Zanzibar is a lovely island off the east coast of Tanzania. With white beaches, a clear blue sea and waving palm trees… It is a perfect destination for a sun, sea and beach holiday. There are a lot of fun things to do on Zanzibar, so it is a shame to spend whole days on the beach! I went to Zanzibar for two weeks and had a great holiday. What to you do on the beautiful island of Zanzibar?
20x what to do on Zanzibar
Where is the island of Zanzibar?
The island of Zanzibar is located on the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is about 40 km from the coast of Tanzania and it consists of several islands. The largest islands are Unguja and Pemba and the smaller islands include Mafia, Latham, Hadimu and Tumbatu. The island has a total area of 1658 km² and about 800,000 people live there.
A brief history of Zanzibar
In the sixteenth century it was the Portuguese who were the first to conquer the island of Zanzibar. The interest of the Portuguese for Zanzibar was there because of the strategic and ideal location of Zanzibar for trade. However, because the Portuguese reacted rather passively over the island, the island was later taken over by the Sultanate of Oman. During this period of rule by this sultan, trade grew strongly and the island developed rapidly. The downside was that this was also the period when Zanzibar was an important player in the slave trade. The banishment of the slave trade in the Indian Ocean by the British caused the economy of Zanzibar to deteriorate. In 1896 the shortest war in the world was fought on Zanzibar, because after less than an hour the Sultan gave Zanzibar to the British. Zanzibar remained in the hands of the British until 1963, when it was declared an independent country. In 1964 Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika, (known as Tanzania), but until today it is a semi-autonomous state.
What to do on Zanzibar?
1. Relaxing on the beautiful beaches
The many beautiful beaches on Zanzibar are the main reason for people to visit this island. Rightly so! The coastline is certainly not going to disappoint you. Beautiful beaches (more than 25!), waving palm trees everywhere, azure blue water and nice beach bars. Go lazing around, swimming, snorkeling, lunch and dinner with your feet in the sand, take a walk on the beach, watch the sunset. Every beach on Zanzibar is beautiful! So this must be the number 1 on the list of what to do on Zanzibar!
2. Explore Stone Town
Stone Town is the old centre of Zanzibar City and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000. The architecture in this part of the city is unique due to a special mix of Indian, Ottoman and Arab influences. Especially beautiful to see are the many special doors. Wander the winding and narrow streets, visit the markets and admire the beautiful squares! Also the old slave market should not be missed when visiting this city. In the evening Forodhani Gardens is the place to enjoy a delicious meal. From 18:00 there are several street food stalls every evening with delicious food. You can also visit the birthplace of Freddy Mercury and take a look at the harbour.
3. Follow a spice tour
An important source of income of the island are the herbs. With an organized tour you will visit a herb farm and get acquainted with for example lime grass, cinnamon, vanilla and black pepper. It does not matter where you stay on the island, because you can arrange a herbal tour anywhere. Clove, vanilla, turmeric and ginger come from Zanzibar, so be sure to bring a small stock for home as a souvenir!
4. Let yourself be carried away by the music
At Zanzibar the Taarab music is an important part of the culture. This music is a special mix of music styles from areas around the Indian Ocean. Step into a local tent where this music is played! Join in or watch the musicians and marvel at the sense of rhythm of dancing people. In Stone Town you can visit the Dhow Countries Music Academy.
5. Watch the sunset from a Dhow boat
A Dhow is a traditional Arab boat. The Arabs ruled over Zanzibar for a long time and you see these typical boats bobbing in the waters near Zanzibar. The nice thing is that with an organized boat trip on this boat is also a djembe band along! And they serve a delicious Tanzanian gin: konyagi. You can make a sunset cruise from Stone Town, Paje, Kizimkazi, Kendwa or Nungwi.
6. Discover the underwater world
Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts can indulge themselves at Zanzibar. Because of the many pristine coral reefs, the island is one of the most beautiful places to dive in the world. What are you going to see during your dive? Tropical fish, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins … The surroundings of Kizimkazi and Mnemba Reef are the best places to dive or snorkel. The Blue Lagoon at Paje Beach is the place where I snorkeled and this is also recommended.
7. Go to the beach of Nungwi
This village is located right in the north of Zanzibar. The beaches are beautiful, but I recommend it because this colorful fishing village has (partially) retained its charm. This despite the fact that it is the most touristic place on the island. There are lots of restaurants, shops and accommodations to stay. Tip is to go snorkeling at Mnemba Reef and take a walk to the lighthouse.
8. Take a ride in the dala dala
The cheapest and most adventurous way to get around on the island is with a Dala dala. These minivans drive all over the island and are the means of transport for the locals. Special is that the Dala dala’s have no official stops. You just raise your hand along the road if you want to get in or out. The most adventurous way to get around on the island. The roads on Zanzibar are in many places quite bumpy and not or badly asphalted, but that only makes the trip more fun, right?
9. Learn Kitesurfing
Paje Beach is the best place on the island to go kitesurfing. Ideal for every level. Nice to take a trial lesson and experience what you think of kitesurfing. But of course you can also take lessons there to develop your skills. Paje has been growing into a small kitesurfing mecca! The conditions for learning to kitesurf in Paje are ideal, because there are no waves and the wind is usually good. One hour of private lessons kitesurfing costs about €70,-. In Paje there are several kitesurf schools where you can arrange this.
10. Watch the sunset
The best place to watch the sunset is of course on the beach. Lovely to see the sun setting into the sea from a bar on the beach. For this you have to be on the east coast of the island near the village of Michanwi. The place where I saw the sunset is at Kae Funk. A very cozy beach bar with live music and delicious cocktails every night! Also a must is to admire the sunset in Stone Town at the Africa House Hotel.
11. Eating at the Rock restaurant
The Rock is without a doubt one of the most spectacular restaurants in the world. It is situated on a rock in the sea and at high tide it can only be reached by boat, which sails back and forth. This restaurant looks so pretty! The food is a bit more expensive than on other places on the island, on average you pay about 25 euros for a main course. This restaurant is about 15 minutes drive from Paje. It is advisable to book in advance for lunch or dinner. One works with two-hour shifts. On the menu you will find delicious fresh fish, such as the Rock Special: a fish dish with grilled lobster, shrimp and white fish.
12. Stay in Paje beach
This is the place to be if you like kite surfing. The sky is decorated full of all the colorful kite surfers. Nice to look at, but also cool to try for yourself. At this beach you will find several hostels and hotels in all price ranges and there are a handful of restaurants and shops. The beach is vast, white and the atmosphere is relaxed. It is a lot less touristy than for example in Nungwi.
13. Discover Jozani National Park
The flora and fauna on Zanzibar is spectacular and in the Jozani National Park you can admire rare animal species. In this park lives the red colobus: a monkey that you only find on Zanzibar. There are also special trees (more than 100 different species), more than 50 species of butterflies and 40 different species of birds. You look out of your eyes in this nature reserve. During the rainy seasons the water is so high in this park that the lake looks like a swamp. This park can be visited with an organized excursion, but you can also go there on your own. At the entrance you will be assigned a guide who will guide you through the park.
14. Explore the village of Jambiani
Jambiani is a village with a lovely beach in the east of Zanzibar. About an hour’s drive from Stone Town. Local life takes place right in front of your eyes and life here is still authentic. Fishermen are active, women search for seaweed, children play on the beach and local people have a chat with each other. The atmosphere is nice, the choice of restaurants is not big, but that’s not a problem at all!
15. Visit Prison island and the giant turtles
About 25 minutes by boat from Stone Stone is the “Prison Island”. Although the name suggests otherwise, there has never been a prison. The main attraction on this island are the giant turtles. So special to see these large animals up close and realize that some turtles are over 150 years old.
16. Dolphin spotting
In the southwest of the island you have the best chance of spotting dolphins in the wild. On Zanzibar they don’t feed the dolphins and therefore it is never guaranteed that you will actually hit them. Especially early in the morning you are most likely to see the dolphins in the sea. You can arrange it with an organized excursion to the various places on the island. The best place to go swimming with dolphins is in Kizimkazi in the south of Zanzibar, an hour’s drive from Stone Town. The costs for an excursion of about 3 hours are around €40,- per person.
17. Party at the Fullmoon party
Welcome to Zanzibar, home to white sandy beaches, bright blue beaches and the Full Moon Party. Every month there is a great Full Moon Party at Kendwa Rocks in the north of the island. At the party are the best local singers and DJs. There are several bars, a stage, a large dance floor, fire spitters, acrobats and a large area with tables and chairs in the sand.
18. Shopping at Zanzibar
Shopping in Stone Town is great! There are all small and special shops with trinkets. Paintings, jewellery, wood carvings, Zanzibar chests and exotic spices…. everything is for sale! Don’t forget to negotiate the price!
19. SUP through the mangrove
If you’ve ever done stand up paddle boarding (SUP), you know how much fun it is. And not as physically demanding as surfing or kitesurfing. Surf Zanzibar offers a number of different SUP tours in the beautiful lagoons and across the mangrove in Chwaka Bay.
20. Spend time with the locals
It is nice to walk around a village and talk to the friendly locals. Just away from the tourist spots and you will enjoy all the information you receive when you talk to the locals and ask them questions.
This is my list what to do on Zanzibar! Do you know more things to add on this list what to do on Zanzibar?
What is the best travel time for Zanzibar?
Zanzibar has a tropical monsoon climate. Its location not too far from the equator means that throughout the year the temperature fluctuates around thirty degrees Celsius. At night it cools down between five and ten degrees. Because of the cooling sea breeze it feels a bit less warm on the coast than in the interior. There are two rain periods on Zanzibar: April to June and from October to January. Especially inland, precipitation combined with high temperatures creates high humidity. In these periods you will experience heavy showers that last up to one hour.
Tip hotel Zanzibar
I slept 10 nights at Demani Lodge myself. This lodge consists of a number of cottages for 2, 3 or more persons. There is a nice swimming pool and a cozy bar. The restaurant serves delicious food for little money. We have eaten almost all evenings in the hotel, because it was just so tasty. Demani Lodge is 45 minutes walk on the beach to the center of Paje. But with a taxi you can get there in no time. They arrange excursions for you, they rent bikes and there is a pick up service from the ferry or airport. The staff is friendly and correct.
- Click here for prices and availability for Demani Lodge.
- Not what you are looking for? Click here for more accommodations in Paje
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