Tanzania is of course known for its national parks like Serengeti. But in addition to fantastic wildlife safaris, the country offers terrific beach experiences and history going back as far as millions of years ago. And even with its timeline dated from the last 20,000 years, Zanzibar offers it all. Not only the island’s turquoise water is world-famous, but with the historical city of Stone Town and endemic wildlife, Zanzibar is a must-see while in Tanzania and known as Spice Island for good reasons. Not sure what to expect? See below our list of top things to do in Zanzibar, from Stone Town, and around the whole island.
This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you.
Best Things to Do in Zanzibar
Plenty of things to do on the Island, it all depends on what you like. So before digging into each place on the island, here is a quick snapshot of some of the top Zanzibar places to visit:
- Historical monuments: Stone Town, and Prison Island
- Wildlife: Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
- Scuba-diving: Mnemba
- Dolphin-watching: Kizimkazi
- Kiteboarding: Paje
- Beach: Nungwi
- Spa Treatment: Bwejuu Baraza Spa
- Private Island life: Chapwani
That’s our list of best places to visit in Zanzibar, but feel free to suggest any other cool thing we missed!
Where is Zanzibar located?
Zanzibar is actually an archipelago formed of more than 50 islands in the Indian Ocean about 20-30 miles (40-50 km) from mainland Tanzania. Two islands – Unguja, commonly referred to as Zanzibar, and Pemba, are the main ones.
The capital of Unguja Island is Zanzibar City, but most people refer to Stone Town, its historic center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to Travel to Zanzibar?
Zanzibar Airport (Abeid Amani Karume International Airport/ZNZ) is an international entry point into the country, which makes reaching the island rather easy. Situated about 3 miles (5 kilometers) south of Zanzibar City and Stone Town, flights with a stopover from East Africa, Europe, the US, and the Middle East make for a rather smooth arrival.
- From the US East Coast: Qatar Airways, Oman Air, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines can take you to Zanzibar airport with only one stopover in their respective hubs (Doha, Oman, Dubai, and Istanbul).
- From the US West Coast: the same airlines partner with other airlines such as Alaska Airlines, Jetblue, and others to get you there with usually another extra stop.
- From Europe: Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airlines come in addition to these airlines, and add more flight options.
- From Asia: Kenya Airlines and Emirates, and Oman Air to a lesser extent seem to be the leading carriers together with national companies
- From Australia: same key players, in cooperation with Qantas.
When booking your flights to Zanzibar, consider when you are traveling:
- Summer (July and August), and then winter (December to February) are the high seasons and tickets are more expensive these months
- Check for mid-day departure and arrivals as we found mid-week seemed to offer better deals.
See below Google Zanzibar island map to give you an idea of where the places to visit in Zanzibar are.
How to organize your Zanzibar travel? You can visit Zanzibar by local dala dala buses, by renting a car, or arranging transportation with a car and driver for the day.
Top Zanzibar Attractions
Stone Town Zanzibar
Zanzibar has been an important commercial stop since the ancient Assyrians, with traders coming from as far as Arabia, India, and the Persian Gulf. This fusion of different African, Asian, and Arab influences can be seen today in the island’s architecture. A prime example is Stone Town, a must-see while on the isle, thanks to its unique history. However, Unguja, or Zanzibar Island, is worth discovering outside the old town.
Explore Stone Town by yourself, or book a Stone Town tour with a knowledgeable guide to make the best of your visit, learning about the island’s history.
Old Anglican Church
Built during the late 19th century by Edward Steere, Bishop of Zanzibar and prominent British abolitionist, the Cathedral is located where the largest slave market of the island had been. The nearby Slave Monuments is a reminder of that sober part of Zanzibar history.
The Arab Fort
After two centuries of occupation by the Portuguese, the new ruling Omani Arabs constructed this imposing Fort at the end of the 17th century, over the site where the old Portuguese church stood a century before.
Mtoni Palace Ruins
Built and expanded between 1828 and late 1880 by Sultan Said and Sultan Barghash, the ruins of Mtoni Palace feature bathhouses and a well-preserved hammam. The original site belonged to Saleh bin Haramil in the early 1800s, which makes it Zanzibar’s oldest palace. The Omani trader was the first to introduce cloves to Zanzibar, the birth of the spice trade on the island.
Kidichi Persian Baths
Built by Sultan Seyyid Said for his Persian wife, Scheherezade, in the 1850s, the Kidichi Persian Baths are in ruins. However, some of the older carvings, as well as the bathing pool and massage tables, are worth seeing.
This palace was the most decorated on the island, built with coral stone and wood for Sultan Barghash in 1882 to host his large harem of 100 concubines. A fire destroyed it in 1899, and today the great pillars and bathhouses are all that remain.
Old Indian Dispensary
Also known as the Ithnashiri Dispensary, the historical building was indeed a hospital for the poor. Today, the beautiful monument features carved wood, stucco decorations, and colorful stained glass windows.
Nicknamed the House of Wonders, the 19th ceremonial palace was commissioned by the ruling sultan of the time, Sultan Barghash. The impressive architecture is a must-see while in Stone Town.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The Cathedral was built in the late 19th century by French missionaries following a designed similar to the Marseilles cathedral. The cathedral is still today by the Catholic community with masses on Sundays.
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
One of the rarest primates in Africa, the indigenous Zanzibar red colobus monkey can be seen in the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, and farms around the reserve. Though shy, the little monkeys are used to humans and can be easily spotted in trees and on the ground. You might also see Skyes’ monkeys, or get lucky enough to spot the Zanzibar leopard.
Entrance Fees: 20,000 TSH. Opens from 8 am until 5 pm
How to Get there: The park is about a one-hour drive from Stone Town, and 30 minutes from Paje. Rent a car with driver, or take a local dala dala bus for 2,500 TSH each way. The bus will head from Stone Town to Paje or the way around, so you need to let the bus driver so they can drop you at the park.
Zanzibar Butterfly Center
A local project aimed to sustain local communities; this small center allows you to view butterflies in cocoons and hatching. The population is in its early stages and on the small side, but it’s worth visiting the center to support this local initiative.
Zanzibar is usually referred to as the Spice Island, and for a good reason. Take a spice tour through plantations, forests, and fields where cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper grow, to be sold throughout the world.
Zanzibar was an infamous slave trade stop along the African coast. Started by the Portuguese in the 15th century, the slave trade was promoted by the Omani until they abolished it in 1873 following bombardments by the British navy. Slaves were detained on Prison Island, and later it served as a place of quarantine for the sick.
Today the ruins can be visited, via a 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town, and give a glimpse into the island’s sober history. Those interested in learning more about this part of Zanzibar’s history will also want to visit the Old Slave Market, located under the Anglican cathedral, in Stone Town.
Also called Changuu Island, Prison Island now serves as a nature preserve for giant tortoises, and the turquoise waters offer excellent snorkeling options.
You can travel in Zanzibar by yourself or have the convenience of having them organized for you. Check one of these tours and book ahead for your peace of mind.
- Stone Town Bike Tour in Zanzibar
- Price: $35.00
- Spices and Stone Town Tour in Zanzibar
- Price: $70.00
- Stone Town and Prison Island from Zanzibar
- Price: $75.00
- Zanzibar Arrival Transfer: Zanzibar Airport to Hotel
- Price: $18.00
Paje is an exciting mix of a traditional fishermen's village together with luxury resorts and kitesurfing centers catering to the foreigners. The seashore strip is sandy, lined up with small huts and palm trees.
At the cross-road between Kitogani (Stone Town) in the West, Bwejuu in the North, and Jambiani and Makunduchi to the South, Paje is an excellent hub for exploring the island.
The village traditions are still active, with women growing and gathering seaweed from their lagoon farms, and men working on their small dhow boats. Make sure to visit the Seaweed Center to see how the women farm it, and how they turn it into natural and organic skincare products.
Jambiani remained a traditional fishing village, though there are today a few resorts and kite centers. Like in Paje, farming seaweed is one of the primary village sources of income, and women manage the farms, gathering the weed at low tide.
At the northern end of Zanzibar, the village of Nungwi is about an hour drive from Stone Town. Also formerly a traditional fishing village, Nungwi is now well developed with resorts and restaurants. The Nungwi beach has long been considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Zanzibar.
Miles of unspoiled beaches can be found on the island. Some of the best beach in Zanzibar include:
Make sure to visit the Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond.
- Popular Nungwi and nearby Kendwa, in the North of the island: board a cruise, cycle, and snorkel.
- Paje: Popular with water sports, including stand-up paddles and kitesurfing.
- Remote beaches include Jambiani, Uroa and Matemwe, all quiet fishing villages where local women and children harvest seaweed during low tide.
- Nakupenda Beach is a sandbar but makes a relaxing stop on the way to Prison Island.
- Kiwengwa and Pongwe: East of the island.
- Kizimkazi in the South.
What to Do in Zanzibar
Kizimkazi, an hour’s drive from Stone Town, is the access point to Mena Bay, home to both humpback and bottlenose dolphins. On many occasions, you might snorkel close to them — though make sure that the tour operator follows guidelines for responsible dolphin viewing.
- Pange Sandbank, a 20-minute boat ride from Stone Town, is excellent for snorkeling in shallow waters and encountering clownfish or parrotfish.
- The Mnemba Atoll, accessible from Nungwi, has been compared to an aquarium with wall and drift diving. Turtles, dolphins, whale sharks, and humpbacks can be seen depending on the time of the year. Book your Mnemba Snorkeling experience now.
- The Blue Lagoon from Dongwe offers good snorkeling options as well. Find the latest deals on Blue Lagoon snorkeling.
- Prison Island is another excellent destination for leisurely snorkeling.
- Commonly called the Safari Blue for the name of the tour company that pioneered the trip, several other companies can actually take you to the same itinerary. Departing from either south of Stone Town, or from Kizimkazi (if you are around Paje or Jambiani), a traditional dhow will first take you to the Kwale sandbar. Then the dhow heads to the Kwale Island, first for a lunch of grilled fish and seafood, then for snorkeling around some coral reefs.
- Mnemba: Considered one of the best diving areas in Zanzibar, with rich and diverse marine life, drift and wall dives, and a chance to see some dolphins.
- Kizimkazi: part of the Menai Bay Marine Conservation Area. A chance to spot reef sharks, rays, dolphins, whales, hammerheads, whale sharks, and groupers
- Nungwi and Kendwa: several garden walls, spot green turtles, frogfish, barracuda, and tuna depending on the dive sites
- Stone Town: lots of wreck diving opportunities, and fabulous coral reefs.
- Paje, Jambiani, and Bwejuu: some good diving sites if you are around the area for other activities. Lovely coral gardens and caves. Nudibranches, scorpionfish, blue-spotted stingrays, and seahorses call the area home.
Kitesurfing in Zanzibar is booming, and the water sport has been growing on the island. Popular spots are located around Nungwi as well as near Paje and Matemwe. Other kiteboarding beaches include Jambiani and Kiwengwa.
Sometimes called the Green Island, Pemba is mainly underdeveloped, and much of it is covered in mangroves, lagoons, and long, isolated sandy beaches. If relaxing by the beach is not your thing, head to the tropical Ngezi Forest for a change of scenery and chance to spot local wildlife.
One of Pemba’s highlights is Misali Island, which has excellent diving and snorkeling, plus a rare velvet monkey. Pemba is best reached via plane from Unguja.
If you wonder where to stay in Zanzibar, you need first to decide where you want to base yourself before booking your "Zanzibar hotel." Moreover, some want to chill and enjoy beachfront lodging and treat themselves with spa. Zanzibar has it all, from budget to luxury, in every corner of the island.
Here are some recommendations of some of the best hotels in Zanzibar per central locations.
Best Hotels in Stone Town Zanzibar
To help you pick your among the best Stone Town hotels, we listed some suggestions based on budget:
- Cheap Hotels in Zanzibar Stone Town
- Mid-Range Stone Town Hotel: Zanzibar Coffee House Find their latest deals
- Stone Town Zanzibar luxury hotel: Park Hyatt Zanzibar View their best offers
Best Resorts in Zanzibar
There is no lack of Zanzibar resorts to choose from, but if you are looking for a Zanzibar luxury resort, see below some of the top recommended ones:
- Michamvi Qambani Luxury Resort Book your stay now
- Matemwe Retreat Click to secure your room
- Bwejuu Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar Reserve your room & spa treatment now
- Paje Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa - Relais & Chateaux Check their latest offers
Stay on a Private Island!
Wouldn't that be a dream come true? Well, it can! Check what living on a private island feels like on Chapwani Private Island. Maybe we can find fantastic deals one day!
Best Beach Resorts in Zanzibar
Not all Zanzibar beach resort options are equal, but they will be sure to make for an excellent stay. Eager to hear the waves and see the turquoise water right at your doorsteps? Here are our recommendations for top Zanzibar Hotels on the beach:
- Paje Ananda Beach House Click for the latest specials
- Kizimkazi The Residence Zanzibar Find their best offers
- Nungwi Z Hotel Book your room now
When to Visit Zanzibar
- June to October is the best period to come when the Zanzibar weather is dry and cool. These months correspond to Spring as the country is in the Southern Hemisphere.
- December to February would be the second-best season, during which the weather is dry and hot.
- April-May: the rainy months are best to be avoided
Depending on water sports, you might want to consider these months:
- Kiteboarding: Two seasons usually see strong winds
- June - September: when the Kusi wind blows from the South. August is generally the strongest of the months
- December - February: when Kaskazi, the wind from the North, takes over in the island.
- March, then October and November are the best months, when the weather is warm, with little winds or rains, and visibility is relatively clear.
- Avoid the windy months listed above as it will make for choppy and murky waters.
Zanzibar Travel Advice
- Zanzibar, like the rest of Tanzania, is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means seasons are reversed with the Northern ones. July and August are in theory, the winter months. Though the weather will be warm, the winds can be somewhat cold, and the evenings cool. Do bring a sweater and scarf if you want to hang on the beach in the late hours.
- There are only limited ATMs on the island. One ATM is at the airport; the other is in Paje - the only one for the East Coast of Zanzibar. That latter ATM tends to run out of money often, especially before and during the weekend. Come prepared, or bring US$ or Euros to change at hotels.
- Whenever you find luxury hotels or well-developed villages, Zanzibar prices tend to be on the high side. Some restaurants are even higher than their European counterparts. So if you are looking for budget and local food, leave the shores behind and head into the villages, where you are most likely to find cheaper meal options.
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