The name alone is likely to conjure up images of spice markets, palm-fringed beaches and white-sailed dhows on a turquoise sea – and happily the reality doesn’t disappoint. Lying only a short distance off the Tanzania coast but at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Zanzibar has long been at the centre of the Indian Ocean experience in East Africa and a Zanzibar holiday is a sensory experience par excellence.
Go on spice tours, taste local dishes and walk the cobbled streets of the capital’s old quarter Stone Town, now a World Heritage Site buzzing with colourful back-street markets and local flavours. And then of course there are the Zanzibar beaches: perfect for anyone who simply wants to enjoy a lazily luxurious beach vacation – Zanzibar and its outlying islands are home to some of the finest beaches in East Africa as well as a number of its best dive sites.
You won’t want for somewhere to stay either: one of the world’s most romantic honeymoon destinations, Zanzibar has accommodation that ranges from luxury beachfront cottages to exclusive boutique hotels and elegant spa resorts; parents on the other hand will be delighted by Zanzibar’s family-friendly hotels and safe-swimming beaches.
Accessible from travel hub Dar es Salaam and combining easily with top Tanzania safari destinations such as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar can be part of a safari and beach tour or as a stand-alone holiday.
Browse our tried-and-tested holiday itineraries and our recommended Zanzibar accommodation or just contact one of our specialist consultants for assistance with planning the perfect holiday to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar Island, also known as Unguja, is by far the largest and most famous of the islands that make up the Zanzibar Archipelago. Zanzibar has such a diverse coastline that there are plenty of different experiences across the main island, from vibrant culture in the south to idyllic barefoot luxury in the north. There is plenty to see beyond stately palm trees, white beaches and water the colour of malachite – we’ve collected the best places to visit based on our numerous visits
Off the main island are also a series of much smaller islets that offer a more exclusive, away-from-the-crowds experience and are perfect for honeymooners and romantics. We take a look at where to go in Pemba, Mafia, Chumbe and Mnemba below.
First, a look at the different areas of Zanzibar, where to go and what to expect at each:
Zanzibar East Coast: home to the island’s best and most idyllic beaches, the east coast is home to a wide range of lodges and hotels but the tidal aspect of the Indian Ocean may mean you have walk to go swimming or snorkelling.
Zanzibar North Coast: as a rule, the further north on Zanzibar you go, the more private and less crowded the beaches are. The north coast is also least affected by the tidal range.
Zanzibar North-east Coast: the island’s prime location, most of Zanzibar’s top-end accommodation is set on the north-east beaches. The diving is excellent here, there’s not much tidal variation and the archipelago’s best reefs of Mnemba Island lie about a kilometre or half a mile offshore.
Zanzibar South Coast: the further south you go on Zanzibar, the more populated it becomes. And with people, comes culture – head south for cultural and spice tours along with more opportunities to engage with the locals.
Zanzibar South-East Coast: there are plenty of beaches and resorts on the south-east of Zanzibar but the tidal range is more marked than other regions.
Zanzibar West Coast: there are fewer lodges on Zanzibar’s west coast and it feels a little more remote but it is, of course, home to Stone Town, located on the island’s central-west coast.
Stone Town: Zanzibar’s historical capital No visit to Zanzibar would be complete without exploring the narrow, cobbled streets of Stone Town, a World Heritage Site and former capital of the main island. There are several places of interest scattered around town, not least Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), a former sultan’s palace. Absorb the history, culture and cuisine of this former slave and ivory port on guided tours, or simply wander around at your own pace.
The best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to October during the cool, dry months of spring. Another popular time to visit this tropical island is from December to February when it’s hot and dry.
An African beach holiday means sundrenched shores, palm fringed beaches and glorious sunsets – expect all this and more on a Zanzibar beach escape.
There are two best times to scuba dive off the coast of Zanzibar, in July and August and in February and March. Diving off the north coast is particularly good from June to October and off the south coast between November and March.
We don’t recommend visiting Zanzibar during the two rainy seasons, from mid-March to late May and again in November.