A magnificent mix of white sandy beaches, complex and fascinating history, cultural richness, delicious international food, aromatic spices, a wealth of ocean adventures and diverse wildlife make Zanzibar holidays perfect for all.
10 Things That Make A Zanzibar Holiday Worth It!
1. Affordable Luxury and Romantic Atmosphere
Although some of the Zanzibar hotels and spa resorts are particularly exclusive and hitting the realm of only the rich and famous, a lot of equally opulent lodges, beach bangas and hotels are quite affordable.
Many travel to Zanzibar specifically for an experience of superb luxury at a good price. Apart from accommodation, the cost of living here even for tourists is quite low. So one can splash out a little on one’s lodgings to have a gorgeous infinity pool with easy access to a lush spa on-site, and save at the local restaurants instead.
With some of the most pristine white beaches, turquoise waters and sumptuous hotels, Zanzibar is the ideal destination for romance, honeymoons and weddings.
Sunset weddings, long walks on the soft beach, a wealth of underwater experiences, cultural tours around Stone Town, all create a great setting for holding hands and sneaky smooching.
2. Unbelievably Beautiful Beaches
Floating above the warm tropical waters of the western Indian Ocean, Zanzibar islands boast some of the world’s best beaches.
Surrounded by gorgeous and well-preserved and protected coral reefs, there is a chain of atolls or islands formed of coral. In other words, a breathtaking view from your drone camera is pretty much guaranteed. It’s perfect between July and September (see: best time to visit Zanzibar).
There are so many remote and popular beaches here, that it’s very difficult to choose the absolute best. Here are some of our favourite beaches in Zanzibar.
In the exhausted and overpopulated human world, serenity is a precious commodity.
Although Zanzibar can get quite busy in September, its nearby sister islands of Pemba, Mnemba, Chumbe and Mafia Island will almost always offer a quiet alternative to typical Zanzibar holidays.
Out of just under 50 smaller islands, you are sure to find a place with fewer crowds and more spiritual – in the best sense of the word – retreats.
Here, some of the long beaches above the water, and massive corals under the water can be enjoyed alone. Where else in the world can you find that these days? (Leave a comment with your insight – we always look forward to exploring new destinations!)
Even Stone Town, a maze of old rugged walls and shabby-chick cafes, can offer serene cultural exploration by bike or on foot. All you need to do is be comfortable with getting utterly and hopelessly lost!
4. Outstanding Reef Diving and Snorkelling
In comparison to popular diving in, say Thailand, Zanzibar wins hands down. From an array of diving schools for novices and challenging diving spots for the pros, there aren’t that many other places that have it all on the same level.
Thanks to tireless efforts to preserve its marine life, local authorities have done an outstanding job keeping local coral reefs in such good health. Coupled with near-perfect underwater visibility, diving here is an experience of a lifetime.
If you are not into spending days learning to breathe through a cumbersome regulator, floating above the water near the shore can allow you to see marvellous marine life and tropical fish.
Take a boat between islands to get the most of this amazing adventure, where you can also try kite-surfing or sailing.
See our complete guide to diving in Zanzibar.
5. Swimming with dolphins, turtles and whale sharks
Although not heavily regulated, dolphin swimming can be a highlight of your Zanzibar holiday. Ensure that you find a reliable operator (Google reviews offer a good glimpse of which ones to try), and head out to the south coast, called Kizimkazi. Departing from the village, local boats will quickly get you into the ocean where you might be pursued by a school of humpback dolphins or bottle-nosed dolphins.
Finding turtles also isn’t difficult. Head north to a natural tidal pool, the Mnarani Natural Aquarium, which is a headquarters for turtle conservation of Zanzibar. As an educational facility, it helps locals learn about the importance of Hawksbill and Green turtles to reduce their human consumption levels. The project treats wounded turtles and supports turtle hatchlings allowing them to reach the ocean waters in greater numbers.
To meet a creature of note, visit the so-called Prison Island, Changuu Island is a short boat ride away from Stone Town. Here you will not only explore the remnants of an eery slave prison but also see a highly vulnerable Aldabra giant tortoise, as per the IUCN Red List. Constantly poached, these animals are facing extinction without such sanctuaries. Coming here you will also support this conservation effort.
6. Amazing Wildlife and Plants
Although not a typical safari destination, Zanzibar has quite an array of wildlife and flora on display. To find one of the rarest primates in Africa, visit the Jozani Forest Reserve. It is home to Red Colobus Monkeys who are critically endangered. Thanks to huge efforts their population is beginning to recover.
At the park, you can also enjoy a butterfly show with a variety of species, as well as see different animals, birds and plants. The Butterfly Centre is a short drive from the park, where the locals learn to sustainably farm butterflies. The visit to the sanctuary will leave you with memories of gorgeous butterflies flying freely around the lavish tropical forests.
7. Great Cuisine with Local Spices
The blend of Indian, Arabic, Swahili and European cultures on the island resulted in numerous delicacies. Wake up your taste sense with a shock of a variety of street food on offer – from basic Zanzibar pizzas and coconut doughnuts to delicious seafood served on every corner and every popular beach.
Seafood is very popular and is served cooked on open fires, in restaurants, hotels and on the street. Grilled octopus and Lobster Thermidor are especially common, although often spiced locally.
Thanks to the cultivation of cloves, black pepper, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemongrass, Zanzibar is often referred to as the Spice Island. Plantations of these spices are covering the entire archipelago, so you can choose to take a spice tour in any of the farms. Alternatively, enjoy a taste of meals using these aromatic ingredients at market stalls, street food vendors or restaurants. A good way to enjoy a healthy variety of these delicious spices is to take a spice tour that also includes a meal.
8. Traditional and Unique Sailing Experience
In the past, a large slave market and a stopover for moving slaves from East Africa, Zanzibar has a few sore historical points. Prison Island is one of the best places to learn about the slave trade and its damaging effects on the continent, still echoing today. Additionally, it also facilitated the poisonous ivory trade.
On the other hand, Zanzibar is a wonderful place that helped the West to enjoy the eastern spices. This resulted in a lot of interest in the region by the Portuguese, Arabic, Persian and British, as well as by the Indian and African navy. They brought with them, among other things, traditional ship making.
Used for fishing, tourist activities and trade, local handmade sailing boats are called dhow. They are made of wood with beautiful simple sails. Their traditional craftsmanship stems from all the trading history of the place.
9. The Old Fort Festivals of Stone Town
One of the best ways to experience the modern culture of Zanzibar is to attend one of the many festivals. People from across the continent travel to attend the African music festival called Sauti za Busara, which fills up the walls of the notorious Old Fort of Stone Town every February, whilst the Persian New Year festival locally known as Mwaka Kogwa allows for an almost week-long celebration every July.
Also in June or July, the Zanzibar International Film Festival presents African cinematographic triumphs of the year, together with musical and performing talent of this diverse region. It is followed by the Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival bringing entertainment to the intellectual crowds around September time.
10. Cultural Overload: East and West Meet Africa
Apart from inspiring walks around the cobbled streets of old Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, running into different architectural styles manifested in Zanzibar’s mosques, museums and other secular buildings can be very educational and enjoyable.
Dynamic markets, artisan and antique bazaars and shops, palatial and stately homes, like the Turkish Baths and the famous House of Wonders, can overload even the more experienced architectural parvenu. But they are perfect for walking through various historical epochs to understand the complex history of the area a little bit better.
Ornate, intricate and colourful, Zanzibar doors carved in various styles with Arabic, Indian and African elements are the most famous feature of Stone Town and very popular among travelling photographers.
To appreciate the sounds of Taarab, a musical genre that incorporates the elements from Arabic, Indian and North African music, rhythms and poetry, head to the Dhow Countries Music Academy.
Better safe than sorry... I highly recommend travel insurance for Tanzania. Use the quote calculator from our partner, World Nomads. World Nomads provide comprehensive travel cover as well as specific coverage for hiking up to 6000m, which is perfect for Kilimanjaro.