You may recall that I blogged about an upcoming trip to the Spice Island of Zanzibar in early November and then might have caught some of my Instagram pics during the few days we spent there, but now, finally, I am getting around to going through my pics and writing about my time in this exotic location – my first international blogging trip!
I must be honest to say that when I first heard about the chance to go on this trip I almost immediately thought it wouldn’t happen – lack of finances and childcare issues being the two main concerns. You see my accommodation at the Melia Hotel was sponsored through Discover Zanzibar but when I checked flights I realised we would still be in for a minimum of R16000 and as much as blogging may be my perfect job – it really doesn’t pay that well!
But after some conversations with friends and family I realized it was too good an opportunity to let one or two hurdles get in our way… And I resolved to find a way to get to Zanzibar!
And that’s when I discovered FastJet – a new low cost airline based out of Tanzania that offers budget flights between some of the main cities in East and Southern Africa… and a really great deal on travel between Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam – the gateway to Tanzania with connections to Zanzibar, the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Now instead of flying direct to Zanzibar with another airline we could get to Dar at a far more affordable price! Then all we would need to do was catch a small charter flight over the sea to the island.
Fares from Joburg to Dar now start from an incredible R1,174 one way including tax! AND a new bonus that Fast Jet has recently launched is that you can in fact book and pay for your whole trip to Zanzibar from Joburg via Dar es Salaam as they have partner up with Coastal Aviation who offer the short flight over to the island for the incredible price of R2171 per person incl tax (one way).
Our journey began at 4pm on a Wednesday when we dropped off our two kids at granny and waved goodbye… This would be the first time in 8 years that we were away from them for more than 2 nights. And even then we’ve only managed that once or twice for a special anniversary or wedding in the country. It was beyond exciting for us to have a “second honeymoon” but also a little bit nerve-wracking thinking about leaving the kids for so long – 6 nights in total! Fortunately they were both very happy to be having extended sleepovers at BOTH their gran’s and couldn’t get rid of us fast enough!
To save someone the hassle of dropping us off at the airport we decided to order our very first Uber taxi and within 15 mins the car had arrived to collect us so there was no extended, drawn-out goodbye – probably a good thing! And then we were alone… and would be for another 7 days! We looked at each other and had no idea what to say! Hahaha we were just so happy to be on our way after the stress and build-up of packing for 4, that we happily sat in silence for most of the drive to the airport!!
Our flight to Johannesburg was at around 6pm and we landed just after 8pm. Our FastJet flight to Dar es Salaam was at 5 mins to midnight with check in at 10pm and I didn’t want to miss our flight so planned to arrive sooner – and it was a good thing we did! After getting our luggage and wondering around the airport looking for some food. (Why do all the restaurants close at 9pm?) we finally decided to head over to the FastJet check in desk. And the queue was crazy!
Clearly this new budget airline is super popular with locals heading home to Dar and the wait to check in was hugely entertaining! It was the start of our African Adventure for sure and we saw all manner of people heading to Africa – from the locals in their best dress, to the safari goers in their khaki and the number of boxes and parcels and suitcases piled high next to each traveler told me we were in for a wait…. Each person was questioned thoroughly by security before being allowed in to the check in area and much negotiating and repacking was taking place – I was quite thankful when security spotted us looking a bit overwhelmed by the proceedings and herded us through without all the hassle of opening our backpacks in front of the masses! And the fact that the FastJet staff were so thorough with their checks reassured me we were flying with an airline who prioritized safety!
Our original plan had been to fly to Dar es Salaam on Fast Jet and spend a day in the city before catching a charter flight to Zanzibar, but while waiting in the airport I discovered the new arrangement that FastJet have with Coastal Aviation – a small charter airline – I made the call to bypass the mayhem of Dar and head straight for the serenity of Zanzibar as soon as possible! Unfortunately just as I was about to book our new flight and cancel the other ticket it was time to board and we had to turn off the iPad! This meant we spent the next 3.5 hours of the journey wondering if we might be able to catch an earlier flight or if we would be spending the day backpacking around Dar!
The flight itself was fairly straightforward. The plane was clean and well-maintained. Besides a few strange passengers in front of us taking loudly about some worrying things, I enjoyed it. Sleeping on a plane is never easy and with a flight at this ungodly hour you definitely want to catch a few winks so I tried my best but it wasn’t easy. Hopefully one day I will fly business class and enjoy the luxury of arriving well-rested, but alas. This was not that time! All in all the experience of flying with FastJet was a good one – the only negative I would say was the strange flying time.
After flying for just over 3 hours we arrived in Dar was at 2am South African time. 3am Tanzanian time. YIKES! We stumbled off the plane and into customs where we had to complete a form coherently. It was a challenge! And then we headed out to the waiting area of the Julius Nyerere International Airport hoping to be able to change our tickets that we had pre-booked for 3pm that afternoon with another airline for an earlier flight on Coastal.
It was around 4am when we finally got to the waiting area and as we exited the doors we were hit by the humidity, the smell of spicy curry and the sound of the first call to prayer. We were also immediately approached by a variety of taxi drivers all offering to take us to the city or the other airport terminal for some overpriced fee. Trying politely to turn down their offers without being blatantly rude – which was eventually necessary – we headed to the chairs outside the airline and realized we had at least 2 hours to wait until it opened! And this was not somewhere you wanted to sleep!! Although we felt fairly safe and there were loads of people hanging around it just didn’t feel right. At this point we were still unsure of our plan to catch an earlier flight to Zanzibar and if there were even tickets available. All we could do was wait.
And then we met out angel…
After overhearing our conversation she turned around in the chair in front of us, apologized for butting in but letting us know that she actually worked for Coastal Aviation as a pilot out of the Arusha station and could help us get on the first flight to Zanzibar leaving at approx 7:30am that morning! After finding out that our other tickets with Prescision Air couldn’t be cancelled and we would have to forfeit those tickets, we ended up hanging out with Dierdre for the rest of the morning, she telephoned her contact at the other office to find out of tickets were available for us, told us of a free shuttle that arrived at the International terminal at about 7am that would ferry us across to the Local terminal (saving us some cash!) and then eventually escorted us straight through security to the Coastal office to buy our tickets and get us onto the flight in a matter of minutes. Honestly we really were so lucky to have met her and she made our whole experience so easy. And we didn’t even catch her surname. Definitely an angel in our midst!
A flight over the sea from Dar to Zanzibar in a teeny tiny 10-seater plane, so small you had to duck down and almost crawl to get into your seat, ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I was so excited and SO NERVOUS. I mean have you seen how tiny those planes are??? And you’re about to fly over the sea in one. Anyway I tried to ignore the anxious feeling in my stomach and enjoy the experience for what it was. And it was amazing! Honestly one of the highlights of the trip was this short 20 minute flight! I LOVED it. One of the awesome things about these small planes is that you fly much lower and get an amazing view of the scenery below. After the exhilarating take-off we watched Dar es Salaam sprawl below us and then spotted the stunning turquoise sea a few minutes later. Have I mentioned how incredible it was?? See my pics below for a glimpse of the experience….
As you can see from the photos it was just amazing! I highly recommend getting to Zanzibar this way just for this experience. And the severe lack of sleep was the furthest thing from my mind at this point and totally worth it!
We landed in Zanzibar – at their “arrivals” terminal aka a gazebo alongside the runway! After being shuttled to the main building with our luggage it was time to begin our African Adventure. Our original flight had been scheduled to arrive about 16 hours later which meant no-one from the transfer company was there to meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel. Fortunately, there were a few taxis and we paired up with another traveler from our flight to share one into the centre of Stone Town. Originally we had planned to go to the hotel and then come back into Stone Town for a tour but now we had so much more time we decided to do the tour on the day we arrived. Our hotel was situated on the east coast and Stone Town is on the west so it would make a lot more sense doing it this way round and saving us the transport costs getting to and fro Stone Town as well as the time away from relaxing on the beach! Our first stop was to be the transfer company to inform them of our change of plans…..
That is the story of how we got to Zanzibar. I hope you found it interesting and helpful for planning your own trip one day 😉 Don’t forget to come back next week for another instalment of my ZANZIBAR trip tales!
Contact Coastal Aviation
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about my African Adventures exploring Zanzibar click one of the links below:
Post 1 – Traveling to Zanzibar
Post 2 – A walking tour of Stone Town
Post 3 – Exploring the Markets of Stone Town
Post 4 – Secrets of Stone Town
Post 5 – Our stay at Melia Hotel Zanzibar
Post 6 – Zanzibar Beach Bliss
Post 7 – Scuba Diving in Zanzibar
Post 8 – A Spice Tour on the Spice Island
If you enjoyed this post please consider pinning it to Pinterest using the graphic below
Images: Kathryn Rossiter