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Trip Report a week around Zanzibar, on a Vespa

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Do you remember the scooter used by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday"? Well, it is a Vespa, and it is a very popular means of transportation on the sun-blessed island of Zanzibar. If you have some experience on 2 wheels and you feel comfortable driving in Africa then hiring a Vespa is an excellent option to explore the Spice Island. I'm just back to Nairobi after a week spent around the beautiful Zanzibar on a Vespa.

Here are some useful tips:

To drive in Zanzibar you need a temporary driving permit (any international driving license won't do) which can be obtained through the hire company, you will just provide them with passport and driving license copies, the cost is 10,000 shillings.

There are different hire companies in Stone Town, you will be asked US$ 30 per day which can go down to 20 if you hire for 3 days of more. This includes insurance, tax etc.

Check the general state of your Vespa before you jump on it (brakes, gyres, spar tyre, lights).

Tarmac roads are quite good. Village roads swell as the roads leading to most hotels are quite bad, cut in the coral stone and full of potholes. Driving is on the left hand side of the road, remember this especially at junctions and roundabouts!

Even if locals rarely do it, always wear a helmet: not only for obvious safety reasons, but also to avoid the police. There are roadblocks here and there, just a pretest for police officers to extort 5/10,000 shillings to drivers. Police in Zanzibar is generally corrupt (not as much as in Kenya though) and they see in the Mzungu (white guy) a never ending source of cash. I am based in Nairobi and I speak Kiswahili, with everybody except policemen: if they understand you speak the local language they will think you are used to the local habits and are ready to pay the bribe. If you are stopped and asked for "something" while driving you have 3 options:
1) pretend you do not understand: many policemen's English is virtually non existent and they will not insist too long.
2) accept their request and give them 5/10,000 shillings.
3) show yourself upset by the request and clearly show you are taking note of their name and number on his batch: he will immediately let you go.

Petrol stations are not everywhere, so plan your trips and check your tank. Fuel is sold "informally" in any small village, but it may be dirty. Do not forget that you have to mix petrol with 2% of oil (Vespa has a 2 stroke engine).

The island is quite small, but it's not an atoll so if you have a week it is better to stay in 2 different locations to explore it all. We spent 3 nights in Bwejuu - south east coast - from where you can reach from Ras Michamvi to Jozani Forest, Paje, Jambiani, Kizimkazi, then 3 nights in Kendwa - north west coast - from where you can visit Nungwi, Matemwe, Pwani Mchangani, Kiwengwa, Pongwe, and 1 night in Stone Town.

Riding a Vespa in Zanzibar gives a great sense of freedom, it is really nice to jump on your scooter after some hours at the beach rather than locking yourself in a car!!!

That's all for now! Just go and enjoy Zanzibar, on a Vespa!

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