Zanzibar embodies everything you'd imagine in a tropical island. The island boasts crystal-clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches akin to paradise, coconut-laden palm trees, and a laid-back 'hakuna matata' vibe. There's plenty to explore for culture enthusiasts too. Stone Town stands as the island's historic core, renowned for its architecture reflecting Arabian, Persian, Indian, and European influences. Zanzibar is the perfect destination, combining a delightful sun-soaked getaway with a cultural exploration.
Zanzibar is an island of Tanzania located in East Africa. Situated in the Indian Ocean, it's about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the Tanzanian mainland. Zanzibar City serves as the capital and largest city of the island. Stone Town represents its historic center. Alongside Pemba Island and Mafia Island, Zanzibar forms an archipelago collectively known as the Spice Islands. These islands are popular tourist destinations in Tanzania.
There are various ways to reach Zanzibar. If you're traveling from abroad, you'll likely arrive by plane. If you're already on the Tanzanian mainland, you can take the ferry or a domestic flight to reach Zanzibar.
There are several options for direct flights to Zanzibar from Europe. A round-trip ticket without layovers can cost around 1400 dollars. There are also cheaper tickets around 800 dollars, but these often involve one or multiple layovers. From North America there are no direct flights to Zanzibar. Tickets with layover start around 1000 dollars. Check Skyscanner to compare all the options.
Dar es Salaam is a major city on the Tanzanian coast. From here, you can take a ferry to Zanzibar. The journey takes approximately 1.5 hours, arriving at Zanzibar City.
Staying further inland in Tanzania, the quickest option is by plane. A commonly chosen domestic flight is from Arusha to Zanzibar. We flew with Precision Air from Arusha and found it to be a good flight. The flight costs around 165 dollars and takes approximately 1.5 hours.
Zanzibar is somewhat more expensive compared to the mainland of Tanzania. This is mainly due to the abundance of beach spots influenced by Western styles, where prices tend to be higher. Of course, where you choose to dine makes a difference; local eateries are more affordable than upscale beach spots. Additionally, a night's stay in a hotel often starts around 50 dollars. Hostels offer a much cheaper alternative if you prefer budget travel. Moreover, activities often come with Westernized prices.
You can move around Zanzibar in various ways, depending on the distance. There isn't a comprehensive public transport network on the island. Locals use their private vehicles or the Dala-Dala, which I'll explain more about shortly.
You can rent a bicycle at many places in Zanzibar. It's the ideal transportation if you want to leisurely travel from your accommodation to the beach or the village.
All over the island, there are various options to rent a scooter. However, do consider that traffic in Zanzibar can be quite chaotic, with people not always following traffic rules and frequent honking.
Stone Town is the historical heart of Zanzibar and the old center of Zanzibar City. In the past, Zanzibar served as a stopover on significant trade routes for merchants from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Many traders settled in Zanzibar, bringing along diverse cultural influences. During the 17th century, Stone Town became a crucial trading hub under the rule of the Omani Sultanate. It thrived due to trade in spices, ivory, and slaves. The abolition of the slave trade in 1873 shifted the power to the British. In 1963, Zanzibar gained independence and a year later became part of Tanzania.
Today, Stone Town retains much of its historical heritage. The city hosts an ancient fort and museums depicting the history of the slave trade. Strolling through its narrow, colorful streets is impressive, offering opportunities to find intriguing items. The architecture, influenced by Arab, Persian, Indian, and European styles, creates a Middle Eastern ambiance. Taking a guided tour can be fascinating as you learn stories behind the buildings. Additionally, the local market in Stone Town offers delicious authentic cuisine. Don't forget to try the famous Zanzibar pizza!
Nungwi is located in the north of Zanzibar and boasts one of the island's most beautiful beaches. During high tide, you can revel in the stunning blue sea, and during low tide, you'll spot various creatures like starfish in the shallow waters. Being a popular destination among travelers, Nungwi tends to be bustling with tourists. Additionally, Nungwi features an aquarium where they nurture and release sea turtles. We were fortunate to visit on Turtle Release Day when healthy turtles were returned to the sea.
From Nungwi, you can embark on a boat trip to the Mnemba Island for snorkeling. Often, these trips are on traditional wooden boats, providing an authentic experience. During our boat trip, we even spotted dolphins swimming alongside us for a stretch. At Mnemba Island, snorkeling is excellent, offering vibrant colored fish and occasional coral sightings. However, visitors aren't allowed on the island itself as it hosts villas for those with deeper pockets. Thankfully, there's plenty to explore underwater! After snorkeling, the boat ride usually includes a visit to a sandbank. We were mesmerized by the unbelievably blue water. Undoubtedly, the boat trip is highly recommended when you're in the vicinity of Nungwi!
A spice tour might sound a bit dull, but it's far from it! Zanzibar earned the nickname "Spice Island" due to its historical significance in the spice and herb trade, which continues today with the cultivation of numerous spices. During the Spice Tour, guided walks through plantations offer insights into various spices like cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. There's ample opportunity to taste these spices, and during our tour, we even received jewelry crafted from leaves, which was quite delightful! Sometimes, the spice tour includes a lunch infused with these spices.
You'll find spice tours available at various locations across the island. Many plantations near Stone Town offer these insightful tours.
Kae Beach is located on the eastern part of Zanzibar, extending from the island. Here, you can relish in a stunning sunset. It's not as frequented by tourists but rather cherished by locals. There are a few beach bars, and often, evening festivities take place. When we were there, a bonfire was lit, and everyone danced together. It was delightful and incredibly cozy to join in with the locals!
When strolling along Zanzibar's beaches, you'll often spot fishing boats. These are narrow wooden vessels with large sails, handmade by local craftsmen. If you see a fisherman by his boat, it's worth asking if you can join him for a trip out to sea. We did this with a local fisherman, and it was one of the most enjoyable activities. We sailed out, had a snorkeling session, and it was truly remarkable. For a small fee, you swim not among tourists but amidst the fish. We also spotted significantly more coral compared to organized tours.
Prison Island is a small island off the coast of Stone Town. Also known as Changuu Island, it's a 20-minute boat ride from Stone Town. Originally intended as a prison for rebellious slaves, it never served that purpose and was later transformed into a quarantine island for patients with cholera and the plague. Today, it's home to giant tortoises, some of which are over 150 years old. Most of these tortoises are originally from the Comoros and the Seychelles.
You can wander around the island and visit the old fort. It's insightful to explore with a guide who can share more about the island's history. Additionally, you can visit the tortoise sanctuary. Here, you're allowed to touch the tortoises' shells and feed them. We found this to be a troubling experience. Hundreds of tourists were trying to take the perfect photo with the tortoises. We question if this is good for the tortoises and whether it's better to observe them from a distance.
We recommend combining Prison Island with another attraction, as it can be somewhat dull on its own. We paired our visit with a sandbank excursion and had a delightful afternoon barbecue with freshly caught fish.
It's very nice to visit some local villages, like Paje and Jambiani. These are two villages in the east of Zanzibar, located next to each other. For instance, Jambiani doesn't have large tourist resorts but cozy lodges. Paje, on the other hand, is a quiet village, but its beach is a popular destination for kitesurfing. When you veer off from the main road to Paje and Jambiani, you'll see white sand paths where locals live. It's enjoyable to walk from the main road through these local streets to the beach. While walking through the villages, it's respectful for women to cover their knees and shoulders as most residents are Islamic, and this gesture is appreciated.
Tip: During your visit to Jambiani, it's also nice to stop by Kuza Cave.
On what kind of unique places have you dined? The restaurant The Rock is a unique spot on a rock at Michanwi Pingwe beach. During low tide, you can walk to the restaurant, and during high tide, boats are available to take you to the entrance. From the restaurant, you have a stunning view of the sea, perfect for capturing beautiful photos. The Rock is a restaurant in a remarkable location, so the prices for a meal can be on par with those in Western countries.
Tip: Make a reservation in advance through their website since The Rock has limited seating.