Zanzibar is an escape from the everyday and the ordinary, with world-class beaches, and a rich history, culture, and geography like no other in the world. It's a true tropical paradise, but with so much more to offer than just surface beauty.
Zanzibar is an archipelago, consisting of a string of islands in the Indian Ocean just over 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Unguja, commonly called Zanzibar, is the largest island, and it's where most visitors spend their time. Zanzibar is also known as the Spice Islands, and has been a major source of the world's supply of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper for centuries.
There is evidence of civilization in Zanzibar dating back 20,000 years. It has seen waves of settlement and colonization from ancient Persian traders to the Portuguese and British. The result is a fascinating modern island with a diverse population and a welcoming spirit towards visitors to their beautiful tropical home.
You have your choice of several stunning beaches with fine, coral white sand, and brilliant blue waters on Zanzibar Island alone. The area around Nungwi and Kendwa at the northernmost tip of the island includes an idyllic, wide beach. There are also great beaches to savor at Matemwe, Kizimkazi on the eastern side, and Bwejuu and Dongwe in the southeastern part of the island.
In historic Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zanzibar City, you can see the mix of Islamic and East African Swahili cultures in the architecture, with elegant minarets and wonderfully carved doorways. You can walk through laneways that meander past historical landmarks like the House of Wonders, an 18th-century sultan's palace.
Whether you want to explore in, on, or under the water, you'll find the adventure you crave in Zanzibar, including diving, snorkeling, jet-skiing, and windsurfing. You can go fishing, take a cruise on a traditional dhow, kayak, parasail, or kiteboard. Whether you are an expert or complete novice, you'll find many opportunities to have fun, learn new skills, and enjoy Zanzibar's brilliant blue waters.
Zanzibar is home to unique species like the Zanzibar red colobus monkey and Zanzibar leopard. You can visit their natural habitat in Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park and check out the colobus and other types of monkeys from a trail through a mangrove forest. The Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond is a sea turtle sanctuary that is helping to conserve these interesting creatures.
Dining in the Spice Islands is everything you'd expect - a fragrant mixture of East African, Arabian, Chinese, and Indian influences. You'll find dishes from the Seychelles Islands too, along with contemporary fusion cuisine, with fresh seafood, seasonings, and other ingredients to offer you the best of land and sea.
This may be the most untouched paradise you will ever see in your life. Nakupenda Beach off the coast of Zanzibar Town is an isolated island of pure sand surrounded by crystal waters. Simple as can be, the beach instills peace and relaxation in every visitor. Spend the day lying out in the sun, snorkeling the clear sea, and appreciating the disconnection from hectic civilization. This is the ultimate escape.
Zanzibar's capital city is known as Stone Town, and it overflows with historic sights combined with contemporary experiences. Don't miss the 17th-century Old Fort or the House of Wonders, Zanzibar's architecturally stunning Museum of Culture. St. Joseph's Cathedral still stands after centuries, and the time-worn details are stunning. For a taste of local culture visit Darajani Market or head to Forodhani Gardens for the epic seafood night market on the water.
Also known as Prison Island, this offshore marine wonderland had a grizzly history during the slave trade. Today, however, it is a popular day trip for visitors to Zanzibar. Giant turtles that roam the island are the number one attraction, along with a diversity of other creatures - from dolphins to butterflyfish. There is also an informative and commemorative Slave Trade Museum with moving exhibitions about events of centuries past.
The northern tip of Zanzibar Island is filled with all your beach vacation needs and desires. Nungwi Beach has been rated one of the best in the world and is surrounded by resorts of the highest quality. Even if you are just visiting for the day, their water sports rentals, scuba diving courses, massage booths and seaside bars are available to one and all. Make sure to stick around for the epic sunset too. There truly is something for everyone here.
One of the island's unique attractions brings tourists face to face with majestic African creatures, and it is a mind-blowing experience for all. Rescued cheetahs, lions, zebras, and more are introduced to each guest in an intimate and safe setting - soon, everyone reaches a mutual understanding. This immersive day of wildlife wonderment will stick with you forever, and you'll have unbelievable photos to show for it.
Strong breezes have a cooling effect on Zanzibar's tropical climate. The cooler, drier months of June to October are the most popular for visitors, when daytime highs hover around the mid-80s Fahrenheit. There is a rainy season from March to May associated with monsoons, and a lighter one from November to December.
Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) is just over three miles south of Zanzibar City on Unguja Island. Taxi is your only reliable option to get to town, and the drive is negotiable. You should pay about TZS33,500 to get to Zanzibar City and about TZS111,500 to reach one of the north coast resorts. It is also possible to fly to Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam on the mainland and take the ferry to Unguja Island.
Dar es Salaam, on the mainland, is a train hub, making it possible to get to Zanzibar from other points in Tanzania via a combination of train and passenger ferry. The ferry costs only TZS78,120 to TZS111,500.
Ferry service from Dar es Salaam is for passengers only, by and large, making the trip by car unfeasible. A car rental is possible once you get to the island, but you will need a temporary Zanzibar driver's permit.
The most common mode of travel between cities, villages, and resorts on Unguja Island and Pemba Island is offered via dala-dala, a crowded, open-sided minibus operated by a private company. There are several runs daily between Zanzibar City and other points on the island, as well as between the towns on Pemba Island.
Naturally, there are many resorts and hotels along the seafront, including the charming Mizingani Seafront Hotel with its local flavor, or the stunning modern luxury of the Essque Zalu Zanzibar resort in Nungwi. The Emerson Spice boutique hotel in Stone Town gives you a taste of sophisticated modern Africa, with unique furnishings and gorgeous views from your terrace.
Zanzibar City - located in the heart of Unguja, this is the capital and center for Zanzibar's spice trade and other commerce. It includes both historical Stone Town and Ng'ambo, a growing modern city of office towers and apartment blocks.
Nungwi and Kendwa - these villages on the north coast of Unguja are where you will find some of Zanzibar's finest beaches. Not surprisingly, it's also where to find many of the area's premium luxury hotels and resorts.
Pemba Island - this is the second largest island, separated from the rest of the archipelago by deep ocean channels. It is a green island with fertile land often cultivated for cloves. It's also where you'll find world-class diving and game fishing, along with newer resorts and hotels.
There is no public transportation in Zanzibar per se. There are privately owned companies that operate dala-dalas, the open-sided minibus taxis that operate on a shared ride basis. Popular with locals, it's a true adventure in Zanzibar culture for visitors, and the flat fare is TZS2,000 from Stone Town to the coastal areas.
Taxi service is plentiful in Stone Town and in many areas of Zanzibar Island where there are luxury resorts. A trip within Stone Town costs about TZA11,150 during the day, with negotiable fares often rising at night.
Car rentals are available from local companies such as Zanzibar Express Car Hire and First Car Rental starting at about TZS78,120 per day. Scarce parking can be an issue in some areas of the cities. Many tourists opt to hire a car and driver for about TZS111,500 per day.
Stone Town offers you a unique and varied shopping trip. For clothing made by local designers and companies, along with jewelry, spices, and even music by local artists, look into the boutiques along Gizenga Street and Kenyatta Road. For both fine jewelry made of gold and silver, and local artisan work such as beaded pieces, Soko Muhogo Square is an alternative to Gizenga Street.
Kwality Supermarket and Migoz Supermarket are both located in Zanzibar City. You can buy produce, basic groceries, and just about anything else at the Darajani Markets, a bazaar located in Stone Town near the Anglican Church. One quart of milk costs about TZS2,835 and a dozen eggs costs about TZS 3,500.
At the Ubora Restaurant, located in the Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel, you can enjoy serene views of the ocean at a table by the pool, along with a menu of seafood and other dishes done with East African flair. Mains start at about TZS45,000. At The Rock, you'll dine on seafood - literally - on a rock in the Indian Ocean. Main dishes start at about TZS29,000. At Forodhani Gardens, a small park near Stone Town, you'll be joining locals at a street food scene where you'll pay about TZS3,000 for vegetarian dishes with rice, and about TZS4,500 for dishes with chicken or beef.