43 Things To Do in Zanzibar: Red Skies, Giant Tortoises + More!

Tourist with giant tortoise
Hanging out with these old boys is one of the many cool things to do in Zanzibar.

Even though it seems like a tiny dot on the map compared to the rest of Tanzania, there are more than enough cool things to do in Zanzibar.

With a mix-match of Arabic, African and European influences, Zanzibar feels like a separate country from Tanzania, which makes sense as it was until the unification in 1964.

After summiting Africa’s tallest mountain for my 100th country, I hopped over to explore this justifiably famous island and it’s definitely on my “would go back” list.

At the end of this article, you will know all the things to do in Zanzibar, get a good feeling of what to expect and have a good idea of how to plan a perfect trip there.

Table of Contents

History of Zanzibar

Zanzibar’s history is an ancient and verified one, stretching across many centuries. Although people have occupied Zanzibar for over 20,000 years, the region first came to fruition during the early millennium; around 100 AD. 

The main island of Unguja had a naturally defensible harbour, drawing in merchants from Oman, Yemen and Somalia. Then, the merchants used Zanzibar as a base to conduct successful trade between the Swahili Coast of East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the western Indian continent.

Unsurprisingly, with an influx of people from the Arab world, Zanzibar became heavily influenced by the teachings of Islam. In fact, the Yemenis built the first mosque in the Southern Hemisphere, which sits on the southernmost of Zanzibar’s main island Unguja. 

Islam remains the most dominant religion in Zanzibar to this day, so coming over directly from the Christian-strong mainland of Tanzania could be quite the culture shock.

The first Europeans to visit, and have an effect, on the islands were the Portuguese. The Portuguese landed in the early 16th century and Captain Ruy Lourenço Ravasco Marques demanded and received tribute from the sultan, leaving Zanzibar under Portuguese rule for almost two centuries.

In 1698, Zanzibar passed to new rulers and came under the control of the Sultan of Oman. Transforming into an overseas territory of Oman, the Portuguese were expelled and the Omanis became wealthy from the exploitation of the archipelago. Trading in tortoiseshell, copal, cloves, coir, coconuts, rice, ivory and slaves, Stone Town (now Zanzibar City) became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in all of East Africa. 

Arab rule lasted for centuries, propped up by the wealthy Arabic slave trade and forced work of the vast clove plantations. So important was Zanzibar to the Sultan of Oman’s empire, that the capital was moved from Muscat in Oman to Zanzibar in 1840. The iron grip of the Arabs on the island and the treatment of its native African community sowed deep animosity between the two peoples – a rift that would last well into the 20th century.

Control of Zanzibar slowly passed to the British Empire at the height of its power near the end of the 19th century. Much of this forced influence was based on the anti-enslavement movements through Europe and the Americas during the last years of the century. 

Although never technically a colony, Zanzibar would remain a protectorate with the Sultan of Zanzibar ruling the nation under the Colonial Office.

On 10 December 1963, the Protectorate that had existed over Zanzibar since 1890, was terminated by the United Kingdom and the nation fell into a bloody civil war. 

With the Sultan exiled, the People’s Republic of Zanzibar was declared. Soon it would merge with mainland Tanganyika under the name of the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. 

These two names were again mixed to form what we know today as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar maintains a semi-autonomous region agreement.

Where is Zanzibar?

Zanzibar is a series of large and small islands within the Indian ocean, only twenty-two miles east of the African coast of Tanzania. The archipelago is made up of four main islands and a multitude of smaller and unoccupied ones. 

Despite its rich and textured history, Zanzibar remains an official semi-autonomous region, though still part of mainland Tanzania. 

How To Get To Zanzibar

An archipelago made up of many different islands, getting to Zanzibar can be quite an adventure. There are a number of different options, including flights and ferries. 

How you get to Zanzibar will all depend on where you’re coming from. I’ve tried to compile some of the most common routes below. 

From Abroad

Being an island, the easiest and most direct way of getting to Zanzibar is to fly. The two main airports in Zanzibar are on its two main islands, Unguja (often referred to as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba Island. 

Unguja’s airport is officially Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ), and Pemba Island’s airport is known as Pemba Airport, Karume Airport or Wawi Airport (PMA).

There are no direct flights from anywhere in the world directly to a Zanzibar airport. Most of the flights come from the Tanzania capital of Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam’s airport, Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), is one of the most popular connections flying to Zanzibar, and there are regular flights from here every single day.

It’s also possible to fly to Zanzibar from other major African and Middle Eastern airport connections. These airports include Doha in Qatar (DIA), Nairobi in Kenya (NBO), Dubai in the UAE (DXB), Istanbul in Turkey (IST) and Johannesburg in South Africa (JNB).

To give you an idea of times and prices, here’s what your journey might look like from a major travel hub:

  • London – 13 hours, one connection in Doha, <£300
  • New York – 22 hours, one connection in Dubai, <$743
  • Chicago – 26 hours, one connection in Dubai, <$651
  • Los Angeles – 27 hours, one connection in Istanbul, <$600
  • Melbourne – 26 hours, one connection in Dubai, <AU$1,400.

From Tanzania

There are two ways of getting from the Tanzanian mainland to Zanzibar. You can either fly from Dar es Salaam, as I mentioned above – this takes around half an hour and will cost upwards of 400,000TZS –  or you can take the ferry across to the islands. 

The boat crossing takes around two hours. Depending on when you book the crossing and who with, the boat isn’t always the cheapest option. Tickets range from USD $35 for economy class to USD$60 for the royal class which is much more comfortable. 

The ferry is a popular option with locals and gets busy quickly, so you’ll definitely want to book your tickets ahead of time. You can do this online, head to the Dar es Salaam ferry terminal to get your tickets in person, or some hotels will organise everything for you. Just don’t forget your passport, as you’ll need this to buy a ticket. 

Though may seem like a little extra effort, taking the boat is part of the experience and only adds a little more adventure to your list of things to do in Zanzibar.

How To Get Around Zanzibar

Depending on where you’re staying and where you plan to go, getting around Zanzibar is pretty straightforward. If your accommodation is central, and either within or close to, Stone Town you can quite easily walk around the town with no bother. 

Aside from the pleasant strolls, Zanzibar offers taxi services and public transport buses, locally known as ‘Dala Dala’.

Taxi

Taxis in Zanzibar are quite plentiful around Stone Town on the main island, but from elsewhere, they can be harder to find. If you’re not staying in Stone Town, it’ll be much easier to ask your accommodation to organise a taxi; they will use a reputable company and can advise you on prices too. 

Taxis in Zanzibar tend to be safe overall but can be known to charge whatever they wish. 

Public Transport

Zanzibar runs a bus service around the main built-up areas. The dala dala buses look like medium-sized minibuses. Travelling on the dala dala is extremely cheap, costing less than 7,000 TZS for most journeys, that’s equivalent to just a few US dollars. 

These buses usually run fixed routes picking up passengers at central locations, but they will also stop anywhere along their route to drop someone off or allow passengers to get on.

Travelling on the dala dala buses is quite an experience, as there seems to be no limit to how many passengers they will let on. It can be very confusing knowing which bus to catch and making sure you get off at the right stop, but conductors are usually more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Uber 

There’s no Uber service currently running in Zanzibar, and with a heavily controlled monopoly on taxi firms, this is likely to be the case for many years to come.

Is Zanzibar Safe?

Generally speaking, Zanzibar is a relatively safe island to visit, even for solo travellers, both male and female. A combination of conservative Islamic practices and a long history of tourism in the country means that you are unlikely to be a victim of major crimes. 

Tanzania as a whole is considered one of the safest and more stable countries in East Africa. The abject poverty that often breeds criminality isn’t as high in Zanzibar as in other East African nations, meaning its safety levels are much higher.

All this being the case, it is still advisable to always be aware of your surroundings and use your common sense. Although crime rates are far lower, heavy tourism has inevitably bred opportunistic criminals who may wish to snatch your belongings to make a quick payday.

Keep valuables close and always within sight – as is the case no matter where you travel in the world, not meaning to insult your intelligence, just a friendly reminder.

Things To Do in Zanzibar: 6 Sunset Spots

Sunset viewing is by far one of the more rewarding things to do in Zanzibar, and with the central tourist area of Stone Town sitting right on the coast, it makes the ideal spot to see this natural phenomenon in all its glory. 

So, here’s a look at the six of the best sunset spots in Zanzibar, a haven for celestial views!

1. Eat at Emerson Spice at Sunset

Located right along the coast of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, Emerson Spice has gathered a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most hospitable hotels in the region. A lovingly restored merchant’s house, the hotel is a mix-match of tradition and modernity – a real personification of Zanzibar itself. 

Aside from being a top place to stay while finding things to do in Zanzibar, Emerson Spice is a fantastic place to enjoy a sunset meal in the old town. The complex is home to a staggering four restaurants, with two of them situated on the rooftop. This setting allows you to sit back and enjoy a lovely evening dinner while watching the sunset over the coastline.

With the huge sun dropping behind the Indian Ocean and the mystical call to prayer on the wind, you can dine on a five-course, seafood-based tasting menu, which changes daily.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Emerson Spice is located in the northeast of Stone Town, along Tharia Street.
  • Cost – US$40 for the five-course dining option.
  • Opening hours – From 6 pm for the sunset and dinner is served at 7 pm.
  • Time needed – Give yourself a good three hours to enjoy the surroundings and meal.
  • Getting there – Being in the centre of the town, it is more than possible to walk to the hotel restaurant. A taxi can also take you to its door for very little. 

2. Sunset Kendwa 

Another of Stone Town’s famous hotels and restaurants, Sunset Kendwa, has the great advantage of being a stone’s throw away from the beach. The on-the-beach restaurant serves up a fantastic range of Swahili specialities and western favourites, including options for the non-meat and non-dairy eaters.

Once you have dined on these classic dishes, you will have one of the best spots on the island to watch the sun go down and even the opportunity to wade into the waves along Kendwa Beach.

The hotel always offers up a Mnazi Beach Bar and shisha lounge, complete with beach hammocks, ideal for relaxing and letting your meal go down. Surrounded by sand sea, sunset views and lush beach palm grove, you will definitely feel like you’re in your own little paradise at Sunset Kendwa.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Sunset Kendwa is located, as the name suggests, along Kendwa Beach, in the very north of the island.
  • Cost – If you are coming to the beach bar to watch the sunset, a few drinks will set you back at around US$15.
  • Opening hours –  The beach bar is open until the early hours of the morning. 
  • Time needed – Around 3 hours is more than enough to enjoy some drinks and watch the sunset over the beach. 
  • Getting there – You can either take a dala dala bus or taxi, which is likely to cost you much less, around the US$20/ TZS 46,000 mark.

3. Sunset Drinks at Africa House Hotel

Straddled along the western beaches of Zanzibar, Africa House Hotel is one of the most famous establishments in Zanzibar. Formerly the English Club of Zanzibar, it was the oldest expatriate club in East Africa and played host to a number of officers of the Royal Navy and numerous English residents. 

Today, the well-built terrace that overlooks the shores is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Zanzibar.

Complete with a restaurant terrace balcony and bar, sunset drinks at the Africa Hotel perfectly combine a touch of history, iconic views and an element of refinement to your Zanzibar evening. Once you’ve watched the sunset, you can dine and drink well into the evening or take a stroll on the sand, only yards away from the hotel.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Africa House Hotel is located right along the beach in western Stone Town, on Shangani Street.
  • Cost – Drinks start from around USD$4.
  • Opening hours – The sunset bar is open all day and closes quite late.
  • Time needed –  Take a good couple of hours to watch the sunset and enjoy a few more drinks.
  • Getting there – Being so close to the centre of Stone Town’s beach, it’s more than possible to walk to the Africa House Hotel.

4. Sunset Dhow Cruise

A Dhow is a traditional sailing vessel, historically particular to the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. It was these that first induced the trade success of Zanzibar and the wider region. So what better way to watch the sunset over this magical place than from the hull of this traditional boat?

A Sunset Dhow Cruise leaves the shores of Stone Town and sails through the straits that flow past the island and the Swahili Coast. This is a unique way to observe, not only the sunset over the ocean but the shores of Stone Town itself. 

Lasting around two hours, you can sit back and watch the picturesque sights pass you by as you enjoy local fruits and snacks in your own Dhow boat.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Sunset Dhow Cruises leave from a meeting point, usually the Old Fort main entrance on Mizingani Road.
  • Cost – USD$40 – $60, depending on who you book your tour with.
  • Opening hours – Cruises usually begin around 5 pm and end after sunset.
  • Time needed –  Around two to three hours will be enough to meet up and take your cruise.
  • Getting there – You must meet your guides in the centre of the town, often within walking distance of the main accommodation of Stone Town.

5. Livingstone Bar (Sunset and Beer)

Sprawled out along the sands of the beach, visiting Livingstone Bar and Restaurant is one of the most relaxing things to do in Zanzibar if you love laidback beach vibes. With an indoor restaurant and numerous seating out on the sand, an evening here is one well-spent. Aside from enjoying good food and drinks, the setting is ideal for watching the sun go down over the beach, basking in the sand and bar in an orange glow.

Once the sun goes down, the beach here becomes a hotspot for dancers, acrobatics and capoeira displays. All of this brings a fantastic evening vibe to the bar and beach, making it the place to be during the evening. 

A mix of party vibes, quintessential East African dancing and an influx of South American capoeira influences all add to Livingstone Bar’s appeal.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Livingstone Bar is located in northwest Stone Town, along the beach at House 48 Shanghani.
  • Cost – Drinks at the bar start from around USD$4-$5.
  • Opening hours – 10:30 am – 12 am.
  • Time needed – With so much going on, it’s ideal to spend around four hours here during the evening here.
  • Getting there – Either take a short walk down to the beach or organise a quick and cheap taxi to the beach road.

6. Tea House Restaurant (Sunset)

The most elevated restaurant in all of Zanzibar, the Tea House Restaurant on the highest floor of the Emerson on Hurumzi Hotel provides a perfect place to watch the town below and the sunset disappear over the horizon. Serving up a range of cocktails, you can sip away as you gaze upon the sunset from one of the best spots in Zanzibar.

Aside from mouth-watering refreshing cocktails,  the Tea House Restaurant serves up a set three-course menu at $40 per person excluding drinks, using only the freshest local ingredients to serve up dishes that reflect the culture and style of the building with the distinct culinary heritage of the area.

With fine dining, awesome drinks, and an unbeatable 360 views of Stone Town and breathtaking Zanzibar sunset, the Tea House Restaurant is, without doubt, one of the best things to do in Zanzibar if you wish to watch the sun go down in the evening.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Tea House Restaurant is located at the top of the Emerson on Hurumzi Hotel in the centre of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Three-course menu at $40 per person excluding drinks.
  • Opening hours – Lunch between 12 and 4 pm, and dinner is served at 7 pm.
  • Time needed – give yourself at least three hours to wine, dine and watch the sun go down.
  • Getting there – Being in the centre of Stone Town means it’s quite simple to walk to the Tea House Restaurant.

11 Cultural & Historical Things To Do in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a cultural and historical mosaic made up of a multitude of influences. From the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa, the influx of culture from the Arabian peninsula, colonial infusion and an ancient connection to the Indian subcontinent, Zanzibar is a true melting pot of cultures.

There are numerous things to do in Zanzibar that take you up close to the archipelago’s culture and history, whether this is its modern connection with the famous Queen icon Freddie Mercury, learning about the East African slave trade or hanging out with massive ancient tortoises.

1. Visit Freddie Mercury’s Home

Attention all ‘Queen’ fans!

One of Zanzibar’s most famous residents was the legendary lead singer of the band Queen, Freddie Mercury. Born on the island in 1946, Farrokh Bulsara, as he was then known, lived with his Parsi-Indian parents in the island’s Stone Town. 

Freddie Mercury spent much of his early life in Zanzibar before leaving for St. Peter’s School in India. Mercury would often return to the island to visit his parents during school holidays and would settle back here for a short time once he finished school. He and his family would flee the island in 1964 with the outbreak of civil war, finally settling in the UK.

Zanzibar milks the tourist cash for the flamboyant British national treasure (rightly so), and you can find many places dedicated to the Bohemian Rhapsody singer all over the island. 

One of the most iconic places is the ‘Freddie Mercury Home’, thought to be the parental home of the rockstar throughout the 1950s/60s. Although there is much contention about how long the Bulsara family actually lived here, it is undeniable that the home is now a shrine and mecca for any Queen fan.

The building is home to numerous displays of the frontman on its facades and other notable Freddie Mercury memorabilia. Though the house is pretty small and the entrance is not allowed, it’s a must-see for any fan of the fist-thumping idol that is Freddie Mercury. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – The house is located along Kenyatta Road in Stone Town. 
  • Cost – Free.
  • Opening hours – You can no longer go inside the house, so rock up at any time to enjoy the facade. 
  • Time needed – 5-10 minutes to get snaps of the house.
  • Getting there – Located in the heart of Stone Town, walking to the Freddie Mercury home is really easy.

2. Slave Market Memorial 

Home to one of the biggest and last closed slave markets in the world, Zanzibar was the epicentre for brutal slave trading right up until 1873. With the huge demand for ivory enveloping the globe, the leading powers took advantage of the already booming slave market in East Africa to process and export ivory. 

Alongside this, huge clove plantations were built throughout Tanzania, worked on by thousands of slaves.

Today, you can visit the exact spot where the Zanzibar slave market was, complete with a memorial to the slaves. The memorial takes the form of a concrete pit, a recreation of the pit where slaves would be put to be observed by potential buyers. 

Stone statues of five slaves, complete with iron neck chains, bring some feeling of the horror that took place here.

Close by the memorial is a mansion housing the slave cellar, one of fifteen low-ceiling chambers where hundreds of slaves would be held by chains in dark and squalid conditions. Nothing can ever show the true sordid history and horror of this part of this dark stain of Zanzibar’s past, yet the memorial makes sure that this part of history will never be forgotten.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Slave Market Memorial is located along Tharia Street, close to the Anglican Cathedral.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed –  Around half an hour is enough to see the memorial.
  • Getting there – The memorial is located in the centre of town and is easily walkable from many accommodations.

3. Tippu Tip’s House

There are few names that have stricken more fear into the people of East Africa and drawn more respect from the 19th-century Arab world than Tippu Tip. Tippu Tip, whose real name was Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi, was an Afro-Omani man born in Zanzibar to a family of some standing.

As a young man, he left the island to seek his fortune in the day’s most lucrative trade, slaves and ivory.

Tippu Tip amassed a huge fortune by trading in slaves and returned to Zanzibar as an extremely wealthy and influential man. 

Building up a personal wealth of over 10,000 slaves, Tippu Tip had huge control of the region’s economy and even influence over regions in eastern and central Africa. In his later years, noticing the rising influence of European colonists, Tippu Tip returned and settled permanently in Zanzibar, relying on his clove plantations and thousands of slaves.

On his return, Tippu Tip had a mansion built in the historic Stone Town area of the city, one of the grandest buildings of the time. With elegant balconies and carved wooden fittings, the house showed the status of which he had risen over his lifetime.

After Tippu Tip’s death in 1905, the house passed into many private hands. During and after the 1964 revolution, the once-grand house quickly fell into disrepair and was divided into flats.

Although it is not formally open to tourists, you can take a walk to Tippu Tip’s house and still recognise the large decorated carved wooden door, as well as the black and white marble steps that show what a grand house this once was. 

It might seem like a morbid visit to some, but those interested in the history of Zanzibar will want to check out this significant building.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The house is located at the end of the eerily named Suicide Alley, about 15–25 minute walking time from the Old Fort and Forodhani Gardens
  • Cost – N/A
  • Opening hours – N/A
  • Time needed – Around twenty minutes are needed to get a good look at the house from the outside.
  • Getting there – Walk down the alley leading from Shangani Street along the beachfront.

4. GIANT, ancient Tortoises!

One of the biggest draws of Prison Island is the fact that it is home to a number of giant Aldabra tortoises, and seeing these beautiful creatures is one of the most memorable things you can do in Zanzibar. 

This breed of Aldabra tortoises is far more common in Seychelles and it is from here that this isolated group of tortoises originated.

In 1919 the British governor of Seychelles sent a gift of four Aldabra giant tortoises to Changuu from the island of Aldabra. These tortoises bred quickly, and by 1955 they numbered around 200 animals, yet due to poaching, the numbers dropped down to just seven by 1996. 

With the combined efforts of the Zanzibar governments and animal conservation charities, their numbers were stabilised, and their numbers have continued to grow.

Watching and feeding these giant tortoises is a fantastic experience and one of the most rewarding things to do in Zanzibar. When I say giant, I mean no exaggerations. These tortoises are around 122 cm (48 in) in length with an average weight of 250 kg (550 lbs) and can live for up to 200 hundred years

Know before you go:

  • Location – Prison Island is located a half-hour boat ride northwest of Stone Town.
  • Cost – The boat ride will cost between USD$30 and $40 return and a USD$4 charge for entering the island.
  • Opening hours –  Boats will go to and from the island during daylight hours. 
  • Time needed – It’s best to spend a good part of your day here, as there is so much to see and do.
  • Getting there – Boats regularly leave Stone Town from Baharia Hindi Beach.

5. Jambiani Village

On the complete opposite side of the island, on Zanzibar’s eastern coast, in the village of Jambiani. In stark contrast to the busy nature of Stone Town, Jambiani Village is a laid back beach fronted village where time seems to stand still. 

Local fishermen bring in their catch via a dugout canoe, and children play football along the pristine beaches. Jambiani Village is easily seen as the poster child for sustainable tourism in Zanzibar and beyond, and the paradise-like surroundings will have you never wanting to leave. 

The village centre is little more than a few sandy paths and sparsely placed buildings; again, these small and laidback surroundings make a refreshing change to the more touristy parts of the island. You can spend your time here wandering through the village, relaxing on the beach and getting to know the locals.

Once the sun goes down, there’s nothing better than enjoying a sundowner at one of the few beachfront bars and restaurants. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Jambinai Village is located on the eastern coast of the island, around forty miles from Stone Town.
  • Cost – Dala Dala local buses ($2), shuttle bus ($10) or taxi ($50).
  • Opening hours – N/A
  • Time needed – It’s best to spend your whole day travelling across and experiencing all of Jambiani Village.
  • Getting there – You can either take a taxi or jump on a local bus from Stone Town that’s heading across the island. Ask a friendly local to point you in the right direction of the bus. 

6. Ruins of Maruhubi  

Around two and a half miles north of Zanzibar’s Stone Town is the Ruins of Maruhubi. This former palace was built and used as the home of Sultan Barghash, the third Arab sultan of Zanzibar, between 1880-1882. Although now in ruins, this site gives you an impression of the hold the ruling Arabs had over Zanzibar for centuries. 

Sultan Barghash used the palace to house his wife and up to 100 concubines, while he himself lived in a separate palace in Zanzibar Town. The palace was destroyed by a fire in the late 19th century, leaving it in a shell of its former grandeur.

The ruins have been reclaimed by nature and the surrounding grounds are home to lush vegetation, including shade trees, large lawn areas, and the original water reservoirs now overgrown with water lilies and large mango trees that were once imported from India.

Know before you go: 

  • Location – The ruins are found around two and a half miles north of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, close to the beach.  
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed – Including travel and viewing time, you should give yourself around two hours.
  • Getting there –  You can either take a short taxi ride or catch a dala dala bus northwards.

7. Speak Some Kiswahili

Kiswahili, more commonly known to the west as Swahili, is the igneous language spoken by the Swahili people. Originating along the Swahili coast, including Zanzibar, Kiswahili is the most widely spoken language in the region.

While travelling around and looking for things to do in Zanzibar, you will undoubtedly hear the locals speaking Kiswahili, alongside the other major languages such as Arabic and English.

Part of the wider group of Bantu languages, Kiswahili is one of the few African languages that doesn’t rely on tone. Making it a lot easier for our westernised ears and tongues to get their heads around, words like “Karibu” (welcome) roll off the tongue and warm your heart when you hear them. 

Whether it is from your local tour guide, hotel manager or friendly Zanzibaris on the street, striking up a conversation and trying to learn a few local Kiswahili phrases will endear you to your local hosts, who love the effort made.

8. Visit The Old Fort

One of the most iconic historical spots in Zanzibar is the Old Fort. The oldest standing building on the island, the fort was constructed by the Omani Arabs after expelling the Portuguese in 1699. The building has gone through numerous transformations and uses down the years. 

This includes being a prison during the 19th century, a terminal of the Zanzibar railways during the early 20th century and now the headquarters of the Zanzibar international film festival.

Visiting the Old Fort will give you a great insight into the history and multiculturalism of Zanzibar throughout the ages. The courtyard has also been adapted to serve as a cultural centre with curio shops selling tourist-oriented merchandise such as Tingatinga paintings. Seen as one of the sights in Stone Town, no visit is complete without a trip to the Old Fort.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Old Fort is located on Mizingani Road in the centre of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Free.
  • Opening hours – 8 am – 6 pm.
  • Time needed – Around an hour is enough to explore the Old Fort.
  • Getting there – Being in the centre of Stone Town, it’s easy enough to walk to the Old Fort.

9. Ride a Dala Dala 

One of the most defining sights of Zanzibar, and East Africa as a whole, are their public transport buses. These buses are known as dala dala buses – thought to have originated from the Swahili word DALA (Dollar) or five shillings during the 1970s and 1980s when public transport cost five shillings to travel to the nearest town.

Therefore, travelling to town will cost a Dollar (“Dala”) and returning will again cost a Dollar, hence the term Daladala. 

There seems to be no restriction to how many people can cram onto these dala dala buses, and sometimes this isn’t restricted to people! Although this often results in a cramped and sensory-blowing journey, it’s definitely one you will look back on with a laugh in years to come and they are also a very cheap way of getting around.

There are two main Dala Dala stations in Stone Town: Darajani market and Mwanakwerekwe market. You can catch buses from here across the town and further afield throughout the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Buses leave from Darajani market and Mwanakwerekwe market.
  • Cost – Around $1 one way. 
  • Opening hours – Buses run throughout the day and into the evening.
  • Time needed – Short journeys will last mere minutes, while longer ones can last an hour or more.
  • Getting there – As the bus stations are located in the heart of Stone Town, you can walk to them quite easily. 

10. Jozani Forest (Zanzibar’s Only National Park)

Located on the east of the island is the Jozani Forest, Zanzibar’s one and only National Park. A day trip exploring this national park is among the most exciting things to do in Zanzibar and will have you surrounded by some of the more untouched and beautiful parts of the island. 

Aside from the natural beauty of the forest, Jozani Forest is also home to a group of red colobus monkeys, one of the threatened groups of primates in all of Africa.

It’s not possible to explore Jozani Forest without a guide. They will lead you through the forest and help you spot the wildlife; while I’m not always a fan of hiring a guide, in this case, they often make the whole experience far more rewarding. 

Another of the forest’s top attractions is its stunning mangrove forests. The twisting and swirling mangroves create an almost magical surrounding and only add to the beauty of the national park.

Visiting Jozani Forest is an incredible way of immersing yourself in the nature and wild areas of the island, and only being around an hour from Stone Town, visiting the forest can be done with surprising ease.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Jozani Forest is located 26 miles east of Stone Town.
  • Cost – USD$12 entrance fee, including a guide. 
  • Opening hours – 7:30 am – 5 pm.
  • Time needed –  A good six or so hours is needed to travel and explore the forest; it is best to get here as early as possible.
  • Getting there – You can either take a taxi for around USD$20 or a Dalla-Dalla bus for around TZS 2,500 one way.

11. Shop At The City Market

When it comes to the bustling historical cities of East Africa, there is one thing that should definitely be on your list, and that is visiting the market. As things to do in Zanzibar go, the city market is one of the most interesting. Located at the eastern edges of Zanzibar City, the market is known as the Darajani Bazaar. 

Walking through the market, you are instantly swept away by the sensory overload of sound, smells and colour.

With numerous market stalls selling everything from locally grown fruit and vegetables to street food dishes and locally produced items, it is a real feast for the eyes. What really takes pride of place in the city market, and has done for centuries are the spices. 

Huge sacks of every spice imaginable are stacked up in rainbow-like displays. Securing yourself a bag of authentically grown clove, cinnamon, or any other spice is a great way to take a little part of East Africa back home with you.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The city market is located in the eastern part of the town, along the Darajani Road.
  • Cost – Goods cost a variety of prices and trying out your haggling skills will get you the best one. 
  • Opening hours – 8:30 am – 6 pm.
  • Time needed – Around an hour or so will give you the best chance of seeing all the market’s goods.
  • Getting there – Enclosed in a pedestrian area of the city, walking through to the market is the easiest way to get here.

Things To Do in Zanzibar: 7 Food & Drink Favourites

The huge melting pot of East African, Arabian, European and Indian cultures makes Zanzibar’s culinary identity one of the most diverse and fascinating. 

Sampling the huge range of food on offer across the island is one of those unmissable things to do in Zanzibar. A journey through Zanzibar’s food scene is as much a journey through the island’s history, culture and overwhelming diversity.

1. Drink The Spice Coffee

East Africa, especially the Horn of Africa, is known to be the birthplace of coffee and its cultivation. This, mixed with the huge spice trade centred around Zanzibar, especially clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, has given rise to a local delicacy, spice coffee. This velvety smooth coffee is blended with a mix of cardamom, ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Zanzibar Coffee House in the heart of Stone Town is one of the most mouth-watering places to sample this delicious local drink. Housed within one of the oldest buildings in all of Zanzibar which was built in 1885, Zanzibar Coffee House is a traditional Arab inspired coffee house. 

Led by the first winner of the Tanzanian Barista Championship, you know your spiced coffee is going to be of the highest quality – ideal for a pick-me-up before a day exploring the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Although you sample this drink at numerous places, Zanzibar Coffee House is one of the best establishments for a cup of coffee.
  • Cost – From a couple of dollars upwards.
  • Opening hours – 11 am – 3 pm.
  • Time needed – Take an hour to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee in the coffee house.
  • Getting there – It’s possible to walk to the cafe or jump in a quick taxi ride. 

2. Dine At Forodhani Gardens 

Like many locations across the globe, some of the best food in Zanzibar can be found at its illustrious street food stalls along the beachfront. 

Forodhani Gardens, also known as Jubilee Gardens and more recently as Forodhani Park, is a lush green park located along the Zanzibar coast. Once the sunset goes down over the Indian Ocean, Forodhani Gardens becomes a hotspot for evening dining, selling a huge range of local delicacies and food.

Haggle your way through the dining experience in Zanzibar, and you can sample dishes that define the island. From its popular seafood to a myriad of locally grown vegetables infused in a number of recipes. Aside from the fantastic food to be sampled here, the Forodhani Gardens’ nighttime atmosphere is one that hums with energy and interaction between both locals and tourists alike.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Forodhani Gardens is located along Stone Town’s northwestern beach, close to Mizingani Road.
  • Cost – Dishes range from a couple of dollars and upwards.
  • Opening hours – 6 pm – 11 pm.
  • Time needed –  Give yourself at least an hour to sample the range of food on offer.
  • Getting there – Sitting so close to the tourist centre of the town, it’s easy to walk down to the beach where Forodhani Garden is.

3. Indian Food at Silk Route

Another strong culinary and cultural influence on the islands of Zanzibar comes from its ancient connections to the Indian subcontinent. The food of India is a favourite amongst many and is also popular for its wide range of vegetarian and vegan food. If you’re looking for things to do in Zanzibar that include dining on some delicious Indian food, then The Silk Route restaurant is the place to go.

Located a stone’s throw away from the seafront beach, Silk Route dishes up a huge range of Indian delights, focusing on the cuisine of South India. With a traditional tandoor oven on-site, you can find a lot of famous Indian chicken dishes. 

Although Southern India is less veggie-centric, Vegetarians can enjoy dishes such as Phaldari tandoori chat, a fruit and vegetable medley marinated in tandoori spices and yoghurt and finished in the tandoor.

Not only does the Silk Route provide some of the best Indian food in all of Zanzibar, but it also does so in picturesque surroundings. The rooftop dining area allows you to dine while enjoying fantastic views of the beach and setting sun along the nearby coastline. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Silk Route is located just southwest of Forodhani Gardens, on the Mizingani Road.
  • Cost – Dishes start from around TZS 10,000.
  • Opening hours – 11 am – 10 pm. 
  • Time needed –  Around two hours is ideal to relax into your meal and enjoy the rooftop views.
  • Getting there –  Either walk to the restaurant in the heart of Stone Town or catch one of the many buses that run along the Mizingani Road.

4. Mango With Chilli (Street Food)

A street food favourite amongst the islanders of Zanzibar is the famed mango with chilli. Using a green unripened mango variety, the fruit is then sprinkled with ground chilli and salt. Although it may sound like an odd mix for many western pallets, the mixture of the sour and sweet mango with a touch of heat and salt is the perfect combination. 

You will find a number of street food vendors selling this local treat along the roads in Zanzibar’s Stone Town. For as little as a dollar, this sweet pick-me-up is a delight for the tastebuds and will change your perception of what can be done with such a fruit.

Alongside this famous mango street food, the island is home to a number of delicious fruit and veg options. When it comes to fruit, it is said that Zanzibar has some of the sweetest in the world, and their avocados are huge. 

The island is alive with fruit stalls, selling recognisable fruits such as mandarins, mangoes, passion fruit, grapes, bananas and watermelons, freshly grown and harvested in the region. 

You will also have the chance to buy and taste more unusual tropical fruit such as durian, jackfruit, custard apple, pawpaw and papaya – making Zanzibar a haven for fruit lovers.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Street food such as the mango with chilli and other delightful fruits can be bought at one of the many markets along the aptly named Market Street.
  • Cost – Fruit of all kinds can be bought for a few dollars or less, depending on your haggling skills.
  • Opening hours – Traders can be found from early morning right into the evening.
  • Time needed –  Take a few hours to check out the huge range of fruit on offer in the town’s streets.
  • Getting there – Walking around on foot means you can take in the numerous fruit stalls scattered across the town.

5. Chill at Jaws Corner 

One of the small winding streets of Stone Town that has gone down in local folk law is Jaws Corner. As day breaks, Jaws Corner becomes a hub and unofficial outdoor meeting place for many of Zanzibar’s residents. Local businessmen and traders sip their morning coffees and talk about their news and the day ahead. 

This meeting place allows local men to strengthen their social communities and bond together. In a conservatively Islamic nation such as Zanzibar, Jaws Corner replaces the role that a pub or bar might have in the west—swapping late-night beer drinking for early morning coffee-sipping and a good old chat about their families, hopes, problems and gossip. 

You can join in with casual socialising, welcoming Zanzibaris of African and Arab descent, old and young, locals and tourists alike. Make sure you get yourself one of the local coffees, small Arabic-style local coffee — strong, unsugared black coffee which is brewed in a metal kettle heated over a charcoal stove in the street.

This is the perfect way to start the day and get you perked up for the booming energy and atmosphere that Stone Town and Zanzibar provides.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Jaws Corner is a small square located in the Vuga area of the town’s south.
  • Cost – A small cup of coffee will cost you around TZS 100.
  • Opening hours – Its best to come in the early or late morning when the corner is at its most atmospheric and electric 
  • Time needed –  Depending on your plans for the day, you can spend a brief 20 minutes here or a couple of hours.
  • Getting there – Being a pedestrian zone, you will have to walk through the narrow streets to get to Jaws Corner.

7. The Rock Restaurant 

On the very opposite of the island, in the coastal village of Pingwe, is the popular Rock Restaurant. The famous restaurant is in the perfect coastal location, looking out onto the Indian Ocean and the eastern shores of the island. 

Not only is this restaurant close to the beach, but it’s also literally in the water. Perched on a giant rock, paddling distance from the shore, your first view of the restaurant is one you won’t forget in a hurry, 

Aside from its jaw-dropping location, the Rock Restaurant also cooks up a huge range of delicious food, fresh from the ocean and the island itself. The restaurant unsurprisingly specialises in seafood, from stewed rock lobster and king prawns to more Italian flavours such as gnocchi and pasta.

All in all, the Rock Restaurant provides one of the most forgettable dining experiences you can have not only in Zanzibar but anywhere.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Rock Restaurant is located in Pingwe, on the central east coast of Zanzibar.
  • Cost – Main courses start from around USD$25.
  • Opening hours – 12 pm – 8 pm.
  • Time needed – A couple of hours will be enough to enjoy the meal and surroundings.
  • Getting there – The quickest way is to order a taxi to take you across the island. 

Things To Do in Zanzibar: 5 Fun Festivals (& Music Events)

If you just so happen to be looking for things to do in Zanzibar while one of these festivals is scheduled, I’d highly recommend getting yourself a ticket as soon as possible. A heady mixture of fantastic music, unique culture and an addictive atmosphere await you. 

1. Dhow Countries Music Academy

The Dhow Countries Music Academy is the first and only music school in Zanzibar and is a treasure to find when looking for things to do in Zanzibar. Every evening around 8 pm, the academy will perform from their Old Customs House base to the public. Seeing one of their shows will enlighten you about the music of Zanzibar and Tanzania. 

These shows and the academy have become a real epicentre of Zanzibar culture and social interaction in the town. On visiting the Dhow Countries Music Academy, you can not only enjoy some locally performed music but also learn about all the great good the organisation does for the community.

Conducting outreach programs to the many surrounding villages, Dhow Countries Music Academy spreads the skills of music and how it enriches lives.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The academy is located in Old Customs House along the beachfront road of Mizingani in Stone Town.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 5 pm, with 8 pm performances.
  • Time needed – An hour or so should be plenty for exploring the building and the organisation.
  • Getting there – Being right along the beach in Stone Town, it’s simple enough to walk to the Dhow Countries Music Academy.

2. The Zanzibar Beach and Watersports Festival

Another festival taking place in Zanzibar is the Zanzibar Beach and Watersports Festival. This three-day annual event takes place in Jambiani on Mfumbwi beach along the southeast shores of the island. 

The Zanzibar Beach and Watersports Festival is a celebration of island life, music and general feel-good times, and what better place to arrange this festival than on the paradise island of Zanzibar. 

There are numerous sporting events that take place during the festival, including goat racing, dhow racing, ‘nage’ for women, beach soccer tournament, beach run, kayak racing, kite surfing, touch rugby, tug of war, a beach paintball fight, and so much more.

Aside from the plethora of sports taking place, the festival also plays host to numerous musicians, both from the East African region and abroad—this combination of watersports, music and the celebration of island and beach life.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Zanzibar Beach and Watersports Festival take place along Mfumbwi beach, on the southeast of the island.
  • Cost – Free to enter.
  • Opening hours – Lasting over three days, the festival will run throughout the day and evening.
  • Time needed – You can spend anything from a few hours to all day out on the beach.
  • Getting there – Either take the local bus across the island or pitch in together for a quick taxi.

3. Sounds of Wisdom Festival

The Sauti za Busara festival, translated from Swahili to English as the Sounds of Wisdom Festival, is an African music festival held in Zanzibar every year in February. This festival allows you to get up close and personal with the huge array of music coming out of Africa and is a treat for any true music fan.

The main parts of the music festival are staged around Stone Town’s Old Fort, with many other fringe performances happening elsewhere in the town. One of the festival’s highlights is the parade through the streets, elevating the festival to more of a celebration of the town.

With several hundreds of artists participating each year, the Sounds of Wisdom Festival has grown into one of the best examples of showcasing African music and has become a great way of immersing yourself in music you may not hear on a daily basis.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The festival takes place in and around the Old Fort in Stone Town.
  • Cost – USD$ 93.
  • Opening hours – The festival runs across four days at varying times.
  • Time needed – with so much to see, you should dedicate the whole day to watching the many artists here during the festival.
  • Getting there – With the festival taking place in the heart of Stone Town, it is easy to walk to many of the stages.

4. Zanzibar international Film Festival

When we think of world-class film festivals, we would be forgiven for thinking of Venice Film Festival or Cannes Film Festival in France, yet the Zanzibar International Film Festival may have passed you by. 

Established in 1997, the Zanzibar International Film Festival is seen as the largest cultural event in all of East Africa. The festival is an all-arts affair, with eight days of local and international discussion panels, workshops, ten days of screenings of the best local and international cinema and evenings of musical concerts, including a Gala each evening.

Usually taking place during mid-July in Stone Town, being in Zanzibar during the Zanzibar International Film Festival is a fantastic cultural experience, even for those who are not serious film buffs.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The festival takes place in multiple locations throughout Stone Town.
  • Cost – Regular ticket for residents costs 10,000TZS per head while a non-resident will pay as little as US$10
  • Opening hours – Throughout the day, over ten days.
  • Time needed – Depending on how much you would like to see, you can spend as little as a couple of hours viewing entries and events.
  • Getting there – All revolving around Zanzibar’s main Stone Town, it is easy to walk to many of the events.

5. Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party 

Many of us may have heard about the famous full-moon parties, often reserved for the party-centric backpackers of Southeast Asia mainly those travelling in Thailand. Yet, many of us will have overlooked what has been called one of the top ten full moon parties anywhere, Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party.

Organised by the Kendwa Rocks Beach Resort along the northern Kendwa Beach, the party is an extreme highlight to any stay on the islands, especially for those who enjoy a great party.

Ongoing since the mid-1990s, Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party takes place along the beach every month, during the full moon. With the incredible sand and waters bathed in an illuminating moonlight, the whole coast comes alive with intense energy and party vibes. 

Attracting the big names of East African popular music, the party is a go-to for up-and-coming and established DJs from across the continent.

With Zanzibar cocktails flowing, the best music booming out and a sociable crowd that is irresistible to good-time seekers, Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party is a great thing to go to for those looking for things to do in Zanzibar during the full moon.

Know before you go:

  • Location –  Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party is located along Kendwa Beach on the northern end of the island.
  • Cost – $USD 10 for those not staying at Kendwa Rocks resort.
  • Opening hours – The party truly begins as the sun goes down and goes on until very late.
  • Time needed – It’s ideal to dedicate your whole evening to the party as it can go on very late.
  • Getting there – Either jump in a taxi for around USD$10 or take a cheaper bus up to Kendwa, around TZS 2,000 – 5,000.

Things To Do in Zanzibar: Top 5 Day Trips

Despite being a little island off the African continent, this region has its fair share of day trips, and making some time for them on your list of things to Zanzibar is well worth it. 

Some require a little extra effort of heading into Tanzania and perhaps even an overnight stay if you have the time, while others are a quick bus ride away.

1. Day Trip To Selous National Park

Covering an area of 19,000 square miles, the Selous National Park game reserve in southern Tanzania is one of Africa’s largest protected game reserves. The vast expanse of this region is home to a myriad of animals including, African bush elephants, black rhinos, hippopotamus, African Lion, East African wild dogs, Cape buffaloes, Masai giraffe, Plains zebra, Nile crocodile and more.

Even though Selous National Park is on the mainland, being so close to it in Zanzibar means it’s easy enough to travel to the park for a few days, and any wildlife enthusiasts will not pass up the chance when they are this close. 

During this tour, you will fly from Zanzibar’s airport to the airstrip within Selous National Park. You will have 7-8 full hours of game drive, seeing the numerous animals that live here and later, you will be transferred back to the airstrip to catch your flight back to the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Selous National Park is located in southern Tanzania.
  • Cost – As part of a tour which includes the flight to the park, you will pay around USD$ 700.
  • Opening hours – The flight departs around 8 am and will have you returning around 5 pm.
  • Time needed –  A whole day is needed to travel and see everything within the national park.
  • Getting there – As part of a tour from Zanzibar, your flights and transport will be all taken care of.

2. Mafia Island 

While the name Mafia Island may conjure images of Al Capone or have you doing your best Marlon Brandon impression, à la The Godfather, Mafia Island’s name actually derives from the Arabic word morfiyeh, meaning ‘group’ or ‘archipelago’. 

Although part of the Zanzibar archipelago and the third largest island in the entire chain, Mafia Island doesn’t have the same autonomous political status as Zanzibar and is in direct rule of the Tanzania mainland.

The island itself has been an important cornerstone in the development of the region for centuries, ruled by local tribes, Arbas and the German colonial government; Mafia Island was a gateway to much of the region’s merchant trade.

Aside from its rainbow patchwork of culture, the biggest draw for people visiting Mafia Island is the chance to catch sight of whale sharks and humpback whales. Whale sharks occupy the waters around Mafia Island between October and February, while humpback whales can be seen around August and September.

Swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines is a heated topic, so it’s best to be well-versed in the arguments if you’re uncomfortable swimming with them and would rather opt to watch them from the boat.

It’s good to understand that you are not 100% guaranteed a sighting, so it’s best to spend a couple of days on the island if you are reminded to see these gentle marine giants.   

Know before you go:

  • Location – Mafia Island is around 123 miles south of Zanzibar.
  • Cost – USD$170 for the flight between the two islands.
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed – It’s best to give yourself at least a couple of days to explore Mafia Island.
  • Getting there –  The easiest and quickest way is to take a flight between the town islands. You may sometimes need to connect in the Tanzania capital Dar es Salaam.

3. One night (or Two) on Chumbe Island 

Just under four miles south of the main Zanzibar island is one of the region’s most beautiful islands, Chumbe Island. In an archipelago where island beauty is all around you, Chumbe Island still manages to woo you. 

What sets this island apart is its perfectly matched eco and responsible tourism with the natural habitats of the island.

With a coral reef sanctuary and coral rag forest, the area has been protected under the Marine Protected Area and is used for educational purposes. This protection means that all the marine life and charming surroundings have been preserved. Conscientious tourism has allowed eco-bungalows to be built, and you can call Chumbe Island your home for a night or two.

Taking a 45-minute boat ride to the island, you can escape the town for a couple of nights and return to a simple way of living, surrounded by the beauty of the island. Each bungalow is equipped with queen-size beds in the sleeping area under a palm-thatched roof, a self-contained bathroom and a living room providing all you will need for a comfortable stay here.

Each bungalow collects its own freshwater supply from rainwater during the rainy season, filters and sites it. All of this does little damage to the island and really makes you feel you are one with nature and the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Chumbe Island is located south of the main island, around a 45-minute boat ride away.
  • Cost – $USD 280 a night during high season.
  • Opening hours – N/A
  • Time needed – Spend at least one night here to soak up the true ethos of the island.
  • Getting there – The night rate includes boat transfers to and from the island that your accommodation will arrange for you. 

4. Unguja Ukuu (Deserted Island Tour)

Far away from the bustling Stone Town and Zanzibar city, Unguja Ukuu is the island’s fertile forest region in the south of the island. One of the most immersive ways to explore this region is to take a boat tour from Stone Town. 

This tour will see you jump aboard a motorised Dhow boat in Stone Town and set off for the south of the island. On the way, you will stop off at many beautiful deserted islands such as Miwi and Nianembe or Kwale in the protected Menai Bay.

These islands are a haven for unique flora and are beautifully untouched by mass tourism and any form of construction. This tour is about pure relaxation and getting you up close and personal with some of the island’s most untouched spots. If you are lucky, you may even get the chance to spot marine life, such as dolphins who swim in the warm waters of the bay.

If the winds are blowing in the right direction, your journey back to Stone Town may be made in the traditional Dhow sailing way – a truly fantastic experience. All in all, leaving the touristy Stone Town for a day of island exploring is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The islands and bays are located at the southern end of Zanzibar’s main island. Tour boats will leave from the shores of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Depending on how many of you join the tour, prices can range between USD$60 and USD$150.
  • Opening hours – Tours will leave early in the morning, around 8/ 9 am, giving you enough time to enjoy a full day’s excursion.
  • Time needed – With so much to see and do, the tour will take up most of the day.
  • Getting there – Boats leave Stone Town, yet many tours can collect you from your accommodation.

5. Explore Prison Island (Changuu)

The island of Changuu is one of Zanzibar’s popular places to visit and explore and is the home to the endearing giant tortoises mentioned above. Also known as Prison Island, the island was used as a prison for rebellious slaves during the 19th century.

Although the prison was constructed, it never actually got round to housing any prisoners. The island was then used as a quarantine island, with the British authorities fearing a rise in diseases causing epidemics in Stone Town.

Around a 20 to 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town, Changuu Island offers a picturesque place to explore and is a perfect size for a day of wandering around. With beautiful white sands and crystal clear turquoise waters, the island is a mini paradise surrounded by the Indian Ocean.

Much of the former prison’s buildings have been converted into hotel blocks and bars, perfect for relaxing after a day exploring the island. From snorkelling, sunbathing and simply enjoying the pristineness of the island, Changuu Island is one of the most tranquil things to do in Zanzibar.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Prison Island is located a half-hour boat ride northwest of Stone Town.
  • Cost – The boat ride will cost between USD$30 and $40 return and a USD$4 charge for entering the island.
  • Opening hours –  Boats will go to and from the island all day.
  • Time needed – It’s best to spend a good part of your day here, as there is so much to see and do.
  • Getting there – Boats will leave Stone Town from Baharia Hindi Beach.

Things To Do in Zanzibar: 5 Activities & Adventures

If Zanzibar itself doesn’t quite scratch that adventurous itch, then I’ve got a few things that might bring you an extra bit of satisfaction.  While these aren’t “must-do’s”, they’re fantastic options if you have a bit of spare time in your itinerary.

 1. Cycle along Zanzibar’s Eastern Coast 

Although much of Zanzibar’s main island is rugged and wild, the coastline is home to perfect cycling routes and some of the most rewarding.

The eastern coast of the island is one such location and provides a gorgeous cycling route along the whole seafront. The route begins in the town of Paje on the southeast coast of the island and takes you around six miles along the sandy trails to the Blue Lagoon. 

Not only is this route rewarding for its views, but all offer the chance to take a dip in the cooling waters as you go. Along the way, you can take in the lapping waves on one side and the humble homes and hamlets on the other. This is a fantastic way of taking in the more sparsely populated regions of Zanzibar at a slower pace.  

Know before you go:

  • Location – This particular route begins in Paje on the southeast coast of the island, but there are many others. 
  • Cost – Many companies will rent out quality bicycles for around USD$10 a day.
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed – It’s best to set aside around six hours for a good day’s cycling; early morning is best as you can avoid the high heat of the day.
  • Getting there – Numerous rental services can be found in Stone Town, all within walking distance of your accommodation.

2. Kiteboarding in Pwani Mchangani

The paradise island of Zanzibar is known for many things, but above all else is its breathtaking beaches and coastal regions. These white sands and wolf-whistle inducing waters also create the perfect environments for exciting watersports. 

A combination of coast winds, warm waters and peaceful surroundings make kiteboarding above all else the best watersport. With your feet attached to a smaller style surfboard and your hand on to a huge wind-grabbing kite, this exhilarating pastime is only amplified by the island’s surroundings.

There are two main places to enjoy kiteboarding on the island, either in Nungwi or Pwani Mchangani. Both locations are directly on soft, white-sand beaches facing the beautiful Indian Ocean. 

Pwani Mchangani, especially, offers spacious beaches and stunning blue lagoons in which to kiteboard and with companies such as Kiteboarding Zanzibar providing rental and lesson services, you will have all you need to get the best out of kiteboarding on the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Pwani Mchangani is located an hour’s drive northeast of Stone Town.
  • Cost – All the gear you need can be retained for around USD$ 70 a day.
  • Opening hours – 8:30 – 6 pm.
  • Time needed – Around 3-4 hours will have you all tired out from your watersports.
  • Getting there – Dala Dala buses round between Pwani Mchangani and Stone Town, taking around an hour each way.

3. Paddle Boarding in Chwaka Bay

For those seeking something a little less strenuous in the realm of watersports, then paddleboarding in the Chwaka Bay is the thing to do. The large inlet bay on the eastern side of the island is another of Zanzibar’s ever-giving scenic spots. 

Although there are miles and miles of shoreline to set out from, Kae Beach on the eastern peninsular offers up as the starting point for enjoying Chawaka Bay’s beach bounty. Those staying in one of the beach resorts here give free use of the paddleboards from the resort’s beach kiosks. 

Those heading to Chwaka bay from elsewhere on the island will have to pay a small rental fee, but it is definitely worth it.

The bay’s waters and surroundings offer the ideal surroundings for paddleboarding here, and what better way to combine a relaxing day in the water with exercise than paddleboarding in Chwaka Bay.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Chawka Bay is located 18 miles east of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Around $USD 8 -10 for paddleboard rental fees.
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Around five hours should be enough to get all you want out of the day’s activities.
  • Getting there – Buses run between Stone Town and the bay, leaving from the main dala dala station in the town. 

4. Dolphins & Snorkelling at Mnemba Island Reef

Found just off the northeast coast of Zanzibar is the small island of Mnemba, surrounded by a halo of coral reefs. This breathtaking stretch of water and coral is something pulled directly off the travel book of a paradisiacal desert island.

Along with its stunning natural beauty, Mnemba Island’s reefs are home to an abundance of marine life. Diving into the crystal clear waters of the reef, you can spend many hours snorkelling above the corral and observing the huge array of fish and other sea life here.

A little further out of the island, you can spot humpback whales, three species of dolphin and whale sharks – it is no wonder that Mnemba Island is at the top of things to do in Zanzibar for wildlife lovers.

Despite its small size, the island itself is also home to a surprising amount of wildlife. If you have sharp eyes, you may spit the illusive Ader’s duiker or the tiny Suni antelope.

All in all, Mnemba Island is a little piece of Eden, home to an array of wildlife and a beautiful island landscape that has to be seen to be believed.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Mnemba island is located a few miles off the very northeast of Zanzibar’s main island.
  • Cost – Costs will depend on who you book your stay here with, as staying at the privately-owned island is run by &Beyond.
  • Opening hours – N/A
  • Time needed –  You will want and need the best part of the day to explore the island and all its activities.
  • Getting there – Boats leave for the island from the northern town of Nungwi.

5. Cheetah’s Rock

Around ten miles north of Stone Town is the animal welfare and conservation centre of Cheetah’s Rock. Cheetah’s Rock is a ZIPA-accredited educational wildlife rescue & conservation centre known for its cheetah tours. The centre was set up in the early 2000s as a home for a huge range of animals, rescued, rehabilitated and a look to release back into the wild.

Taking a wildfire tour of Cheetah’s Rock is a great way of getting up close and personal with some of the continent’s most beloved animals. A step away from a more common view, handing over money to tour the sanctuary’s animals will leave you with a sense of doing some wider good. 

This money will then go towards the preservation of Africa’s sensational wildlife communities and also rehabilitating those animals that would be lost if these conservation efforts were not carried out by Cheetah’s Rock.   

Know before you go:

  • Location – Cheetah’s Rock is located around ten miles north of Stone Town, along the coast.
  • Cost – Around $150, which includes transport between the locations.
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 11:30 am and 1:45 pm – 6:45 pm.
  • Time needed –  Around six hours are needed to see the animals and travel there and back.
  • Getting there – As part of the fee, transport will be provided for you to the reserves.

Things To Do in Zanzibar: Top 4 For Relaxation

Take some time to yourself after you’ve done what you want from the above list, with one of these slower-paced things to do in Zanzibar. 

1. Yoga Stone Town

The world of yoga has burst from the confines of Indian mysticism, hippy havens and cliche self-help groups and onto the global stage over the past few decades. This popular practice can now be found across the continents, including schools and yoga retreats in every far-flung corner of the world, and Zanzibar is no different.

With paradise surroundings and an undeniable sense of calm and relaxation already at home on the island, Zanzibar is an ideal place to give yoga a go or recharge your already high yoga skills. Yoga Stone Town is the region’s only professional yoga studio and is perfectly situated in the centre of the town.

The studio offers professionally led classes in ashtanga, Hatha, yin & power yoga, covering all aspects of the discipline. With both local and international teachers, you can jump straight into the class and walk away learning something new.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Yoga Zanzibar is located on the western edges of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Around TZS 40,000 for a drop-in class.
  • Opening hours – 8 am – 7 pm.
  • Time needed – classes last a couple of hours and start around 9 am.
  • Getting there – Being so close to the heart of Stone Town, it’s more than possible to walk to the yoga studio.

2. Paje Beach

Located along the southeast coast of Zanzibar is the sprawling village of Paje and the equally sprawling picturesque Paje Beach. One of the most popular areas on the eastern side of the island, Paje Beach is the ideal spot if you want things to do in Zanzibar that includes a little beach and sea relaxation.

The sprawling beach runs for a few miles along the eastern coast, making it a great place to beat away the crowds. As the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean lap against the shores, you will undoubtedly never want to leave. This beach is also a great place in which to explore the sea, whether this is snorkelling or through watersports such as windsurfing.

Once you’ve burnt off some steam in the water, it is a simple stroll to one of the hawkers that trade along the beach, where you can pick up a snack or a fresh coconut.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Paje Beach is located on the far eastern coast of Zanzibar, close to the village of the same name.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed – A few hours will be enough to enjoy the sand and sea.
  • Getting there – It’s easy to catch a local bus from Stone Town to Paje Beach costing around TZS 4,000.

3. Nakupenda Beach

In a region of East Africa, and the world for that matter, that has an overwhelming amount of beautiful scenic spots, arriving on Nakupenda Beach takes this to a whole new level. A small island or snapback a few miles west of Zanzibar, Nakupenda Beach is one of the most perfect things to do in Zanzibar when you want to escape to your own piece of paradise. 

When the settings are right, and the sandbank isn’t completely covered, you can take a boat out to Nakupenda Beach for the day.

Going to Nakupenda Beach early is recommended, as although the island is small and secluded, it can quickly become busy with daytrippers from Stone Island. A simple island of crystal clear waters, palm trees, and fine white sand makes Nakupenda Beach an unbelievable place to visit, regardless of how popular the island gets.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Nakupenda Beach is located around a fifteen-minute boat ride west of Stone Town.
  • Cost – You will pay around TZS 30,000 for a boat there and back.
  • Opening hours – The majority of boats will stop making the journey after nightfall.
  • Time needed – It’s ideal to spend a good part of your day here, travelling there and also enjoying the entirety of what Nakupenda Beach has to offer.
  • Getting there – Boats regularly leave for Nakupenda Beach from the beach west of Stone Town. 

4. Jog/Stroll Along Nungwi Beach 

At the northernmost tip of Zanzibar is the small town of Nungwi, famous, amongst other things, for its fantastic stretch of beach. One of the last regions to welcome tourism on the island, Nungwi and Nungwi Beach are among the must-visit things to do in Zanzibar. Aside from the sheer beauty of the sprawling beach, it is also a great place to go for a morning or late afternoon jog.

Keeping your fitness levels up, Nungwi Beach offers the perfect surroundings for a little exercise while you’re thinking of things to do in Zanzibar. Once you’ve energised yourself with a jog along the beach, head into the northern Zanzibar town itself and soak up the laid-back atmosphere of Nungwi life.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Nungwi Beach is located on the northernmost tip of the island, around 36 miles north of Stone Town.
  • Cost – Buses from Stone Town will set you back around TZS 2,000 one way.
  • Opening hours – Buses run between Stone Town and the beach all day.
  • Time needed – With distances, it’s best to set aside the whole day to travel, jog and see the town of Nungwi.
  • Getting there – Take a cheap dala dala bus to the beach. Dala-dala number 116 leaves daily from Creek Road in Zanzibar Town for Nungwi every half-hour between 5:30 AM and 9 PM.

As you can see, there is such a fun mixture of things to do in Zanzibar. For such a small island, it really does pack a punch of history, culture, adventure and beauty.

Posted in ,

Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
Ultra runner walking in desert

Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

Follow me!

Read All About East Africa and Tanzania