Zanzibar information

Advice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Travellers 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 none 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 lengthily 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.

That said, we know of very few occasions where such laws have actually affected travellers. The only 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 relationship, but is common throughout traditional areas of Africa. However, to see unmarried visitors from overseas doing the same would be very unusual, and could 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 never 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, we have never heard of these impacting on our travellers, or causing tensions or offense.

That said, 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: