When I first heard about Zanzibar from work contacts I never thought I would get here. But when, after months of quarantine, the Russian government opened borders in August for just two destinations, Tanzania and Turkey, I knew what to do. Having visited Turkey, I decided to venture to Africa for the first time. I flew by Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa. The 10-day-trip was well organised by a tour agency named Africa Escapes and I stayed on the best beach of the island, at Kendwa Sunset Beach Bungalows. Liking it very much, I did what many of my fellow Russian holidaymakers have come to do – I decided to return and stay for two months.
What do Russians like about Zanzibar and how do they explore it? First of all, I’d like to say, that many of us, like me, have never been to Africa before, but we are quick to adapt! Sightseeing like Safari Blue, the sand bank Nakupenda - Zanzibar has a lot to offer. I was happy like a child and screaming while I swam with dolphins the first time in my life, a real emotional adventure.
I spoke with many Russian tourists who consider Zanzibar a very beautiful island with plenty of water activities, ideal to escape from the cold winter at home. We Russians are not a homogenous group but we split into long-stayers renting houses and villas for a few months and those on short travel packages starting from 600 dollars up to luxury stays at 5 star hotels. Popular tour operators are Sanex, Coral and Pegas, and the air charter company Royal. Flights were launched from Moscow by Utair and Azur twice weekly with a Boeing 777-300. All in all it is estimated that between 2,500 to 10,000 holidaymakers from Russia arrived in Zanzibar each week over the winter.
Russians are very good networkers, too. On Telegram, travel blogger Andrey Slavyansky opened a chat for Russians tourists sharing useful information such as where to rent cars or houses, how to organise excursions. One day I visited a mangrove forest; locals with machetes were paving the way for us. We didn’t expect to see such beauty of nature.
The budget of a single tourist like me is usually around 300-500 dollars per week including accommodation and everything. Some Russians rent flats and I could join them for instance when moving from beach to town. Russians are adventurous and business-minded. In the few months since we were allowed to come to Zanzibar, several have already started looking for business or acquiring land here.
The Tanzanian government invites tourists without a PCR corona test. Would Russians also come when tests are required? First I’d like to say that we only travel when we feel healthy. But a test could pose a problem because Russians don’t like to spend extra money. They like to bargain and fight for a discount for any service! One of the reasons why we like to escape from the pandemic: We still expect a third wave of Covid-19. However, the Sputnik vaccination is now improving the data. Many Russians have started to work distantly like me; as a journalist I can write articles for Russian magazines from anywhere. And surely, I prefer to do it in the sunny climate of Africa rather than in the cold at home - if only the internet coverage in Zanzibar were better!
Ingrid Kim writes for well-known luxury publications in Russia, okolopolitiki.ru She works as the press secretary of the diplomatic club Amicability in Moscow. Contact: @ingridaworld, www.amicability.org