Finding the best things to do and places to visit in Zanzibar Tanzania requires thorough research of the island in advance. As it’s known, Spice Island has a lot to offer, in addition to the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
Most people think of Zanzibar as a single island. But it’s actually an archipelago made of Unguja Islands (considered Zanzibar), Mafia, and Pemba, as well as many other smaller islands nearby.
Unguja has a length of 85 km and a width of 39 km, and we will refer to it when we say Zanzibar because it is the most visited by tourists interested in a holiday here.
And let’s talk about the capital of Zanzibar. It’s also located on the island of Unguja and is called Zanzibar City, even though many visitors have the impression that it’s Stone Town. Well, Stone Town is just the old part of the city and one that you will definitely explore when you go on a trip to Zanzibar Tanzania.
I visited Zanzibar on a three-week trip to Tanzania. We spent a week on the mainland, on a 5-day safari in the most important national parks in the country, and the last two on the island of Zanzibar.
So, I have put together this guide where you will find information about the fun things to do in Zanzibar, what trips you should go on on the island when to visit Zanzibar, the best Zanzibar tourist attractions, and much more. To help you plan your holiday in Zanzibar even better, I’ve added a list of frequently asked questions and answers at the end of this article.
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Zanzibar fun facts:
- Freddie Mercury, the leader of the famous Queen band, was born in Zanzibar Tanzania, and has lived there for a while since 1946; his real name was Farouk Bulsara.
- being located so close to the equator, day and night in Zanzibar are almost equal
- in Zanzibar, you will find the biggest number of carved wooden doors, all with different designs; the doors are made in Zanzibar, and there are several workshops
- The name Zanzibar is derived from the Persian language and means the Coast of the Black
- The population of Zanzibar Tanzania is about 1.5 million people
What I use every time I travel:
Things to do and
places to visit in ZANZIBAR Tanzania
1. Visit a spice farm
There’s a good reason why Zanzibar is known as Spice Island. Going on a spice tour is one of the activities you should do when you are on vacation in Zanzibar. Spice farms are some of the most popular places to visit in Zanzibar Tanzania.
Several agencies and guides can help you with that, but there are also several farms you can choose from. In general, they all have the same schedule, as follows. The guide will drive you from your accommodation to the farm, where you have the opportunity to taste a lot of spices. You will also experience the taste of freshly picked coffee, cocoa, jackfruit, and much more.
It’s a pleasant and relaxing walk, full of color, flavor, and taste, and one of the best activities in Zanzibar Tanzania. The guide will leisurely explain each tree and plant separately so that you can find out the origin of each spice.
Moreover, during this time, you will be offered all kinds of gifts in the form of jewelry, hats, and ties made of leaves and flowers from the plantations. These people have developed impressive skills, and they can do everything so fast.
At the end of the spice tour, you will taste some traditional dishes at lunch, and sometimes you can help with their preparation. That’s if you want to, of course. There is also a store for spices, oils, and soaps, in case you were wondering what to buy in Zanzibar.
Maybe this Zanzibar activity may seem a little too commercial and not very authentic for some, but I had fun trying to guess the names of the spices, and I think it’s one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.
2. Get some tan on the most beautiful beaches in Zanzibar | One week in Zanzibar
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Zanzibar, then you must go to the beach. The best beaches in Zanzibar, in my opinion, are the ones in the north of the island, but I also really liked the beach in Paje.
Choosing the most beautiful beaches on Zanzibar island depends on what you are looking for. If you are a fan of water sports and prefer a beach full of tourists, then the southern ones are ideal. You can orient yourself towards Paje and Jambiani. The cows are also walking on the beach in Paje, as you can see in the pictures below.
Instead, if you want a slightly cleaner and quieter, more secluded beach with fewer tourists, you can go to Kiwengwa.
In Nungwi, we experienced Zanzibar all-inclusive at the Riu Palace hotel. There, I saw one of the most beautiful beaches of my travels. But I also went to the beach in Nungwi, which is fun. Anyhow, if you spend one week in Zanzibar, you’ll have plenty of time to visit several beaches along the island.
Whatever beach you choose, you should know that in Zanzibar Tanzania you will see some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Full of palm trees, wide, with white sand, lovely blue water, and shades of turquoise, with the high and low tides, everything is unique to them, and I think that the beaches are the island’s main attraction.
Paje beach in Zanzibar
Paje is one of the most popular beaches in Zanzibar and one of the liveliest places on the island. During the few days I spent here, I saw a lot of tourists practicing water sports, restaurants open late into the night, street vendors, mini shows, and people simply relaxing on the beach. Also, if you are looking for cheap things to do in Zanzibar, you should know that Paje is the best place for that.
Kiwengwa Beach in Zanzibar
As already mentioned, Kiwengwa is for a quieter holiday in Zanzibar, free from agitation, noise, and other disturbing factors. It is also an ideal place for a honeymoon in Zanzibar.
The beaches of Nungwi are among my favorites, especially the beach at the hotel where we stayed, Riu Palace Hotel, which I consider one of the most beautiful beaches in Zanzibar.
Of course, there are plenty of other beaches in Zanzibar, and I will probably dedicate a separate article to them in which I will talk about each one and where you can see more pictures. Beaches are a huge part of tourism in Zanzibar, probably the most significant factor.
3. Stay in a hotel with an ocean view
Regardless of the area, you choose to stay in, Zanzibar Tanzania has quite a few exceptional hotels. Both in terms of location and architecture, comfort, and services offered.
There are many accommodation options in Zanzibar, but my suggestion is to choose something on the beach. This is the only way to fully enjoy the beautiful view of the ocean, from morning to evening.
The most popular and low-budget places are in Paje, Jambiani, and Bwejuu. If you want to stay in a less touristy area, then some of the best places to visit in Zanzibar are Kiwengwa or Matemwe.
And if you are looking for luxury and all-inclusive resorts with a private beach and all the cutlery, then Nungwi and Kendwa would be the right choice.
Here are my suggestions for the best places to stay in Zanzibar:
In the south (Paje, Jambiani etc.)
- budget: Fatuma House– pool, delicious breakfast, beach
- mid-range: Mahali Zanzibar– gorgeous pool, great view, delicious breakfast, large rooms, beachfront
- luxury: Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa– pool, restaurant, luxury decor, beachfront
In the North-East (Kiwengwa, Matemwe):
- budget: Z-Lodge Zanzibar – pool, bar, large rooms
- mid-range: Mvuvi Boutique Resort– restaurant, delicious breakfast, beachfront, pool
- luxury: Zanzibar Sunrise at Bandas– spa, pool, bar, free Wifi, very good breakfast
In the North (Kendwa, Nungwi):
- mid-range: Game Fish Lodge– pool, great breakfast, beachfront
- luxury: Riu Palace Zanzibar – All Inclusive– restaurant, private beach, all-inclusive, pool, delicious food
4. Observe the life of the locals | One week in Zanzibar
Even though they are surrounded by the Indian Ocean and can enjoy views of palm trees every day, the life of the locals in Zanzibar is not without worries.
One of the things to know about Zanzibar is that most of the people are simple people living at the lower end. They work hard to make a living, but they spend their days pole-pole (slowly) and do not forget to smile in the face of difficulties.
During the two-week trip to Zanzibar, I had the opportunity to meet many people from different parts of the island. I met children and offered them some sweets, which made them so happy, guides who do their job with enthusiasm, people who sell their talent cheaply, I would say, and many others.
Behind the luxury hotels, you will see poor housing, clothes strewn on dusty wires, garbage, rubble, humpback cows, and palm trees that remind you that you are on an exotic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Walking the streets of the island and seeing these things is one of the unique things to do in Zanzibar Tanzania.
5. Go on an island tour | 2 weeks in Zanzibar Tanzania
Touring the islands is one of the cool things to do in Zanzibar, best known as safari blue. In general, these Zanzibar activities can be purchased separately or in bulk, resulting in cheaper.
I booked with Ismail, a very friendly guide, always with a very white and wide smile on his face, ready with jokes and answers to all the questions you might have regarding what to do in Zanzibar or any other information.
Ismail picked us up early in the morning from the hotel where we were staying (Mahali Zanzibar) and took us to the place where most of the boats leave for the islands surrounded by beautiful shades of turquoise.
You can opt for a private tour in Zanzibar or a shared boat. I find the latter experience more enjoyable because you can have more fun and meet amazing people from all over the world. After all, that’s what travel is all about. Plus, choosing a shared boat is part of the cheap things to do in Zanzibar.
What exactly is safari blue?
In short, safari blue means a boat trip from Fumba Village to a Sand Bar, one of the best places to snorkel in Zanzibar, and Kwale Island. The tour lasts a whole day, and being one of the most fun things to do in Zanzibar.
Before reaching Kwale Island, where you will most likely have a hearty meal, the boat will take you to a small lagoon full of mangroves, those trees, and shrubs with roots wholly flooded during the high tide.
We decided to stop by the Sand Bar after the mangrove lagoon, because there were too many tourists and so we managed to spend an hour there without crowds, enjoying snorkeling and fruit snacks prepared by Ismail.
Kwale Island is the main attraction of this tour. The island has several spaces to eat your lunch and some stalls with clothes and souvenirs. But the biggest surprise is the giant baobab, over 100 years old.
I don’t know if it’s valid for all the tours and guides, but our lunch was delicious, as you can see in the pictures. We had plenty of rice, seafood, fish, chicken, french fries, and other goodies.
For those who want to use Ismail’s services, you can find him here.
6. Visit Jozani Forest | What to do in Zanzibar
Jozani Forest or Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park is the only national park on the island and one of the top tourist attractions in Zanzibar. It’s home to two species of monkeys, as well as some unique vegetation.
In general, the tour of Jozani Forest comes with a visit to the mangrove forest, and any guide on the island can help you with the two Zanzibar activities. But you can also visit on your own, as long as you pay the entrance fee inside the park. The ticket costs $ 7.5 and includes an experienced guide.
The most special inhabitants of the Jozani Forest are the Red Colobus monkeys. It’s estimated that there are more than 2,000 specimens today, although they were on the verge of extinction a few years ago. It differs from other species by the redback and white hair on the belly and face.
Red Colobus monkeys have a different temperament than other monkeys, being much more relaxed and indifferent to tourists. They won’t try to steal anything from you or attack you, but you will undoubtedly hear them making all sorts of strange noises and jumping on the branches.
Blue monkeys live in the same forest, but they have totally different personalities. The guide told us that they love to sneak into people’s homes, steal and even defecate in the heads of passers-by when they are perched in trees, high enough not to be penalized for their behavior. They are also faster and wiser than the Red Colobus.
Jozani Forest is also famous for its over 50 species of butterflies, medicinal plants, rare birds, and even giant snakes. All these being said, we can conclude that this is one of the best places to visit in Zanzibar Tanzania.
7. Explore the mangrove forest
As I already mentioned, the walk through the mangrove forest is included in the same ticket and is a must-do in Zanzibar. The black roots of the trees are submerged in salt water during the high tide and discovered almost entirely during the low tide. Whatever the case, the landscape is reminiscent of an enchanted forest, from the stories with dragons and witches.
You can walk through the forest on some wooden paths that protect you from any danger and especially from the swamp itself. The mangrove forest is essential for the Zanzibar ecosystem, as it is home to many species of lizards, crabs, fish, snakes, birds, and many insects.
The inhabitants use the mangrove tree even for building roofs because insects don’t like this wood. Therefore they will not attack it. Visiting Jozani Forest is one of the most unique things to do in Zanzibar.
8. One-day trip to Prison Island, one of the best places to visit in Zanzibar
What to do in Zanzibar when you want to have a really adventurous day? Go to Prison Island. To get to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island, you need to take the boat from the port of Stone Town. Although I had a pretty good sunny day, the waves scared me terribly.
Prison Island has had many uses throughout history. Slaves were kept here, and yellow fever patients were isolated here, but it was never a prison, contrary to the name. Although, that was one of the goals.
The island is home to giant turtles named Aldabra, a gift from the British governor of Seychelles in 1919. It seems that the four specimens donated then have managed to multiply a lot in the last 100 years. These turtles and the island itself are by far some of the best things to see in Zanzibar.
The oldest turtle on the island is 196 years old. Visitors can interact with turtles, feed them salad and pet them. You will see that turtles will run after the food in your hand many times. Run, improperly said.
There is also a “maternity” of these turtles, where you can see dozens or maybe even hundreds of baby turtles of all sizes. Among the giant turtles walk a few peacocks that don’t seem intimidated by tourists’ presence.
The trip to Prison Island costs between $ 30 and $ 50 and takes half a day. You can contact various tour operators for this or ask the hotel where you are staying in Stone Town to help you book such a tour. In my opinion, is one of the cheap things to do in Zanzibar since the price is really good for such a wonderful experience.
9. Explore Stone Town | Zanzibar tourist attractions
Stone Town is the old town of Zanzibar City. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, managing to preserve its unique and authentic features that combine elements from many cultures and civilizations. Arab countries and countries from Europe or even India have left their mark on the city’s architectural style.
But it most closely resembles the architecture of the state of Oman. Since I visited Saudi Arabia, I can also say that I find similarities with Balad, the old quarter of Jeddah. Also, the inner courtyards of the houses are similar to riads in Morocco. Especially the hotel where I stayed in Stone Town, an old hotel with tradition and fame in the city, Dhow Palace Hotel.
Most houses, especially the oldest ones, are built of coral stone and mangrove wood. The front doors are carved in wood, and they say that no two doors are identical in Stone Town. There are several workshops in the city that ensure that this tradition continues.
To explore Stone Town properly, you need at least two days from your Zanzibar itinerary. This should be enough time to walk the narrow streets, visit the most important tourist attractions, buy some souvenirs, or take a historical tour with traditional lunch included. By the way, if you’re looking for things to buy in Zanzibar, Stone Town is the best place to do so.
Other things to do and places to visit in Zanzibar Stone Town:
- Old Fort (Vechiul Fort)
- Old Dispensary
- Anglican Church
- Freddie Mercury Museum
- Forodhani Gardens
- Old Slave Market
Where to stay in Stone Town
There are several hotels where you can stay in Stone Town, some located as central as possible, others with a great ocean view. But I recommend the Dhow Palace Hotel, one of the best places to stay in Zanzibar. I spent two nights here.
The hotel has a perfect location, right next to the Freddie Mercury Museum and with quick access to the most important tourist attractions in Stone Town. It is housed in a historic building from 1559 and has an indoor pool in the center, surrounded by Swahili-style walls. It’s a great, traditional hotel, but it offers you all the comfort you need.
10. Do some souvenir shopping | Zanzibar tourist attractions
Zanzibar people are talented and pass on their crafts from generation to generation. So expect to see lots of handmade items in souvenir shops all over the island. Whether talking about the beach or the city, you will find great things to buy in Zanzibar Tanzania.
What to buy in Zanzibar? My recommendation is to choose at least one painting that reminds you of the days spent on Spice Island. Most of them are about safari animals or all kinds of beautiful portraits.
Prices differ depending on the size and complexity of the painting. They start at about $ 10 and can cost as much as $ 1,000. Negotiating the price is one of the most fun things to do in Zanzibar.
I left Zanzibar with three such beautiful paintings, the largest is over 2 meters long, and I don’t regret anything. Shopping on the island is one of the best Zanzibar activities, in my opinion. You can also add bracelets, necklaces, magnets, figurines, coffee, tea, spices, or even clothes to your Zanzibar shopping list.
For the most beautiful paintings in Zanzibar, I recommend the stalls in Nungwi, more precisely Amour Classic Arts Gallery, and a few others in the area. The boys there do an extraordinary job, and their paintings are slightly different from other shops on the island!
11. Have dinner at a special restaurant
I think The Rock Restaurant needs no introduction, being one of the most famous tourist attractions in Zanzibar. Admittedly, his location instantly takes him out of anonymity.
I visited The Rock at low tide, so the landscape was just as you can see in the picture below. I can understand the hype, but I can’t say it’s a must-do in Zanzibar, at least not necessarily to eat there. You can also see it from the beach.
What did I like? Its view and uniqueness. What didn’t I like? We were denied the request to serve lunch at one of the tables outside, on the terrace, even though the restaurant was 70% empty. As for the food, none of the dishes we ordered met my expectations. The quality-price ratio is weak from my point of view, but opinions are divided.
Other good places to eat in Zanzibar
Of course, I’ve been to other restaurants in Zanzibar that I liked more. In Paje, I recommend you try Mr. Kahawa, a beach restaurant with super interesting decor, delicious food, and a flourishing atmosphere. Definitely one of the best places to eat in Zanzibar.
In Stone Town, you have to dine at Zanzibar Beach House, where you can admire the sunset just above the beach. During high tide, you can hear the waves under the wooden floor of the terrace.
Although the waiting time is a bit longer, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is dreamy. Dining here may be one of the most romantic things to do in Zanzibar.
Another place to eat very well in Zanzibar is the famous Lukmaan restaurant. The portions are very large and fresh, the drinks are wow, and the atmosphere is cheerful since it’s located on one of the busiest streets in the city.
12. Feed the sea turtles at the Nungwi Aquarium
One of the most beautiful trips in Zanzibar is visiting the Nungwi Aquarium or Baraka. Although in the last years I refused to visit places that keep animals closed, in one way or another, it seems that the people of Nungwi are doing this for the good of the turtles.
From my research and the employees’ words, they are rescuing the turtles from the ocean, treating them and feeding them in this sanctuary, and then releasing them back into the waters of the great blue. I sincerely hope so, even if the beautiful turtles live a good life in this aquarium as well.
At the Nungwi Aquarium, you can swim with the turtles or just feed them. I chose the second option, and I really liked the whole experience. You will receive a bucket with food for only $ 7 per person ($ 10 if you want to swim). They will revolve around you, and you will have the opportunity to admire their shell up close. Some are so big that they may seem intimidating, but they are not dangerous at all.
13. Swing on Mtende Beach | Zanzibar tourist attractions
Although not located in a very touristy area of Zanzibar, Mtende beach is one of the most beautiful and worth visiting. Its uniqueness is given by the beach’s relief, the rocks that create interesting shadows, and the swing hanging from these rocks.
I didn’t spend much time here, but I would definitely like to spend at least a full day on this beach next time. As for places to eat in the area, you can go to Usumba Rock, a restaurant built on a rock, the one you can see in the pictures below. The food is good, and the prices are affordable.
Don’t expect to be surrounded by tourists on Mtende Beach; those who come here are mostly locals. I saw Zanzibar women washing clothes on coral stones and men catching crabs. Visiting Mtende Beach is one of the best free things to do in Zanzibar.
14. Water sports in Zanzibar | What to do in Zanzibar Tanzania
One of the best activities in Zanzibar Tanzania for those who don’t know how to swim, like me, is the water bike. Unfortunately, I don’t know where you can do this apart from the hotel we stayed at in Nungwi, Riu Palace Hotel. However, if you still choose to stay here, don’t miss this experience.
For those who are not afraid of water and have experience in swimming and water sports, Zanzibar is an inexhaustible source of adrenaline. From snorkeling, scuba diving, kiteboarding, and parasailing to water skiing, the island abounds with such opportunities and instructors to help you put your skills to the test.
Top things to know before visiting Zanzibar
Best time to visit Zanzibar
The seasons in Zanzibar are divided into two: the dry season and the rainy season. Although it’s not a rule to have heavy rainfall in the rainy season, it’s preferable to avoid it. That means not going to Zanzibar between November and March.
At the other end of the spectrum is the peak of the dry season, the best time of year to visit Zanzibar, but also the busiest, July-September. The months between these two seasons are also worth trying, namely April, May, June, and October. It may rain then, but the duration of these rains will undoubtedly be short, possibly an hour or two each day.
As for temperatures, they remain pleasant throughout the year, with an average of 25-35 degrees Celsius.
How to get to Zanzibar?
There are two ways to get to Zanzibar: by ferry or plane. For the first option, you will have to reach Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in the country. From here, the ferry ride takes approximately 2 hours, and two companies are operating, Azam Marine and Fast Ferries. The price of a trip is about $ 35 – $ 50.
Of course, the other option and the one that I used is by plane. I flew with Qatar and had a stopover in Doha and one in Dar Es Salaam, the last destination – Kilimanjaro. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the holiday in Tanzania was divided between safari and Zanzibar. So I took a domestic flight from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar.
Other places to visit in Zanzibar
The possibilities for fun are endless in Zanzibar. Among the Zanzibar attractions and things that you can do in this corner of paradise in the Indian Ocean and that I didn’t include in this article are:
- a visit to the other two big islands, Pemba and Mnemba Island
- sunset cruise
- traditional food cooking course
- visiting the Kuza cave
- visit an algae farm
- participate in a local festival
How many days do you need in Zanzibar?
The minimum period you should spend on a holiday in Zanzibar should be a week, especially since it’s not a very close destination. Honestly, I stayed for two weeks, but I could certainly have covered all the tourist attractions in Zanzibar in just seven days.
Is it safe to visit Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is one of the safest destinations in Africa in every way. Being an extremely touristy island, especially in recent years, the locals have gotten used to it and are kind and friendly. Thefts or other incidents rarely happen after dark.
As for food, it’s best to avoid tap water altogether and drink only bottled water. Please pay close attention to the food and where you choose to eat it. Food poisoning is not uncommon among tourists in Zanzibar Tanzania, and I am one of them, although I have been cautious about the food I eat.
Yellow fever vaccines are not mandatory, but they are recommended. The same goes for malaria medications. Mosquitos can be kept away with the help of suitable sprays.
Given that I also traveled through mainland Tanzania, I can assure you that those there are much more aggressive. Don’t forget to use SPF while you are at the beach or even walking through the villages of Zanzibar. The sun is powerful here!
How expensive is it to visit Zanzibar?
I don’t think it’s a cheap destination, not a very expensive one. I think Zanzibar is suitable for all types of budgets. Hotels are priced from $ 20 a night and can exceed $ 500 for luxury and all-inclusive hotels in the island’s north. It also depends on the time of the year you choose to visit to determine the cost of a vacation in Zanzibar.
You will find food at reasonable prices. You can have a hearty lunch for about $ 30 for two people. It also depends on where and what you choose to order. There are also costly places. There are many cheap things to do in Zanzibar but flights are a big part of your budget.
So, with a well-made home plan and a little flexibility in terms of flights, it is possible to have an affordable vacation in Zanzibar.
What currency is used in Zanzibar?
The official currency in Zanzibar Tanzania is the Tanzanian shilling. A US dollar is about 2300 TZS. But everywhere you can pay in dollars. ATMs are not very frequent, so I advise you to withdraw cash in Zanzibar City, especially since it is the only way to pay in many places.
What language is spoken in Zanzibar?
The Zanzibar people speak Swahili, and you have to learn a few lines before you reach their land. You will get along very well with them in English, but if you answer them in their language with a Jambo (Hello!) Or Karibu (Thank you!), You will surely conquer them instantly.
What to wear in Zanzibar?
Although the religion in Zanzibar Tanzania is predominantly Muslim, clothing is not a problem. Whether you are a woman or a man, you can wear warm, light-season-specific clothes, even swimsuits. Of course, it would be better to avoid topless, although I have seen cases.
You won’t need thick clothes, possibly a sweatshirt for cooler evenings, to which the ocean breeze also contributes.
How to drive to the best places to visit in Zanzibar?
You can rent a car if you want to explore the island long and wide at your own pace and see the best places to visit in Zanzibar. Instead, I prefer the taxi. The distances are not very long, except when you move to a diametrically opposite area on the island.
However, in a maximum of 2 hours, you can reach the farthest destination from where you are, regardless of the means of transport in Zanzibar. There is also the bus option, but I would avoid it, especially given the current conditions in the world.
Is Zanzibar worth visiting?
Final question and the conclusion of this article is “Is Zanzibar worth visiting?”. I think the answer is obvious but still, everyone could have a different opinion, depending on their experience with Zanzibar.
Yes, it’s beautiful, affordable, safe, and challenging, an the list could go on forever. In my opinion, any place in the world is worth visiting, as long as it’s safe. Zanzibar is a whole experience and could offer you memories to last a lifetime. Go for it!