Zanzibar- an African beach paradise!!
Dotting the coast of East Africa are; Sky blue waters, pearl white sandy beaches, beautiful tropical lodges, moss covered ruins of the magical archipelagos of Zanzibar and Lamu that welcome you with an everyday smell of spices and mesmerizing tropical beauty.
Zanzibar is situated at the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. From the East to the North you will find extended powdery white beaches, fringed by coconut palms and sun-baked villages lapped by the turquoise sea perfect for snorkeling and diving. The heart of Zanzibar is Stone town with its labyrinthine alleyways and architecture. A night in Stone town Capital is a must for every one visiting Zanzibar!
Zanzibar offers an enchanting blend of luxurious beach life and age-old cultures. Perfect for honeymoons and romantic escapes, this tropical island combines easily with an East African safari.
Discover: The Hidden Historical Culture of Stone town -The capital of Zanzibar. Stone town is known by its old 18th century buildings, narrow streets with typical houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. A night in Stone town is a must for every one visiting Zanzibar!.
Our tailored made tours to Zanzibar and Tanzania main land provide you with the very best beach holidays, adventure and remarkable excursions that make your trip a top notch memorable experience.
The islands of Zanzibar stir the imagination and conjure up images of magical Arabian nights, the scent of spices in the evening air and spirit of ages gone by. The name Zanzibar has such a romantic and exotic ring to it that some visitors are easily led to a comparison with “the ancient Baghdad of Haroun el Rashid”. From a distance, the whitewashed buildings of the stone town apparently dancing on the waves of the Indian Ocean create the feeling of adventure and the excitement of going back in time.
Zanzibar is part of the United Republic of Tanzania and is made up of a series of many islands, the main ones being Unguja and Pemba. Ungunja is better known as Zanzibar Island. Zanzibar (Unguja) is in the Indian Ocean about 40 kilometers off the Tanzanian mainland, a few degrees south of the equator. The island is about 85 Kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide at the widest point. Most of the population lives in the highly fertile North and West. The East of the Island is not suitable for farming and is covered in coral, but the beaches and reefs make it ideal fishing villages and tourist resorts.
The name comes from a combination “Zanj” which in Arabian means “the land of black people” and “Bar” which means coast. The Islands truly deserve their nick-name “the spice islands”. Over forty of the most valuable, tropical, aromatic plants are grown here – introduced over the last two centuries by the Omani Sultans.
The people of Zanzibar are predominantly Muslim (about 95%) with their ancestry originating from Africa, Persia, Oman and Asia. The local economy is based on agriculture, fishing and more recently, tourism. The estimated population is 450,000, of which approximately 40% live in Stone Town. The literacy rate in Zanzibar is very high when compared to other African states in the region.
The islands of Zanzibar are fringed with white sandy beaches lined with palm trees swaying in the wind. Closed to tourism for many years, Zanzibar is now a welcoming and exciting destination for a relaxing adventurous holiday.
The name alone is likely to conjure up images of spice markets, palm-fringed beaches and white-sailed dhows on a turquoise sea – and happily the reality doesn’t disappoint. Lying only a short distance off the Tanzania coast but at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Zanzibar has long been at the centre of the Indian Ocean experience in East Africa and a Zanzibar holiday is a sensory experience par excellence.
Go on spice tours, taste local dishes, enjoy a romantic evening cruising on an ancient Arab dhow as you watch the sun set on the beautiful blue coral Zanzibar waters, walk the cobbled streets of the capital’s old quarter Stone Town, now a World Heritage Site buzzing with colourful back-street markets and local flavours. And then of course there are the Zanzibar beaches: perfect for anyone who simply wants to enjoy a lazily luxurious beach vacation – Zanzibar and its outlying islands are home to some of the finest beaches in East Africa as well as a number of its best dive sites.
You won’t want for somewhere to stay either: one of the world’s most romantic honeymoon destinations, Zanzibar has accommodation that ranges from luxury beachfront cottages to exclusive boutique hotels and elegant spa resorts; parents on the other hand will be delighted by Zanzibar’s family-friendly hotels and safe-swimming beaches.
Accessible from travel hub Dar es Salaam and combining easily with top Tanzania safari destinationssuch as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar can be part of a safari and beach tour or as a stand-alone holiday.
Zanzibar Island, also known as Unguja, is by far the largest and most famous of the islands that make up the Zanzibar Archipelago but there are several smaller islands that are also part of the group. Offering spectacular diving and snorkelling, these rustic island destinations offer a more exclusive, away-from-the-crowds experience and are perfect for honeymooners and romantics.
It’s important to remember that Zanzibar’s diverse coastline means different experiences across the island. powse our area guide and list of places of interest or simply talk to one of our African Safari Experts about where to go in Zanzibar for a holiday that will match your expectations.
Stone Town: Zanzibar’s historical capital: No visit to Zanzibar would be complete without having explored the narrow, cobbled streets of Stone Town, a World Heritage Site and former capital of the main island. There are several places of interest scattered around town, not least Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), a former Sultan’s palace. Absorb the history, culture and cuisine of this former slave and ivory port on guided tours or simply wander around at your own pace. Do not miss an evening out at the beautiful Forodhani Garden Park with its tasty assortment of continental delicacies- a place that is a MUST visit while in Zanzibar!
Spice Plantations:The history of Zanzibar would be incomplete without the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and many other spices which pought the Sultans of Oman and the beginnings of the infamous slave trade. They can be seen in the plantations just outside Stone town, and a good tour includes opportunities to dazzle the senses with fresh spices. A detailed description is given about a variety of spices, and their uses in cooking and cosmetics. Visitors will be fascinated by the sheer number of spices produced and their incredible value for many ailments. This is also the cheapest place to purchase spices and spice oils.
Mnemba: classic ‘desert island’ experience: A tiny island about a kilometre north-east from Zanzibar Island, Mnemba is vintage beach paradise. The reefs just offshore provide excellent snorkelling and diving spots and the island is also a nesting site for the endangered green turtle. Although Mnemba Island is privately owned, the reef is open to everyone and is a popular day excursion from Zanzibar. Attracting very discerning and exclusive-minded visitors, Mnemba can be hired in its entirety to become a private island holiday paradise.
Pemba: remote, little-developed island with amazing diving: Lying 50kms north-east of Zanzibar is little-visited and largely undeveloped Pemba Island, home to small fishing villages, colonial ruins, and miles of wild coastline. Infrastructure is limited and tourism still in its infancy but thanks to its pristine coral reefs, water temperatures between 25 and 28°C and visibility between 20 and 40 metres, Pemba ranks among the world’s best dive sites.
There are plenty of other activities on Pemba Island – water sports are on offer as are excursions to mangrove forests, sunset dhow cruises and spa treatments. Pemba offers the discerning visitor a large dose of privacy and exclusivity, a more laid-back atmosphere to Zanzibar, and it combines well with a mainland Tanzania safari.
Prison Island: Once the site for misbehaving slaves, the island lies just off the old stone town. It is fringed with a beautiful coral reef, ideal for snorkeling, and has a lovely white beach for sun-bathing.
It is also home to a family of giant tortoises, imported from the Seychelles in the late 19th century. This island is ideal for a day-trip with refreshments available throughout the day. It also has a small restaurant where you can enjoy freshly caught fish.
Safari Blue: This Excursion involves a boat tour which starts in the morning across stunning turquoise waters to the archipelago of Kwale and other beautiful islands with white powdery sandy banks in the Menai Bay conservation area. The boat stops at a sandbank, where sunshades are set up, and you can explore the surrounding reef by snorkeling. For the less confident swimmers there are inflatable safety jackets, and the company of guides. Or you just relax on the sandbank, and enjoy the solitude of being on a sandbank in the middle of the ocean- Really Magical!!
Chumbe: exceptional diving & snorkelling in a marine sanctuary: Lying 12km south of Zanzibar Town, uninhabited Chumbe Island was designated Zanzibar’s first marine reserve and now delivers an incredible underwater experience within the ambit of strictly controlled eco-tourism. The shallow-water reefs are pristine and there are turtles, rare birds and some 370 fish species to discover.
Mafia: superb diving, far from the crowds: A classic, off-the-beaten-track tropical island, Mafia provides the discerning visitor with a serene and exclusive hideaway, far removed from the crowds of Zanzibar. The largest island of the Mafia Archipelago, Mafia lies 120kms south of Dar es Salaam and is widely acknowledged as one of the best dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Diving equipment and logistics are provided by Mafia’s excellent lodges and staff will take you to remote beaches and pristine reefs. Go between late May and mid-October for the best weather; there’s rain between April and May and again in November while Fepuary and March can be very hot and humid.
The Zanzibar Coast
Zanzibar North Coast: as a rule, the further north on Zanzibar you go, the more private and less crowded the beaches are. The north coast is also least affected by the tidal range.
Zanzibar North-East Coast: the island’s prime location, most of Zanzibar’s top-end accommodation is set on the north-east beaches. The diving is excellent here, there’s not much tidal variation and the archipelago’s best reefs of Mnemba Island lie a kilometre offshore.
Zanzibar South Coast: the further south you go on Zanzibar, the more populated it becomes. And with people comes culture – head south for cultural and spice tours along with more opportunities to engage with the locals.
Zanzibar South-East Coast: there are plenty of beaches and resorts on the south-east of Zanzibar but its here that the tidal range is more marked than other regions.
Zanzibar East Coast: home to the island’s best and most idyllic beaches, the east coast is home to a wide range of lodges and hotels but the tidal aspect of the ocean may mean a walk to get a swim or snorkel.
Zanzibar West Coast: there are fewer lodges on Zanzibar’s west coast and it feels a little more remote but it is of course home to Stone Town, located on the island’s central-west coast. If you make it to the island’s extreme south-western corner, you’ll find the village of Kizimkazi, jumping off point for dolphin safaris.
Zanzibar’s sea peezes have a cooling effect on a typical tropical climate which is generally hot and somewhat humid throughout the year.
If you want to avoid most of the rain however, you’ll need to consider when to go to Zanzibar carefully: there are two distinct rainy seasons; mid-March to late May and again in November – which means many people take a Zanzibar holiday during the hot and dry December to Fepuary months.
The June to October spring months offer similarly dry weather but with cooler temperatures, and this period is often regarded as the best time to visit Zanzibar.
Diving in Zanzibar and its outlying islands is possible all year round though most divers avoid the March to May rainy season. We’d recommend the north coast of Zanzibar from June to October and the south coast between November and March, or just stick to Zanzibar’s ‘classic’ dive months of July and August as well as Fepuary and March.
Planning on combining a visit to Zanzibar with other East Africa destinations? Read our advice on the:
- Best time to visit Tanzania
- Best time to visit Uganda
- Best time to visit Rwanda
- Best time to visit Kenya
For general information on travelling to Zanzibar &Tanzania, visit our Tanzania travel advice page.
Top Travel Tips for Zanzibar
Yellow Fever: visitors to Zanzibar must produce a valid yellow fever certificate obtained no less than 10 days prior to travel in order to enter.
Malaria: Zanzibar lies in the malarial belt and travellers to the island are strongly advised to take relevant precautions against contracting malaria.
Avoid April: this month experiences the heaviest rainfall volumes and, unsurprisingly, the most days with rain.
Dress code: remember that Zanzibar is a conservative, predominantly Muslim society. Travellers – especially women – are advised to dress and behave with respect to local customs and sensibilities. Please ask permission before taking photographs of Zanzibaris.
Ramadan: travellers are often advised to avoid visiting Zanzibar during Ramadan as many restaurants and other amenities close down. Check with your consultant for exact dates.
Other Islands: Zanzibar Island is part of the Zanzibar Archipelago – if you can’t find what you’re looking for on Zanzibar, ask our travel consultant for advice on outlying islands like Pemba or Mnemba as well as Mafia Island further south or simply use our ‘Where to Go in Zanzibar’ feature.
Flights & Getting Around
Zanzibar International Airport: located in historic Stone Town, the only airport on the island is served by flights from Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Once you have arrived, take a taxi to your accommodation or enjoy the services of your hotel’s shuttle bus.
There are regular flights from Zanzibar Island to Pemba and Mafia Island, but a boat transfer would take you from Zanzibar to Mnemba or Chumbe.
Motorbikes and scooters can be hired for an easy and fun way to get around the island though the streets of Stone Town are for walking only.