Just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa lies the Zanzibar Archipelago, a group of islands surrounded by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. From a colourful and exotic history to breathtaking beaches and a booming spice trade, Zanzibar combines a relaxing beach escape with adventure and culture. Here’s are our top things to experience on the Spice Islands.
Get lost in Stone Town
Historic Stone Town is a World Heritage Site steeped in history and culture, making it an exciting place to explore. Winding alleyways and narrow streets exude charm and bargain-hunting energy as you wander down lines of local vendors selling everything from coffee to spices, fabrics and crafts. The old Arab-style buildings are fascinating while the energy of the bustling markets draws you in – it’s a true taste of local life and definitely best explored on foot.
See red colobus monkey in the Jozani Forest
This vast spread of greenery is the only indigenous forest on Zanzibar and is home to a range of fauna and flora. It’s the only place where the red colobus can be found, along with bush babies, Sykes monkeys, tree hyrax and servaline genet to name a few more. There is also a dense concentration of butterfly and bird species. Due to continued flooding, the area has taken on a unique swamp-like forest nature that nurtures several different ecosystems and is a breeding ground for many marine organisms.
Top up your tan
It’s no secret that the beaches of Zanzibar are something to behold. One of our favourites is Nungwi Beach on the northwest tip of the island. This long, golden stretch of sand is perfect for sun-bathing and watersports such as scuba diving and jet skiing. Kendwa is another standout that is quite secluded due to its sheer size – ideal if you’re keen for a romantic picnic. It’s also here where you’ll catch the most magnificent sunsets on the island, often accompanied madafu or coconut water that is sipped right out of the shell.
Other beachy spots include: Matemwe, Michamvi, Bwejuu, Paje and Jambiani.
Snorkel at Mnemba Atoll
Take a traditional dhow from one of the northern beaches to this island for amazing snorkelling. The colourful coral reefs are home to a peerless selection of marine life, from eels and barracuda to yellow snappers and turtles. As you’re gliding along, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some dolphins frolicking in the crystal clear waters.
Visit Prison Island (Changuu)
Whilst Prison Island is associated with Zanzibar’s link to slavery, it is now a nature reserve where giant tortoises roam freely. The boat trip takes half an hour from mainland Zanzibar and once there you can spend time examining the ruins of the prison that once held slaves as well as hanging out with the tortoises. We also recommend snorkelling here as the waters surrounding the island are brimming with coral. The Palace Museum, or Sultan’s Palace, is probably the most historic building in Stone Town. Built in the 19th Century as the home for the Sultan and his family, today it’s a museum housing the possessions of the family.
Sample local flavour at Forodhani Market
Every evening the Forodhani Gardens transform into a bustling night market with some of the freshest local produce. Apart from the delicious food, it’s a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and experience night market vibes. There’s everything from meat and vegetables to a selection of amazing seafood – grilled fish served with fried potato balls, naan bread and samosas is a firm favourite.
Also visit the Darajani Market for an excellent shopping experience.
Head out on a heady spice tour
Zanzibar is perhaps most well-known for its warm spices – clove, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon are just a few that waft through the air. Take a fascinating spice tour where you’ll learn about the scents, flavours and origins of the island’s spices. Wander the winding streets of Stone Town with a guide or go straight to the source of this bustling trade by exploring one of the many plantations.
Step back in time
Explore the remains of the oldest building in Stone Town, the Old Fort that was built in the 17th Century as protection against Portuguese invaders. The courtyard attracts sellers selling local wares and the old amphitheatre hosts live events out in the open. The House of Wonders is the tallest in Stone Town and provides insight into the Zanzibari and Swahili cultures. It is where the National Museum of Culture is based, with two of the main features being a large, traditional Swahili boat known as a “mtepe” found in the courtyard, and two incredible 16th Century bronze canons.
Have dinner in the middle of the ocean
The Rock Restaurant provides an unforgettable dining experience as well as stunning views of the island. Its unique position makes it a must-visit place, plus it serves some of the best seafood around. Booking is essential, though, as it only seats a limited number of diners at a time.
Some other things worth mentioning:
- Dive off the coast of Pemba Island
- Take a dala dala (mini bus) ride
- Go on a village tour
- Attend one of the many festivals such as the Zanzibar International Film Festival
- Go on a sunset dhow cruise
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