My top 8 destinations in Zanzibar
...2 insider tips and what not to do
I lived on Zanzibar from 2016 – 2017 and even after one year the island has lost nothing of its beauty and fascination for me. Although I have made some long-distance journeys since then, for me Zanzibar the most exotic and beautiful island in the world.
I hope very much that Zanzibar will keep its original character for a long time, although meanwhile many hoteliers have discovered the island for themselves.
The island has much more to offer than just dream beaches, so I recommend everyone who visits the island to leave his hotel now and then to get to know this wonderful island and its exotic population.
8. The Rock
A few years ago, the picture of “The Rock Restaurant” went viral and the authenticity of the picture was often doubted. This restaurant really exists, and the original is as beautiful and impressive as on the pictures. Turquoise blue water, a white sandy beach and in the middle of the sea, the mini restaurant which is enthroned on a rugged rock.
The restaurant can only be reached on foot at low tide; at high tide, a fisherman takes you to the restaurant by boat. It is best to reserve your table in the evening and/or at high tide and sip some cocktails at sunset with a dream view.
My tip: the restaurant takes bookings online: www.book.therockrestaurantzanzibar.com
Good to know: the food in the restaurant is rather average and the prices high. Of course, you pay a lot for the location. But a visit is still worthwhile!
7. Country and People
For this excursion it is best to book a tour with a local driver who will show you his home off the beaten tourist tracks. How do the Zanzibarians organize their everyday life? How does the educational system on the island work? There is nothing more exciting and exotic than to dive deeply into the life of the island. A special experience is visiting a school or a local market.
My tip: If you dare to book such an excursion, you should not be surprised by the poverty on the island. You will soon notice how incredibly positive and unique the Zanzibarians are. Their way of living simply into the day and being so carefree and full of life despite having few possessions is admirable.
Good to know: many children on the island are now used to receiving gifts from tourists in the form of sweets etc. So don’t be surprised if the little ones follow you through the village with big eyes. If you want to do something meaningful, bring school utensils, clothes, medicine or hygiene articles. Give it to the children directly or better to a social association which is working for those in need on the island.
6. Prison Island/Canguu
Only 20 minutes away by boat, the small island of Prison Island is located off Zanzibar. Formerly a slave prison and quarantine station, today home to the giant turtles, which are up to 150 years old and weigh 200kg. The animals were a gift from the Seychelles in the late 19th century and may be fed and petted. The island also has a beautiful beach and the surrounding coral reef is a good snorkelling area.
My tip: this excursion can be combined with a visit to Stone Town and if you book the boat tour on the spot, you should negotiate the price well (max. USD 15,-/person)
Good to know: the entrance fee on site costs another USD 4,-. If you are interested in keeping animals in a species-appropriate way, you probably won’t like the excursion very much.
5. The different beaches of the Island
Fantastic sandy beaches can be found all around the island; the big difference of the beaches is due to the tides. The north-west side is known for great bathing areas, as there, the tides are barely to little noticeable. On the east side, however, the tides are very different. Whoever is on holiday on the west side should drive at least 1x to the east coast to see the beaches at low tide. The miles of mudflats, the light turquoise water spots, the colourful clothes of the Zanzibarian women harvesting seaweed at low tide – a backdrop for paradisiacal experiences and fantastic photos.
My tip: my favourite beach on Zanzibar is the Kendwa beach near Nungwi at the northern tip of the island. Primarily known because of the “Full-Moon” party which takes place once a month, the beach offers snow-white sand and turquoise, crystal clear water. There is also a restaurant that serves delicious specialties, free sunbeds at consumption and relatively few beach boys.
Good to know: At most beaches on Zanzibar, beach boys try to sell excursions and other items to tourists who are seeking peace and tranquillity. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about it, except to politely point out that you are not interested. The less touristy the beach and the fewer hotels (especially Italian club hotels) there are on the beach, the less beach boys.
4. Boat Tours
A tour with a traditional fishing boat, the Dhow with its trapezoidal sails is a very special experience and is a must on a Zanzibar holiday.
While snorkelling in the atolls you will discover many colourful tropical fishes, corals and with a little luck – dolphins. The highlight is the snorkelling paradise around the private island Mnemba. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to visit the island itself, but the Dhow usually stops at a sandbank in the middle of the sea, which is swallowed by the sea at high tide. Many tours include a BBQ on an uninhabited island with grilled seafood, freshly caught fish and coconut milk. You can also discover the famous tree crab, also called coconut crab.
My tip: it is best to book the tour directly with the provider on the beach (e.g.: at the diving school at Kendwa beach in the north of the island)
Good to know: if you expect a diverse underwater world like in the Maldives or the Red Sea, you will be rather disappointed. Those who are prepared to go on a relaxed boat tour on a traditional Zanzibarian boat, swimming in crystal clear water and eating delicious food will certainly enjoy the tour.
3. Jozani Forest
The nature reserve is located around 35 km southeast of the city of Zanzibar. The last jungle of Zanzibar is the home of the graceful “Red Colobus” monkeys. Currently the total population is about 1000 to 1200 animals. With a little bit of luck, you can also discover the antelope Dik-Dik, chameleons, wild boars and many more animals. The mangrove forest forms an important eco-system and has excellent nature trails to discover the native flora and fauna.
My tip: the road to the south of the island leads directly through the jungle. For those who visit the Jozani Forest with a rented car, are asked to drive specially slowly and carefully, as the road is often crossed by monkeys and other animals.
Good to know: the entrance fee is about USD 12,-/person and the forest may not be visited without a guide.
2. Spice Farms
To be where the pepper grows. Zanzibar is not called “Spice Island” for nothing. Cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, cloves and many other spices were introduced to Zanzibar by the Sultans. Zanzibar has innumerable spice plantations, which offer the possibility to pick and taste the spices directly from the bush or tree. During a guided tour you will learn a lot about the medical use of the herbs and their use in the African cuisine. Most of the time you have the opportunity to watch a so-called “coconut picker” picking coconuts from the 10-meter-high palms and delighting his audience with his “Hakuna Matata” singing.
My tip: unfortunately, on the farms the spices are mostly sold at a higher price than in the city. So, if you want to fill up your spice cupboard at home, I recommend buying the spices at the “Darajani” market in Stone Town.
Good to know: especially on tours with bigger groups you will usually be accompanied by a few guys who work on the farm. They make crowns from leaves for the men and necklaces for the women. They colour their lips red with the “lipstick fruit” and help picking spices. They are usually very nice and discreet and are happy to receive a small tip at the end of the tour.
1. Stone Town
Beside the fantastic beaches probably THE highlight of the island. The stone city is part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage and puts everyone in the mood of 1001 nights. The lively colourful bazaar, the artistically decorated wooden doors and the beautiful colonial hotels.
The capital of the island is the centre of the spice trade and inspires by the tiny branched alleys in which one easily gets lost. But no matter in which direction you go, at some point you either come out of the city at the Forodhani Garden by the sea or at the Darajani Market on the main road.
One of the highlights is the birth house of Freddy Mercury, which can be looked at from the outside.
My tip: whoever visits Stone Town MUST see the city from above, from one of the numerous roof terrace cafés.
Good to know: although UNESCO invests a lot of money every year to preserve the old town, most of the money unfortunately has never been seen again thanks to the corruption. So, don’t be surprised why many of the historic and wonderful buildings are slowly decaying.
My 2 insider tips
- On the northeast coast of the island the Karibu Zanzibar Resort is located in the middle of the sea. This simple hotel was built on a big rock and offers also non-hotel guests the possibility to enjoy the view on the mudflats or the turquoise blue sea while having a delicious cocktail. Especially for vacationers who live on the north coast, a great alternative to “The Rock Restaurant” in the very south.
- If you are on Zanzibar with a rental car and are looking for something especially adventurous and completely non-touristic, drive to Uzi in the south of the island. The special thing about Uzi is that the island is only connected to the mainland by a 2 km long road that leads through the mangroves. This road is only accessible during low tide. As soon as the high tide comes, you have to wait some hours until the road is passable again. When I was driving to Uzi, we were approached relatively quickly by a nice villager who offered to show us around for a small tip. An incredible experience!
Turtle rescue stations
There are at least a dozen breeding stations on the island where sick turtles are cared for and eggs of endangered species are hatched. Many of these organisations do a good job but please check before you visit if this is a serious business. There are some “black sheep” who are anything but species-appropriate with these sensitive animals, such as offering swimming with them and letting children ride on the animals.
Swimming with dolphins
There are over 150 dolphins living off the coast of Kizimkazi in the south of the island. I hate to write badly about this trip, as many local fishermen make a living from dolphin watching and feed their families. Unfortunately, these boat trips still look more like a hunt than an “observation”. As soon as the dolphins appear, all tourists jump out of the boat into the water. As soon as the dolphins descend, everybody gets back into the boat and follows the dolphins. Sometimes over 10 boats race after the animals. For the sake of the animals I recommend not to go on this trip.