You’ll find no shortages of things to do in Zanzibar.
Tanzania is a popular destination for tourists looking to go on safari. The East African country has several world-class wildlife parks where you can go to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino). However, the incredible wildlife Tanzania boasts is not the only thing that attracts millions of tourists to the country each year.
Zanzibar certainly is one of the biggest selling points to people who plan a trip to Tanzania. This small beautiful island on the Indian Ocean is located off the coast of mainland Tanzania; and it is also very popular with tourists. I would say that it makes the perfect addition to a trip to Tanzania.
After visiting Serengeti National Park to see the wildlife, or touring Tanzania’s capital city Dodoma, I highly recommend you plan a trip to Zanzibar. The island has warm weather all year round, miles of stunning beaches, picturesque landscape, friendly people, delicious cuisine, history, and fascinating culture.
And if you are worried that Zanzibar, let me reassure you: it is possible to travel to Zanzibar on a budget. Many tourists have visited the island and spent as little as $25 a day by staying in a hostel and eating at local restaurants.
This post highlights the most fun things to do in Zanzibar. At the end, you will find a few tips that will help you plan a trip there.
19 Fun Things To Do In Zanzibar
Wander around Stone Town
In Swahili, the main language spoken in Zanzibar, Stone Town is called Mji Mkongwe, which means ‘Old Town’ in English. True to its name Mji Mkongwe is the oldest part of Zanzibar city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is a tourist hot spot has a lot of history and is rich in European, Arab, Persian and Indian cultures and I recommend to spend some time there to wander around, aimlessly if possible, to take in its lovely atmosphere. Then, you can consider visiting some of its attractions!
Visit the historical landmarks in Stone Town
One of the unmissable things to do in Zanzibar is getting to know its history. There is no better way to do it than exploring the historical landmarks scattered around Stone Town. Here are some you shouldn’t miss.
If you want to take a guided tour of Stone Town, here are some good options:
The Palace Museum
This 19th century building used to be the home of Zanzibar Sultan and his family. That’s why it is also called the Sultan’s palace. After the position of the Sultan was disestablished in1964 the site become a government office for some years. Today it is a museum that exhibits relics from past Sultan families.
The House of Wonders
Built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash, this was the first building back then to have running water and electricity – something that had never been seen before in East Africa. It is Zanzibar’s tallest building with impressive architecture. Unfortunately, due to years of neglect, the building found at the old town’s seafront, on Mizingani Road has been closed for renovation. I still recommend you admire it from the outside.
The House of Wonders has been included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to attract attention to its state of despair.
The Arab Fort
Built in the 17th century this building boasts impressive architecture and interesting history. Part of its history is that it was built on top of an old church, then it became a prison in the 19th century, and a ladies’ tennis club at some point.
The Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church
This church was built in 1873. The church was built on a site where slaves were whipped and has a world-famous slave memorial monument on its grounds.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The church is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a $5 USD admission fee.
Visit the Old Slave Market
One of the things to do in Zanzibar to learn about its past is exploring the Old Slave Market. This is actually a museum, set in the area where the market used to take place and which the British forced to close when they ruled the island in the 19th century.
Enjoy local cuisine at Forodhani Gardens
Forodhani Gardens is a night time food market where you can sample Swahili and Zanzibari cuisine. If you love seafood this market – which opens late in the afternoon – is one of the best places to visit Zanzibar. Apart from seafood other food to try at Forodhani Gardens include:
This is a rice dish made with different spices served with meat or fish curry. It one of Zanzibar’s most famous meals, and tastes delicious.You could also try Pilau rice. To make it, instead of cooking the rice, spices, and meat separately the chef cooks them all in one pot.
This tastes or looks nothing like the pizza you may know (or the one I may be used to in Italy). To make, a ball of dough is rolled it into a circular shape. Ingredients of your choice are then added. They can include beef or chicken, onions, peppers, mayo, and vegetables. An egg and cheese are then added on top and everything is fried on a hot pan surface for a few minutes.
These are local meat skewers, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can try one made from octopus instead of the usual beef or chicken.
This is made of french fries which are fried together with eggs. Think of it as a french fries omelet. I know, it is weird. But I promise you it is good.
If you’re looking for a snack opt for mandazi – fried dough. You can enjoy a mandazi with some Zanzibar tea which is usually made with an amazing blend of spices.
Go shopping at Darajani Bazaar
This is the biggest trading center in Stone Town. Here you can buy anything from food, jewelry, clothes, art, wood carvings, perfumes, etc. It is the perfect market to buy something to take back home that will remind you of Stone Town once your holiday is over.
TIP: Be sure to haggle the prices of any item you have your eyes set on or you’ll pay more than you should.
Explore Spice Island
Spice trade is big in on the island, and going on a spice tour is what to do in Zanzibar to appreciate more of its culture, history and food. It will help you learn more about the different spices Zanzibar grows and sells. You may love some of the spices and buy some to take back home.
These are some excellent spice tours of Zanzibar:
Visit Prison Island
As I have already pointed out, Zanzibar has a dark past involving slave trade, and you can learn about this trade by visiting Prison Island. The island is a 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town.
In the past, this was also where people with deadly diseases were sent to die. So, you can also learn more about which disease years ago were considered deadly and could have seen you sent to this island if you contracted them.
Once you’re done learning about the island’s not so good past, you can go admire the endangered giant Aldabra tortoise species found on the island. These tortoises are huge and some are over 100 years old.
These are the best tours of Prison Island:
Soak up the sun at Nungwi Beach
You cannot go to Zanzibar and not spend time on the beach. One of the best beaches in Zanzibar to relax while sunbathing and swimming in the Indian Ocean is Nungwi Beach. This beach is located in Nungwi village which is found in Zanzibar’s North West region. The beach is popular among tourists but you’ll rarely find it overcrowded like other beaches on the island. As the waters are nice, shallow and transparent, this is a great place to go snorkeling.
Go scuba diving
Speaking of marine life, with warm, clear water is it only obvious that one of the best things to do in Zanzibar is diving. Make sure to go at least once! The best place to go diving is Mnemba Island Atoll.
Dine at the Rock Zanzibar
For scenic views of the island, you should enjoy a meal at this world-famous restaurant which is literally located on top of a rock in the Indian Ocean. From it you can see Zanzibar’s main sights, and taste the best seafood Zanzibar has to offer.
TIP: This restaurant is often very busy, so you should consider making a reservation to ensure you get a table when you choose to go there.
Explore Jozani Forest
This pristine rainforest located in the eastern part of the island covers close to 2000 hectares and it is Zanzibar’s only remaining indigenous forest with over 100 species of trees. It is the only place in the world you can still see the endangered red colobus monkey.
Other animals you can see at Jozani Forest include bush babies, sykes monkeys, Ader’s duiker, over 40 bird species and 50 butterfly species. There are several nature trails in the forest you can explore to get to see these animals up close.
These are some good guided tours that go to Jozani Forest:
Go to the Seaweed Center
Have you ever drank a seaweed smoothie? I’m guessing maybe not because seaweeds are not widely consumed in many parts of the world. In Zanzibar, you can sample a seaweed smoothie and see if you like it at the Seaweed Center located in Paje.
The center is a local enterprise where women in Zanzibar use the abundant seaweed found on the island to make products such as organic soaps, scrubs, essential oils, smoothies, and juices.
You can support these women by buying their seaweed products which are known to have health benefits such as reducing heart disease risk and helping in weight loss.
Go kitesurfing in Paje
The best place to do kiterfing is in Paje Island, which is located southeast of Zanzibar. Kite surfing is very popular in Paje because of its reliable winds, and don’t worry if you have never done it before. There are many kitesurfing trainers around who are waiting for the opportunity to show you the ropes of kitesurfing. With their expertise and your enthusiasm to learn a new skill you should be a kitesurfing pro in no time.
Travel in a Dala Dala
If you’re traveling to Zanzibar from a developed country you’re used to an organized and safe bus transport system. In Zanzibar, the public transport system may shock you. To move around locals share minibuses common known as dala dala. These minibuses are often overloaded with people, some are clearly not roadworthy and the ride can be bumpy.
They’re, however, the cheapest way to move around Zanzibar. From Darajani Market in Stone Town, you can catch a dala dala that will get you anywhere on the island. Riding in one of these vehicles will be an experience to remember and one of the most unique things to do in Zanzibar.
Attend one of the Zanzibar Festivals
Zanzibar has several festivals throughout the year. Consider attending one if you happen to be there when they are taking place. The most popular are:
Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom)
A music festival where the biggest artists in Africa perform. It is usually held in Stone Town in February.
The Zanzibar International Film Festival
Consider this as the East African version of the Emmys or the Grammys where the best talent in film, music, and art in Africa and beyond are recognized and rewarded. This usually takes place in July.
The Zanzibar Beach and Watersports Festival
If you love sports this water sports event should be on your radar during your trip to Zanzibar. Apart from water sports competitions, this festival has lots of music and food. It takes place in Jambiani, Zanzibar in September.
Spend some time in Jambiani
Jambiani is a lovely fishing village right by a gorgeous white sand beach. It’s the kind of place where you can chill and enjoy the incredibly relaxed vibe.
Sail the Indian Ocean
One of the things you should really not miss while in Zanzibar is going on a blue safari tour. On this tour, you’ll sail the ocean waters on a dhow, a wooden boat with a canvas sail. From Stone Town, the dhow will take you to Menai Bay to see dolphins. You will also visit an isolated sandbank where you’ll have a seafood lunch before returning to shore as the sunsets. You can book your blue safari tour here.
Watch the sunset
Zanzibar has some of the most stunning sunsets you can think of. When on the island you can experience the sun go down on land or on water.
On land, several locations around the island offer you a clear view of the sunset. For example, some hotels have rooftop terraces where you can relax and enjoy sundowners.
I prefer watching the sunset on the water by taking a sunset dhow cruise. Many companies in Zanzibar can organize for you a romantic sunset cruise or plan a boat party for you and your friends as the sunset. This is an excellent sunset boat tour that you can book online.
Zanzibar doesn’t go to sleep when the sun goes down. There are several places on the island where you can enjoy a night out listening to music, dancing, drinking and socializing. To know what is happening on a particular night of the week ask the staff at your hotel bar. They’ll tell you the best place to go for a night out.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Zanzibar, Tanzania
Zanzibar travel requirements
Before you travel to Tanzania, be sure to confirm if you need to apply for the Tanzania Online Visa. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, India, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, and Spain – among others – can easily obtain their visa online.
When to visit Zanzibar
Zanzibar enjoys warm weather year round. Though you are bound to get sun throughout the year, the same goes for rain. Most rain falls during the monsoon season, between November and December and April and May. I’d recommend avoiding the monsoon as it can be very humid and unpleasant. August is a nice month to go, with long, sunny days.
Guided tours of Zanzibar
If you don’t want the hassle of organizing a trip to Zanzibar, but just the enjoyment of visiting, you may want to consider going on an organized tour. There are several excellent ones run by G Adventures. Here are my favorite options:
- Zanzibar independent adventure – a great way to travel alone but at the same time enjoy the organization skills of an operator. There even is an upgraded version.
- Serengeti safari and Zanzibar – literally the best of the country in 12 days.
- Active safari and Zanzibar experience – first you sweat, then you chill.
- Kilimanjaro – Machame Route and Zanzibar adventure – a fantastic trip with hiking, camping and lots of sea views.
How to get to Zanzibar
Zanzibar has its own airport, but the vast majority of tourists flies Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s former capital, from where they can catch a 2 hour ferry ride to Zanzibar.
How to move around Zanzibar
You have three main options to move around Zanzibar. Taxi – which you have to haggle fiercely and there are chances rates will be highly inflated for tourists; dala dala – of which I have talked before; and shared shuttle buses which you can easily book at your accommodation.
Where to stay in Zanzibar
There is no shortage of good accommodation options in Zanzibar and you are bound to find something for any budget. These are the best places to stay on the island:
- Milele Beach Resort is located in Pingwe. It boasts large, comfortable rooms with fabulous views. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Zanzi Resort has beautiful bungalows and villas which are stylish, comfortable and cozy. It’s located in Stone Town. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Lala Hostel, in Stone Town, has good dorms and a very good location in the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Other useful information
As for any other trip, I suggest getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Zanzibar. You can get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
If you are planning a trip to Africa, make sure to read my other posts:
- 20 Fabulous Places To Visit In South Africa
- 11 Reasons Why You’ll Love Phinda Game Reserve
- 20 Things To Know Before Camping In Botswana
- Where To See Wildlife In Botswana
- 35 Simply Unmissable Things To Do In Namibia
- 27 Things To Know Before Camping In Namibia
- What To Wear On Safari – The Ultimate Packing List For Africa
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with Tanzania Visas. Needless to say, the views expressed are my own.