Just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, lies the Zanzibar Archipelago, a group of islands surrounded by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. From a colourful historic centre, to breathtaking beaches and a booming spice trade, Zanzibar combines a relaxing beach escape with adventure and culture. Here’s our list of some of our favourite things to do and see…
Get lost in Stone Town
By far one of Zanzibar’s top spots, historic Stone Town is a World Heritage Site steeped in history and culture, making it an exciting place to explore. Winding alleyways and narrow streets exude charm and bargain-hunting energy, as you wonder down lines of local vendors selling everything from coffee to spices, fabrics and craft. The old Arab-style buildings are fascinating, while the colourful and bustling markets draw you in – it’s a true taste of local life and definitely best explored on foot.
Spot the almost-extinct red colobus monkey in the Jozani Forest
This vast spread of greenery is the only indigenous forest on Zanzibar and is home to a range of fauna and flora. It’s the only place where the red colobus can be found, along with other animals including bush babies, Sykes monkeys, tree hyrax and servaline genet. There is also a high number of both butterfly and bird species. Due to continued flooding, the area has taken on a unique swamp-like forest nature that nurtures several different ecosystems and is a breeding ground for many marine organisms. In fact, the vegetation in the park used to exist throughout the island.
Life’s a beach
It’s no secret that the beaches of Zanzibar are something to behold. One of our favourites is Nungwi Beach, located on the northwest tip of the island. This long, golden stretch of sand is perfect for sun-bathing and enjoying a range of watersports such as scuba diving and jet skiing. Kendwa is another great option and because it’s so huge, it’s a lot quieter – ideal if you’re keen for something more secluded. It’s also here where you’ll catch some of the most magnificent sunsets, with the best accompaniment being madafu, coconut water that is sipped right out of the shell.
Other beachy spots include: Matemwe, Michamvi, Bwejuu, Paje and Jambiani.
Snorkel at Mnemba Atoll
Take a traditional dhow from one of the northern beaches to this island for some amazing snorkelling. The colourful coral reefs are home to a peerless selection of marine life, from eels and barracuda, to yellow snappers and turtles. As you’re gliding along, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some dolphins frolicking in the crystal clear waters.
See giant tortoises on Prison Island (Changuu) and relics of the past Sultan family at Palace Museum
Whilst Prison Island is associated with Zanzibar’s link to slavery, it is now a nature reserve where giant tortoises roam. Just a half hour boat trip from Zanzibar, spend time examining the ruins of the prison that once held slaves and hanging out with the tortoises. We also recommend snorkelling here as the waters surrounding the island are brimming with coral. The Palace Museum, also call the Sultan’s Palace, is probably the most historic building in Stone Town. Built in the 19th Century as the home for the Sultan and his family, it then went on to become a government building and today is a museum housing the possessions of the family. The building is right on the waterfront with gorgeous sea views.
Every evening the Forodhani Gardens transform into a bustling night market with some of the freshest local produce. Apart from the delicious food, it’s a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and experience those night market vibes. There’s everything from meat and vegetables, to a selection of amazing seafood - grilled fish served with fried potato balls, naan bread and samosas is a firm favourite.
Also visit the Darajani Market for an excellent shopping experience.
Head out on a heady spice tour
Zanzibar is perhaps most well-known for its warm spices - clove, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon are just a few of the most common. There’s no better way to learn about the scents, flavours and origins of spices than on a spice tour. Wander the winding streets of Stone Town with a guide as you discover the wonderful world of spices, or alternatively, you can go straight to the source of this bustling trade by exploring one of the many plantations.
Step back in time
Explore the remains of the oldest building in Stone Town, the Old Fort that was built in the 17th Century as protection against Portuguese invaders. The courtyard attracts sellers selling local produce and the old amphitheatre is still functional, hosting live events out in the open. The House of Wonders is not only an important historic building, but also the tallest in Stone Town and one that provides insight into the Zanzibari and Swahili cultures. It is where the National Museum of Culture is based, with two of the main features being a large, traditional Swahili boat known as a “mtepe” found in the courtyard, and two incredible 16th Century bronze canons. History is around every corner waiting to be discovered.
Have dinner in the middle of the ocean
The Rock Restaurant provides an unforgettable dining experience as well as stunning views of the island. Its unique position makes it a must-visit place, plus it serves some of the best seafood around. Booking is essential, though, as it only seats a limited number of diners at a time.
Some other things worth mentioning:
- Dive off the coast of Pemba Island
- Take a dala dala (mini bus) ride
- Go on a village tour
- Attend one of the many festivals, such as the Zanzibar International Film Festival
- Go on a sunset dhow cruise.
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