A tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean, the Zanzibar archipelago is a part of Africa’s premier safari destination Tanzania. Consisting of numerous small islands and two main islands, Pemba and Unguja (known informally as Zanzibar), the archipelago holds the promise of more than a tranquil beach vacation. Its historical wonders, including Stone Town, offer visitors an opportunity to learn about the fascinating Zanzibar architectural and cultural heritage.
In addition, there are plenty of things to do in Zanzibar, including swimming with dolphins, sailing day trips, diving and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, spice tours, buying organic spices at Zanzibar’s markets and spice farms.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the top tourist attractions that make Zanzibar so appealing to visitors for rest, relaxation and exploration.
1. Serene Beaches
Zanzibar’s spectacular offerings include its idyllic white sand beaches overlooking turquoise waters. While Zanzibar has over 25 palm-lined beaches, a few, like Paje, Matemwe, Bwejuu, and Nungwi, are more popular with visitors. Zanzibar’s beaches are fringed with biodiverse coral reefs, rich in marine life.
Paje beach on Zanzibar’s southeast coast is known for its stunning sunrises while the weather conditions in the region are perfect for water activities such as kitesurfing and diving. In contrast, sandy Bwejuu Beach, further up the coast from Paje, is more peaceful and offers a perfect spot for relaxation.
On the opposite side of Zanzibar in the south west, Fumba Beach along Menai Bay is a secluded beach, ideal for a peaceful stay with time to relax and enjoy activities and excursions. Activities include sailing on a dhow, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving The crystal clear waters make it easier for visitors to spot marine life above and below the water and beautiful coral reefs.
Nungwi Beach in the north, one of the most popular Zanzibar beaches, has numerous restaurants, pubs, and resorts that attract a lively crowd. There’s a wide variety of accommodation types to choose from. It offers white sandy beaches and opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and swimming.
Recommended safari: 9-Day Zanzibar Island Exploration
2. Stone Town
Zanzibar’s rich heritage spans several cultures, including Arabic, African, European, Indian, and Persian. These influences can be seen in Zanzibar’s historical sites, such as Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautifully diverse architecture that can be seen in the historical mosques and houses.
One of the most popular attractions in Stone Town is the House of Wonders, which was once a ceremonial palace of Sultan Barghash bin Said. Currently, it is a museum that houses a collection of artefacts from different periods of Zanzibar’s history.
The Darajani Market, a bustling and colourful market, is the central market in Stone Town. It sells local arts and crafts and spices that Zanzibar is known for. Other popular attractions in Stone Town include the Anglican Cathedral, Aga Khan Mosque, Forodhani Gardens, Hammami Persian baths, Ijumaa Mosque, and the Old Fort located opposite the Forodhani Gardens.
Recommended safari: Zanzibar Cultural Tour
3. Spice Farm Tours
Zanzibar, known to many as the Spice Island, has several spice farms where visitors can learn about these spices. During a tour, there might be the opportunity for visitors to pluck these spices from the trees or shrubs, as well as learn about the process of making spices that are ready to use, and purchase spices such as cloves, chillies, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, nutmeg and lemongrass. It may come as a surprise that some of these spices are not only used in cooking, but also as a colouring for clothes and an essential component of some cosmetics.
Zanzibar Spices and Heritage Centre, Big Body Spice Farm, Kizimbani Spice Farm, and Badru Spice Farm are four of the well-known spice farms in Zanzibar.
Recommended safari: 6-Day Zanzibar Walking Tour
4. Jozani Forest Safari
Jozani Forest is a large area of indigenous forest located in the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park in the central region of Zanzibar. The beautiful forest reserve is home to the endemic and rare red colobus monkey, a primate species that has been classified as vulnerable by the IUCN red list. Apart from this secluded corner of Zanzibar, this primate species can only be seen in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The forest also has over 40 bird species, including Fischer’s turaco, Madagascar cuckoo, African palm-swift, Senegal lapwing, great crested tern, purple heron, European honey-buzzard, speckled mousebird, mangrove kingfisher, and Zanzibar boubou. Visitors can hike the forest trails to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Recommended safari: Jozani Forest Tour
5. Dolphin Watching Tour
Zanzibar’s dolphins are another highlight and there are several great spots where visitors can look for these beautiful marine creatures.
One excursion offering this experience is the Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour, which starts from Fumba beach with the tour guide taking visitors to Zanzibar’s Kizimkazi beach on the south coast, home to bottlenose (more common) and humpback dolphins. On this boat trip, visitors can see dolphins playing in the waters off Kizimkazi beach. Many tours also allow visitors to swim with these friendly dolphins.
Recommended safari: Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour
6. Water Adventures: Snorkeling, Swimming & Diving
The crystal clear turquoise waters of Zanzibar offer the ideal conditions for water sports and activities such as kitesurfing, diving, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and swimming. While many of Zanzibar’s beaches offer these activities, there are a few spots, such as Jambiani beach, Nungwi beach, Pingwe beach and Paje beach, which are perfect for such adventures.
Visitors interested in scuba diving can enjoy it at Nankivell and Hunga reef, while diving sites at Nunwi and Kendwa, are great for divers with no experience. Other great spots for diving include Chakatuni, Coral garden, Boribu reef, Kendwa reef, Renco Bommi, Shane’s reef, and Turtle gap. For snorkeling, visitors can visit Prison Island, Tumbatu Island, Chumbe Island, and Stone Town reef, and there are great snorkeling spots off many of the beaches.
Recommended safari: Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour
7. When is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
Ideally, the best time to visit Zanzibar is the dry season from July to September, when the weather is cooler. It is the peak safari season, with many visitors enjoying wildlife safaris on the mainland before heading to Zanzibar to relax, which means that popular beaches can be crowded. Having said that, the dry season is a great time to spend peaceful days relaxing on the Zanzibar beaches. The months of January and February are also dry months with hotter temperatures.
Although the dry months offer ideal weather conditions, it is still possible to visit the island year-round. Zanzibar experiences two rainy seasons, the short rains, which last a few minutes usually in the mornings (November to December) and the long rains (March to May). While the short rains don’t interfere much with the safari activities, the long rains can be heavy downpours in the afternoon with high humidity.
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