Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island, the beautiful island of Zanzibar on Africa’s east coast is bursting with culture and history, seemingly at odds with its idyllic geography of white-sand beaches with palms swaying lazily in the sea breeze. Together this makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometers (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. Zanzibar is one of the World Heritage Site with its capital in Zanzibar city.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.
What to do
There are a lot of things to do on Zanzibar Island. It just depends on your interests
Zanzibar is known for its spice trade, so what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture than learning about its wealthiest and most profitable industry? Tourists can choose from a variety of tours and explore the winding streets with expert tour guides who will inform you of the origins of the industry, as well as teaching guests about the wide variety of spices that Zanzibar produces and trades in.
Stone Town is the heart and soul of the island. An incredible mash-up of winding alleys and old Arabic-style buildings, you can temporarily lose yourself (both physically and mentally) in the town’s magic. Soak up the local culture by sipping a cup of coffee from a local vendor or just keep on wandering through the streets, discovering unique little spots at every turn.
A vast and scenic spread of green, Jozani is the last indigenous forest left on Zanzibar. Located inland from Chwaka Bay the area often floods, which luckily nurtures a unique swamp forest of many amazing looking trees and ferns.
A spectacular night-time food market, Forodhani opens in the late afternoon in Stone Town. The buzz and energy of this market are spectacular, and here you can find fresh local produce as well as freshly grilled fish, meat and vegetables. The seafood options are by far the most popular and the fish is served with fried potato balls, naan bread, and samosas.
Visit Prison Island
A half-hour boat trip from Zanzibar, Prison Island provides a fascinating glimpse into the island’s slightly dark past – this land was once used as a place where slaves were detained and, when slavery was abolished, it functioned as a camp where people with deadly diseases were sent. Fortunately enough, that is all in the past and today the island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and a place to see the ruins that once functioned as the prison.
Nungwi is a village found on Zanzibar’s North West tip. This is a popular place yet it’s not overrun by tourists, and it’s one of Zanzibar’s top beaches as the tide doesn’t head out too far. This is a great beach for those looking to just soak up some sun and dip their toes in the sea but who don’t need the luxury of a fancy hotel on top.
Commonly know as the Sultan’s Palace, The Palace Museum is perhaps the most historic building in Stone Town and is a must-see for any tourist. The Palace Museum is located in the waterfront, overlooking the ocean, and was built in the 19th century as a home for the Sultan and his family. After the 1964 revolution, the site was used as a Government building and was renamed as The People’s Palace. Today it serves as a museum that showcases relics of the past Sultan family.
House of Wonders
The House of Wonders is a hugely important and visually stunning historic building in Stone Town. It hosts a highly interesting exhibition and offers a brilliant insight into Zanzibar and Swahili culture. The House of Wonders is the grandest and tallest building in all of Stone Town and is found in a prominent location in front of the Forodhani Gardens on the old town’s seafront, in Mizingani Road.
The Old Fort
The oldest building in Stone Town, the Old Fort is located on the seafront, right in front of the famous Forodhani Gardens. Originally built in the 17th century with the purpose of defending the island from attacks from the Portuguese, nowadays the Old Fort is one of Stone Town’s main sights. Visitors can admire the remains of the former fort and amble around the courtyard in the center, where sellers have local produce for sale. An old amphitheater still hosts events and functions in the fort.
What is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
There is no bad time to visit Zanzibar, however, the best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to October during the cool season. December to February is hot and dry it is another popular time to visit Zanzibar especially for those who dream of indulging in some water activities in the ocean.