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Zanzibar Travel Guide

The Ultimate Zanzibar Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Zanzibar has a very rich history and was once one of the most important areas in East Africa. Following Vasco de Gama’s visit in 1499, Zanzibar was ruled by the Portuguese and remained this way for almost two centuries.

Zanzibar Travel Guide | What to see and do, good food + lots of extra tips

Do you feel like relaxing and just laying down on some of the best beaches in the world?  We have our best travel guide for Zanzibar in Tanzania made to make sure you don’t miss a thing and enjoy your trip to the fullest. In this guide, you’ll find the best places to go, some great places to eat, and answers frequently asked questions. You will see some truly amazing places on this beautiful island that will make you never want to leave. Zanzibar is a wonderful and fantastic destination for travellers, also as a stopover during your trip world trip!

15 Zanzibar Travel guide Tips To Know Before You Go

Planning to travel to Zanzibar and in search of a few Zanzibar travel tips? Whether you are on an African Honeymoon, finishing up your Kilimanjaro Trek, or exploring the plains of the Serengeti when ending it all with a long beach holiday one thing is for certain  – Zanzibar Island is beautiful.

Here are a few Zanzibar travel guide tips that are good to know before you visit the island.

Zanzibar | The most frequently asked questions

When is the best time to travel to Zanzibar?

The perfect time to visit the best beaches in Zanzibar, Tanzania is during the months of June to October, the cool dry months. Another period when people visit Zanzibar is when it is hot and dry from December to February. The good thing about Zanzibar's beaches is that even if you go out of season, chances are you can still enjoy them.

Is it safe in Zanzibar?

The short answer is yes. And while most visits to Tanzania go smoothly, violent and armed crime is slowly increasing. Be especially careful in places frequented by tourists and expats. In Dar es Salaam, tourists and residents have been targeted in the city center, Ubungo bus station, the Masaki/Oysterbay Peninsula, particularly Coco Beach and along Toure Drive. In Zanzibar, incidents have taken place in Stone Town and at hotels and on popular tourist beaches.

How much does Zanzibar cost? Is it expensive?

Of course, this depends on what kind of accommodation you choose and from where you’re traveling to Zanzibar. Flights from Europe are around 700 Euros, with direct flights from Amsterdam and Paris (travel time approximately 9 hrs). Flights from the U.S. are between $700 – $1100 with 1-2 stops and a total duration of 20+ hours.
Hotel prices start as low as 30 Euro per night with a nice beach resort and the average price for a 3-star hotel is 60 Euro per night. Food, drinks, transportation, and excursions are very affordable and fairly priced. Most hotels offer breakfast or half-board options. There are, of course, also some stunning 5-star hotels available on the island and compared to e.g. the Caribbean usually a very good deal.

Can you drink the water in Zanzibar?

No. You should always try not to drink tap water or eat fruits or vegetables that have been washed with local water. You should always drink purified water or buy a water filter bottle so that you can drink safely without getting sick from contaminated water.

Where is Zanzibar?

Where is Zanzibar? This little island is not easy to find on the map at first. Zanzibar is one of the islands in the Indian Ocean. It is located on the Swahili Coast, bordering Tanzania, the country

Do you need a visa for Zanzibar?

You can get a visa on arrival in Tanzania, this means that you do not have to apply for the visa in advance, but we do recommend that you arrange this in advance. If you prefer to do it on site, as soon as you arrive at the airport, simply go to the immigration office with 50 euros and 2 ID photos.

What language do they speak in Zanzibar?

The official language in Zanzibar is Swahili, but English is their second language, so most people (especially tour guides and travel guides in Zanzibar) can speak English well.

What is the currency of Zanzibar?

The currency in Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling. There is only an ATM in Stone Town, so we recommend that you withdraw enough money for your entire stay on the island of Zanzibar. Check in advance with your accommodation whether you can also pay with a credit card.

Is there Malaria in Zanzibar?

Yes, there is malaria in Zanzibar. And there are some other diseases that you should check with the GGD in advance. As far as vaccinations are concerned, you must have the yellow fever vaccine in order to enter the country. You must be able to prove this with the help of a vaccination booklet that you should have with you. Make an appointment with Vaccinations while Traveling or the GGD for the most recent advice.

How many days do you need in Zanzibar?

We would suggest 10 – 12 days to have enough time to relax and explore the island, particularly because the travel time is on the longer side. However, it is possible to see everything in 1 week. Oftentimes, people visit Zanzibar after a safari in Tanzania and spend another 4-6 days on the island to mostly relax on the beach. The flight from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania only takes about 20 minutes. It’s also possible to take a ferry. Flights from Kenya or inland Tanzania are also possible.

Quick Tips | Zanzibar travel guide

  • Take the time to discover the food and culture of Stone Town.
  • Pack a snorkel + mask. You’ll want to use it almost everywhere!
  • Do not touch coral or fish while snorkeling.
  • Spices and coffee are important here. Book a tour or tour!
  • Zanzibar is a Muslim island, so dress appropriately.
  • Beware of guided tours scams and only go to well-reviewed places.
  • The island of Zanzibar is generally safe, but with extra precaution and common sense it will be much safer.
  • Traveling around the island by taxi is the easiest, but also the most expensive. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the prices hard.
  • Never leave your belongings unattended when you are at the beach.
  • Take a tour with a ‘dhow’, a great experience.

Things to Do in Zanzibar

Coral reefs

You need to look underwater for some of Zanzibar’s most beautiful sights – lush coral gardens teeming with colourful fish, turtles and sharks. Visibility is exceptional, and the corals are in relatively good condition.

Coral reefs

You need to look underwater for some of Zanzibar’s most beautiful sights – lush coral gardens teeming with colourful fish, turtles and sharks. Visibility is exceptional, and the corals are in relatively good condition. However, these fragile reefs are extremely vulnerable and are starting to show signs of stress. Take care not to touch or damage the corals while snorkelling or diving and wear sea-safe sunscreen.

Jozani Forest

Wander the boardwalks in Jozani’s tangled forest and you might come across endangered red colobus monkeys swinging between the treetops.

Jozani Forest

Wander the boardwalks in Jozani’s tangled forest and you might come across endangered red colobus monkeys swinging between the treetops. This shady, steamy forest in the south of Zanzibar’s main island is an easy day trip from Stone Town, and not only offers rare endemic primates but also nocturnal bush babies, duiker, tree hyrax, over 50 species of butterfly and vibrant birdlife.

Northeast coast

Fringed by a coral reef that keeps the waters here placid and calm, Zanzibar’s pristine northeast coast is blessed with very little tidal variation and a swathe of powdery white sand

Northeast coast

Wander the boardwalks in Jozani’s tangled forest and you might come across endangered red colobus monkeys swinging between the treetops. This shady, steamy forest in the south of Zanzibar’s main island is an easy day trip from Stone Town, and not only offers rare endemic primates but also nocturnal bush babies, duiker, tree hyrax, over 50 species of butterfly and vibrant birdlife.

Pemba

Technically Zanzibar refers to the whole Zanzibar Archipelago and Pemba is the northerly sister to the main island Unguja.

Pemba

Technically Zanzibar refers to the whole Zanzibar Archipelago and Pemba is the northerly sister to the main island Unguja. It’s more lush, harder to reach, less developed and little visited. Its beaches are untouched and the diving is spectacular. Unlike Unguja, Pemba is still more reliant on agriculture than tourism, English isn’t widely spoken and its small, mainly Muslim Swahili communities are less exposed to the outside world and noticeably more conservative.

Spice plantations

Once the source of immense wealth to Arab traders, Zanzibar’s exports of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and black pepper to Europe and beyond.

Spice plantations

Once the source of immense wealth to Arab traders, Zanzibar’s exports of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and black pepper to Europe and beyond may be in serious decline, but family run tours of the small, often subsistence spice plantations inland from Stone Town still provide an eye-opening, aromatic insight into this cornerstone of Zanzibari culture.

Stone Town

The crumbling stone walls of UNESCO-listed Stone Town glow amber in the evening sun. 

Stone Town

The crumbling stone walls of UNESCO-listed Stone Town glow amber in the evening sun. Wander its labyrinth of alleyways, where intricately-carved doors hide the once opulent courtyards of wealthy Omani-Arab traders, and you’ll discover the heart of East Africa’s spice and slave trades. Don’t miss a (somewhat harrowing) visit to the former slave market under Christ Church Cathedral, the old dhow port, the Sultan’s Palace and the House of Wonders.

Things to Do in Zanzibar

Stone Town

Stone town is the first stop in Zanzibar Island. Its form reminds of a maze of narrow alleys with many small local shops, bazaars, small houses, and mosques. A Place rich in history and culture, which has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s so much about Stone Town to take in, so let yourself go with the flow and delve into Zanzibar’s culture and rich heritage.

Stone Town

Stone town is the first stop in Zanzibar Island. Its form reminds of a maze of narrow alleys with many small local shops, bazaars, small houses, and mosques. A Place rich in history and culture, which has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s so much about Stone Town to take in, so let yourself go with the flow and delve into Zanzibar’s culture and rich heritage.

Paje.

Situated on the east coast of Zanzibar and only an hour ride from Stone Town has become a mecca for backpackers. A long sand stripe and turquoise waters are the perfect combinations for anyone looking for water sports due to its wide offer. It is a hot spot for those who are into kitesurfing and one of the biggest Zanzibar beaches. Come if your thing is to be relaxed with a massive beach for yourself.

Paje.

Situated on the east coast of Zanzibar and only an hour ride from Stone Town has become a mecca for backpackers. A long sand stripe and turquoise waters are the perfect combinations for anyone looking for water sports due to its wide offer. It is a hot spot for those who are into kitesurfing and one of the biggest Zanzibar beaches. Come if your thing is to be relaxed with a massive beach for yourself.

Nungwi.

It is the purest place we found in Zanzibar. A small charming village in the north of Zanzibar only 3km from Kendwa. The perfect place to relax and wander around the beach and the local village and for us, one of the best Zanzibar beaches.

Nungwi.

It is the purest place we found in Zanzibar. A small charming village in the north of Zanzibar only 3km from Kendwa. The perfect place to relax and wander around the beach and the local village and for us, one of the best Zanzibar beaches.

Kendwa.

Is one of the biggest beaches in Zanzibar.  Kendwa is a popular destination for tourists for its beauty and also for hosting full moon parties. It has a wide offer of resorts and restaurants on the beach. Although it is amazing, it is been developed fast!

Kendwa.

Is one of the biggest beaches in Zanzibar.  Kendwa is a popular destination for tourists for its beauty and also for hosting full moon parties. It has a wide offer of resorts and restaurants on the beach. Although it is amazing, it is been developed fast!

Quick Tips | Zanzibar travel guide

Where to stay in Zanzibar?

Zanzibar has a few popular areas with some of Africa’s most beautiful beaches. On the east coast, some of the most beautiful beaches and hotels are in Kiwengwa. Coral reefs and sand bars can be found along the east coast of the island and tide pools become visible during low tide. Swimming is often not possible during low tide here. 

In between the central coast and the southeast coast is a little peninsula with the village of Pingwe on the east side, and Michamvi on the Chwaka Bay (inland) side. The peninsula is less crowded and has untouched natural areas. Michamvi beach has incredibly powdery white sand and most boutique (mid-to upscale) hotels can be found here. However, the tides are also quite drastic. On the bright side, you can catch some of the most breathtaking sunsets on Michamvi Beach. 

Further down south on the east coast are Paje and Jambiani village, also very popular and beautiful beaches. Here, the tides don’t affect swimming as much as on the central east coast. Paje is the kitesurfing capital from December to February.

In the north, Nungwi and Kendwa are possibly the favorite areas of most visitors. Stunning beaches, less extreme tides, and less seaweed than in the other regions. Most large (luxury) resorts can be found in Nungwi and it’s quite busy during the high season. This is more for people who prefer all-inclusive large resorts. Kendwa is a bit less crowded and slower-paced. 

On the west coast, Stone Town is the area where most people spend some time. There are not a whole lot of hotels along the west coast. On the south tip of the island, Kizimkazi is less developed touristically but still offers some great accommodations. It’s a top location for nature and marine life like bottlenose dolphins. 

Accommodation in Zanzibar

Accommodation is hugely varied on Zanzibar. Visitors can expect authentic beach lodges to 5* hotels and everything in between. For a small island, there is a huge number of accommodation options and it can be confusing to know where to start. For each budget, there will be a perfect hotel somewhere on Zanzibar’s shores.

The best and most luxurious Zanzibar accommodation can be found in Mnemba Private Island. With only a handful of elegant bandas on one of the Indian Ocean’s most pristine beaches, this private island is simply stunning. Do not expect the mod-cons of a 5* hotel, but authentic luxury for an unparalleled castaway experience. At around USD $1,800 per person per night, it is certainly not cheap though.

On Zanzibar Island itself, nowhere is more spoiling than the beautiful 12 Xanadu Private Villas, which cosy up against a white stretch of beach in amongst tropical trees. Each villa has a private pool (one even has two!), a spacious two floor villa and comes with your very own private butler. You can choose to dine on your Michelin standard meals in your villa or the main area. This is a honeymooner’s heaven. Prices start at around USD $800 per person per night.

Another luxury option which appeals to honeymooners and couples is Zawadi; a chic, pristine beach lodge on the east coast. It is not far from Xanadu, and offers a serene stay. From its white interiors and perfectly situated glass fronted rooms with a little plunge pool for added luxury, Zawadi is all about “zen”.

Of the bigger hotels on the island Zuri Zanzibar is undoubtedly the best. With 50+ rooms, guests can opt for all-inclusive beach house luxury, or the cheapest “garden bungalows” which begin from around USD$350 per person per night. Whichever you choose, Zuri’s unbelievable location on Zanzibar’s best beach is its main selling point with powdery white sands and glittering transparent waters. The lodge itself is fun, with fantastic food and a great atmosphere, not like a stuffy 5* hotel but rather a boutique hotel, just with more rooms.

At the barefoot luxury end of the scale sits Pongwe Beach Hotel, a fabulous characterful boutique lodge in a fantastic location on the east coast. With no superfluous luxury but quirky rooms and a fun atmosphere, at prices starting from USD$180 per person per night, Pongwe is a steal.

History of Zanzibar

Originally home to the Bantu, by 700AD the first Muslims settled on Zanzibar’s shores as Arabs sailed in from the gulf for trade. These people formed the basis of Zanzibar’s Swahili culture as we know it today.

Throughout 200 years of Portuguese control in the 15th century, Zanzibar’s culture remained strong. Then, under the Sultans of Oman, an elite Arab class who ruled Zanzibar from the end of the 17th century, Zanzibar’s trades for ivory and spices flourished. It was at this time Zanzibar also became established as a main trading port for the East African slave trade. The ugly history of the slave trade is visible today in a museum, and various monuments scattered around Stone Town.

Gradually, Zanzibar came under British control and became a protectorate in 1890. “Puppet” governors were put in place to rule Zanzibar, and did so until a sultan was appointed which was deemed unsuitable by the British, leading to the Anglo-Zanzibar War, also known as “The Shortest War in History”. For 38 minutes on 17th August 1896, the British destroyed the Beit al Hukum palace before a quick ceasefire.

The island gained independence from Britain in 1963 which was followed closely by the Zanzibar Revolution where thousands were killed. The aftermath was the formation of the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba, though shortly after they were linked to the mainland, Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania). Now, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.

Today, traces of centuries of curious tradesmen and cultures can be found in Stone Town’s rustic walls. It is worth hiring a tour guide for the day to take you through Zanzibar’s dramatic history in the museums and the former Sultan’s palace whilst in Stone Town. In more recent history, Freddie Mercury’s childhood home can be found in Stone Town. Although visitors cannot enter the building, seeing it from the outside and exploring the surrounding town offers a glimpse into the global rockstar’s early life.

Things to know before you visit Zanzibar

  • Zanzibar’s currency is the Tanzania Shilling (TZS). Most hotels and stores quote and accept USD and more often Euro, too.
  • In smaller local restaurants only shillings are accepted. Hence, it’s good to have a small amount of local currency as well.
  • These days, many places accept credit cards but there might be a 5% surcharge.
  • It is recommended to take cash with you – preferably freshly printed USD, Pounds Sterling, or Euros. ATM fees are very high.
  • The best place to exchange currency is in Stone Town.
  • Entry visas are mandatory for most Western travelers. They can be purchased upon arrival for $50 or online in advance
  • Stick to bottled water for drinking as the tap water is chlorinated.
  • If you have water shoes – bring them. Sometimes the ocean floor close to the beach can have old reefs, stones, and sea urchins.
  • Zanzibar being predominately Muslim, it is highly recommended to dress respectfully. Beachwear is fine at the beach and resort but on excursions, particularly in Stone Town, clothes should be more appropriate – knees and shoulders covered, no short shorts or tops with a lot of cleavage. When on a boat/snorkeling excursion, of course, this is different.
  • Leave valuables in the safe and don’t wear flashy jewelry.
  • When walking on the beach during low tide (beach previously below water) beware of sea urchins.
  • At markets, people usually actually don’t haggle.
  • Markets are also a great place to buy spices for less than they’re sold in tourist shops.
  • Plastic bags are banned! Bring a reusable canvas bag just in case you’ll go to a store. 
  • It’s prohibited to take shells and other organic matter out of the country. 

Safety tips for solo female travelers:

  • Use common sense. No, seriously, Zanzibar is not more or less dangerous than other places as long as you follow basic safety measures. Beach boys are mostly harmless but don’t buy anything from them or interact too much. Dress more on the conservative side to avoid unwanted attention. Don’t use random taxis and don’t walk around Stone Town alone at night. Don’t tell everyone where you are staying. 

Zanzibar Packing Tips

  • It is usually hot to very hot and humid throughout the year hence, the most important packing tip is to pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothes made of breathable materials like cotton and linen. A light cardigan or jacket is a good idea for cooler nights and indoor air-conditioning areas. Long-sleeves and long pants help to avoid mosquito bites. 
  • The sun is very strong and cover-ups are recommended on boats or by the ocean to avoid sunburn. Cover-ups and light beach dresses will probably be your go-to items anyway. Staying with the beach theme – don’t forget your hat(s)!
  • Some higher-end hotels and restaurants require more formal evening wear – for example, long trousers. If in doubt, check with your hotel in advance. 
  • Non-clothing items: an efficient mosquito repellent, a light rain cape, sunscreen, after-sun or aloe gel, basic first-aid kit (pain reliever., stomach related issues), water shoes, power adapter, sneakers, bag or backpack for excursions, reusable water bottle, canvas bag, earplugs.

Hopefully, we were able to inspire you to add Zanzibar to your travel destination list! 

Zanzibar Itinerary

  • Taking into account the time to arrive at and from Dar es Salam to Zanzibar, we would suggest spending at least 7 days in Zanzibar.
  • It is not a big island, so moving with a taxi around is the best option and does not take a lot of time, although the roads up there are not in the best conditions.
  • Our suggestion for a route in Zanzibar would be starting in Stone Town for the first contact. From here you can easily move anywhere.
  • We would recommend a short trip to Prison Island. Not only the island is gorgeous, but you will also have the chance to see the giant turtles.
  • After, Paje would make a great second stop for aquatic sports or for some tours in a bit more relaxed atmosphere.
  • From here, you can take a cab all the way north to Nungwi. This is the real paradise, so enjoy here some of the most amazing and purest beaches of Zanzibar.
  • Lastly, any travel to Zanzibar should pass by Kendwa. Beaches are extensive and idyllic, although there are more resorts and is one of the most touristic areas.

This is a great 7 days Zanzibar travel itinerary to cover the highlights.