Have you ever seen a photo of the stunning beaches in Zanzibar and asked where is Zanzibar? We definitely have! While Zanzibar is a stunning island, it is lesser known due to its location. With that said, its rich history, unique culture, stunning beaches, and a wealth of activities, Zanzibar has something to offer every traveler. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to get there, where to stay, day trips and activities, and some special considerations to make your visit unforgettable.
Where is Zanzibar?
The tropical paradise of Zanzibar is nestled 22 miles off the coast of Tanzania (East Africa) in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is composed of two main islands, Unguja and Pemba, as well as many smaller islands that you can visit on day trips. Zanzibar was its own country until 1964 when it merged with the country Tanganyika. Since this time Tanganyika is now referred to as Tanzania.
Getting to Zanzibar
As we mentioned, Zanzibar is an island so you have two options to get there: fly or boat. The main international gateway is the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ), located near Stone Town. Several airlines operate flights to Zanzibar from major cities worldwide, including regional flights from East Africa.
Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, to Zanzibar. The journey takes approximately 2 hours, with several daily departures.
Once you arrive to Zanzibar, you will drive around to get everywhere. There is a bus system used by locals, which tourists are welcome to use as well, however taxiing is the most common option for tourists to get around. We recommend using a licensed taxi to get around because they are safe and relatively inexpensive to travel around the island in. Lastly, if you are staying at a hotel, the front desk will be able to assist with getting a licensed taxi for you.
Where to Stay
When staying in Zanzibar, there are a wide array of lodging options to suit all budgets and preferences. Stone Town, the island’s historic heart, is a popular base for exploring its cultural and historical attractions. Here, you’ll find boutique hotels, guesthouses, and hostels housed in traditional Swahili buildings.
For beach lovers, the eastern and northern coasts boast luxurious resorts, boutique hotels, and budget-friendly guesthouses. Popular areas include Nungwi, Kendwa, Paje, and Jambiani. We stayed at the Melia Hotel on the northeastern side of the island and cannot recommend it enough. The hotel was all-inclusive which included a restaurant over the ocean and beach access.
Day Trips and Activities
When visiting Zanzibar, you can easily check in to an all-inclusive resort and never leave, however the island is filled with history and culture so we recommend exploring further than your resort. Zanzibar’s rich history includes influences from Arab, Persian, Indian, and European settlers. It played a crucial role in the spice trade and was once the center of the East African slave trade. This diverse heritage is reflected in the island’s unique Swahili culture, architecture, and traditions.
Wander Around Stone Town
Wander through the narrow alleys of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, discovering its unique architecture, historical sites, and vibrant markets. Key attractions include the House of Wonders, the Old Fort, and the former slave market at the Anglican Cathedral. Stone Town can be seen as a walking tour or on your own. While the town is filled with winding roads, it’s relatively small and difficult to get fully lost.
Eat your way through a Spice Tour
Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island, and a guided tour of a spice farm offers a fascinating insight into the cultivation and uses of spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Additionally, with most guided tours you also get to assist with cooking a local meal. If you prefer to skip the tour, Stone Town has a spice market which is great to visit.
Enjoy the Beaches
Relax on the pristine white sand beaches of Zanzibar, such as Nungwi, Kendwa, or Paje, and indulge in water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving, and kiteboarding. You can opt for day trips through a travel company or just drive out to visit one of the beaches on the main island of Zanzibar.
Go Snorkeling and Diving
Explore the vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life around Mnemba Atoll, or take a trip to the famous Blue Hole for an unforgettable diving experience. Mnemba island is a great place to snorkel for those who are inexperienced. The water is clear with plenty of fish and coral, making it easy to explore. You can book a half day or full day trip with most travel companies. We had our day trips booked with Altezza Travel.
If you’re looking for something different to do for a day, head away from the beaches and visit the Jozani Forest. Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, home to the endemic Zanzibar red colobus monkey, and explore its lush mangrove forests and unique flora and fauna.
And for all the animal, specifically turtle, lovers out there – Zanzibar has two turtle sanctuaries you can visit. Changu Island, otherwise known as Prison Island, have a sanctuary for Aldabra tortoises which are one of the largest species of tortoises. Nungwi beach is the second destination to see turtles in Zanzibar. Furthermore, Nungwi beach has the Baraka Natural Aquarium which is where you can swim with turtles. Both of these options can be booked as a half day trip for, however day trips will include cost of transportation and pick you up from your hotel.
Enjoy Dinner at The Rock Restaurant
Lastly, the Rock Restaurant is a popular seafood restaurant just off the coast of Zanzibar. The restaurant is situated on a small rock island called Pingwe, which is only accessible during low tide. During high tide, the restaurant is completely surrounded by the ocean and diners can enjoy stunning views of the turquoise water and the white sandy beaches. The Rock Restaurant is known for its fresh seafood dishes, which are sourced from local fishermen, and its unique location, which offers a memorable dining experience. Due to its rising popularity among tourists, we recommend making a reservation otherwise you may be turned around.
Special Considerations When Visiting Zanzibar:
- Respect local customs. Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim destination, so it’s essential to dress modestly, especially in Stone Town and rural areas. Cover your shoulders and knees and avoid revealing clothing.
- Tides. Zanzibar experiences significant tidal changes, which may affect swimming and water activities.
- Used licensed taxis. As previously mentioned, make sure you only use licensed taxis. All the licensed taxis will be marked externally on the vehicle.
- Stay hydrated. Zanzibar is a very hot and humid destination, make sure you are staying hydrated with bottle water. Never use the tap water here, even if you are staying on a resort.