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Zanzibar Island

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Zanzibar Island

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... is a beautiful tropical landmass covering 1666 square kilometres and lying around 35km off the Indian Ocean coastline of Tanzania, just north of the capital and main port of entry Dar es Salaam.


Upsides ...

Zanzibar is a lively and vibrant place with a fascinating local culture centred on the historic Stonetown, the former seat of a Sultan who ruled over vast swathes of Africa and the base from which many of the great European explorers crossed the continent.

The island itself is a low-lying coral atoll, covered by scenic palm plantations, some limited rice and cassava agriculture, plus extensive areas of coral scrub. The coast is lined with stunning coral lagoons and broad white-sand beaches, especially along the East Coast.

These days Zanzibar contains a very wide range of accommodation. There are literally hundreds of lodges here, ranging in price from US$10 to over US$1000 per night and in style from chic little lodges with a handful of rooms to huge resorts with over 100 rooms.

The island is able to offer a broad range of superb marine activities, notably some sensational diving and snorkelling. It is also a major centre for kite-surfing, as well as sailing, kayaking, wind-surfing and reef-walking.

Read more about the diving off Zanzibar ...

Apart from all the more obvious beach activities, Zanzibar offers a wide range of interesting things to do. Stonetown itself is a fascinating place to immerse yourself, especially for anyone with an interest in history. In terms of natural history, Jozani Forest to the south has a number of endemic species including the Zanzibar red colobus monkey and the various mangrove forests around the island are also fascinating to explore on foot or by kayak. There are also spice farms and the ruins of various palaces to discover.


Downsides ...

However Zanzibar is not for the faint-hearted, it is very much a real place, with a high population, a real problem with litter, a fair amount of hustle and the potential for crime, as well as occasional bouts of religious and political tensions.

Some visitors deliberately avoid the 'real' Zanzibar by simply heading straight out to a beach lodge and staying put. Others throw themselves in the deep end, exploring the towns and villages on foot, getting to meet and chat with the locals. But whatever approach you take, you will most likely notice that the island has a hard edge. The people here are generally less open and less immediately welcoming than on the mainland. In our experience this has always been the case.

By far the biggest negative for us has been the arrival of mass-market tourism to the island since around 1995. There are now around fifty large commercial resorts, some with over 100 rooms each, many aimed at the lower end of the packaged holiday market. In parts these resorts line up along the coast in unsightly clusters. It pains us greatly so see such apparently uncontrolled development tearing once pristine places apart. These areas can be easily avoided, but it still hurts to know that they are there.

The main problem is that is this type of mass-market tourism sits very uncomfortably alongside the high quality safaris that are generally offered on the mainland. It's a major issue, which makes us fear for the future of Zanzibar in the classic safari and beach combination. Increasingly we find ourselves turning to other more remote beach locations.

Put it this way, we would definitely no longer describe Zanzibar as being off the beaten track. This island has now quite firmly positioned itself in the mainstream.

One last negative, most of the beaches on Zanzibar are very tidal. In reality this should not be a problem, since when the tide goes out, it should be time to get your reef-shoes on and go exploring in the lagoon. But many visitors do still get upset that they are not able to swim off the beach throughout the day rather than just at high tide. There are beaches where you can do this, but these days they are largely packed with mainstream resort developments.

Read more about the different types of beaches on Zanzibar ...


When to visit ...

When it comes to deciding when to visit, the best times down on the coast are generally considered to be Jul/Oct and Dec/Mar, when there is usually slightly less rain and wind.

Read more about when to visit this area ...


How we like to include this area in trips ...

Despite the negatives, we still love Zanzibar and recommend it to our guests a great deal. The bottom line is that it is the most easily accessible beach location in the country, has an extraordinary range of accommodation options and, at its best, can still deliver a truly wonderful blend of stunning beaches and intense cultural experiences. We just need to be very careful in recommending the right lodges.

We divide Zanzibar Island into seventeen separate areas, each of which have their own individual character. Many guests stay in just one area for 3 to 7 nights, but the majority combine two or three areas over a period of 5 to 14 nights.


Stonetown ... is the historic capital of the island and a wonderful place to explore. We commonly recommend staying here for at least one night, in combination with a more conventional beach area.

Matemwe ... is the premium beach area, situated to the north-east of the island, with a magnificent beach and lagoon, the best diving and snorkelling on the island, plus an usually wide range of smaller, high quality lodge options and house rentals

Bwejuu ... is another classic beach area, this time to the south-east of the island, less strong for diving, but with a wide range of accommodation options, from small beach lodges to a couple of good quality larger resorts.

Pongwe ... is an unusually quiet section of the east coast, with some lovely little lodges tucked away in private coves, also less strong for diving, but convenient for day-trips into Stonetown.

Michamvi ... is a relatively remote section of the south-east coast, with an interesting selection of smaller lodges and one particularly attractive private house rental. But also a long way from the best diving.

Kizimkazi ... is an unusual and relatively quiet area to the south-west, not the classic East Coast experience, but with some excellent diving, especially large pelagics, and the opportunity for fabulous picnics on small offshore islands.

Fumba ... is a similarly unusual location on the west coast, a very quiet area, not the classic East Coast experience, but with some excellent diving, especially large pelagics, and the opportunity for fabulous picnics on small offshore islands.

Stonetown South ... is a busy suburban area, but contains one particularly interesting accommodation option on a small offshore island which is renowned for having the best snorkelling in the area.

Paje ... is a section of the south-east coast which is the main centre for kite-surfing and contains a good deal of simple accommodation for a younger crowd. There may even be a little bit of night-life here, but the diving is relatively weak.

Jambiani ... is another classic section of the fabulous south-east coast, best known for its relatively simple in-the-village guest-houses. But the diving here too is relatively weak.

Nungwi ... is situated on the northern cape and is one of the most heavily developed areas of the coast, with a very wide range of accommodation from simple guest-houses to large resorts. There is good access to the island's best diving, plus the possibilities of a little night-life.

Kendwa ... is up on the north-west of the island and contains perhaps the best and least tidal beach on the island, although this is now backed by heavy resort development alongside the original guest-houses. There is decent diving in the area and a chance of some modest night-life.

Kiwengwa ... is a heavily developed stretch of coastline to the north-east of the island which contains a number of large facilities aimed primarily at the Italian packaged holiday market. But there are some decent smaller lodges in between and it is also possible to access the best diving from here.

Stonetown North ... lies on the west coast and contains some interesting lodge options, notably on the small islands offshore from the town, but all a little bit too close to town to generate that relaxed beach feeling.

Fukuchani ... is a little-visited sector of the north-west coast which only has one small accommodation option.

Makunduchi ... is a relatively unattractive section of the south coast which has no recommended accommodation options.

Unguja Ukuu ... is an historically interesting section of the south-west coast, but also with recommended no accommodation options.


The majority of visitors stay either in one or two beach areas, often combined with a night or two in Stonetown, over a period of 4 to 12 nights.

Often these combination are extended by adding time on the islands of Pemba, Mafia or Fanjove, which are a world apart, experiencing less than 3% of the visitor traffic to Zanzibar between them.

These beach areas are commonly combined with safari areas such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Ruaha and Selous, as well as treks on Mount Kilimanjaro, usually in trips of 10 to 21 nights.

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Lenny Franklin
Lenny Franklin, Senior Safari Consultant
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