Whether you’re looking for somewhere to relax after climbing Kilimanjaro or just want to hang out in an island paradise, Zanzibar Island has a lot to offer!
This island is located off the Eastern coast of Africa and it has a rich history as a trading outpost and a colony, meaning there are many more things to do in Zanzibar besides just hitting the beach.
I visited Zanzibar after climbing Kilimanjaro. After the trek, we were exhausted and all we wanted to do was chill on the beach or near a pool. But after a day of relaxation, we decided to discover the island a bit and check out some Zanzibar tourist attractions.
If you’re already planning a trip, congratulations! If you’re just looking around for your next adventure, keep reading, you will get inspired! I’ll give you my hand-picked list of what to do in Zanzibar for a week or less, depending on how long you’re planning on staying.
So, let’s find out what to do in Zanzibar and what I recommend seeing and doing in the city, based on my experience!
Hakuna Matata, here’s a list of Zanzibar activities you shouldn’t miss:
- 1. Check out Stone Town
- 2. Take a boat trip and enjoy snorkeling in Zanzibar!
- 3. Try some local dishes – Experience authentic Zanzibar food
- 4. Take a spice tour in Zanzibar
- 5. Visit Jozani Forest
- 6. Try Kitesurfing in Zanzibar!
- 7. Head to the North of the island – Nungwi Beach
- 8. Eat at The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar
- 9. Visit Prison Island
- 10. Try snorkeling or diving in Zanzibar at one of the atolls
- Bonus: Escaping From the City to a Private Paradise
- Bonus 2: Useful Information about Zanzibar
1. Check out Stone Town
People have been living on the island for over 20,000 years, but Stone Town is the central point of Zanzibar. Because of its location off the coast and its sheltered harbor, Stone Town turned from a fishing village into a trading center. The island also was governed by many colonial rulers, from Portugal to Oman to Great Britain, until it became independent in 1963.
As a trading center, the island has plenty of cultural influences from colonizers and traders from India and Arab countries. Slavery also affected the island as it was used as a port to send slaves abroad while hundreds of slaves also worked on plantations on the island.
A long history of slave trading and a rich colonial heritage – these are just some of the reasons why I found Stone Town so fascinating to visit!
It’s a mix of African, Arabic, and colonial styles all packed into one city. Because of all the unique influences, Stone Town was actually declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000!
The best way to get a feel for this city is to wander around the narrow maze of streets. You’ll definitely get lost, but that’s half the fun!
You’ll also probably be able to tell quickly that a lot of things haven’t been properly maintained since the colonial era. The older facades of the buildings are part of what gives Stone Town it’s unique charm!
Stone Town itself is fairly small with a population of just 16,000 residents living inside the city in 2016. The town’s economy is now primarily based on tourism and it is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Tanzania.
FUN FACT: Stone Town is actually one part of Zanzibar City. The other area of the city is called Ng’ambo, which is more modern. Stone Town is the more historical section. So if you see the two names used interchangeably, it’s because Stone Town is part of Zanzibar City!
Things to do in Stone Town
Besides just wandering around the streets, there are lots of things to do in Stone Town. This is the perfect city to really get a better understanding of Zanzibar people and culture.
Here are a few things I recommend checking out in Stone Town:
Take a guided walking tour
When I first got to Stone Town, I considered walking around the city without a guide. That would’ve been a huge mistake because I would’ve missed out on some hidden gems and lots of cool stories about the town!
Most hotels offer guided day tours around the city and I definitely recommend doing the tour with a guide. All the tourists you’ll see walking around are led by guides. You will learn so much more information with a guide and it’s not that expensive either! I definitely recommend it – you won’t regret it! Your guide can also tell you about the dark past of the island.
Admire Stone Town’s intricate doors
The fascinating architecture of the buildings starts with their doors! As you wander through the streets, make sure you look around at the beautiful, carved doors that are a special feature of the city.
The designs and carvings of the doors tell about the residents who lived there. You can also tell whether the doors are Swahili, Indian, or Arab based on the shape and design!
See the birthplace of Freddie Mercury
If you love Queen, don’t miss out on the chance to see where Freddie Mercury was born – it is located right in the city center, so you won’t miss it! (Or just search Freddie Mercury’s birthplace on Google Maps). Some people say this might not be the real house (because his father moved several times when Freddie was young), but it’s still a great opportunity to learn a little more about the background and upbringing of this amazing singer!
UPDATE: I hate to be a party pooper, but one of my followers on Instagram who is from Zanzibar, said that the house you will be shown during most tours is NOT the one where he actually lived. 🙁
Admire the Old Fort
This is exactly what the name says it is! Take a look around a unique piece of history and check out The Old Fort. This is an old fortification built by the Omani Arabs in 1699. It is also one of the oldest buildings in town.
A more recent addition to the fort is an open-air amphitheatre where you can watch local shows or other events. You can ask at the tourist information desk at the fort if there are any upcoming events that could fit into your Zanzibar travel plans.
Visit the House of Wonders
ATTENTION: The building is still undergoing major repair and is currently closed!
This was unfortunately closed for renovation while I was there, but I’ll definitely be visiting on my next trip to Zanzibar!
This is the tallest and largest building in town and was originally a palace facing the town’s central square. The building is now home to the National Museum of History and Culture.
Learn about the slave trade at the Slave Museum
As I mentioned before, the island has a dark past. This market was the last functioning slave market in the world and it only closed in 1873. Although this might seem like a bit of a downer, it’s an important part of the history of the region.
Thousands of Africans were brought to the island as slaves to work on plantations. Slave traders also used the island as a base camp before sending slaves on the long journey to the East to be sold in Persia, Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt.
At the Slave Museum, you can tour chambers where they kept slaves before they were sold.
We went down to see the “rooms” where slaves were kept – a 12 by 12 foot basement with one tiny window near the ceiling. They kept over 30 people in these types of rooms. Although this happened hundreds of years ago it still gave me shivers as I stood there!
You might need a pick-me-up after, but it’ll help you understand more about the island and its people.
The museum is open every day from 8am to 6pm. There is a $5 USD entrance fee and you can expect to spend about an hour in the museum.
Visit one of the rooftop restaurants
Because the city is right on the water, something you HAVE to do while in Stone Town is to enjoy the amazing view from a rooftop!
After a long day of taking in the sites and the culture, I recommend finding a rooftop restaurant for dinner and a drink as the sun sets.
- I recommend The Tea House Restaurant. It’s a great place to see the sunset, but make sure to make a reservation in advance! The restaurant gets busy with other tourists who want to enjoy the view as well.
- Another option is The Beach House Restaurant, which has an amazing outdoor balcony overlooking the water. The food is a mix of Italian, French, and Mediterranean and it’s delicious!
- You can also check out 6 Degrees South, which is perfect for a romantic dinner looking out at the ocean.
Wander around Darajani Market
While you’re there, why not wander around the main bazaar in town? You’ll definitely get a taste for life in Zanzibar – and a whiff as well! I found the market to be a really authentic experience.
There is an indoor section of the market, but also a lot of pop-up vendors on the surrounding streets. You’ll be able to experience a lot of traditional Zanzibar food and ingredients, as well as admire clothes, shoes, and traditional hats.
NOTE: Be prepared for the smell since part of this market is a fish market!
Although I wouldn’t call these actual “gardens,” this is the central square of Stone Town. It has lots of trees and is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. I recommend going after sunset and enjoying the street food market. To get the full experience, look around for the stands that have the longest lines of locals and try some authentic Zanzibar dishes here (this means the food is good!).
PRO TIP: Locals recommend avoiding the seafood here though – it’s not always fresh!
PRO TIP 2: As a central spot for tourists, be careful of people trying to overcharge you or pretending to be waiters. Some tourists have had issues with “waiters” trying to charge them ridiculously high prices!
Drink coffee at Jaws Corner
It might take you a while to find it as it’s among the narrow streets, but Jaws Corner is a small plaza. You can stop by and try the Arabic-style local coffee. Just be prepared – it’s definitely not like a cup of coffee with cream and sugar like you might be used to! It’s typically served black and bitter, and it is VERY strong.
Do some shopping
There are so many little boutique stores all over Stone Town. There’s a bunch on Ginzenga Street, Kenyatta Road, and Changa Bazaar Street. You’ll also be sure to see some great stores for souvenirs as you’re wandering around.
I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I loved the jewelry so much, I bought myself a pair of earrings! There are excellent places there where you can get some Zanzibar souvenirs to bring home!
NOTE: Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim island. As a female traveler visiting Stone Town, you might want to dress conservatively.
2. Take a boat trip and enjoy snorkeling in Zanzibar!
If you want to do a safari in Zanzibar, you can consider a sea adventure safari as well! Safari Blue is a company that offers full day tours where you can swim or snorkel. Leaving from Stone Town, these tours are one of the best ways to experience snorkeling in Zanzibar. You might also get a chance to swim with dolphins!
Depending on which tour you choose, you will be taken to several different places, from a sandbar to a lagoon. You’ll also get a full buffet lunch, which is usually grilled right on the beach! You can also sail in one of the tradition Dhows (boats used by Arabs and Indians that have large triangular sails).
There are a bunch of companies that offer similar tours, but Safari Blue is the most well-known. It’s also the most expensive and, while you can find identical ones for much less, they might not be of the same quality.
Through Safari Blue, you can book the “Safari Blue Experience” for $70 USD a person. There is also a Safari Blue Snorkeling Trip. If you’re looking for something more exclusive, you can book your own Dhow (at $450 USD for two people) or even charter a private yacht! There are plenty of other options to choose from as well, depending on your preferences and budget.
Also, be sure to book directly through the company, as some places charge you extra for the booking!
NOTE: You may have heard of dolphin tours in Zanzibar. These tours typically use the boats to scare the dolphins and prevent them from leaving an area so that tourists can swim with them. It’s dangerous and scary for the animals. Safari Blue doesn’t offer a specific “dolphin tour,” so you can see and swim with dolphins if they happen to be around where you are, but they don’t scare the animals or do anything unethical!
3. Try some local dishes – Experience authentic Zanzibar food
The history of the island doesn’t just come out in the architecture – you can also find it in the food!
The island is home to some of the most diverse food in Africa!
You can get these local dishes anywhere on the island if you know where to go, but Stone Town might be the easiest place (and most authentic!) to try them.
For you foodies out there, there are also several food tours you can take, in case you don’t want to discover everything by yourself or if you are short on time. For example, the 3-hour “Taste of Zanzibar” guided tour will bring you to various local stalls and restaurants where you can try authentic flavors. You can also do a 2-hour Afternoon Food Expedition which includes a traditional lunch, as well as other samples.
If you want to go around the city and try some authentic food by yourself, here are some traditional dishes I can recommend:
You might be thinking that you’ve had pizza before, but not like this! This isn’t like any pizza you’ve ever seen. It’s more like a pancake or pupusa. The dough is folded up so that all the ingredients are inside and then it’s cooked on a hot metal pan. You can get these with chicken or beef, and they usually also include an egg, cheese, onion, bell peppers, and mayo. You can also get it with chili if you like spice! If you’re looking for a sweet treat, some vendors even make these with Nutella or mango and cheese.
Biryani and pilau
There are two rice dishes that are traditional on the island – biryani and pilau.
To make biryani, the rice is cooked separately from the meat and sauce. Once everything is finished, then everything is combined and it’s served with an amazing sauce.
Pilau is cooked all together with all the ingredients in the same pot, giving the rice an incredible flavor. You can get it either with your choice of meat or without any meat. I recommend that you try both and see which you like better!
This is a flour-based soup with mango and lemon flavors. It also usually has potatoes served three ways in it – cubed, fried mashed potatoes, and potato shavings- along with lots of spices and meat. With a slightly sour flavor and a lot of tang, this soup is something you definitely have to try! It’s a lunchtime favorite of Zanzibar people.
Zanzibar isn’t known as the “spice island” for nothing! When I came back from my hike to Kilimanjaro, I was feeling a bit under the weather. This tea was a really amazing blend of spices and helped me clear my throat!
Mishkaki (maybe with octopus!)
Mishkaki is a meat kabob where the meat is marinated in spices and then grilled. These are a common snack food and you can get them with any kind of meat you like.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try them with octopus! The island is known for its “octopus hunters”, so octopus is a common addition to lots of dishes.
PRO TIP: Be careful where you get these, as some places reheat them after they’ve been sitting out. It’s best to watch them grill yours so you can see that it’s fresh.
Mandazi is a fried dough, a bit similar to a donut, but not as sweet. These are eaten alone or with dips and accompany a lot of dishes.
Learn to Cook Zanzibar Food
If you completely fall in love with the flavors of Zanzibar, you can take a cooking class and learn how to bring the food home with you! Most tours will take you out to the market to collect the ingredients and then show you how to prepare traditional Zanzibar food. You’ll end the day with a full belly and a lot of new knowledge! Some classes also include a spice tour so you can do both on the same day. Prices start at $41 USD a person.
4. Take a spice tour in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is also known as “spice island” and there’s a good reason for that!
Early settlers soon learned that the island was perfect for growing a variety of different spices. As a result, there are lots of spice farms on the island. You’ll also taste the spices in the food, of course!
One fun thing to do is to take a spice tour where you can visit a spice farm and learn about how they grow and process all the different spices.
I did a spice tour combined with a town tour of Stone Town. It was a long day (and it involved a bit of walking!) so you can consider doing them separately, but it’s up to you! Plus, this is also a great Zanzibar attraction if you’re traveling with kids.
The spice farms are free to visit, but the guides work for tips. You can also book a 3-hour tour for $36 USD a person if you want a private experience. If you’re short on time and want to see the town and a spice farm, the 6-hour Sultan Panorama Tour will show you everything you want to see in Stone Town – you’ll visit a spice farm, and you’ll get to see a local village!
NOTE: Please note that spice tours are a VERY touristy thing to do. The guides will start making you crowns out of palm trees or other accessories before you know it. If you’re not a fan of these kinds of things, you might be better offer avoiding these tours. On the other hand, if you don’t mind something touristy, you’ll actually get to learn a lot about spices! We got to see cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and cloves.
5. Visit Jozani Forest
Want to see some monkeys? Jozani National Park is home to the Zanzibar red colobus, a type of monkey that only lives in Zanzibar!
These monkeys are black and white with red backs and you’ll be sure to see a few if you visit the forest. You’ll also see lots of birds and unique butterflies, too!
The park is open every day from 7:30am to 5:00pm. There is an entrance fee of $8 USD that includes a brief tour. Then you can wander around the mangrove boardwalk on your own. You can tip your guide if you like, but it’s not mandatory.
When I visited Zanzibar, we had just came back from an amazing safari, so we opted out of visiting Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park only because we didn’t think there was any chance it could compare to our epic safari adventure!
It’s best to hit the forest if you’re heading from Stone Town to Paje Beach (or the other way around). That way you can stop along the way and not make a detour for a quick visit.
NOTE: Tanzania is full of national parks. In fact, 45% of the country’s territory is a protected area! But there’s only one on the island so you really should visit it if you want the chance to see some unique Zanzibar wildlife!
6. Try Kitesurfing in Zanzibar!
If you are searching for some adventurous things to do in Zanzibar – try kitesurfing! It’s one of the best spots in the world to do it!
Kitesurfing is a sport where you ride standing up on a small surfboard or kiteboard and let the wind drag you along while you hold onto a kite. This is a full body sport and you’ll definitely be feeling a bit sore the next day!
Paje is considered to be the best place to kitesurf, but you can also take lessons at Nungwi beach or Jambiani beach. In fact, most tourist beaches offer kitesurfing lessons, so if you’re just starting out you can pretty much give it a go anywhere!
PRO TIP: The best time to go if you want to kitesurf is from January to February or June to September. If you’re there during this time, you might also get to see some expert kitesurfers doing tricks and jumps!
There are plenty of different instructors and centers where you can learn to kitesurf, so shop around based on where you are and see what works for your timeframe and budget. One option is Kite Centre Zanzibar, which offers lessons for beginners (all equipment included) starting at around $330 USD per person.
NOTE: By the way, if you want to check out a place in Zanzibar to surf, most kitesurfing places also offer surfing as well.
7. Head to the North of the island – Nungwi Beach
Most of you are probably already planning on hitting this popular beach and, if it’s not on your must-see list, it should be! This is the island paradise you’re dreaming of – picture-perfect soft, white sand beaches and clear turquoise water.
NOTE: Zanzibar beaches that aren’t part of a hotel or resort aren’t really well taken care of and there tends to be a lot of garbage on them so don’t waste your time visiting them. Instead, go to the beaches that have some infrastructure. If there is at least one restaurant nearby, that’s a good indication that the beach around it is probably swimmable.
Kendwa beach is right around the corner (10 minutes by car) from Nungwi Beach. You should check it out too and, while you’re there, don’t forget to watch the amazing sunset!
8. Eat at The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar
Zanzibar doesn’t have a ton of attractions in the typical sense of the word, but The Rock Zanzibar might just be one of them! It is something that you’ve probably already seen on postcards as well!
This is a unique restaurant that is off the coast of Pingwe, located on an actual rock. Depending on the tides, you may have to wade out into the water to reach the restaurant.
To get the full experience, the best time to go there is during the day for lunch. For dinner, it will usually be too dark to really see all the surroundings (and it gets dark quite early – around 6 pm).
NOTE: Because of its popularity, the restaurant has pre-set seating times. You must book in advance and arrive to eat either at 12pm or 2pm (for lunch).
The Rock Zanzibar prices are a bit higher than some other restaurants in the area because of how unique the dining experience is. Expect to pay at least $60 USD per person for a proper lunch.
9. Visit Prison Island
This island is off the coast of Stone Town and is also known as Changuu island (don’t mix it up with Canggu in Bali!). Although Prison Island in Zanzibar seems like an intimidating name (and like it might not be a fun day trip!), it’s a bit of a misnomer. There never actually was a prison on the island. They used the island to house rebellious slaves in the 1860s and as a place to quarantine people with yellow fever.
Nowadays, the island is a tourist destination because it is home to giant tortoises. It’s a peaceful sanctuary for this vulnerable species. Some people estimate some of the tortoises on the island are more than 150 years old!
To get to Prison Island, you have to take a 25-minute boat ride from Stone Town. Most hotels can help you book a tour or you can head to the beach and look around for someone advertising one. If you want a more in-depth tour with a chance to snorkel, you can book a private tour! If you want a tour that takes you to all the sights in Stone Town and Prison Island all in one day, consider this tour instead. That way, you’ll get to see a bit of everything that Stone Town and Prison Island have to offer!
The island is open every day from 9:00am to 4:15pm. You can plan to spend about 2-3 hours there during your visit (or longer, depending on the tour you’ve booked). The island does have a $4 USD entrance fee, which may be included with the cost of your tour (make sure to check or ask beforehand!)
10. Try snorkeling or diving in Zanzibar at one of the atolls
If you’re a fan of snorkeling or diving, there are some great places to do this in Zanzibar as well. Mnemba Atoll, located right off the north-east coast, is considered to be the best spot. You’ll see all sorts of colorful fish!
NOTE: Divers, remember – you should have at least a 24-hour rest between your dive and your flight (for your safety!).
If you’re near Mnemba (Kigomani or Matemwe beach village), you can hire a boat from someone right on the beach. This is the cheapest way to do it, but don’t expect luxury! These boats are not fancy and are about as simple as they come. Also, if you do it this way, don’t forget to bring your own snorkeling mask!
On the other hand, you can also book an all-inclusive tour with a guide and all gear included. This 5-hour tour includes a snorkeling experience at Mnemba atoll, as well as opportunities to swim. Or you can choose a tour that offers two places to dive or snorkel, starting at $45 USD per person. A full diving tour, of course, costs more – around $200 USD.
NOTE: Please do not touch the coral while diving or snorkeling. They are really sensitive and it takes years for them to regenerate if you disturb them. Treat the coral with respect. Remember, you are a guest there, so just look, don’t touch!
|🌆 Must visit attraction:||Stone Town|
|🎡 Best kids activity:||Jozani National Park|
|🥽 Best water activity:||Snorkeling|
|🏠 Unique attraction:||The Rock Zanzibar|
|🍕 Must try food:||Zanzibar pizza|
|🚕 Average taxi price:||$7|
|💵 Avg hotel price:||$60|
|☀️Best time to go:||Year-round|
Bonus: Escaping From the City to a Private Paradise
If you want to get more off the beaten path, there are two beaches that are slightly more out of the way – Matemwe and Pingwe. This is where I recommend heading for an escape to serenity.
These two spots are known for private luxury resorts. They are great for disconnecting and pampering yourself and especially popular for honeymooners.
Here’s a little more about these less popular, but still nice places:
Matemwe beach village is mostly hidden behind beachfront resorts and hotels on the east coast of the island. This is one of the island’s most relaxed spots. If you want some peace and quiet, and to escape from the world for a few days, Matemwe is the right place for you! You can also fish, snorkel, and dive here.
Pingwe is also on the East coast, but further south, by Chwaka Bay on the Michamvi Peninsula. Again, this beach town features a lot of luxury resorts. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset from the beachside bars and restaurants. However, expect things to be fairly laid back here.
Bonus 2: Useful Information about Zanzibar
Now that you have plenty of ideas of what to do in Zanzibar, let’s take a look at a few other things that can help make your trip perfect!
Best beaches in Zanzibar
There is a lot of debate as to what the best beaches in Zanzibar are. In my opinion, it all depends on what you’re looking for. The northern beaches, like Nungi and Kendwa, are more popular. They are beautiful beaches, but you will be surrounded by lots of tourists. However this also means that there can be more to do – more tours, more activities, more nightlife, and more new friends to meet!
The Eastern beaches are my favorite because of their tranquility. There are fewer people around and if you want a beach getaway, you can’t do better than beaches like Matemwe, Pingqwe, or Paje (where we stayed as well).
Although Stone Town isn’t known for its beaches, you can still find a paradise not too far from there. Considered one of the most beautiful places on the island, Nakupenda beach is just 20 minutes off the coast and is one long strip of beach in the middle of the ocean. There are plenty of ways to see this piece of paradise in a day trip. I recommend starting your day early and getting to the beach before it gets too crowded in the afternoon.
Best restaurants in Zanzibar
There are plenty of great places to eat on the island whether you’re looking for authentic Zanzibar food or international dishes. Here are some of my favorites:
Tea House Restaurant
I mentioned this restaurant earlier when I was talking about Stone Town, but I’m going to mention it again because it is just that good! It’s the perfect place to have a bite and watch the sunset in Stone Town. You have to make a reservation ahead of time and they only serve dinner at 7:00pm, but you can arrive starting at 6:00pm to watch the sunset. The set menu costs $35 USD, not including drinks.
Again, I already talked about this place, but you have to go! It’s just such a unique dining experience and absolutely worth the trek if you’re not staying nearby. Where else can you eat at a restaurant surrounded by water on all sides? The Rock has two seating times for lunch (12:00pm or 2:00pm) and two seating times for dinner (4:00pm or 6:00pm). Make sure you reserve ahead of time so you don’t miss out!
Located in Paje, this festive restaurant has an outdoor seating area under a thatched roof. This is a great place to sample some good food and relax.
The Loop is a great hotel with a pool in Jambiani, but you can also just go for the food. The restaurant is decorated with lots of modern art and graffiti art, giving it a unique look. They serve seafood and all dishes are made with local ingredients.
You might be surprised, but there are lots of Italians in Zanzibar! Some locals will speak to you in Italian. They even know Neapolitan and other Italian dialects! This also means there are some great Italian restaurants run by Italians, so you know the food is going to be good, just like in Italy! Here are a few places I think are great:
- Seconda Stella A Destra in Jambiani – Great pizza, as if you were magically transported to a pizzeria in Italy!
- Blue (Dongwe Club) Jetty Restaurant in Dongwe – Amazing Italian food and seafood right on the water. Perfect for a romantic dinner or just a nice dinner for a group.
- Zanzest Beach Bungalows Restaurant in Jambiani – Italian food with some local flair thrown in. Great fresh seafood and a beautiful beachside spot for a cozy, laidback meal.
- Bistro’ del Mar in Kendwa – This is another great option for pizza or for some seafood. The food is amazing. It’ll make you want to go back to eat there again and again!
Where to stay in Zanzibar – The best hotels
Zanzibar is completely different from mainland Tanzania. You will immediately feel the difference when you get off the ferry or plane. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere and there’s barely any traffic. The minute you arrive you already feel like you’re at a resort!
There are all kinds of accommodations – from budget hostels (though not quite as popular at the moment) and middle priced bungalows to luxurious 5 star hotels overlooking the ocean. It is up to you (and your budget) to choose! Below I will tell you all about my handpicked recommendations for the best hotels in Zanzibar.
My experience staying in Zanzibar
When I visited Zanzibar, we stayed at Nyumbani Residence. This charming hotel has a pool and is 2 minutes away from the beach in Paje. I got to stay at this place when it was brand new – it had opened literally a couple of weeks before we checked in!
The owner of the hotel, Daniele, even woke up at 3:30 in the morning just to say goodbye to us when we left for the airport! And I promise you this wasn’t because he knew I was a blogger!
Most of the time when I travel I go “incognito” because I don’t want any extra attention and I want to get a real experience – without anyone trying to impress us for free publicity!
Daniele got up to say goodbye purely in the name of hospitality. He and his wife were also extremely nice and welcoming during our whole stay.
So, Nyumbani is actually a residence, meaning we had the whole apartment (60 square meters) to ourselves with a fully equipped kitchen and huge living room. They only have about 7 rooms, I think and they all face the pool – how cool is that? I loved making smoothies for us every morning and having breakfast with this wonderful view – it was an amazing way to start the day!
Laundry service and food delivery as well as the transfer from the airport can be arranged (I think it was about 40 USD one way to the airport). They can also call a taxi for you to get to the nearest “town” (Paje); this will cost about 7000 TSZ ($3 USD) one way. Otherwise, we found tons of restaurants within a 5 minute walk (ask the owner for recommendations as they are Italian and they know the good places! 😉 )
If you’re addicted to Wi-Fi, I will tell you that the internet isn’t super fast (it’s not fast anywhere on the island to be fair!). But there is a router right in your bungalow, so no need to go to the lobby or anything like that.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time there and I highly recommend this place if you want somewhere tranquil and intimate.
Other great hotels in Zanzibar
Since most of you will want to stay in the Northern part of the island, I’ve created a selection of fabulous hotels with amazing reviews and sorted them out by price. If you want a full list of accommodation options all over the island in Zanzibar (East Coast, North coast, Stone Town etc.), I recommend reading my article about Where to Stay in Zanzibar.
Luxury ($170 USD and above)
One option I recommend is Nungwi Garden Boutique Hotel. It has private bungalows and is just 3 minutes from the beach. The rooms are spacious and have amazing views of the garden. You can also enjoy a wonderful restaurant on site. Zuri Zanzibar is another great luxury option because it offers beachside bungalows in Kendwa for couples or for families if you’re on a family holiday. When you’re not on the beach, you can wander through the garden or hang out by the pool. This is truly one of the best luxury hotels.
Middle-priced ($56 to $170 USD)
For middle-budget travelers, Nungwi House is a great spot if you’re looking for spacious rooms and a great, free breakfast. It’s centrally located and is a quick walk from the beach. I also recommend Aluna Beach Lodge. It’s steps from the beach, and has a pool, garden, restaurant, and bar. You’ll never even want to leave the property! If you do feel like leaving though, the Lodge is right next to a maritime conservation center where you can learn all about turtles.
Budget (up to $56 USD)
Makofi Guest House is an amazing budget option in Nungwi. You can opt for a cheaper hostel experience in a mixed dorm or select a private room. The patio also gets busy at night if you’re looking to meet other travelers! I also recommend Kidoti Wild Garden. It’s perfect if you’re looking for some R&R. About 6 km outside of Nungwi, this eco-friendly hotel is solar powered. I recommend it if you’re looking for a bit of a quiet escape.
How many days should I plan for my trip to Zanzibar?
Hm, that’s a hard question! If you want to relax and see the island, then I would say at least a week or 10 days. It also depends on how long you want to just lay on the beach without actively doing something.
For my trip, I only had 4 days total, as I mention in my article about our Complete Tanzania itinerary. After the safari, one day was enough for us to chill and regain our strength and then we had 3 days to actively explore the island. Although I would’ve loved to stay longer (unfortunately, we had a limited amount of time), I think that for me personally 4 days was enough to see the main attractions. I would’ve liked to see some of the smaller islands off the coast as well, but we didn’t have time for it. We also didn’t have time to do the Blue Safari.
So, when deciding how much time to spend in Zanzibar, calculate how long you want to just relax and hang out on the beach. Then add 4-5 days to explore the island and you’ll have enough time for everything!
What are some good Zanzibar souvenirs?
There are so many unique goods in Zanzibar. Here are few souvenirs I recommend getting to bring home:
- Spices and oils – The island is known for the spices and flavors. You can get these at the Darajani Market in Stone Town, or you’ll probably see them for sale as you’re wandering around the island.
- Coconut oil – It’s much cheaper in the supermarkets than in a souvenir shop. Avoid buying one with paraffin though. It’s cheaper, but not as good!
- Tea with hibiscus or lemongrass – As I mentioned earlier, I loved the tea in Zanzibar! The tea is usually of a really good quality and is a great treat to bring home!
- Tanzanite – This is the symbol of Tanzania. It’s a very expensive and rare, blue precious stone. It can only be found in the Arusha region (Northern part of the country). It’s very valuable all over the world. If you’re visiting Tanzania before heading to Zanzibar, there is a tanzanite museum called The Tanzanite Experience in Arusha.
- Local crafts – I noticed some really great paintings and handmade crafts. There are lots of “fair trade” shops that help the local poor population make some extra money with their skills. You’ll pay 3 times more than in souvenirs shops, but you will supposedly help the local population.
- Clothes with traditional bright prints – You’ll be blown away by the colors and prints here. You won’t be able to resist taking some home!
Can I rent a motorbike in Zanzibar?
Just like I mention in my post about a 3 weeks itinerary of Tanzania, I do NOT recommend renting a bike to drive around the island. On the other hand, if you want to use it to drive short distances only, then it is a great idea!
The price is $20 USD per day.
NOTE: If you don’t have an international driving license, you’ll have to pay an extra $20 USD as a one-time payment for the permit.)
PRO TIP: If possible, I recommend going to the bike rental company directly. That way you can check the bike and choose your helmet yourself. Our bike was delivered to us at our hotel, but the speedometer didn’t work and the helmets were not really good quality.
I don’t recommend going too far either. (We went from Jambiani to the North which was 2.5 hours by bike). It’s windy and dusty and the road conditions aren’t very good. I also didn’t think the road was spectacular in any way.
PRO TIP 2: Beware that sometimes Google Maps shows an asphalt road (in yellow) but sometimes it ends up being a completely off-road path!
How to get to Zanzibar
There are a few different ways to get to the island:
Flights to Zanzibar leave from Dar es Salaam on the eastern coast of Africa and usually cost around $100 USD. There are also many inexpensive flights to Zanzibar from Europe (both direct and with stops) as it is a popular beach destination now.
The other option is the ferry. These also leave from Dar es Salaam and there are a bunch of different options. However, I recommend you book in advance here.
The boats fill up quickly and also you shouldn’t trust any resellers outside of the terminal (They’ll try to overcharge you!) Once you get to the port, just proceed to the cash register. Keep in mind that you can only pay in cash at the moment. It costs about $35 USD per person and it takes about two hours to get from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar.
Tides in Zanzibar – How bad are the tides there?
The tides on the island can go out very far during low tide. In some areas, they can stretch for a kilometer! This is one of the reasons the northern beaches are more crowded – because you can swim at both low tide and high tide.
On the other hand, even though the water goes out on the eastern beaches, you can use it as an opportunity to discover the reef! You can walk out and see small octopuses, sea cucumbers and many other curious sea creatures. But beware of spikes – there are some areas full of sea urchins!
The water comes back at about 3 pm on the east side of the island so you can enjoy an afternoon swim. You can check out the tide forecast for where you’ll be staying.
When to visit Zanzibar?
We visited Zanzibar in January because it was also a good time to combine it with the safari and Kilimanjaro hike as well!
Otherwise, Zanzibar is located so close to the equator, it can be visited almost all year round. It is better to avoid visiting in April and May because it is the rainy season and you won’t know if you’ll be lucky or not – maybe you’ll have sunny days, maybe you’ll have rain! But they say it is so unpredictable these days that I would not take it for granted! I remember that we had a couple of gloomy days with a little bit of rain in January too, so you never know.
If you go in the summer, expect temperatures around 38 °C (100 °F). Even in the cooler months, the high every day is usually 29 °C (84 °F).
Things you should plan before your trip to Zanzibar/Tanzania
There are few things you need to know before you leave for your trip:
You do need a visa to enter Tanzania and Zanzibar. Because Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, you just need one when you enter the country initially and then they will check your passport when you enter Zanzibar.
For most nationalities, it’s easiest to get a Tanzania tourism visa when you arrive in the country. (This is not true for people from Morocco, Sri Lanka and Lebanon.) You can send your passport to your local Tanzanian embassy ahead of time if you’re concerned, but it’s usually simple to get a visa upon entry.
The cost of the visa depends on where you are from. For the UK and Australia (and most nationalities) it costs $50 USD, while this doubles to $100 USD for Americans. You may need to show that you have a round-trip ticket and sufficient funds for your stay. You can check for any updates about visa requirements and prices here.
Yellow Fever Vaccination
If you’re visiting Zanzibar or you’re coming from a country that has a yellow fever risk, you’ll also need to show that you had your yellow fever vaccination done. Keep in mind that you need to get the vaccine at least 10 days before any travel, so don’t wait until the last minute!
Don’t forget to buy insurance as well!
If you haven’t sorted out your travel insurance yet, I can wholeheartedly recommend World Nomad Insurance – they’re my chosen ones each and every time I feel like protecting myself and my belongings during my trip.
Getting insurance for Tanzania is very important in my opinion, especially if you are planning on doing some extreme activities such as conquering Kilimanjaro! You can get a quote for your trip right here.
Is it safe to travel to Tanzania and Zanzibar?
I felt safe in Zanzibar. I never felt frightened, even walking alone in the dark.
People might try to approach you to ask you for money, but other than that, I found the people to be very friendly and positive people who mean no harm.
One thing to keep in mind is that Zanzibar is mostly Muslim. You will see the difference with how women are dressed compared to mainland Tanzania. I recommend trying to be considerate of their culture as much as possible.
Another thing is to ask people for permission before taking pictures of them. Fishermen and other people working are just trying to go about their daily lives. It might seem like something unique to us, but it’s their daily life. Pictures are usually fine during the tours, but some people will want a small tip for posing.
SIM cards with Internet in Zanzibar
If you need a SIM card in Zanzibar, there are a few options. They have Vodacom or Tigo, but Zantel is more popular on the island. Zantel even offers a specific tourist pack with data for the internet. You can buy a SIM card for $10 USD.
In this article, I talked about the 10 best things to do in Zanzibar, as well as some bonus information. I also gave you some very good restaurant and hotel recommendations based on your budget and personal preferences, and told you about the best beaches in the city. Beyond that, I mentioned some practical information you need to know before planning your trip, like how to get a visa, why you need insurance and when to visit the country.
A Zanzibar trip is a vacation that combines history and culture with relaxation and a wide variety of activities! I loved my trip to Zanzibar and chances are the island will be everything you expected and much more!
The island is becoming more and more popular, but it is still sheltered from large tourist crowds so it preserves its very exotic feel. But hurry up and plan your trip before this becomes too popular of a tourist destination (and overpriced as well)!
I hope you enjoyed this list of things to do in Zanzibar! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section and I’ll get back to you! Enjoy Zanzibar! 🙂
- Best hotels in Zanzibar
- Climbing Kilimanjaro – 7 Things you should know before you go
- Climbing Kilimanjaro – The Complete packing list
- A Perfect 3-week itinerary for your Tanzania trip (with prices!)
- How to Plan a perfect safari in Tanzania – 7 Things you need to know
- An Ultimate Guide to Machame Route in Kilimanjaro – a day-by-day itinerary, my experience
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