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Dhow Building in Zanzibar

Dhow Building in Nungwi

Learning how to build a dhow from the masters

A dhow is a traditional Arab sailing vessel with one or more lateen sails. It was primarily used to carry heavy items along the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India and East Africa. The term "dhow“ does not stand for just one type of ship but for a whole family of different vessels ranging from small boats with just one mast to cargo ships that can carry over 200 tons. Larger dhows have crews of approximately 30 people, while smaller dhows of around 12.
The Zanzibari dhow building masters are well-known around the whole Indian Ocean. They build the traditional dhows upon order and need between 2 weeks and 4 months time for the construction, depending on the ship's size.

In Nungwi, you have the opportunity to take part in the construction of a dhow and to learn everything about traditional dhow-building. An experienced dhow building master, Mr. Mponda, who has learned his skills from his father (the family has been building dhows for generations) will give you 2 hours of dhow building lessons per day. The other hours of the day you can observe and assist the craftsmen.

The historical means of transportation of the Indian Ocean

The origin of the dhows is not clear, but it is assumed that similar wooden ships have sailed the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the Bay of Bengal already 2000 years ago. Using the monsoon winds they made the trade relations between the coasts of neighbouring countries possible. The blend of culture of the east African Swahili coast is a result of these trade relationships, revealing influences from Arabia, Persia, India and sub-Saharan Africa.
Even today, Dhows can be seen at seaports around the whole Indian Ocean. At the Dubai Creek, for instance, one can observe the beautiful old-fashioned wooden ships contrasting to the shiny hyper-modern skyscrapers. They are still popular as cargo, fishing and tourist excursion ships in Goa, Zanzibar, Dubai, Oman, Kerala, Mozambique and other coastal regions of the Arabian Sea.

The characteristic design of dhows

Besides their traditional design it is very characteristic that Dhows are even today built entirely by hand. No construction plans or modern tools are being used, instead it is done like centuries ago. For smaller dhows, still today not even nails are being used: the planks and boards are held together with tendons or flexible wood, such as roots and willow branches. Such a construction method used to be globally common until the 15th century; this ship-building technique is called "sewn boats“. The outer skin is shaped very carefully; afterwards the different sections are stitched together. Only then, an inner frame is being added for stability.
Not only Marco Polo used to be astonished of the stability of these sewn boats, according to his travel reports; even travellers of the early 20th century admired the reliable dhows which transport tons of loads to their destinations. However, the construction of large dhows also makes use of European shipbuilding techniques, for instance square sterns, a characteristic of Portuguese ships from the time of Vasco da Gama.
It is assumed that masts of earlier times had been made of coconut wood and other available woods; sails have been made of palm leaves, later most likely of cotton cloth, which originated from India. For longer journeys two mainsails were carried; one for the night and bad weather, one for the day and good weather.
Dhow Building in Zanzibar
It is possible with dhow builder Mr. Mponda:

To take private lessons (also for small groups) in this art of Mr. Mponda for at least 2 hours daily, Monday to Friday. During the other hours of the day, you can watch and assist the craftsmen.
Minimum Duration: 1 week
Maximum Duration: 3 months
Language Requirements: English
Location: Nungwi, Zanzibar
Accommodation: In Nungwi (Bungalow at the Marine Turtle Conservation Station)
Convert to USD, GBP, CAD, AUD and other currencies
One week/first week:
1 Person 460 EUR
2 Persons 380 EUR per person
Each extra week 220 EUR per person
Price includes:
  • Accommodation with meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) in Bungalow at the Marine Turtle Conservation Station (or similar)
  • 5 times a week of at least 2 hours of private lessons from English-speaking dhow builders
  • Transfers from Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ) to Nungwi and back
  • Accompaniment to the dhow builder on the first day by our coordinator
  • Info-PDF
  • Local SIM card
  • Cost for 10 seedlings of indigenous trees that we plant on the slopes of Kilimanjaro

Accommodation in Matemwe



Mother Nature Coastal Conservation Camp in Matemwe
Accommodation for volunteers is at the Mother Nature Coastal Conservation Camp in Matemwe. The camp is just a 3 minutes walk from one of Zanzibar’s best paradise beaches where also
marine turtles nest. The site was designed based on the philosophy of permaculture and sustainable building in order to conserve and revive biodiversity and nature on the site.
There are eight fully furnished tents that have two bunk beds each. Tents can be booked for twin or four-share occupancy. Each tent has has lockable clothing storage for each volunteer, a small fridge per tent, fan, electric light and electricity outlets, incl. USB. All tents are under a solid thatched roof on an elevated wooden platform, designed in rustic African style. Mosquito nets are provided. We try to separate the bed occupancy by gender, however we cannot guarantee this, depending on varying booking numbers of males and females.
Sanitary installations are available in a building between the tents and shared among the participants - encompassing six showers with solar-heated hot and cold water and six environmentally-friendly evapotranspiration toilets. The solar heater is backed up by an electric heater during rainy season.
Communal areas (for meals, project work, leisure time) include the covered roof-top and the terrace of the main building. Meals are prepared by our two chefs at a fully equipped restaurant kitchen, adhering to international hygiene standards. There is chilled drinking water from a water filter machine. The office can be used by volunteers for computer-based assignments. There is also a sun-bathing lawn with two small ponds and an outdoor splash shower for refreshment. Free unlimited Wifi and a washing machine are provided. There is 24 hours security. Valuables can be stored at a safety deposit box.
In cooperation with our permaculture expert, we have designed a system trying to optimize the use of water as much as possible. We collect rainwater from the roofs that is used for instance as a backup for the showers. All greywater is filtered and used for our plants. We make use of an evapotranspiration toilet system, which is an on-site sanitation system for the biological treatment and reuse of blackwater as a fertilizer to our banana grove.
Due to the proximity to the sea turtles station at Nungwi, these two activities can be combined. Please contact us for price information in the case of a combination.

Other Projects That Might Interest You:

These projects are suggestions for alternatives that may interest you or those that could be chosen as COMBINATIONS. The combination of projects in different organizations is often possible and usually cheaper than two individual bookings. Please contact us to know more! Check out our other listings in the areas of "World Learner" and "Active Travel" at your travel destination to make your stay even more interesting.

Safaris, Kilimanjaro Climbs, Day Trips, Watersports

budgetsafaribannerAs "Budget Safari Tanzania" we are arranging cost-effective yet high-quality safaris, Kilimanjaro climbs, excursions, and watersports activities in Tanzania and Zanzibar. You will group with other World Unite! participants and further travellers.
As a World Unite! participant, you get a 15% discount on all offers of Budget Safari Tanzania. We will share a Discount Code with you that you can use with the online booking of your safari, Kilimanjaro climb, excursion or watersports activity.

Learning Swahili in Sansibar!

Swahili TeacherIt is always helpful to know Swahili while doing your project here. Swahili is a relatively easy language to learn. With our one-to-one teacher, after a short time, most learners are able to do basic conversation. You can choose the intensity of the lesson. If you are volunteering or doing an internship, we recommend a maximum of ten hours per week. 
The cost for Swahili lessons: 1 Student - 10 EUR
Groups of 2 or more people can join language lessons with an NGO at a rate which is a little cheaper per person!
Please check "Language Training Required" in the registration form, specifying the desired duration (minimum 20 hours).

Travel Health Insurance

We recommend the following travel insurance that is meant specifically for participants of internships, volunteering, language study, working holiday, and courses abroad. It is available for travelers of all nationalities and usable for all countries, except your home country. You can also add a liability and travel cancellation insurance.
Just click on the link, fill in the form and you will get an immediate booking confirmation.
Travel Health Insurance


Nungwi is a village on the northern tip of Zanzibar and one of the places where the beach tourism began, about 20 years ago. The difference between low tide and high tide here, is the lowest of all Zanzibar, which makes the beaches of Nungwi and Kendwa especially popular with tourists. There are luxury hotel facilities and small, local backpacker accommodations and especially during the season, tourist "Nightlife" with several bars along the beach. There are also several diving and water sports centers. The turtle conservation station at the lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction. The snorkeling and sunset cruises on a dhow, the traditional sailing ships of the Indian Ocean, which are built in Nungwi on the beach, are also popular. Since especially during the season many tourists walk through the village, many residents of Nungwi try to benefit from it through small shops for tourists, selling products and offering their services for tours.

Getting To Zanzibar

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Several airlines fly directly or with an intermediate stop at Zanzibar (ZNZ). Remember to book your flight and share with us your flight details. From Zanzibar airport, we will pick you up and bring you to your accommodation in Zanzibar.
If the flights to Dar-es-Salaam (DAR) are much cheaper, you can also fly there. From Dar-es-Salaam, you can travel to Zanzibar by a connecting flight or take the ferry. We can arrange a transfer for you from the airport to the ferry for 30 EUR/35 USD. The ferry ticket costs 35 USD and the ferry takes about 2 hours. We will take you in this case from the airport to the seaport. In Zanzibar, you will be picked up at the ferry terminal and taken to your accommodation. A connecting flight from DAR to ZNZ only takes 20 minutes and costs 50-80 USD.
If your placement is on Pemba Island, you can either take a daily flight from Zanzibar to Pemba, or you can take a ferry (Azam Marine), which however doesn't have daily departures. In Pemba you will be picked up from the airport or ferry port and brough to your accommodation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are there fixed start dates for the project, which I must adhere to?
No, you can arrive at any date and you can hence, plan your trip according to your availability and the prices of flights. We can pick you up from the airport even at night.
Can I stay longer at my accommodation after my volunteering/internship or arrive earlier?
Yes, this is possible and we will give you our best rates. Just let us know when you arrive and leave and we will let you know the costs.
During my stay, can I travel around the country?
Zanzibar is a relatively small island, and you can use public transport during the weekends to travel throughout the island; such as to the beaches of the north and east. In Moshi and Zanzibar, we ourselves often offer day trips, such as to Kilimanjaro or the national parks, for which you can join other volunteers and interns when you travel there. We share these trips with you in our monthly subscriber list and you can book them. Participants often organize on-site travel together. In Moshi and Zanzibar, you can stay at the same low rates as our Zanzibar or Moshi participants in accommodations provided by us. If you plan to travel during your volunteering/internship period, you should seek permission in advance. We recommend that you plan your travel after your volunteering/internship. For this, you can also stay longer in your accommodation at affordable rates.
Is it safe to travel in Zanzibar alone as a single female traveller?
Approximately 80% of our participants are female and many of them, only about 20 years old. Not a single instance of a serious security breach has occurred. Our coordinator will advise you on how you should conduct yourself in order to avoid problems - your dressing style, valuables, and in dealing with local men. Our preparation materials elaborate on this matter. If you follow these basic rules that apply equally to many other places, the risk in Zanzibar is not great.
Will I be the only volunteer/intern in the project or in Zanzibar?
The total number of participants that participate simultaneously with an organization depends on the size and activity of the organization and responsibilities of volunteers/interns. We try to avoid too many volunteers/interns in an organization at the same time. It may be that you are alone in your work site, but usually there are, throughout the year, other participants in Zanzibar, who you can meet in your spare time, if you desire so. Zanzibar Town is a small town, where you walk around quite a bit. In addition, there are well-known places such as the Forodhani Gardens, where you actually meet other participants. If you are in a different place (Nungwi, Mungooni, etc.), the probability is higher that there are more participants from us. You can access these places relatively quickly by public transport from Zanzibar Town, if you want to meet other participants of your country over the weekend. We also have regular meetings with all participants and you will get a list of participants who are in the country, with their contact information. You need not be concerned that you are "alone" in Zanzibar, nor must you stay away from the locals because you spend all your time with other foreign participants.
What vaccinations do I need?
Our Info-PDF that you get as a participant, gives detailed information on health care. Also refer to Recommended Vaccinations
Where do I live?
Please find details in the tab "Accommodation".
Can I choose my accommodation?
We give you choices (Most popular!, Comfort +, Adventurer) and you can tell us if you prefer a shared accommodation or homestay; we will then seek an accommodation for you. We organise accommodation, taking into consideration the distance from your work site. However, since Zanzibar is not a very big town, is relatively easy to reach locations in other parts of the city by public transport ("Daladala") or by bike.
How free or bound am I in my accommodation with the host family?
With the host family, you can have your freedom, and do not need to join them during meal times or have any other obligations. If you will return late in the evening, you need to let them know in advance, so that they can unlock the doors for you (which are locked at night for security reasons). Bringing home casual acquaintances is taboo. They look to integrate our participants into their family life, but you can determine to what extent you want to be part of it.
Does my accommodation have internet facilities?
In Tanzania, Internet is accessed via the mobile phone networks. With smartphones, you can use the Internet. For laptops, there are USB modem sticks for about 10 EUR. There are no flat rates; you use data packets, depending on your needs. You might consume 2 GB of data in a week, which costs about 4.50 EUR. In the centers of cities (Moshi Town, Dar-es-Salaam, Mwanza, Zanzibar Town, Karatu, etc.), the connection is good, the speed is satisfactory and sufficient for Skype phone calls. In the suburbs and in the country, there is connection, but usually almost impossible or very slow and unreliable. We will provide you information on the use of mobile Internet in Tanzania.
How can I do my laundry?
In general, laundry is washed by hand in Tanzania. You can ask your landlord or host family if they have someone who can wash your clothes. Usually, someone offers that to you for a small fee. Please ask your local supervisor, what the appropriate thing to do is.
I am a vegetarian. Can I get vegetarian food?
Host families are familiar with participants who are vegetarians and prepare appropriate food. In some restaurants in Zanzibar Town, there are vegetarian options. In the market, there are a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Special dietary needs (e.g. Vegan, allergies to certain foods) can be specified to the host families.
What language skills do I need?
You should be able to make yourself understood in English. The national language of Tanzania is Swahili, but knowledge of English is widespread, especially among people who have a better education or work in tourism. In everyday life, there is usually no problem to be able to communicate in English; if you should come across someone who can not speak English, you can almost immediately find someone who offers to translate in English. If you are in a social project for a longer duration, you will have to deal with people who have little or no education. For this, it is useful to acquire at least a basic knowledge of Swahili before your arrival through any book (or audio CD). You can also take basic Swahili lessons while on site. We also have vocabulary lists with useful words that can help you.

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