Affordable Zanzibar Holiday
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.
Highlights to enjoy
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.