Zanzibar Archipelago is also known as The Spice Island. The largest island in the archipelago, Unguja, has some of the best beaches in the world. The coral reefs are home to an abundance of starfish, making Zanzibar a popular diving and snorkeling destination.
While this tropical paradise off the east coast of Africa attracts many visitors on their way to Tanzania and Kenya- which are only an hour’s plane ride away- Zanzibar’s intriguing history and cultural diversity are what make it unique for a filming location.
Sanctuaries For Endangered Species
In recent decades, conservation projects on Zanzibar have brought back a number of endangered species from the brink of extinction. The Zanzibar red colobus, a rare primate, is at the top of the list of endangered species. It can be spotted in the Jozani Forest Park that runs along the coast of Unguja.
At the tip of the archipelago, where the Jozani Forest ends, the Zanzibar Butterfly Center has become one of the largest butterfly sanctuaries on the African continent. It also houses an environmental community project that trains locals in conservation.
On Prison island, once a prison for slaves, there is a sanctuary and similar conservation project for the Aldabra giant tortoise.
Zanzibar also boasts a wide variety of flora and fauna species. A visit to one of the plantations provides experiences for learning about the medicinal and culinary uses of many species, herbs and plants.
An Intriguing History
Zanzibar has strong Indian, Arabic, African, Persian and European influences. The archipelago was once the biggest slave market in East Africa, as well as popular base for passing traders. In the 19th Century, Sultan Said bin Sultan of Oman decided to make it his main place of residence. He built many mansions, palaces and Turkish Baths that make unique film sets.
The House of Wonders, an old palace converted into a museum, is the largest and tallest building in Stone Town. It is also the first building in Zanzibar to have had electricity and the first in Africa to have had an elevator. It is considered the best attraction for learning about Swahili and Zanzibari cultures, though predominantly Islamic influences are evidenced in the furniture, fabrics and famous carved teak doors with verses from the Quran inscribed on them.
Another main attraction in Stone Town is The Dhow Countries Music Academy that gives visitors a feel for the local music genre known as Taaral- a blend of classical Swahili poetry and percussion. Every year in July it hosts the Zanzibar International Film Festival, also known as Festival Of The Dhow Countries, to showcase the best cinematography shot along the coast of East Africa.
Seasonal changes can affect filming, so depending on the type of production you need to choose your window carefully. Although Zanzibar is mostly hot all year round, the humidity in summer is intense and accompanied by wind storms. The summer months (October to March) are best for underwater marine photography.
On Pemba Island, the Manta Resort is an underwater floating hotel that is the ideal location for marine productions. Smaller deserted islands around Pemba Island allow film crews to have an entire beach to themselves. After three episodes of the Reality T.V Show ‘Survivor’ were shot on these deserted islands, they became home to a rotating Survivor Hub. Zanzibar’s Ministry Of Tourism now uses it to attract tech companies to the island, hoping that in coming years Zanzibar will become ‘the Silicon Valley of East Africa’
Getting Film Permits
Film producers should be aware that permits for filming elsewhere in Tanzania are not valid in Zanzibar, as it is semi-autonomous from the Tanzanian government. A separate permit must be applied for from the Tanzania Censorship Board and can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, depending on the type of production.
There are no rules for doing business in Zanzibar; everything is negotiable and requires engagement with local communities and authorities. African Fixer will contact local guides who arrange transportation for film crews and also act as intermediaries in negotiating all aspects of your shoot.