Zanzibar Holiday

The ultimate guide to your next Zanzibar holiday

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    Everything you need to know about your Zanzibar holiday

    Welcome to Discover Africa’s Zanzibar holiday guide. A Zanzibari holiday offers the intrepid traveller the best that Africa’s coastal destinations has to offer. From the legendary Stone Town with its intriguing history, to its pristine coastlines with tropical beaches. Curate your holiday experience and let us do the rest for you. It couldn’t be more easy.


    Where to go

    Travelling to Zanzibar

    • Stone Town

      Stone Town is Zanzibar’s historic heart, a bewildering maze of streets and alleyways that form the westernmost tip of Zanzibar Town. These days the island’s bustling capital is home to some quarter of a million people, but lost in the tangle of Stone Town’s narrow streets it’s easy to imagine yourself floating back in time. Twisting passages unfurl beneath delicate balconies as you dodge clattering coffee carts and slip by past ornately carved doors. At three and four stories the buildings tower overhead, leaving just a ribbon of sky between billowing laundry and shutters flung wide. Though first settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, most of Stone Town’s construction dates to the 19th and (to a lesser extent) 18th centuries – a mesmerising mix of Arabic, Persian, Indian and British architecture – and Victorian era accounts of the quarter carry an authentic feeling to this today.

      stone town
      Stone Town is best explored on foot
      coral reef diving
      Coral reef diving in Zanzibar
      • Highlights of Stone Town

        Walk the streets: The best way to explore Stone Town is on foot, though renting a bicycle is an option if time is short. Hiring a local guide is a great way to discover the hidden histories and lesser known sights and end of Ramadan is especially festive with lanterns lining the alleys and a feast of street food on every corner.

        Go shopping: From neat, sustainable fashion boutiques to the loud, chaotic market on Creek Street, Stone Town has plenty to offer the dedicated shopper. Look out for brightly coloured kanga and kikois (traditional wrap-around clothing), silver and tanzanite jewellery, handmade leather bags, sandals and shoes, a seemingly endless range of woven baskets, wooden carvings, throws, wall hangings, rugs, antiques and ornaments of all shapes and sizes, not to mention spice-infused beauty products and oils and, of course, the spices themselves.

        Take a spice tour: Spice tours can be arranged from your hotel or from one of the many tour operators around town. A variety of tours are available, some including lunch and/or spice cooking classes, but all with the opportunity to head out into the still active plantations and see, touch and taste Zanzibar’s many spices in their natural environment.

        stone town
        A typical market scene in Stone Town I Credit: Flickr

        Try the local food: Forodhani Gardens food market is the place to go to sample the best of Zanzibar’s eclectic street food. Crisp samosas, fresh fish and coconut curries, and the misleadingly-named ‘Zanzibar pizzas’ (more of a filled pancake) are just a few of the available options. Alternately, search out one of Stone Town’s more sophisticated new restaurants where quality seafood and delicious traditional recipes are the order of the day.

        Visit the museums: Stone Town has a number of small but fascinating museums with exhibitions ranging from dhow construction to the evils of the slave trade. Seek out in particular the Palace Museum, Livingstone House Museum, Princess Salme Museum and the House of Wonders (the first building in Zanzibar to install electric lights).

        stome town
        The street food vibe in Zanzibar is diverse and eclectic I Credit: Rasha Yousif
    • Nungwi and Kendwa

      On Zanzibar Island’s northernmost tip, the once sleepy village of Nungwi is still the traditional centre of dhow building on Zanzibar. An old favourite among backpackers and hippies, the scene has transformed in recent years with hotels, bars, hostels and dive centres now lining the sandy shoreline in a near continuous strip southwest to Kendwa. The still relatively quiet village of Kendwa has also expanded, but its uniquely wide beach and understated resorts continue to offer a more laid back vibe.

      kendwe
      Kendwa Beach plays host to iconic full moon parties I Credit: Yoni Lerner
      • Highlights of Nungwi and Kendwa

        Full moon beach parties: Although relatively quiet for the rest of the month, Kendwa pumps up the volume each full moon with a lively beach party that draws visitors from around the island. Kendwa’s full moon parties are legendary, though overly extreme, and remain one of Zanzibar’s favourite attractions.

        Dhow building and village tour: Nungwi beach remains a focal point for Zanzibari ship building where skilled shipwrights use age-old methods and tools to turn rough timber planks into ocean-going dhows. Village tours can also be arranged for those interested in discovering the cultural side of dhow building and how the tradition persists through the centuries.

        • Practical information
          • Although luxury hotels are now available, Nungwi and especially Kendwa remain two of the best destinations on Zanzibar Island for quality, affordable accommodation – head here if you’re looking for a party. Kendwa has the better beach, and the deeper water on the north-western strip means swimming is possible throughout the day; the island’s eastern beaches are almost all tide dependent.

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    • Matemwe

      Matemwe, and neighbouring Kigomani, are the northern-most villages on Zanzibar’s east coast. A quiet fishing community under gently swaying palms, Matemwe village lies half concealed behind a modest line of beachfront resorts, which range from simple cottages to plush private villas. An excellent beach spills into a narrow, sheltered lagoon where dhows and outriggers rest on the tide. This is a corner of the island where the slow pace settles in – ideal for those wishing to escape the crowds.

      matemwe lodge
      Matemwe Lodge is a haven for beach-lovers
      • Highlights of Matemwe

        Peace and quiet: Matemwe is one of Zanzibar Island’s most relaxed destinations – classic palm-fringed beaches, white sand and an emerald sea. The beaches along this stretch are some of the best and quietest on the east coast and the fishing, snorkelling and diving is superb.

        • Practical information
          • Be aware that Matemwe is a working village – fishing and seaweed harvesting are the main industries here and villagers expect to get on with their daily life without camera-toting tourists clicking away. Although remotely situated, Matemwe is easy to reach. Private transfers take little more than an hour from Zanzibar Town.

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    • Kiwenga and Pongwe

      The sleepy village of Kiwengwa lies on Zanzibar Island’s north-eastern coast, roughly half way between Nungwi and Chwaka. Large, all-inclusive hotels and stylish upmarket lodges dot Kiwengwa’s long, immaculate beach, which runs nearly unbroken all the way north to Matemwe. A few breezy kilometres to the south, the even sleepier Pongwe supports around a dozen, mostly stylish, mid- to upmarket resorts with little else to do but kick back and enjoy.

      shooting star lodge
      Shooting Star Lodge is the epitome of Zanzibar luxury
      • Highlights of Kiwenga and Pongwe

        Peaceful Pongwe: There really is nothing to do in Pongwe but chill. If ultimate downtime is what you’re after, then Pongwe is the beach for you.

        Learn kitesurfing in Kiwengwa: With its year-round, stable winds and beautiful wide lagoon, Kiwengwa is a great place to learn to kitesurf. A handful of friendly kite schools dot the beach – simply wander in, have a chat, and book an impromptu lesson if the place grabs you.

        • Practical information
          • Both Kiwengwa and Pongwe are easy to reach by road from Zanzibar Town. There’s a small ‘mall’ in Kiwengwa with a cash machine, supermarket and pharmacy – but nothing at all in Pongwe. Kiwengwa’s resorts attract a large number of visitors from Italy and you’ll find many shopfronts and menus written in Italian.

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    • Pingwe, Dongwe and Michamvi Peninsula

      The Michamvi Peninsula just north from Chwaka Bay, a narrow, thumb-like headland that boasts some of Zanzibar Island’s most exclusive hotels and resorts. The north-western tip has the added advantage of being the only true sundowner spot along the east coast, with a kilometre and a half of pristine west-facing beachfront and magnificent views across Chwaka Bay. Most of the peninsula’s luxury resorts face east however, scattered along the beach between Dongwe and Pingwe Village. Some of these are Zanzibar’s most refined and stylish, complete with private dive centres, private plunge pools and spas.

      michamvi
      The Michamvi Peninsula is highly regarded for its amazing sunsets
      • Highlights of Pingwe, Dongwe and Michamvi Peninsula

        East-coast sunsets: The western corner of Michamvi Peninsula enjoys breathtaking ocean sunsets, a rare and special sight on the east coast of Africa. A handful of laid back bars and restaurants take full advantage of the views and it’s a lovely way to spend an evening even if you’re not staying on the western side.

        The Rock: The Rock Restaurant deserves special mention for its unique setting if nothing else. Perched on a tiny coral outcrop about 30 metres off Pingwe beach, this simple, thatched cottage serves a lunch-time menu of fresh seafood daily and, depending on the tide, you’ll have to catch a boat there or back (or swim!).

        • Practical information
          • From December to March the north-eastern Kaskazi monsoon blows, washing seaweed onto the eastern beaches and in some places eroding the sand. This is especially true on the northeast of Michamvi Peninsula, which bears the brunt of the northeaster at this time of year.

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    • Bwejuu, Paje and Jambiani

      TThe 10km beach between Bwejuu and Jambiani Village starts relaxed and low key north of Bwejuu, swells with backpackers and kite surfers in Paje, then tapers off gradually into equally understated Jambiani. There’s plenty of excellent midrange and budget accommodation available, though only a handful of resorts that would qualify as exclusive. This stretch of coastline attracts families and a younger crowd, split between the quieter beaches to the north and south, and the relaxed beach bars, restaurants and water sports of Paje.

      kite surfing
      Kite surfing in Paje is a favourite past time of locals and tourists alike
      • Highlights of Bwejuu, Paje & Jambiani

        Serious kitesurfing: Paje is Zanzibar’s hottest kitesurfing destination and there are a number of well-run kitesurfing schools offering lessons and rentals. Paje’s lagoon is ideal for kitesurfing, and some operators also offer organised excursions to scenic kiting spots up and down the coast.

        Wonderful snorkelling: The coral lagoon in front of Paje and Jambiani is particularly wide and beautiful, even by Zanzibar’s extraordinary standards. Masks and fins can be hired for a few dollars from just about any hotel along the strip. Just keep an eye on the tide or you’ll have a long walk back to the beach.

        • Practical information
          • If you are into kitesurfing (or wish to avoid the crowds) note that the main seasons are between December and March and May to October. Some rental businesses close completely out of season, although there’s generally enough of a breeze to satisfy beginners year-round.

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    • Ras Kizimkazi

      A rarely visited corner of southwestern Zanzibar, Ras Kizimkazi offers a handful of quiet, laid-back lodges, plus a pinch of the ultra-exclusive. The region’s two small villages lie a few kilometres apart, Kizimkazi Dimbani is on the southernmost tip of the island and the busier Kizimkazi Mkunguni is up the coast to the northwest. Most of the region’s tourism revolves around dolphin excursions; the small and in places rocky beaches are undeniably beautiful, but lack the pull of the island’s east coast.

      dolphin excursions
      Dolphin excusions are a major drawcard in Kizimkazi
      • Highlights of Ras Kizimkazi

        Dolphin excursions: The village of Kizimkazi Mkunguni is the centre of the region’s most popular tourist attraction – boat trips to see the resident bottlenose and humpback dolphins. Full day excursions can be arranged from Zanzibar Town or booked locally if you’re staying in the area.

        • Practical information
          • There’s no guarantee that you’ll see dolphins on a tour – they’re wild creatures and rarely allow boats close enough for visitors to swim with them. To maximise your chances, visit between October and February, stay in Ras Kizimkazi itself and hire a boat from a local who’s happy to cruise all day. Be cautious of anyone offering guaranteed sightings. They’re likely to employ unethical methods in their effort to make good on their promise.

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    • Pemba Island

      About 50km northeast of Zanzibar Island (more accurately, ‘Unguja’) lies the archipelago’s second largest landmass, Pemba. Pemba has forever been Zanzibar’s most green and fertile isle, and most of the cloves for which Zanzibar is famous are grown here. The annual harvest runs from July to January when the scent of drying cloves lingers on every passing breeze. Most visitors to Zanzibar never make it to Pemba, however, and the island remains far quieter than its big brother Unguja. Accommodation options are also far more limited, but by no means run-of-the-mill. Most fall somewhere between the mid-range and ultra-luxurious, including some of the most spectacular beach resorts Zanzibar has to offer.

      scops owl
      Pemba scops owl is one of the island’s few endemic bird species I Credit: alchetron.com
      • Highlights of Pemba Island

        See Zanzibar’s endemic species: Ngezi Forest Reserve, on Pemba’s north-western tip, is perhaps the best place in the archipelago to see Zanzibar’s indigenous wildlife. A beautiful, unspoilt expanse of forest in its own right, it also hosts the Pemba flying fox (an enormous, but completely harmless fruit bat), various species of monkey and miniature antelope, and Zanzibar’s three endemic bird species, the Pemba scops owl, Pemba white-eye and Pemba violet-breasted sunbird.

        Low visitor numbers: Pemba is ideal if you’re looking to escape the crowds. Beaches are quieter, snorkelling reefs barely visited and on the whole the island exudes exclusivity, while still retaining enough accommodation options to suit most budgets.

        pemba
        Pemba’s low visitor numbers are ideal to escape the crowds

        Excellent wall and drift diving: Pemba has excellent diving for all levels, but is perhaps best known for its more technical diving opportunities. Experienced divers can dip into the island’s stronger currents and glide along astonishing vertical walls as manta and eagle rays flap by.

        • Practical information
          • Most visitors arrive on Pemba by air, with scheduled daily flights and charters available from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island. A substantially cheaper ferry service is also available. Forex is only available in the capital, Chake Chake, but the exchange rates offered are generally quite poor. Don’t expect much connectivity on Pemba. Even the top-end resorts struggle to provide high speed wi-fi. The best months on Pemba are July to October. December to March tend to be more humid and windier as the north-eastern Kaskazi blows.

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    • Mafia Island

      150 km south of Zanzibar Island lies the third largest isle in the archipelago, Mafia. In fact, Mafia Island is so far removed and has so many smaller satellites of its own, that it’s really a miniature archipelago in its own right. Rarely visited, and much quieter even than Pemba, Mafia and its surrounding islands are a diver’s paradise. Huge groupers, rays, turtles and whale sharks all frequent its warm, clear waters and Chole Bay is perhaps the best coral garden in East Africa. Accommodation around Mafia tends to be intimate and upmarket, and for the ultimate in exclusivity, stunning private island lodges are also available.

      pole pole
      Pole Pole Mafia Island
      • Highlights of Mafia Island
        hatching turtles
        Turtles steal the show on Mafia Island

        A diver’s paradise: If you have any love for diving, then a pilgrimage to Mafia must be on your bucket list. From Chole Bay’s extraordinary coral and fabulously colourful schools of reef fish, to the deeper waters where rays and whale fish roam; Mafia’s archipelago has something for every experience level, but the real wonder is that you’ll probably have it all to yourself!

        Witness hatching turtles: Juani Island, just off the coast of Mafia, is a truly special place to see tiny green and hawksbill turtles dash for the sea. Environmentally sensitive tours can be arranged between June and September, run by an enthusiastic NGO that’s playing a significant role in local turtle conservation.

        • Practical information
          • Although local dhows run to the mainland, the only practical way to get to Mafia is to fly. Scheduled and charter flights run regularly from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island and you should expect to pay around $250 to $350 return. If you’re going for diving, then pick your month carefully. Chole Bay can be dived year-round, but the deeper channels are only viable from August to November. October to February has the best visibility, although it’s rarely below 15m at any time of year. For the best beach conditions aim for late May to the start of the short rainy season in November. September to early March is prime whale shark season so it’s really only mid-March to mid-May that should be avoided completely, when the island receives most of its rain.

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    • Matemwe

      Matemwe, and neighbouring Kigomani, are the northern-most villages on Zanzibar’s east coast. A quiet fishing community under gently swaying palms, Matemwe village lies half concealed behind a modest line of beachfront resorts, which range from simple cottages to plush private villas. An excellent beach spills into a narrow, sheltered lagoon where dhows and outriggers rest on the tide. This is a corner of the island where the slow pace settles in – ideal for those wishing to escape the crowds.

      matemwe lodge
      Matemwe Lodge is a haven for beach-lovers
      • Highlights of Matemwe

        Peace and quiet: Matemwe is one of Zanzibar Island’s most relaxed destinations – classic palm-fringed beaches, white sand and an emerald sea. The beaches along this stretch are some of the best and quietest on the east coast and the fishing, snorkelling and diving is superb.

        • Practical information
          • Be aware that Matemwe is a working village – fishing and seaweed harvesting are the main industries here and villagers expect to get on with their daily life without camera-toting tourists clicking away. Although remotely situated, Matemwe is easy to reach. Private transfers take little more than an hour from Zanzibar Town.

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    When to go

    • January
      prison island
      • January marks the start of the short dry season in Zanzibar, a period of relatively hot, humid weather that builds gradually from late December and runs through to the beginning of March. Average temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year, but January is one of the hotter months, with daytime highs regularly up to 35°C (95°F). Although generally sunny, there may still be the occasional afternoon thunderstorm. These clear quickly however, and won’t disrupt your beach time too much. With sea temperatures of up to 30°C (86°F), they’re unlikely to put you off swimming either, but expect a few blustery days as the north-eastern ‘kaskazi’ wind blows.
      • The north-eastern kaskasi is a major factor in choosing where to holiday in January. Beaches along Zanzibar’s north and east coasts bear the brunt of the wind – a steady, stiff breeze that’s usually between 20 and 30 km/h (11-17 knots). Wind and waves can also wash seaweed onto the eastern beaches although many resorts make a point of clearing the bathing areas in front of their properties. If you’re a kite surfer all this is great, of course, and the stable, moderate winds are also ideal for beginners. Paje in particular is very popular at this time of year, as is Kiwengwa, although it’s a bit more low-key. If you’re looking for a something more sheltered, then try Kendwa or Ras Kizimkazi. Day trips to the west coast atolls of Chumbe and Prison Island are also ideal at this time of year.
      • January is mango season across Zanzibar and the markets are full of fresh, ripe fruit. It also marks the end of the clove harvest in Pemba, with fragrant piles of the islands’ main export drying in the sun. January is prime time for swimming with whale sharks off Mafia Island and the visibility is at its best over the coral gardens of Chole Bay.
      • Kitesurfing aside, January’s only real disadvantage is the kaskasi wind, which although rarely so strong as to be unpleasant, can nevertheless blow seaweed onto the eastern beaches and erode the sand along the north-eastern coast. The seas may also be too rough for some off-shore dive sites, but there are always other options along the more sheltered west.
    • February
      Manta Resort is a highlight in Pemba
      • February is Zanzibar’s hottest month and also one of its driest. Daytime highs regularly exceed 35°C (95°F) with sultry, humid conditions that build and build until the clouds burst in March. The north-eastern ‘kaskasi’ wind, having reached its peak in January, eases off gradually as February unfolds. It’s an excellent month for dedicated beach time, with minimal chance of an afternoon shower, moderate to light breezes and warm (if not hot!) seas, which can easily top 30°C (86°F), especially in the shallower bays and lagoons.
      • Although the kaskasi wind slowly dies down throughout February, Zanzibar’s southern and western coasts are still the more sheltered. Kendwa’s wide, protected beach is ideal for sunbathing and swimming and it’s a good time of year for dolphin excursions off Ras Kizimkazi. To the west and south of Zanzibar Town, Prison and Chumbe Islands make for great day trips – Chumbe for its protected snorkelling reef and Prison Island for its giant tortoises. None of this is to suggest that the east coast is off limits, in fact the mellowing kaskasi can bring welcome relief from the heat. February is a popular month all along the east coast, but especially in Paje which remains popular for kitesurfing.
    • March
      beaches in zanzibar
      • Zanzibar’s main rainy season begins in March, but the first heavy downpours may only arrive mid-month. Until they do, the archipelago remains at its hottest and most humid as the summer winds subside and the beaches bake in the sun. Daily highs reach over 35°C (95°F) before the monsoon hits and brings some relief. Early March is prime beach time across the islands, but the towering thunderheads signal the low season and a number hotels and resorts close. Overall, however, March weather is difficult to predict. Some years the rains come early or late, and even once they begin there can be some very fine days in between.
      • March’s unpredictable weather extends across Zanzibar and throughout the islands it can be fine and hot, or pouring. As the rains arrive, the prevailing northeaster dies completely; March is the least windy month anywhere on the islands. Many visitors avoid Zanzibar in March, but on good days the glassy seas are wonderful for diving and snorkelling, with excellent visibility and few other visitors on the reefs. West-facing resorts are treated to simply incredible sunsets as vast banks of clouds glow pink and purple over the sea.
      • March is the start of pineapple season, with pineapples so sweet you may wonder if you’ve ever tasted one before. Although some hotels and resorts close, many others offer discounts and March to May are the best months for deals. Glassy seas and spectacular sunsets are the rewards for those who travel in low season. Afternoon storms can be heavy, but most mornings are clear and you’re more likely to find a piece of paradise all to yourself.
      • Some hotels and lodges close from March to May so your preferred accommodation may not be available. The rains themselves put many people off, which is ideal if you’re after solitude, but a definite draw back if you’re not. March is undoubtedly the worst month for wind sports. If that’s what you’re after, then avoid this time of year.
    • April
      dhow boats in Zanzibar
      • April is Zanzibar’s wettest month, the height of the main rainy season that runs from mid-March to the end of May. With the rains come slightly lower temperatures, but most days still climb above 30°C (86°F). A relatively windless month, April marks the transition between the north-eastern ‘kaskasi’ and southern ‘kusi’ winds. As the month progresses the breeze gradually swings around to the south, building slowly to its peak in June and July. Despite regular downpours, April can still see some very good days. The sea is still warm (28°C / 82°F), and the mornings can be clear and fresh. Storms tend to build in the early afternoon and are usually short and fierce; only occasionally does the rain set in for a few consecutive days.
      • Weather-wise there’s little to distinguish one region from the next in April. Light winds and sudden storms are the norm across the islands. It’s impossible to predicted how much rain might fall and where. In one region, a downpour may cause extensive flooding, while just an hour away it’s warm and dry. Sunsets can be spectacular from the west-facing resorts, but those on the east coast can enjoy breathtaking sunrises. April, in short, is a bit of a lottery. Choose your region based on the quality of the accommodation and be prepared to spend at least a little time indoors.
      • April is Zanzibar’s quietest month and a great time to visit for the near-empty beaches. Low season rates may also apply, especially for stays of a week or longer. Between the cloudbursts you’ll have some perfect, windless days, so if you have time to spend, then April can be ideal.
      • April is, on average, the cloudiest month across Zanzibar. Most days still see sunshine, but it’s not the best time to work on your tan. Some hotels and resorts also close during April so your first-choice accommodation may not be available. The main disadvantage, however, is April’s unpredictable weather. Conditions can be idyllic, but then rapidly change. Excursions of any kind become difficult to plan and occasional flooding can affect both taxi transfers and public transport.
    • May
      diani beach
      • Early May sees heavy rain throughout the Zanzibar archipelago, but by the end of the month conditions usually improve. Afternoon showers become shorter and lighter, and more consecutive sunny days fall in between. As the skies clear, the seasonal ‘kusi’ wind freshens from the south, a steady, building breeze that can hit 20 to 30 km/h (11-17 knots). With the rains’ slow withdrawal, temperatures steadily fall, but seldom drop below a pleasant 28°C (82°F). By the end of May, more predicable weather returns to the islands, heralding the start of the long, dry season that generally lasts until November.
      • As the kusi wind picks up from the south, the northern resorts enjoy the most wind shadow. The light to moderate breeze finds its way into all corners of the archipelago, but Kendwa, Nungwi and the resorts around northern Michamvi Peninsula tend to be calmer. Pemba’s north-western Ngezi Peninsula, however, is still fairly exposed and is at its windiest from May to July. Paje and the other east coast kitesurfing hotspots generally don’t pick up until June, making May a good time for beginners in search of lighter winds and fewer people on the lagoons. Throughout May, heavy downpours can hit any part of the islands, but good beach time is still very possible, especially towards the end of the month.
      • Quiet beaches and discounted hotels are the main advantages of visiting Zanzibar in May. By the end of the month the rain has usually eased off, with beautiful, calm, clear days punctuated with the season’s final, spectacular storms.
      • Despite an increasing number of dry, sunny days, May’s major disadvantage remains the unpredictable weather. Fierce storms can still whip up at a moment’s notice, which makes planning any activities tricky at best. Some resorts and dive operators also close completely for May so be sure to check your options carefully before you travel.
    • June
      kite surfing
      • June marks the start of Zanzibar’s long dry season, and June itself is often the sunniest, driest month of the year. Daytime temperatures are warm, averaging around 28°C (82°F), with pleasant nights (c. 20°C / 68°F) and generally low humidity. By the middle of June, the southern ‘kusi’ wind is in full flow, a fresh, steady breeze that can blow hard up the eastern coasts. Wind speeds can get up to around 35 km/h (about 18 knots), which is ideal for kite surfers, but some days may be a bit blowy for beach tanning. Beyond the protected reefs the wind can also whip up the seas, especially along the southern coasts which are at their roughest in June and July.
      • If you’re into wind sports, then Zanzibar Island’s eastern shores are for you. Paje is the islands’ kite surfing capital, but all the east coast’s major centres will offer wind-based water sports too. If it’s more relaxed beach time you’re after, then June should see you head for the north-facing resorts instead; the northern seas are also usually calmer in June, which is better for diving and snorkelling. That said, if the wind really picks up then even the north can get choppy, and on the whole the best diving is usually later in the year. Around Mafia, diving is only certain in the calmer waters of Chole Bay, but June is also the start of Mafia’s turtle hatching season, a major highlight of the southern archipelago.
      • One of nature’s great spectacles takes place between June and September as thousands of tiny turtles dash for the sea. Juani Island, off Chole Bay, is the best place to see them, and guided boat tours from Mafia Island can be booked with the local turtle NGO, Sea Sense (https://www.seasense.org/).
      • June is an excellent time to be in Zanzibar, but the strong southern wind can hamper open water diving. Visibility in general tends to be lower at this time of year (although still usually over 10m) and while there’s no definite rule, diving tends to be better once the wind drops in September.
    • July
      cloves
      • July is generally dry and warm across Zanzibar, with daytime temperatures averaging around 28°C (82°F). This is about as cool as the islands get throughout the year, but even so the nights rarely dip below 18°C (64°F). The surrounding seas are also at their coldest in July and August, but sea temperatures of 25°C (77°F) are still the norm and the shallow lagoons often feel even warmer. July is Zanzibar’s windiest month, with a more or less constant, stiff breeze blowing from the south. This southern ‘kusi’ wind can get up to 35 km/h (18 knots), but is far more gentle on the islands’ leeward sides.
      • When the kusi blows from the south, Zanzibar’s north-facing resorts are the most sheltered, so head to Nungwi and Kendwa if you’re after the calmest diving and beach conditions. Elsewhere across the islands you can expect a light to moderate breeze daily, except on Zanzibar Island’s east coast where’s there’s an ever-present stiff wind. July is arguably the best month for wind sports in Paje and you’ll find the beach and lagoon full of swishing, leaping kite surfers. Across the islands, but on Pemba in particular, July is also the start of the clove harvest season, and the scent of cloves is everywhere as they lie in piles in the sun. But perhaps the best place to be on Zanzibar is Stone Town where the unmissable Festival of the Dhow Countries takes over the Old Fort district for the first two weeks of July each year.
      • Two of Zanzibar’s most vibrant cultural festivals take place in July: Stone Town’s Festival of the Dhow Countries (organised by ZIFF, the Zanzibar International Film Festival), which is held over two lively weeks at the beginning of the month and, at the end of the month, the Mwaka Kogwa festival which takes place in the southern village of Makunduchi. The Festival of the Dhow Countries has grown and grown in recent years into perhaps the largest cultural festival in East Africa. Incorporating music, film and dance from all over Africa and Asia, it’s a reason all on its own to visit Zanzibar in July. Mwaka Kogwa is much smaller, but no less energetic, an originally Persian new year festival that includes plenty of dancing, singing and even some mock fights, and attracts locals and foreigners from across the islands.
      • July is a busy month on Zanzibar and you’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance. This is true all over the archipelago, but especially if you’re staying in Stone Town while the Festival of the Dhow Countries is on. July is also not an ideal time for diving. The protected northern reefs are usually unaffected, but the open water sites may be too windy and rough.
    • August
      sailfish and merlin
      • August is the last of the slightly cooler months on Zanzibar. Hot days can still be over 30°C (86°F), but somewhere around 28°C (82°F) is more common. Sea temperatures also reach their lowest in August, although far from icy at a very reasonable 25°C (77°F). August to October is perhaps the most pleasant period on the archipelago: not too hot, not too humid and with steadily softening breezes from the south. By the middle of August, the southern ‘kusi’ wind begins to fade, although it usually stays strong enough for the kite surfers in Paje. August can be seen as a transition period in Zanzibar, a mix of perfect beach and diving days, with some blustery, choppy days thrown in.
      • August is an excellent time to be anywhere on Zanzibar – only divers need to plan carefully as some off-shore sites may be too rough. The southern kusi wind can still churn up the southern channels, and dive sites along the northern coasts tend to have calmer conditions. Although slowly fading, the kusi still draws kite surfers to Paje and both Paje and Matemwe offer good steady winds and flat lagoons for beginners. In other parts of the archipelago, Pemba’s clove harvest is in full swing and on Mafia’s Juani Island it’s still a great time to see the hatching turtles. For the calmest, most tranquil beach days, the northern coastlines remain best, especially Nungwi and Kendwa which can be particularly serene.
      • Besides great beach days and good diving off the northern coasts, August is prime time for sport fishing off Zanzibar. Deep sea boat tours can be arranged to search for sailfish and marlin, which can be hooked off the east coast right through until February.
      • August is a busy time to be on Zanzibar and it’s essential to book well in advance. Budget accommodation is usually easier to find, but the more popular hotels and resorts – especially the smaller, more intimate boutiques – can fill up fast.
    • September
      whale sharks
      • If August is a great time to be on Zanzibar, then September just gets better. It’s one of the sunniest, driest months across the islands, with average daytime temperatures gradually climbing over 30°C (86°F). The southern ‘kusi’ wind has blown steadily since May, but now eases back to a cooling breeze. In Paje some kitesurfing is still possible until October, but the season is slowly drawing to a close. With the gentling breeze the seas also calm, and by the middle of September the more challenging deep-water dive sites are usually accessible. The sea starts to warm up (to around 26°C / 79°F) and September and October can produce some of the best diving conditions of the year.
      • September is a wonderful month all over Zanzibar, but the Mafia archipelago has something special to offer. Not only are the turtles of Juani Island still hatching, but the calmer seas allow for some incredible diving in the deeper channels. Here you’ll find colossal 3-metre grouper, and for even bigger thrills, it’s the start of the annual whale shark season. Above the waves, September is ideal for the beach and all the islands’ resorts are popular at this time of year. Nungwi and Kiwengwa can get particularly busy, but it’s quieter in the less developed regions such as Matemwe and Pingwe.
      • Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most astounding wildlife experiences on the planet and these huge, gentle creatures begin to arrive off Mafia Island in September. By the end of the month the water visibility increases – up to 25 metres on the calmest days. All over Zanzibar the diving is excellent and the warm, sunny days make for perfect beach time too.
      • September’s major disadvantage is its popularity and unless you book well in advance you may not get your first-choice hotel. The smaller boutiques can fill up especially fast as they’re often in the most sought after areas, where the beaches are least busy.
    • October
      Snorkelling is excellent in October
      • October is usually an idyllic time on Zanzibar, with light southerly breezes, clear skies and calm seas. As the month progresses, the heat gradually builds, and daytime highs regularly top 30°C (86°F). Nights are also warmer (over 20°C / 68°F) and get increasingly humid as the brief November monsoon draws near. The monsoon’s exact arrival varies unpredictably each year and some regions may see heavy rainfall before the end of the month. October is one of Zanzibar’s least windy periods and ocean visibility is often excellent – up to 25 metres or more. Sea temperatures also start to climb throughout October, reaching around 27°C (81°F) by the beginning of November.
      • Sunny days and calm seas are the norm in October and no single region has a monopoly on the great weather. The beaches around Nungwi can be particularly busy, and Kiwengwa and Paje are also very popular and often full. In fact, all the major resort areas can get busy in October so if you’re looking for more exclusivity then the smaller villas and boutiques around Matemwe and Pingwe are usually best. Ras Kizimkazi is also a quiet option throughout the year, but whereas it can be quite windy from June to August, by October the light breeze is now cool and refreshing. Pemba and Mafia are also always much quieter than Zanzibar Island and both boast some of their best diving and snorkelling in October.
      • Calmer seas off Ras Kizimkazi mark the start of the dolphin spotting season. Tours can be arranged from Zanzibar Town, but with the lighter southerly wind it’s also a great time of year to stay in Ras Kizimkazi itself. Further south, whale sharks are amassing off Mafia, with wonderful opportunities to swim with these giant beasts. October is an excellent month for diving across the archipelago. There’s generally superb visibility (25 metres or more) and most, if not all, dive sites are accessible.
      • If you’re planning to visit in October you’ll need to book well in advance, and may need to avoid the busier regions if you’re after some privacy. There’s also always the chance of an early monsoon downpour, though these are less likely at the beginning of the month.
    • November
      zanzibar
      • November is the month of the ‘short rains’ in Zanzibar, a brief period of sporadic storms that may begin as early as mid-October and ease off during December. These short rains rains are generally much lighter than the main wet season (from March to May), but consecutive days can be cloudy, and good beach tanning time is not guaranteed. That said, November mornings are still quite often clear, there’s very little wind and there can be some very fine days too. Throughout the month temperatures continue to rise, with nights around 22°C (72°F) and daily highs above 30°C (86°F). Although sudden storms can hit unpredictably, the otherwise light winds can produce some wonderfully glassy seas. By the end of November sea temperatures are up to 29°C (84°F) and there’s great diving and snorkelling to be had, at the risk of a few squalls.
      • Visiting Zanzibar in November is not usually recommended, but if you find a good deal it can still be well worth the trip. You may find yourself caught indoors now and then, but the storms rarely last long and can be beautiful over the sea. As the rains ease off, the north-eastern ‘kaskasi’ picks up, but rarely exceeds a light breeze this early in the season. Even so the flattest seas are generally to the south – Ras Kizimkazi’s dolphin-spotting boat tours are ideal at this time of year. There’s good diving to be had all over Zanzibar in November, but again the calmest water and best visibility is off the southern shores. Mafia too can receive some rain in November, but it’s still possible to swim with whale sharks and enjoy some of the best diving in the archipelago.
      • November’s highlights include glassy southern seas, great diving conditions just about everywhere, and attractive deals at some hotels and resorts. November is one of Zanzibar’s least busy months – a pro or a con, depending on what you’re looking for.
      • The main risk in November is the unpredictable weather and although it’s generally warm and still, there’ll be some rain and a number of cloudy days. It’s certainly not Zanzibar’s best month for tanning, though you don’t necessarily need sunshine to swim in a 29°C (84°F) sea.
    • December
      whale shark
      • Early December can see showers across Zanzibar, becoming more sporadic as the month goes by. Temperatures throughout the islands gradually climb and hot days can peak around 35°C (95°F). December’s prevailing wind is the north-eastern ‘kaskasi,’ which gets increasingly fresh along the islands’ east coasts. As the northern wind builds it whips up the sea and the exposed northern coastline can get a bit rough. December is a fairly unpredictable month, when stunning beach days can give way to sudden storms. On balance, however, the forecast is good, with more chance of sunshine towards Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
      • Zanzibar’s southern and western coasts are more sheltered in December so head to Kendwa or Ras Kizimkazi for the calmest seas. Chumbe Island is also fairly protected from the northeaster and has a stunning coral reef for snorkelling. Along Zanzibar Island’s east coast the wind attracts the first kitesurfers of the short summer season. The wind is usually not as strong as June and July and it can be a good time for beginners to learn. Paje is the east coast’s kitesurfing centre, but Matemwe and Kiwengwa also offer good winds. For diving, the southern dive sites tend to be better and some open water sites off Pemba and Mafia may be too rough. Swimming with whale sharks is still possible off Mafia and across the archipelago the seas are at their warmest – up to 30°C by the end of the month.
      • December’s main highlights are the whale sharks off Mafia and the crystal-clear diving on the Zanzibar’s southern reefs. Fresh mangos and dried cloves are piled high in the markets and although Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, there’s a definite holiday atmosphere on Zanzibar’s streets.
      • Although locals don’t make a huge fanfare of Christmas, it’s still a popular time for visitors from abroad. Christmas on the beach is a wonderful novelty, but be sure to book well in advance if you’re planning to visit at this time of year.

    Why Zanzibar?

    Few world destinations conjure such exotic visions as the spice islands of Zanzibar. Look beyond its postcard-perfect beaches, turquoise seas and stunning luxury lodges and this archetypal island paradise is so much more than it first appears.

    Beneath the tranquil surface a fascinating and turbulent past lies veiled; whispers of a time when giraffes were sent as gifts by sultans and spices were worth much more than gold.

    lake tanganyika
    Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika I Credit: Wikipedia

    The frenetic focal point of African, Arabian, Indian and Persian trade for over a millennium, this East African archipelago has harboured Portuguese carracks bound for India and been the staging post for some of the Victorian era’s greatest explorers – David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley to name just two. But it’s not only sultans and sailors and dhows stuffed with spice, Zanzibar’s enchanting history has a dark side too. For hundreds of years her crowded slave market was the grim epicentre of a vast network that stretched inland to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, south around the Cape Peninsula and northwards to Oman and the date palms of Arabia

    Today, evidence of this rich, troubled history can be readily found in Stone Town’s unique mix of Swahili, Arabic and Indian architecture, the thought-provoking museums, the fusion of fragrant cooking styles and, of course, the ever-present scent of spices caught on the passing breeze.

    Visitors can enjoy locally-guided spice tours, cooking classes, stylish boutiques and colourful markets awash with hand-crafted silver jewellery, leather goods and clothes. Away from the bustle of Zanzibar Town, the islands’ beaches are some of the best in the world and off shore there’s scuba diving with turtles or whale sharks, and sunset dhow cruises to deserted, tidal sandbars.

    snorkelling
    A holiday to Zanzibar isn’t just a holiday to any tropical island, but a unique blend of cultures and experiences

    On the archipelago’s three larger islands you’ll find a range of lodges and activities for every dream and budget. The main Zanzibar Island (proper name ‘Unguja’) is the largest and busiest, then Pemba to the north with its excellent diving and laid back vibe, and finally the more exclusive Mafia Island in the far south – the best place to see hatching turtles (between June and September). Between these main landmasses, a scattering of smaller isles shelter protected reefs and some of the most stunning barefoot luxury resorts in the world.

    A holiday to Zanzibar isn’t just a holiday to any tropical island, but a unique blend of cultures and experiences, a chance to bask in an ancient archipelago with a still-tangible history like no other in the world.

    suni
    The very rare diminutive Zanzibar Suni I Credit: Wikipedia

    Zanzibar’s islands have been inhabited for many hundreds of years and although ancient records refer to imported elephants and other iconic species, you won’t find any of Africa’s major land mammals here today.

    For the best chance of seeing Zanzibar’s smaller, rarer and in some cases, endemic species, head to Jozani Forest Reserve just south of Zanzibar Town or Ngezi Forest Reserve on Pemba Island. Jozani is home to the fabulous Kirk’s red colobus monkey, which with its distinctive grey tufts and ochre-red back is one of the rarest sights in Africa. Even rarer, and much harder to spot, are the diminutive Zanzibar suni, Ader’s duiker and Pemba blue duiker, all species of antelope found only in the archipelago. The Pemba flying fox (really a huge fruit bat with a wingspan over 1.5m) is another native to the northernmost island, while Chumbe and Chapwani Islands are known for their giant coconut crabs, and nearby Changu (Prison Island) for its resident (though introduced) giant tortoises. Over 200 species of bird have also been recorded across the islands, including the Pemba sunbird and Pemba scops owl, both endemic to Pemba Island.

    Beyond the mangrove and coconut forests, shallow tidal lagoons give way to stunning coral reefs and beneath the waves a whole new world unfolds. Zanzibar is a breath-taking destination for diving and snorkelling, though overfishing and careless management have damaged some areas. Chumbe Island, south of Zanzibar Town, has a protected reef which is reserved for snorkelling only. For diving, the best sites are off Pemba and Mafia – the former known for its spectacular wall dives and open-ocean pelagic fish and the latter for Chole Bay, arguably the best coral garden in East Africa. Visit Mafia between September and March and you’ll also have the chance to swim with whale sharks, while from June to September nearby Juani Island hosts one of the world’s most special sights – the mad seaward dash of hatching turtles.

    zanzibar
    Zanzibar is an incredibly beautiful island

    It’s impossible to soak in everything Zanzibar has to offer without maxing out your visa and staying the full three months.

    The main Zanzibar Island itself is already more than can be explored on the average summer holiday, and Pemba and Mafia are wonderful destinations in their own right. With its superb diving, myriad islands and inlets, rich cultural history, delicious seafood and broad mix of laid back, luxurious (and often very affordable) lodges and hotels, Zanzibar pulls visitors back time and again.

    Happily, a trend towards sustainable tourism is also increasingly evident in recent years, allowing visitors to support the excellent work many operators are doing to promote local development and wildlife conservation. But whether you’re combining the islands with a mainland safari or treating yourself to the spice isles alone, Zanzibar is a paradise not to be missed, a dream that only gets stronger once you first touch its shores.

    Type of traveller

    What type of traveller are you?

    • A solo Zanzibar holiday

      solo holiday zanzibar
      The Residence in Zanzibar is a luxurious 32 ha estate

      Travelling on your own presents some special challenges. Will you be safe? Will you get lonely? Will you be able to make the most of the activities on offer? Then there are all those varying priorities – a comfortable hammock and a good book for a week, or immersion in the local culture, great food, perhaps the chance to meet like minded people? Zanzibar caters to all kinds of solo travel. It’s safe, affordable and easy to get around. There are places to go if you’re looking for a party and plenty of more low key areas if you’re not. For a tropical island paradise, there’s an extraordinary variety of experiences available, and a rich cultural history that’s never far away. Though at times loud and chaotic, it’s a wonderfully easy place to travel – in fact there may not be anywhere else quite as relaxed in all of Africa.

      Where you head will depend on what you’re looking for, and also on the time of year. Nungwi is perhaps the islands’ most happening beach, especially in September/October and again from December to March. Nearby Kendwa, though quieter, hosts Zanzibar’s best full moon beach parties, and both Kendwa and Nungwi are a good place to meet fellow travellers. Paje, on the southeast, can also get quite lively, particularly from June to August when the kite surfers arrive in force.

      If, however, you’re after peace and quiet then there are plenty of great options at any time of year. Matemwe, Pongwe and Pingwe all have quieter, more exclusive lodges and hotels and there are some good budget hangouts in Bwejuu and, especially, Jambiani. Pemba and Mafia Island, are idyllic and near empty year-round, and everywhere on Zanzibar is easily accessible via a short (and beautiful) flight, boat ride or taxi transfer.

      • Highlights
        food markets
        Street food markets in Zanzibar are excellent

        Wandering Stone Town’s maze of streets is an essential part of any holiday to Zanzibar. Solo travellers can feel perfectly safe – just take basic precautions. Excellent, organised tours can also be arranged if you don’t feel comfortable exploring alone. Guided tours, especially those run by local residents, are also a great way to learn about the town’s past and uncover secrets that you’d never glean on your own.

        Though steeped in history, Stone Town is a bubbling, living community too. There are local restaurants and cosy cafes to try, or the vibrant exotic street food market at Forodhani Gardens each evening. The fresh seafood on Zanzibar is particularly delicious – from octopus and coconut curries to astonishing piles of battered squid and spicy prawns. In the evenings, there are roof top bars for sundowners or head to a local taarab music performance where visitors are always welcome.

        Outside the capital, both Nungwi and Jambiani offer community-led cultural tours which provide insight into the age-old dhow building tradition and the subsistence fishing lifestyle of native Zanzibaris. And under the waves there’s phenomenal diving all over the archipelago, or join a group tour to swim with the whale sharks off Mafia.

      • Practical advice

        All travellers, but especially solos, should spend some time in Stone Town. A few days will get you acclimated to the islands and shouldn’t be avoided in the rush to hit the beaches. Arrival in Zanzibar Town is by far the most chaotic experience you’ll have all trip. Most hotels offer dedicated taxi transfers so save yourself some hassle and book one in advance. If you do prefer to play it by ear, then you’ll find a host of touts happy to do business. Be aware that they may get better commission for taking you to specific hotels so bear that in mind if you’re told your first choice is full. On the whole, however, Zanzibar is safe and relaxed – an easy-going, laid-back slice of paradise and a wonderful place for a solo traveller to explore.

        Ride a Dhow boat in Zanzibar
    • A family holiday in Zanzibar

      stone town
      Stone Town is a maze of wonderment

      Zanzibar is simply fantastic for families. It’s safe, laid back and there’s plenty for kids to do. Once you arrive the transfers are quick and easy – just a few minutes to your hotel in Stone Town or at most an hour and a half to the furthest beach resort. There are hotels and resorts all over the archipelago that cater specifically for families with kids. You’ll find understanding staff, large suites or family rooms, private bungalows and villas, and even specially supervised children’s activities so you can lie undisturbed on the beach.

      With most of the islands’ beaches protected by wide coral lagoons, there’s safe splashing and swimming all along the coast. Some resorts have large private dhows and offer thrilling snorkelling trips to offshore sandbars. These may need to be specially booked in advance, but they’ll have your kids playing at ‘pirates of Zanzibar’ long after you’ve returned home.

      Though the food can be exotic too, more familiar fare is readily available. If the octopus curry doesn’t (for some reason) grab them, there’ll be burgers or pasta on the menu as well. All in all, Zanzibar is an incredibly easy place to travel, somewhere to create unique memories that will be treasured for years to come.

      There are excellent family resorts all over Zanzibar, but you’ll find the most choice on the main Zanzibar Island, Unguja. In the north, Nungwi and Kendwa both have good options, though here you’ll find more of a party crowd as well. Along the Michamvi Peninsula the beaches tend to be quieter, with a number of upmarket resorts that also welcome families. In the south east of the island, Jambiani is also worth exploring. It’s a laid-back stretch of beach with a range of family accommodation.

      Although Pemba has one or two first-rate family resorts, the choices are fewer and the range of kid-friendly activities more limited. Mafia also has fewer options than Unguja, but some resorts cater specifically to families and there’s a chance to see hatching turtles.

      • Highlights

        The spectacle of hundreds of tiny turtles tottering towards the sea is a wonderful opportunity for conservation education and an experience the whole family won’t soon forget. Visit Mafia between June and September and you can take a day trip to see the hatchlings on nearby Juani Island. The entire excursion is a highlight, including the short boat ride and the enthusiastic local guides. If you can’t make it to Mafia, then there’s also the Mnarani Natural Aquarium in Nungwi, a community-run project that does a huge amount for local turtle conservation, and where you can see rescued turtles up close.

        Other nature excursions include boat trips from Zanzibar Town to see the resident giant tortoises on Changuu (also known as ‘Prison’) Island, and further south, day trips or overnight stays on Chumbe Island where the focus is on conservation and education – not to mention the enormous coconut crabs!

        Back on land, the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre is a 45-minute drive from Zanzibar Town, on the southern outskirts of Jozani Forest. With over 30 species, and thousands of individual butterflies, the centre is a must for children of all ages. Finally, don’t leave the islands’ without doing a spice tour. They’re a great way to see the plantations outside of Zanzibar Town, interact with local farmers and discover where spices come from. Fresh coconut and seasonal fruit can also be sampled and all-in-all it’s a great day out, though more suited to slightly older kids.

        • Practical advice

          There are a number of excellent resorts and hotels with plenty of experience in family travel. They’re not hard to find and are the best way to ensure a hassle-free holiday. They’ll usually be able to arrange taxis or transfers, not only to and from the airport, but also to fun family activities in the area. If you’re looking for some time to yourself then aim for a resort with a children’s club and/or nursery. Some of these clubs are remarkably well-run and offer a wide variety of kids’ activities, from supervised water sports to arts and crafts and village tours. There is one important concern with any trip to Zanzibar and that’s the relatively low, but ever-present risk of malaria. Preventative prophylaxis drugs are available, including safe options for children. Consult your doctor before you travel and be aware that the cooler, drier period between May and September tends to have fewer mosquitos, but there is some risk in all seasons, across all of the islands.

          Explore the famous spice route
    • A romantic holiday in Zanzibar

      snorkelling
      Snorkelling in Zanzibar can be an incredible experience, especially when it’s shared

      If you’re looking for romance, then look no further – Zanzibar is a thrilling destination for couples. With a fascinating history and stunning natural beauty, its exotic blend of experiences makes Zanzibar unique. Here you’ll find not only secluded beaches and elegant modern villas, but also sundowner dhow cruises and Arabian-styled boutique hotels. And whereas in the past many couples would head straight to the beach, there’s now a growing number of intimate hotels and restaurants in Stone Town that are establishing the enigmatic old quarter as a romantic destination in its own right.

      Although the gorgeous coastline is a must, any romantic holiday to Zanzibar should include some time in Stone Town. The old town’s maze of narrow streets and alleys have attracted adventurous couples for years, and new cosy restaurants and intimate hotels have only added to the quarter’s charm. The twisting passageways are also home to an increasing number of specialty shops and boutiques, stocking high-quality, made-in-Zanzibar jewellery, clothing and accessories. High above the streets, rooftop restaurants serve intriguing cocktails and delicious seafood, with glorious sunset views across the palm trees and over the bay.

      Outside of Stone Town the Michamvi Peninsula has arguably the best selection of smaller, quieter hotels, with plenty of choice for an unforgettable romantic break. Kendwa and Matemwe also have some good couples’ resorts and there are other similar lodges dotted along the east coast.

      For the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity, however, head to Pemba or Mafia, or one of the smaller private islands scattered throughout the archipelago. There are some truly magical experiences to be had, from spectacular private tree houses to a houseboat’s underwater bedroom.

      • Highlights
        matemwe
        Matemwe have a good choice of resorts for couples to enjoy

        The experiences you have in Zanzibar will stay in your heart forever, whether you’re on honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary, or just taking some romantic R&R. Swim with dolphins off Ras Kizimkazi, or enrol in a scuba diving course together. Enjoy a sumptuous candlelit meal in the dreamlike ruins of Mtoni Palace, or board a sunset dhow cruise and sip G&Ts with your toes in the sea.

        A boat trip of some sort is essential on Zanzibar and there are few things more romantic than your own dhow for the day. Visit remote tidal sandbars and snorkel pristine coral bays. The more upmarket lodges will often have their own dhows for guests to use.

        But perhaps most important is finding time for yourselves – a quiet beach, a sunset deck, a moonlit dinner on the sand. Zanzibar offers classic romance in spades. The hardest part will be to choose.

      • Practical information

        Across the islands, the smaller, upmarket boutiques tend to fill up quickest and should always be secured well ahead of time. These are usually the best hotels for couples, and some have a couples-only policy or don’t allow young kids. There’s no need to hire a car on Zanzibar unless you want to explore every corner of the island. All the larger hotels and resorts will be happy to arrange transfers and in any case the most travel you’ll likely do is a long evening walk along the beach. Be aware that homosexuality is illegal in Zanzibar, but most hotels and resorts have no problem with same sex couples. Outside of the resorts public affection is frowned upon and it’s considered polite for even same sex couples to be discreet. Bikinis and shorts are absolutely fine on the beach, but both sexes should cover shoulders and legs when walking around town.

        Contact us to book a Zanzibar tour

    Budgeting for Zanzibar

    • Budget-friendly holidays in Zanzibar

      son of soil festival
      Stone Town can get packed during the Festival of the Dhow Countries

      Zanzibar can certainly be done on a budget, but you’ll need to pick your regions with care. Starting in Stone Town you’ll find a range of affordable guesthouses, offering basic double rooms and B&B. Further afield there are two main budget areas – around the northern village of Nungwi and along the south-eastern coast between Paje and Jambiani. Matemwe, northern Kiwengwa, Bewjuu and Kizimkazi Mkunguni all have one or two good budget guesthouses, but the choices are more limited and you may have to settle for something a bit back from the beach.

      Pemba and Mafia are not great budget destinations, although you will find some more affordable guesthouses in Chake Chake, Kilindoni and Utende. That said, to make the most of these and the other smaller islands in the archipelago you’ll most likely need to spend a bit more.

      Happily, lying on the beach is always free and snorkelling gear can be hired for a few dollars almost anywhere. Local dive trips start at $40 a person and dhow excursions can be from $30 to $80 a trip depending on where you go and how many are in the boat. If you’ve never dived before, then Zanzibar is a superb place to start. Full PADI certification starts at around $500 a person, but for $100 you can try an introductory ‘Discover Scuba’ course which includes a pool dive, some theory and a shallow sea dive to around 12 metres. Whatever you do, don’t leave Zanzibar without doing a spice tour. These can be arranged in Stone Town, with prices starting at around $30 a person.

      If you’re planning to stay in Stone Town for a while, then book accommodation in advance for a few nights. This will give you somewhere to aim for when you arrive, but won’t tie you down if it turns out to be less desirable. Once there you can explore the old town on foot and move to a nicer spot if you need to. Don’t try this if you’re visiting in July, however, when Stone Town is packed for the Festival of the Dhow Countries.

      You can employ this same strategy in Nungwi, Paje and Jambiani where there are plenty of good budget options within walking distance along the beach. You’ll find huts and bungalows that don’t even take advance bookings and survive exclusively on walk in guests. As with Stone Town in July, there’s always some risk, and along the northern and eastern coasts it’s busiest from July to October. Jambiani is currently one of the quieter stretches of beach and a good place to start if you’re worried about availability.

      Be aware that the smaller, cheaper guesthouses almost always require cash and there’s nowhere to draw money outside of Stone Town, Kiwengwa and Chake Chake. Officially all accommodation must be paid for in US dollars, though euros are increasingly accepted and some budget hostels may take Tanzania shillings. The best option is to arrive with all your dollars in cash as you’ll get better rates than if you exchange on the islands. If you do need to change money (a few shillings can be useful for smaller purchases such as street food), then use a private bureau de change in Stone Town. The larger hotels often provide a FOREX service, but usually at much poorer rates.

      Expect to pay $10 to $15 for a dorm bed in Stone Town and $40 to $60 for a clean double room anywhere. Single rooms are rare in Zanzibar and you’ll often be charged the full rate for a double. Local food and basic drinks will set you back about $25 a day, so all-in-all you’re looking at around $50 a person a day sharing, for a decent guesthouse on a fairly tight budget.

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    • Affordable holiday in Zanzibar

      There are friendly, well-run, mid-range resorts scattered all across Zanzibar. And as with the more budget-friendly accommodation, you’ll find the most choice in Stone Town, Nungwi and Paje/Jambiani. All three areas have a good selection of mid-range options, from larger resort-style hotels to laid-back, beach-chic bungalows. And if you don’t fancy relying on your own hotel’s chef each night, these are also the areas with the most affordable restaurants and bars.

      One new area also deserves a mention and that’s the quiet stretch of beach between Bewjuu and Dongwe. Here you’ll find a handful of small resorts and bungalows offering excellent service at an affordable price. Kiwengwa, Matemwe and Kendwa also have a few noteworthy mid-range lodges as does the otherwise more luxury-focused Michamvi Peninsula.

      Pemba and Mafia are for the most part more exclusive, but you’ll still find one or two affordable lodges, albeit at the upper end. On Mafia, in particular, there are a few good options in Utende, largely aimed at divers whose primary focus is the sea.

      If you have any interest at all in scuba diving, then don’t pass up this world-class opportunity. Most visitors to Mafia Island go specifically to dive, with Chole Bay perhaps the finest coral garden in East Africa. Mafia also offers excellent open water diving (October to February has the most reliable weather) and there are magnificent dive sites all across the archipelago. Single dives start at around $40 on Zanzibar Island, but can be over $50 elsewhere if significant boat time is required. If you’ve never dived before then now would be a great time to learn. There are top-notch PADI training centres all over Zanzibar, with courses starting at around $500, and up to $600 on Mafia and Pemba where you pay for more exclusive conditions.

      If delving beneath the waves really isn’t for you, then be sure to treat yourself to a dhow trip instead. Group excursions start at around $25 a head, but for a bit more you can hire the entire vessel for the day. Enjoy a lazy picnic on a far-off sandbar, or a private snorkelling trip to an off-shore reef, or simply grab some beers and take a sunset cruise – there’s nothing quite like experiencing the spice isles from the sea.

      You can pay by card in most of the larger resorts, but expect to be charged a rather hefty commission. Some establishments may not accept card payments at all and, in any case, it’s always better value with cash. Officially, all accommodation must be paid in US dollars and most activities are quoted in same. The only cash machines you’ll find are in Stone Town, Chake Chake and Kiwengwa so it’s important to bring enough dollars with you. You’ll be able to change money at the airports, as well as in the major towns and at some of the larger hotels. Avoid the hotels unless you’re really in need as they rarely offer very favourable rates.

      March to May is the low (rainy) season on Zanzibar and while some resorts close, others offer good deals. It’s always worth asking, even if not advertised – you never know what you might get. Good mid-range accommodation can come in at anything from $50 to $150 a double room, depending mostly on beach access and views. Prime beach front will always incur a premium and there are some excellent reasonably-priced bungalows and villas if you’re prepared to walk a bit to the beach. All good mid-range resorts include breakfast in the bill, with guests free to get their other meals at restaurants elsewhere. A good seafood dinner will be $15 to $20 with drinks, while street vendors and the more low-key spots serve snacks and meals for between $5 and $10.

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    • Luxury holiday in Zanzibar

      the residence
      The Residence epitomises Zanzibari luxury

      Zanzibar does luxury supremely well. From treetop suites to private islands, and all manner of barefoot bliss in between. There are world-class hotels and resorts across the archipelago including some welcome new additions in Stone Town. But although a few days in Stone Town are essential to any holiday in Zanzibar, it’s the stunning beach-side boutiques and intimate island escapes that set these East African spice isles apart.

      The most exclusive beach resorts are on Michamvi Peninsula, Ras Kizimkazi, and Mafia and Pemba Islands. You’ll find superb luxury hotels along all the major beaches, but these four regions have many of the best. That is to say, these four plus a few spectacular tiny islets. For the ultimate tropical island experience, why not a luxury atoll for a week?

      There’s wonder and beauty all across Zanzibar, but at the best luxury lodges you’ll feel you have it all to yourself. Most are tucked away on secluded, if not private, beaches, or on small, pristine islands where there really is no one else. Enjoy exclusive snorkelling reefs, private dhow cruises and candlelit dinners with your toes in the sand; or spend the night in a houseboat with an underwater bedroom, a baobab treehouse or a glorious Robinson-Crusoe-styled beach villa. Exceptional levels of personal service are very much the norm on Zanzibar. That’s especially true of the smaller luxury boutiques which only host a few guests at a time.

      One of the downsides of being small and exclusive is that bookings must be made quite far in advance. The high season runs from July to October, with a spike again from January to March. During these times, it can be hard to find availability, especially if you’re looking for a longer stay. Longer stays, however, often mean substantial discounts (up to a third off for bookings of a week or more).

      secluded beaches
      Beautiful and secluded beaches are often one of the drawcards during a luxurious Zanzibar trip

      Combo beach and safari holidays are also very popular and a number of resorts have sister lodges on mainland Tanzania. These often offer excellent all-inclusive deals, covering the full Big Five African safari experience, flight transfers and kicking back on the beach.

      Cards are usually accepted for extra activities or excursions, but it’s a good idea to carry some US dollars in cash to cover any sundries and tips. Visas can be acquired at the airport on arrival, but get them in advance and you’ll avoid the queues. Flight transfers may or may not be included in your package – something to keep in mind as returns to Mafia or Pemba can add $300 to the bill. The flights, however, are a highlight in themselves and a wonderful opportunity to see the azure archipelago from the air.

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