Few places in the world can evoke images of white powdered sands, pristine turquoise waters and tropical palm-tree paradise like Zanzibar.
Located just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, this series of islands surrounded by the Indian Ocean offer a unique adventure and cultural experience along with the most idyllic setting for pure relaxation.
Start your visit by exploring Zanzibar’s capital, Stone Town, and its narrow streets, impressive architecture, bustling markets and small but interesting museums. You will also see many reminders of Zanzibar’s historic involvement in the slave trade, abolished in these parts by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1873.
It will then be time to head for the beach. Check our Nungwi and Kendwa beaches, towards the north of the island, go snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Mnemba Atoll, and watch the sun go down at the Africa House Hotel.
Other must-see attractions are the giant turtles on Prison Island, Zanzibar’s numerous great fish restaurants, and (if you really want to let your hair down) the Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party.
Steeped in history and overflowing with charm, Stone Town is the iconic capital of Zanzibar.
It is in Stone Town that myriad narrow streets wind their way through craft shops, art galleries, fabric stalls and quaint coffee shops. It is also the perfect place to explore on foot and getting lost within this maze of ancient streets will give rise to a number of cultural experiences that can appear much more local and authentic than the beach life up north.
Nungwi and Kendwa beaches
Whether you stay at Nungwi beach, Kendwa beach, or even somewhere along the East coast, exploring Zanzibar’s north beach resorts is certainlyworth the effort.
Nungwi is the third largest settlement in Zanzibar, with a population of about 5,500, found at the far north of the island. The smaller nearby Kendwa is on the west coast, overlooking the tiny Daloni island and the larger island of Tumbatu. Both are located about an hour’s drive from Stone Town.
Nungwi is the most popular resort in the north where a long line of quality restaurants, bars and hotels provide ample entertainment and variety.
Snorkelling at Mnemba Atoll
Snorkelling at Mnemba Atoll is quite possibly the best “value for money” tour in the world.
This may sound like a sweeping statement, but provided you choose the right boat captain, the return on investment for this $25 trip is no less than incredible.
Departing from one of Zanzibar’s many Northern Beaches,
you begin the morning by gliding across crystal waters in a traditional Dhow sailing boat. Sailing is slow, but as a gentle breeze runs across the deck and you lay down beneath the shade of the mainsail, a distinct feeling of calm will ensure you do not want to reach anywhere fast.
An unexpected part of this trip will often take the form of interacting with the boat crew, which can be a real eye opener into the laid back attitude and charming personality of the local Zanzibarian. Expect a lot of laughing, but also understanding, as these guys know exactly when their guests want to rest in peace, sunbathe or even take a nap.
Traveling to Mnemba Atoll there is always the chance of spotting dolphins, and reaching the island itself, the colourful coral is no less than mesmerising. Zanzibar is home to many species of fish, with huge trevally, yellow snappers, barracuda, eels and many more.
Watching the sunset
Zanzibar is also synonymous with stunning red sunsets … and there are a number of unique locations to experience them.
Contrary to what many people may think prior to arrival, Stone Town is likely to be the most spectacular place on the island to witness the last light of day.
We particularly recommend the Africa House Hotel. Luxurious in decoration and with a clear view of the horizon, the Sunset Lounge Balcony at the back of this unassuming hotel has a vibrant atmosphere, comfortable seating areas and the ultimate vantage point from which to watch the sun go down.
Another great alternative for catching the sunset or sunrise in Stone Town is to choose a lodge or hotel that provides access to a terrace on the top of the building.
Giant Turtles on Prison Island
Prison Island is a must-see Zanzibar attraction.
Also known as Changuu, Prison Island is an 800 by 200 metre island found about 6 kilometres north-west of Stone Town.
Although there are wonderful coral areas to snorkel around Prison Island and you will have plenty of time to do so, the real attractions are the huge turtles and a highly engrossing Slave Trade Museum.
The waters are some of the clearest anywhere in the Spice Islands and, once more, there is every chance you will catch a glimpse of the many pods of dolphins which inhabit this part of the Indian Ocean.
Eating in Zanzibar - The Rock (east coast)
Can you smell what The Rock is cooking? Neither can we, not from here, but we do know that the food is out of this world. Try crab spaghetti or the homemade tagliolini for a starter. And for your main course, look no further than The Rock Special: a giant selection of jumbo prawns, calamari, fish, cigal and lobster – honestly, how could you choose anything else when you have decided to treat yourself in this one of a kind restaurant.
The Rock is located on the east coast of Zanzibar and while it may take an hour or so to reach the restaurant from Stone Town (and about 90 minutes from Zanzibar’s northern tip), you will absolutely not regret making the effort it takes to get there.
Situated on a rock perched up over the ocean, this restaurant is not actually known best for the glorious food they serve but rather for its idyllic and very unique setting. If the budget allows for it, this is one of the very best restaurants and things to do in Zanzibar but make sure you place a reservation as it is usually full, especially in the high season.
Full Moon Party at Kendwa Rocks
Yes, that’s right, every month you can head to the North Beaches and experience the Full Moon party on Kendwa Rocks. Much smaller than its namesake in Thailand (Koh Phangan), the Full Moon party on Zanzibar is held on the beachfront of a well-known hotel in Kendwa Resort.
Although it charges a relatively steep entrance fee (35,000 shillings/$15), it is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.
One of the nice things about this party is that it is very much a local affair. It showcases some of the best local singers, DJs and acts in Tanzania, which brings a cultural feel to an exciting event.
With several bars, a main stage, a large dance floor, fire-eaters, acrobats and a huge outdoor section comprising of tables and chairs on sand, the party is just as much a local favorite as it is with the backpackers of tourists who may be visiting.
In fact, many Tanzanians come travel to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam for the night. And then there is the food afterward: Kendwa Rocks has vendors inside who can make some delicious kebabs and handmade wood fired pizzas
Spice Plantation Tour
A Spice Tour is something that a lot of visitors decide to skip in favor with more beach time. But the Spice Islands are still overflowing with, erm, spice and a tour of a local plantation is a great way to see how Zanzibar became an important stop on the trade routes from the 18th century.
Spices still grown on the island include cloves, vanilla, green pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Most tours include lunch along with an opportunity to sample the produce. Plantations between Stone Town and the north beaches can be used as a good stopover point. Allow 1-2 hours for your visit. Colours of Zanzibar offer tours for c. USD20-30 per person
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
This 50 square kilometrej National Park, the only one found on Zanzibar, is located towards the middle of the Island (about 30 mins drive from Stone Town, en route to Paje).
The Park is most famous for being home to about 1,000 Kirk’s Red Colobus Monkeys. Endemic to Zanzibar, and classified as endangered, this species has a distinctive stripe on its shoulder and pink markings on its lips and nose.
Other inhabitants of the Park include the Sykes Monkey, Bush babies, duikers, 50 species of butterfly and 40 species of bird. Legend has it that the Zanzibar Leopard can still be found in the Park, though the last reported sighting was over 15 years ago.
The Park is found on low-lying land, creating a swampy/tropical environment predominantly populated by large trees, ferns and mangroves to the Park’s southern end.
Aside from observing the wildlife, visitors can follow a forest nature trail (be sure to pick up an information sheet at reception), take the boardwalk through the mangroves, pick up refreshments at a small café or look for a souvenir at the nearby craft stalls.