So you’ve passed the part of thinking about it, actually buying the plane ticket and booking a stay, getting (or not) the vaccines and you find yourself landing at the Zanzibar Airport. What now? Here is my Zanzibar Island Travel guide to help you out with the best suggestions.
Well, first of all, you should know that the airport in Zanzibar is…very interesting and not something you might be used to, the reason being it is under construction.
And now, it actually depends on what it is that you prefer to do on a holiday. Being an island, Zanzibar has a lot to offer when it comes to water-related activities, but you can also go for something else, such as a spice tour (the island is also known as Spice Island) where you can see how all your favourite spices grow and learn how they become what you love, or choose a trip on the Tanzanian continent, be it Dar Es Salaam (the former country’s capital) or one of the Game Safaris (and you sure have where to choose from). But let’s take it one thing at a time.
My Zanzibar Island Travel Guide
1. Enjoy the incredible beaches!
Yes, here you can find never-ending white sand beaches and the water is not so bad either. Ok, I admit it, the water is crystal clear! Around this island, I have seen everything from turquoise water to all the Pantone blue I didn’t think existed. It is also very easy to find someone with a boat willing to take you on the sea, just don’t expect a fancy boat, it will be a very local experience.
2. Go snorkeling
You don’t have to be a professional swimmer when thinking about trying to do some snorkeling, I myself have learned how to use the snorkeling mask without swallowing the whole ocean and I’ve come to really enjoy the experience. I’ve had the chance to search for fishes in some lovely places, but this experience was the BEST. The only thing I regret was not having a waterproof camera for taking pictures…but I guess memory also works pretty well, the old-fashioned way 😉 So, if you are willing to risk a little bit (fighting the thought in your head who are holding you back) , you will get the chance to see all sorts of colorful fish and coral (just please please be respectful with Mother Nature and don’t touch the coral, because it is very sensitive).
Oh, and by the way, we’ve done snorkeling near Mnemba Island, which is a private island where Bill Gates and Naomi Campbell spend their vacations in the past. If you are interested in the experience (and have the money, or don’t need a kidney) you can be a guest at “&Beyond Mnemba Island” (an information you might find of help is that in 2015 prices were from US$1155 to US$1600 per person per night).
3. Visit the marine turtle conservation pond
These are places where people take care of marine turtles and keep them safe until the age when they can lay eggs on the beaches of Zanzibar. It is great to see these little fellows and also their larger brothers and see that they are actually taken care of, released into the wild once they are ready for it.
4. Enjoy the sunset from Nungwi beach
If you haven’t booked a retreat on this part of the island, known to have some of the best beaches and also the best difference between tides enabling bathing throughout the whole day, you can always book a trip here from anywhere you are. Of course, you can expect a rather crowded beach, as compared to all the other places we’ve seen on the island, but since it’s on the North-West side you can stay and enjoy a Stoney Tangawizi while watching the sunset.
5. Get lost on the string streets of Stone Town
And admire the beautiful architecture that stands at the crossing of Swahili, Arab and Indian cultures, the Zanzibar door being the most memorable feature of Stone Town. Here you can spend hours getting lost on the narrow streets, drinking delicious smoothies and eating traditional food at the local bars, shopping for souvenirs and just feeling the local vibe.
One place you shouldn’t miss is the local market, where you will be surrounded by all the oriental flavors you never thought about, just prepare yourself to bargain.
Here is where I’ve seen for the first time the gorgeous violate blue Tanzanite gemstone (please excuse my ignorance). There are tens of jewel shops where you can choose from thousands of rings, earrings and a lot of other kinds of jewelry (if this is what you’re in for).
6. Take the boat from Stone Town and disembark on Changuu Island
Also known as Prison Island, although it has never been an actual prison, the island has played different roles throughout the history: from the place where slaves were kept until they were sent away, to a coal mine, to quarantine station for yellow fever.
Today, the buildings are used as hotel and restaurant, offering tourists the chance to stay here and to visit the former cells. Moreover, the trip from and to the island is very nice and you can enjoy both the panoramic view of the island and of Stone Town.
In 1919 the British Governor of Seychelles has sent a gift of 4 Aldabra giant tortoises to Changuu. Since then, they have had fluctuations in the numbers (mainly because during the time the tortoises have bred but they have also been stolen) but are currently protected since they are considered a vulnerable species. Tourists can now visit and feed the tortoises (the big one below was actually 157 years old – and I’m not talking about me) and trust me when I say, this is a novel experience since there are very few places in the world where you can kill time with this fellers.
7. Have a feast at Forodhani Gardens
We actually did not have the chance to do it because we left the city in the afternoon, but I’ve read so much about this and have heard it also from the guide we had in Stone Town. The gardens are ideally placed overlooking the ocean, offering the perfect place for an early evening walk and why not, for savoring a local (both Swahili and Zanzibari) meal. Having such a local print, and since it has become very touristic, the place can be of course liked or disliked.
From the Gardens, you can also admire the “House of Wonders” (being the first house in Zanzibar to have electricity and an elevator), formerly the Sultan’s residence, now functioning as a museum of Swahili culture and the old fort, built in the 17th century that hosts now cultural shops and workshops. In the old fort, you will also see a small arena where music and theater shows are held daily and where once per year the Zanzibar International Film Festival is held.
8. Go for a swim with the dolphins
We have thought about this a lot before going, partly because it involved waking up at 5:30 and having a one hour drive to the other part of the island, without being sure that you will actually get to see the real wild dolphins (because yes, they are wild). Taking all this into consideration, after hearing stories from other fellow tourists, we have decided to actually take the trip and we were lucky to find a group of dolphins, after “running around the in the middle of the ocean for almost two hours. You can also choose to jump in the water and try swimming with them, just keep in mind that they are, well…wild..and will simply swim away from the boats and people. Even if we were back at the hotel just before 10 o’clock in the morning, I would totally do it once again, because not only I got to see the dolphins in their natural habitat, I have also seen another side of the island and enjoyed a lovely morning on the ocean.
9. Visit Jozani Forest Reserve
This is the only national park in Zanzibar, where you can see Kirk’s red colobus, a local protected monkey species, a lot of bird species and butterflies. This will be just a relaxing day trip, making the best o nature and fauna that Zanzibar has to offer.
If you are into it, Zanzibar is a go-to place for kitesurfers (as you are aware, if you are into it ;)) ). Paje beach is located in the Southeastern part of the island and here you can find miles and miles of white sand and perfect conditions for kitesurfing.
And this is not all, Zanzibar island and Tanzania offer lots of opportunities to spend a vacation you will never forget and where you will always want to come back (at least I do, but.. hmm life is too short and unfortunately I get only 23 vacation days per year)!
What is the perfect time of the year to visit Zanzibar Island?
If you are contemplating visiting my favorite place on Earth (ok, I am exaggerating a little bit, I cannot make out my mind about this), there are two perfect times throughout the year to do it:
- from June to October
- from December to February