15 Best Things to Do in Zanzibar

From sprawling white beaches and snorkelling above underwater coral reefs to enjoying the rich cultures and cuisine of Africa, Persia, India and the Arabian Peninsula, here are some of the most unique and exciting things to do in Zanzibar

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Zanzibar-Map-99K
Zanzibar Map

Why Visit Zanzibar

The islands of Zanzibar cater for anyone seeking relaxing beaches, rich culture and affordable prices. Tourism is one of the main streams of income making it an incredibly safe place for adventurers, tourists and solo travellers. 

things-to-do-in-zanzibar

1. Enjoy the Sun on the Best Beaches

Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world Zanzibar offers pristine white sands and clear warm waters that treasure beautiful and rare marine wildlife. 

Nungwi Beach

Fumba Beach Lodge Zanzibar

Located approximately an hour’s drive north of Zanzibar City, Nungwi beach offers beautiful resorts, budget backpackers and luxury hotels. Unwind and sip on a coconut or cocktail while watching the dhows drift across the ocean’s horizon. 

Being predominantly Muslim, both men and women wear loose-fitting clothing, covering their legs and shoulders, with the exception of the beach, where swimwear is acceptable for visitors. This is good to remember when joining tours and visiting local towns. Alcohol is available in resorts and hotels around Zanzibar, but not offered in the local restaurants or shops.

2. Explore Kendwa Actitivities

kite-surfing-zanzibar

The Eastern part of the island is tidal, so if you’re after all-day swimming, head towards the Northern and Western beaches,  such as Kendwa.

The ocean here is a wonderful place to swim and since there have not been any recorded shark attacks in the recent past, Kendwa is the perfect destination for beach holidays.

This part of the Unguja is most popular with tourists, with a laid-back holiday vibe, it’s host to some of the best activities in Zanzibar.

Tourists can enjoy everything from scuba diving, parasailing and skydiving to sunset cruises and seafood barbeques, as well as the full moon parties hosted at Kendwa Rocks.

The best time for a beach holiday is between June and October. You will avoid the rainy season, but with balmy warm weather all year round, travellers frequent the islands consistently.

Located approximately an hour’s drive north of Zanzibar City, Nungwi beach offers beautiful resorts, budget backpackers and luxury hotels. 

Unwind and sip on a coconut or cocktail while watching the dhows drift across the ocean’s horizon.

3. Pamper Yourself on Mnemba Island

Zanzibar-beach-pier

Just off the East coast of Zanzibar lies Mnemba Island, perfect for honeymooners seeking a private island retreat. 

Mnemba offers dolphin tours and hosts beautiful coral reefs for divers and snorkelling enthusiasts, some of the incredible marine life around the island include lionfish, moray eels, stingrays and turtles. Choose to stay at one of the 12 private beach bandas or book a day trip from Nungwi.

4. Float above Beautiful Coral Reefs

Floating

The calm waters surrounding Ugunja and Pemba are packed with spectacular coral reefs and tropical wildlife, making it a year-round snorkelling paradise. 

The Mnemba Atoll Marine Reserve is an underwater conservation area on Mnemba Island that houses vast corals and rare aquatic life. These delicate ecosystems take you into a spectacular underwater world of bright corals that are home to Green Turtles, Seahorses, Trumpetfish, Moray Eels and Napoleon Wrasse just to name a few. 

The Island has two great snorkelling spots, Wattabomi and West Gardens. Scuba divers can visit Kichwani Reef, the Aquarium and the Big Wall, all varying from 12 to 50 meters in depth.

Snorkelling is also perfect in the waters around Stone Town, where shipwrecks lay strewn upon the ocean floor and rainbow coral reefs support a vast array of aquatic life. Jellyfish are sometimes spotted, so many snorkelers wear rash vests when swimming in this area.

Further west of Stone Town lies the island of Changuu (also known as Prison Island) a remote snorkelling gem surrounded by untouched reefs and crystal waters for perfect visibility. Travellers can do some overground nature exploration too by taking a trip to the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary situated further inland.

5. Head Out to Misali Island for the Best Diving in East Africa

Diving

With incredible diving conditions and high visibility, the archipelago is a  popular destination for diving, particularly Pemba Island, which offers everything from deep-sea safaris to spectacular novice excursions. The archipelago has approximately thirty diving spots to choose from and offers beginner courses for travellers in search of a new experience.

Without a doubt, one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in East Africa is Misali Island, just west of Pemba, North of Ugunja. These remote waters, belonging to the Pemba Channel conservation area, are undisturbed by tides and offer over three hundred different varieties of marine wildlife and vast gardens of coral.

Tourists can arrange trips to the island through their travel agencies and hotels, or take a boat out from Wesha.

6. Go Sailing on a Tradicional Dhow

dhow-boat-zanzibar-sailing

Nungwi remains the hub of traditional dhow shipbuilding, a craft specific to East Africa and defined by the timber boats that can be seen drifting across the sea. 

Travellers seeking to venture beyond the lazy beaches can join the Nungwi Village tour, explore the shipbuilding regions or go on a dhow cruise and watch the sunset from the calm Indian Ocean.

7. Tour Museums in Stone Town

Zanzibar-Blue-Door-Culture

Known as Spice Island, the Zanzibar archipelago is famous for its trade in nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, providing an aromatic background to the local markets and food stalls located in and around historical Stone Town

As the oldest part of Zanzibar City, Stone Town’s distinctive architecture reflects  Arab, European, Persian, African and Indian influences and derives its name from the Coral Stone used as its main building material. 

The maze of narrow streets is home to some of Zanzibar’s best historical attractions, including the Arab Fort, Palace of Wonders, Forodhani Gardens and the Palace Museum. These attractions can be seen through a vast selection of guided walks and bike tours.

Palace of Wonders

A must-see landmark of Stone Town is the Palace of Wonders, originally built by the Saltan, Barghash bin Said. 

Palace Museum

Originally the palace of Sultan Seyyid Said, it was used until the revolution in 1964 when the last sultan was overthrown. It is a popular attraction for it still houses many of the thrones, art and furniture from that bygone era.

8. Unwind and Enjoy Street Food in the Forodhani Gardens

Forodhani-Garden-of-Zanzibar-Stone-Town
Forodhani Gardens

Nestled amongst these historical buildings are the Forodhani Gardens, originally built in commemoration of Saltan Khalifa in 1936, the gardens are now a local park that attracts visitors and locals alike. 

After sunset, the park transforms into a bustling night market where vendors come together to sell some incredible Swahili delicacies, from Biryani, Mandazi and Mishkaki skewer to an array of seafood with East African, Persian and Portuguese influences.

9. Watch Out for Major Events at the Arab Fort

The-Old-Fort-of-Zanzibar-Arab-Fort

The Old Fort of Zanzibar is a major attraction for visitors. Built by the Omani Arabs in the 17th Century, it is the oldest building in Zanzibar and certainly one of the best things to see here. Historically used as a fortress and then as a prison in the late 19th century. Today the Arab Fort hosts large events such as the Zanzibar International Film Festival which runs each year during July.

10. Go On a Shopping Spree at the Darajani Market

souvenirs-Stone-Town

You’ll find the main market (Darajani Bazaar) located in Stone Town. Here, Swahili vendors sell fresh fruit and spices, as well as the beautiful traditional cotton fabric worn by the women and sometimes men, called Kanga, the Swahili word for guinea fowl, as well as embroidered Kofia hats.

11. Take a Boat to Learn about Slave Trade’s Secret

Changuu-Island-of-Zanzibar

Changuu Island is a 30-minute boat trip from Stone Town and is popular for the fascinating history of being a yellow fever quarantine centre. Zanzibar is also known for its participation in the slave trade during the 19th century. Originally the plan for the island was to be used as a prison for rebellious slaves, making it a dark-tourism destination with an appropriate nickname of the Prison Island. There are a few tours to choose from.

The dense, tropical forest is teeming with giant tortoises and a spectacular range of birdlife, surrounded by shallow underwater safaris perfect for snorkelling excursions. 

12. Visit a Real Zanzibar Coffee Shop

Zanzibar-Coffee-House-Hotel

Tanzania is well known for exporting Arabica and Robusta coffee beans grown on large plantations and smallholdings across the country. Zanzibar has therefore had an opportunity to master the fine art of coffee making to the delight of caffeine loving travellers from across the globe. 

What better way to start the day or end a meal with a visit to the Zanzibar Coffee House in Stone Town. The renovated 19th-century building functions as a hotel, serving authentic Arabian coffee from the cafe downstairs. This authentic Arabian House is one of the oldest in Stone Town and is worth a visit, if not for the exquisite coffee then for the incredible architecture and antiques.

13. Browse Artisan Shops

You’ll find the main market (Darajani Bazaar) located in Stone Town. Here, Swahili vendors sell fresh fruit and spices, as well as the beautiful traditional cotton fabric worn by the women and sometimes men, called Kanga, the Swahili word for guinea fowl, as well as embroidered Kofia hats. 

Artisan-woodwork-shop

Down the streets of Zanzibar city, you’ll find shops selling souvenirs and gifts reflecting the beautiful creative arts and crafts of Zanzibar, from bags and jewellery to keyrings and carefully carved wooden sculptures.  

Other gems within the city include Persian antiques, baskets and mats woven from palm leaves, natural cosmetics, health food stores and art galleries. 

14. Have the Night of Your life in Zanzibar City

As the sun sets over the islands, Stone Town and Zanzibar City come alive. Forodhani Park transforms into a bustling night market where vendors come together to sell some incredible Swahili delicacies – from Biryani and Mandazi and Mishkaki skewers to an array of seafood with East African, Persian and Portuguese influence.

zanzibar-city

Starehe Club

Foodies and night owls can enjoy the many bars and restaurants that buzz with music and aromas of shisha-pipes and tasty cuisine. If you’re looking for a relaxed evening head to Starehe Club which overlooks the bay, have a cold beer and get to know the locals. If that’s a bit too chilled for your liking you can always head over the road to Garage Çlub, the zebra print walls make it hard to miss.

Dharma Lounge

Fully air conditioning and throwing out loud afro beats, reggae and pop tunes into the early hours you can dance the night away to your heart’s content. Dharma Lounge also provides a large dance floor that is popular amongst many of the younger crowd.

Africa House Hotel

Some other great spots around the city include Africa House Hotel, a sundowner hotspot since the colonial era, the large terrace makes it the perfect spot to catch the sunset, try out a local Shisha pipe and reflect on the day’s adventures.

Mercury’s and 6 Degrees South

For happy hour specials head to Mercury’s which also offers great food, as well as 6 Degrees South where you can choose to eat at the restaurant, chill out in the cocktail lounge or have a drink on the deck, overlooking the ocean.

15. Take a Zanzibar Spice Tour

cloves-Zanzibar
Cloves

Known as the Spice Island, the Zanzibar archipelago is famous for its trade in nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, providing an aromatic background to the local Swahili dishes.

Meet the locals and enjoy the authentic experiences of Zanzibar is to go on a spice tour. Visit local villages, learn about the Zanzibar spice trade and take in the incredible vegetation of fruit trees and forests.

 

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