruaha National Park with a week on Zanzibar, exploring Stone Town’s narrow streets and relaxing on a palm-shaded beach.

US$6,230 - US$8,490 per person

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Turaco Safari

12 days • 4 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

This top-value holiday idea combines two safari areas with a week on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. Photograph lions and elephants, then relax under the palms on a powder-sand beach.

US$5,460 - US$6,330 per person

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Coconut Beach Holiday

6 days • 2 locations
DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

A luxurious island getaway split between a small boutique hotel in Stone Town and your own sumptuous private villa on a spectacular swath of white sandy beach.

US$2,350 - US$4,770 per person

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Regal Sunbird Fly-in Safari

12 days • 5 locations
KILIMANJARO AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

Experience the highlights of Tanzania with a safari in the country’s famous northern parks followed by historic Stone Town and the palm-fringed beaches of Zanzibar, staying in high-quality accommodation throughout.

US$9,320 - US$15,160 per person

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Dik Dik Safari

12 days • 4 locations
KILIMANJARO AIRPORT TO DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

Combine safari with peace and relaxation on Zanzibar’s white-sand shores during this exploration of Tanzania. Stay in three high-quality sister camps within Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park before concluding with a stay on Michamvi Peninsula.

US$8,750 - US$14,010 per person

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