Below is a guest post from Rita who has spent loads of time in Zanzibar, a beautiful region of Tanzania. I asked her to share with you guys the top things to do in Zanzibar as well as tips for getting around, her favorite hotels, and more!
Why You Should Travel to Zanzibar
Few places in the world can induce images of pristine turquoise waters, white powdered sandy beaches, and tropical palm-tree paradise like Zanzibar. It’s a semi-autonomous territory of Tanzania located just off the country’s coast but with its own unique heritage and cultural flavor. It feels like an entirely different world, offering a unique cultural experience while also being a tranquil setting for pure relaxation. I can safely say that I found my personal slice of paradise here.
How Long to Plan Your Zanzibar Itinerary
There are plenty great places on the island so in order to get the best experience and see the highlights I would recommend spending three weeks or more. What I wouldn’t recommend is rushing around Zanzibar like many people do, as this is a destination worth exploring slowly.
Zanzibar is a relatively small island but it’s still big enough to the point where you have to decide where to go, and which destination will best suit your interests. That’s why it’s always important to have an itinerary planned before you start traveling and that being said I’ve done all the research for you and created this three-week Zanzibar itinerary that I can promise will be a holiday that you will always remember.
When to Go
Go in mid-October. The most touristy months are June – September, during the dry and windy season. January and February experience the highest temperatures.
Top Things to Do in Zanzibar by Area + Itinerary Tips
- Suggested time: 4-5 days
Stone Town isn’t just any town. It is a sensory experience not to be found anywhere else in the world that offers a unique look into the melting pot of cultures.
5 Things to Do in Stone Town
1. Explore local markets
Darajani Market is where you find locals hustling all day long. And what it makes it so authentic is the noise and the colors. It is also the place where you can find all possible spices.
2. Visit Prison Island
Prison Island is only 25 minutes away from Stone Town. Once used as a place for detention of rebellious slaves and people with deadly diseases, it is now converted into a tourist attraction with one of the main draws being giant tortoises. They’re not only ginormous but also as old as 192 years!
3. Dine at Forodhani Gardens
When it comes to street food, your visit to Zanzibar is not complete without experiencing the Forodhani night market. It’s by far the cheapest and busiest place to eat. You will find stands with fresh seafood, samosas and grilled vegetables. My favorites would be Zanzibar beef pizza and chicken shawarma. Finger licking good!
4. Get lost wandering narrow alleys
Stone Town is a where you’ll find a mixture of Arabic, Indian, African, and European cultures living comfortably together under one roof. The labyrinthine streets are the most beautiful of all the sights you can find. Wander the maze of narrow streets and dark winding alleys. This way you will get a glimpse into the sense of a local community.
5. Stay in Persian influenced hotel
One of the great things about Stone Town is the grand colonial architecture, which gives an opportunity to stay in Persian style hotels. And the best part is many of them have their own, unique character. It is worth researching and investing in authenticity. It’s like living museums dedicated to furniture, art and oriental ornaments.
Here are two of our favorite hotels in Stone Town Zanzibar:
- Zanzibar Palace Hotel – Cute boutique restored hotel in the heart of town with incredible service.
- Emerson on Hurumzi – Restored merchant’s mansion with a popular rooftop restaurant.
There are also many museums and other tours you can visit but what really made me experience the authenticity of this town is beyond the touristic route.
- Suggested time: 5 days
Nungwi and Kendwa (located just a 5 min drive from Nungwi) is said to have best full moon parties on the island therefore it attracts younger, backpacking crowd. It also has the best beaches in Zanzibar for swimming due to the tide that doesn’t head out too far.
3 Things to Do in Nungwi Kendwa
1. Enjoy a famous sunset Dhow cruise
Dhow, a wooden built boat with a canvas sail, were originally introduced from Yemen hundreds of years ago. They still play a very important role of transportation and fishing on the island. You can arrange a private or group cruise via hotel or any ‘beach boy’. Like Stone Town, sunsets are absolutely incredible in Nungwi as well.
2. Enjoy seafood dinner
Nungwi has many options to feast on seafood. There is a fresh fish stalls at every restaurant, making it a perfect place to enjoy prawn or lobster dishes.
3. Stay at Kendwa Rocks
Our top choice of hotel in Nungwi Zanzibar area is Kendwa Rocks which is a very hip guesthouse that offers bungalow and wooden beach huts. They have parties here as well.
- Suggested time: 3 days
If you prefer some time alone, try Matemwe Beach. Here, you can really escape to serenity and walk on a beach for miles without meeting another soul. It’s the place where you’ll want to ditch your shoes and walk barefoot while enjoying the sand and admiring natural coastline.
3 Things to do in Matemwe
1. Indulge in luxury holiday making
Area is popular with private luxury resorts promising a relaxing stay as nearby village life goes at an attractively sleepy and quite pace. Here you can disconnect from outside world and spend a few days pampering yourself. I’ve stayed in Bahari Villas and loved every minute spent lounging by the pool and sipping virgin coladas.
2. Snorkel or dive around Mnemba Island
Zanzibar is excellent for its diving and snorkeling. Mnemba Atoll is one of the favorites amongst underwater lovers. Zanzibar is home to wide variety of fishes and colorful corals. Snorkel across shores of Mnemba Island and enjoy the stunning creatures living underwater. There is also a chance spotting dolphins on the way, as they are frequent guests in local waters.
3. Stay in one of these unique hotels
There are a couple great hotels in Matemwe to check out. We love both these unique boutique properties:
- Matemwe Beach Retreat – The infinity pool at this property blows our mind! It doesn’t get better than this.
- Matemwe Lodge – This is set up next to the white sand up on some rocks. Very romantic!
- Suggested time: 7 days
Paje is located on the South East of Zanzibar. It is referred as a kite surfing mecca and is popular not only for the most beautiful beach on the island but also for water sports. It is by far my favorite spot in Zanzibar and place where I’ve spent longest. The atmosphere is nice and laid back, and it’s a perfect place to either meet new friends or to keep to yourself and just enjoy the beach.
6 Things to do in Paje
Kitesurf is one of the most fun activities you can try out during your stay in Zanzibar. Due to reliable winds and large shallow lagoons on the east coast, Zanzibar became widely recognised as one of the best locations for kitesurfing in Africa. Whether you are a first-timer or an expert, professional surf schools will equip you with everything you need to catch the breeze.
2. Go reef walking
At low tide, waves recede more than a kilometer. It is a best time to go explore the far away reef. Be extra careful avoiding sea urchins as some areas fully covered with spikes.
You will see many sea cucumbers, starfishes and small octopuses. It is also a time when locals are spare fishing; they might even show you their methods and the catch of the day if you’re lucky.
3. Spend a day on a Safari Blue tour
The original Safari Blue tour is one of the most popular day trips from Stone Town but you can also find people offering very similar trips from Paje at much lower price. A Safari Blue day is packed with adventure; you will sail on traditional hand built mahogany sailing dhow, have a chance to snorkel around crystal clear turquoise waters, sunbathe on an isolated sandbank and feast on delicious grilled fresh seafood lunch. All of this can be bargained for $30pp.
4. Visit Rock restaurant
Try typing Zanzibar on google. What images do you get? A beautiful old little house built on a rock in water. That’s The Rock restaurant, which is situated only 12km from Paje. Take a taxi or catch a local dala-dala and visit this incredible place. Although, food is overpriced, choose a glass of wine instead and spend an hour on a terrace watching the ocean.
5. Watch wildlife at Jozani forest
Wildlife lovers may want to trek into the Jozani Forest in search of red colobus monkeys, a species that can only be found in Zanzibar. It is also home to Sykes monkey, Ader’s duiker, bush babies, over 50 species of butterfly, 40 species of birds and 100 species of trees.
6. Stay at Dhow Inn
There’s only one hotel we recommend here in Paje Zanzibar and that’s Dhow Inn. It’s modern, clean, and spacious plus it is just one minute walk to the beach.
- Suggested time: 2 days
This is a place where you can take it slow after vibrant Paje and indulge in relaxation and peacefulness. It’s great for swimming and water sports but also rich with local culture and village life. If strolling along the beach you will see women harvesting seaweed during low tide.
2 Things to do in Jambiani
1. Go deep sea fishing
You can arrange a deep-sea fishing trip via Red Monkey Lodge.
2. Stay at Indigo Beach
This guesthouse in Jambiana is good on the budget at just $60 a night: Indigo Beach in Bwejuu is your perfect idyllic beach shack. You don’t need anything more than this paradise.
5 Foods to Try in Zanzibar
With its strategic location, Zanzibar has long been a melting pot. The result is a truly unique Zanzibar culture and a mixture of marvelous cuisines. Indulge and try their dishes.
Where the rice is cooked in a variety of spices, and paired together with a meat or fish curry, that always accompanies the rice. It is one of the most famous dishes to eat in Zanzibar.
2. Zanzibar pizza
As I’ve mentioned it before, it’s one of my favorites. It doesn’t look nor taste like a traditional pizza but nonetheless is absolutely delicious!
They basically thin out a ball of dough, put whatever ingredients you asked- like chicken or beef with mixture of vegetables, then add an egg and cheese on top and start frying it on a hot pan surface.
In other words it’s like skewers or kebab smaller version. You’ll find people grilling them up in the late afternoon all over Zanzibar.
4. Chips Mayai
This is what we call French fries omelette. They go well with chilli and mishkaki skewers. You can get them anywhere on the street for less then a dollar.
5. Pilau rice
Unlike biryani, where the rice and dish are cooked separately, pilau is a combination of rice, meat and spices cooked together. It’s a bit drier than biryani but also has a bit more flavor.
I hope this itinerary has given you an idea of where to go and what to see during your time in Zanzibar. And you can soon get started thinking about this paradise as your next holiday destination.
For more travel in Africa
- The Best Restaurants in Pretoria, South Africa (markets, too!)
- The Perfect Morocco Itinerary for 2 Weeks: All the Best Things to Do
- Cooking Ugandan Dishes
Pin it for later!
Rita blogs at Once Upon My Travel. If you would like more detailed information for traveling around Zanzibar, complete with contact information and insider tips, feel free to check out her other articles.
Join my email list and get exclusive updates & news straight to your inbox.
I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Hi there! What a great article — thanks so much for compiling all of this! My boyfriend and I are going to be in the Zanzibar area for about 7 days in early August. Unfortunately not 3 weeks, but hoping to still see a good amount of this :-) I’m curious as to your thoughts on using Stone Town as a hub where we stay, but to then still travel to some of the other areas you mentioned. Would you recommend that? Or perhaps choosing one other area in addition to Stone Town to split the time with? We’ll be coming from a 9 day Kilimanjaro climb and 7 day Serengeti safari, and are looking forward to experiencing the culture and nature that Zanzibar has to offer :-)
Looking forward to hearing back! All the best,
Which beach are you at in the top photo with the low tide/clear water?
Hey. Thanks a lot for this post! Lovely pics. I’m arriving in Zanzibar in January. Can’t wait!:) I will be staying in Makunduchi (Clove Island – cloveisland.com). The place itself is fantastic but I’m hungry for seeing new spots and doing a lot of different things. Your article inspires me!:)
Great post! I have visited Clove Island (cloveisland.com) last year, you should definitely see for yourself. I immediately fell in love with this place!
Great tips. Thanks for sharing! I had the best Chips Mayai in Paje a few years back. At my last visit I tried to find Pilau rice, unsuccessful. But there is always a next time :D