6 Reasons You Should Visit Zanzibar

Relaxing on Zanzibar’s unspoiled beaches is an ideal way to wind down at the end of a busy safari. Swim among rich coral reefs. Sail along the coast in a romantic dhow sailboat. Or experience a sensory feast at one of the farms that give Zanzibar the name of “the Spice Islands.”

The Zanzibar Archipelago is a collection of Indian Ocean islands off the coast of East Africa. Historically part of Portugal, Oman, and then Great Britain, it joined with Tanganyika on the mainland in 1964 to form Tanzania.

Stone Town, the island’s traditional capital, was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique urban culture. Swahili, Arab, Indian, and European influences pervade the architecture and cuisine. Stone Town boasts bustling marketplaces, breathtaking mosques, and magnificent palaces. Just a short drive away, tour spice farms or visit the famed Jozani Forest. This forest is one of the only places in the world where endangered Kirk’s red colobus monkeys can be found in the wild.

Here, we list six reasons to visit Zanzibar. From snorkeling to visiting historic sites, Zanzibar has much to offer.

gentle waves on white-sand Jambiani beach lined with palms
person smiles while kitesurfing on clear blue water
bottlenose dolphins swimming at water surface near kizimkazi zanzibar
aerial view of a mangrove forest on Michamvi Zanzibar coastline with turquoise and blue waters
rocky outcrop on beach with low white caps rolling in from light blue sea in nungwi zanzibar

Waves roll gently in on the palm-fringed beach of Jambiani; Paje has ideal conditions for kitesurfing (photo courtesy of White Sands Villas); dolphins are a frequent sight at Kizimkazi; beautiful mangrove forests line the coast of Michamvi; rocky outcrops punctuate the scenic white-sand beaches of Nungwi; a woman cultivates seaweed near Matemwe.

1. Breathtaking Beaches

If you’re feeling dust-clogged after your safari, languishing on the beach for a few days is a fine antidote. Some of Africa’s loveliest beaches are in Zanzibar. The main island, Unjuga—also known as Zanzibar Island—has many to choose from.

Jambiani

Jambiani is on the southeastern coast of Unjuga. At low tide, a tranquil turquoise swimming channel forms between the sand banks. Near the beach lies a village. You may see fishermen hauling in their catch on wooden boats or women harvesting clams and edible seaweed along the beach.

Paje

North of Jambiani lies Paje, a quiet beach becoming increasingly popular for kitesurfing. The water is clear and the sand is fine and white—take a stroll through the water at low tide to look for starfish, sea urchins, and more.

Kizimkazi

On the southwest side of Zanzibar Island, Kizimkazi has one of the highest tides on the island. It is a great place for diving, snorkeling, and looking for dolphins. On land, it is home to the oldest mosque in all of East Africa. The mosque was built in the 12th century, making it more than 900 years old. It is open to visitors.

Michamvi

Surfing and windsurfing are big attractions at Michamvi, a beach town on the northeastern tip of Unjuga. Conditions are best from June to November when wind comes from the south.

Nungwi

Named by CNN as one of the top 100 beaches in the world, Nungwi is a popular vacation destination. Situated on the northern end of Unjuga, it offers spectacular tides, sunrises, and sunsets. Here you will find plenty of options for diving, dining, and nightlife.

Matemwe

On the northeast coast of Zanzibar Island, Matemwe is a quiet destination with stunning beaches. At low tide, you can walk out to explore the reef. Diving, snorkeling, sailing, and kitesurfing are popular activities, as are visits to nearby Mnemba Island. Or simply rest on the beach for sunning or stargazing.

Coral reefs off the coast of Zanzibar are popular with fish and snorkelers alike.

2. Amazing Diving & Snorkeling

Zanzibar’s islands offer some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Along the west coast of the island of Pemba, for example, the Pemba Channel drops off steeply, creating habitat for diverse species of marine life and coral. A trip to Pemba’s unspoiled shores and pristine waters is the underwater adventure of a lifetime.

Changuu Island—also known as Prison Island or Quarantine Island—is another wonderful destination for underwater adventures. Just 800 meters long and 230 meters wide, it is surrounded by coral reefs. While you’re here, spend some time on shore. This tiny island is a refuge for Aldabra giant tortoises.

a dhow sailboat off coast of Zanzibar with sunset in background

A dhow sails off the coast of Stone Town, Zanzibar, at sunset. Photo by Drouyn Cambridge.

3. Picturesque Boat Cruises

Boat cruises are a favorite way to see the Zanzibar coast. Modern cruise boats offer comfortable seating and gourmet refreshments, while sailboats offer a taste of Zanzibar’s long-established ocean culture. Choose from the ngalawa or dhow for your sailing adventure. The ngalawa is a double-outrigger canoe traditionally used for short-distance travel and fishing. The dhow is a larger sailboat used in East Africa and South Asia for centuries.

Menai Bay Conservation Area, located off the southwestern coast of the main island of Unjuga, is Zanzibar’s largest marine protected area. It is a wonderful place to explore by boat. Dolphins and a diverse array of bird life can be spotted here.

Want an ocean experience like no other? Travel for a few days on a yacht or dhow, spending each night on a different island. It’s an incredible way to experience the diversity of the Zanzibar Archipelago.

woman in orange dress walks past a Stone Town shop with art on display
stone building with carved wooden doors and intricate stone carving above the doors
House of Wonders is a multilevel white building verandas on each level behind red-flowering trees
annatto pod is held in a persons hands

A woman walks past an art studio in Stone Town; Stone Town is known for its unique carved doors (Richard Mortel); built in 1883, the House of Wonders was the first building in Zanzibar with an elevator (TravelingOtter); children in Stone Town play the popular game bao (Olivier Lejade); Omani Arabs built Stone Town’s Old Fort in 1699; see annatto and other fresh spices at farms on the outskirts of Stone Town (Marc Vereert).

4. Explore Stone Town

Stone Town is the island’s historic and cultural center. With narrow streets and white buildings, the architecture fuses Arabic, Indian, European, and African influences. Shops are alive with the buzz of haggling and offer colorful art, crafts, clothing, and spices. Restaurants reflect the variety of cultures that are part of Zanzibar’s history.

The Old Fort (or Arab Fort) is a popular stop on any tour of Stone Town. It is the oldest building in Zanzibar—the Omani sultanate built the fort in the seventeenth century to defend the island from the Portuguese. Today, the Old Fort serves as a cultural center. Here, you can buy tingatinga paintings or enjoy an evening of music and dancing.

In addition to being famous for its spices, Zanzibar historically played a large role in the international slave trade before outlawing the sale of humans in 1876. To commemorate this event, the Anglican Church built the Christ Church cathedral on the site of Stone Town’s former slave market. This impressive monument is open to visitors, as are a memorial and small museum next to the church.

Are you a fan of music? Drop in at the Freddie Mercury Museum to learn about the Queen frontman’s childhood in Zanzibar. The museum is located in the house where the music legend lived until he was eight years old.

Finally, you’ll want to view some of the impressive palaces and mansions from Zanzibar’s years as a sultanate. These include Tippu Tip House, the Sultan’s Palace, and the House of Wonders.

hand holding a pale nutmeg fruit with a large brown and red seed

On a spice tour, you can get a close look at culinary delights like this nutmeg fruit.

5. Discover the Spice Islands

In the 1800s, Zanzibar became one of the world’s leading growers of cloves and other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. It was a crucial stop on the spice route, attracting traders from Arabia, India, and Persia. Today, its spices are sold throughout the world.

Experience these spices at the source. Stop in at a spice farm for a tour that confounds the senses. Cloves, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, black pepper, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, annatto, and cardamom are just a few of the plants you may see on your visit. Some spice farms also grow delicious tropical fruits for sampling. Enjoy a refreshing herbal treat, such as lemongrass tea or ginger-infused mango juice, as part of your tour.

Zanzibar red colobus monkey sitting in lush greenery and eating leaves

A Zanzibar red colobus monkey enjoys a meal of leaves in Jozani Forest. Photo by Patrick Mueller.

6. See Rare Animals

Jozani Forest is home to rare Kirk’s red colobus monkeys, found only on this island. It makes sense that the other name for this species is the Zanzibar red colobus monkey!

In Jozani, you may also see Sykes monkeys, bushbabies, Ader’s duikers, hyraxes and more species of butterflies and birds than you can point your camera at.

Want to Visit Zanzibar?

Ujuzi African Travel can help you plan your trip to Zanzibar and beyond. Most of our travelers pair a stay in Zanzibar with a safari in East Africa. Spending a few days in Zanzibar is a great way to unwind toward the end of your African adventure! Contact us to make your travel dreams come true.

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