Zanzibar Guide – Explore this Tropical Paradise
Zanzibar is a paradisiac island just off the coast of Tanzania. It’s a dream holiday destination for many. There are only few places around the world with such clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and tropical palm-trees that won’t ruin your budget. Zanzibar is a perfect slice of paradise offering a unique cultural experience while also being a tranquil setting for pure relaxation. Read on this guide to discover all the best things to do in Zanzibar and why you should consider traveling there asap.
- Explore Stone Town
- Sunset dhow cruise
- Swim with turtles
- Diving & Snorkeling in Mneba Island
- Stay at The Island Pongwe
- Visit Paje and Jambiani
- Take a tour of the Jozani Forest
- Practical Infos: Covid & More
- Driving in Zanzibar
- Where to eat and drink in Zanzibar
Zanzibar Guide: the best things to do on the island
Explore Stone Town
Most people’s trip to Zanzibar usually starts in the capital and the only city on the island – Stone Town. This place is packed with unique sensory experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Visiting Stone Town can be overwhelming at first. However, once you find yourself surrounded by the charming small streets, local vendors and kind people, all the stress and worries go away. Let yourself get lost and just wander around. It’s the best way to feel the real vibe of the town.
Stone Town is also a great place to try out local food. We highly recommend Lukman Restaurant. It’s a place visited by both tourists and locals. The food is great and very well priced.
↬ Note : Not all the streets looks as beautiful as you imagine. There are many ruins and dirty corners. While wandering around Stone Town, Zanzibar capital, you will most likely be approached by a local guide trying to invite you on tourist tours. Please be kind. A simple ‘thank you, but I’m not interested’ (if you are not interested) is enough. You need to understand that most people in Tanzania support their families thanks to tourism. They are all very kind, speak good English and just want to earn a living.
Beach days in Nungwi
Nungwi is a small village located on the north part of Zanzibar. It’s the best place to see the sunset as the sun sets behind the ocean (on the east part of the island, it sets behind the land). Nungwi has also some of most the beautiful beaches. In the area, there’s a lot to do like sunset boat cruises, swimming with turtles, or visiting and helping a local school.
Sunset dhow cruise
There’s no better way to see the sunset than from out on the water. Many companies located in Nungwi offer sunset cruises. Dhow is a wooden boat with a canvas sail. You can choose between romantic cruises (apx 150 EUR pp for a private boat), classic ones or wild party boats (apx 40 EUR pp). Most tours include dinner and drinks. Also you can just wander on the beach (any part of Zanzibar) and you will probably find a dhow boat with a captain who will also by your guide on a 30min boat ride. Otherwise, just ask to your hotel reception and they most likely have the contact of a captain and will set a cruise time for you.
Swim with turtles
There is a magical small swimming hole where turtles that were injured or wrapped in fishing nets regain their strength before they return to the ocean. For a small fee you can enter the pond and swim with those kind and wonderful creatures.
Remember to shower before entering the pond and NEVER wear sun or mosquito protection. Those chemicals will not dissolve in the water and might harm the turtles.
Visit Zanzibar School of Hope
This part is not an entertainment, but a real life changing experience. Zanzibar is one of the poorest places in the world and education is a privilege. Zanzibar School of Hope is a non-government organization relying solely on donations. They care and teach 201 kids from the age of 3 to 6 years old.
You can visit the school, meet the wonderful people behind it- teachers and the director, Mr Coco. By contributing directly to the school you can be sure that your donation will be used in the best way to help kids and ensure their education.
↬ Note : If you follow this guide and wish to help, there are many schools and kids programs you can visit during your trip to Zanzibar. We highly recommend you to do your own research before and contact the schools directly. Ask how best you can help and what to bring. Instead of bringing expensive supplies, you might help more for example by purchasing porridge ingredients. For 85 EUR worth of maize flour, sugar and powder milk, you can provide a breakfast for 201 kids for a WHOLE MONTH.
Stay at Royal Zanzibar Resort
Royal Zanzibar is an all inclusive resort located on the best spot of Nungwi. It has access to a private beach, 4 swimming pools including one infinity pool, 2 restaurants and a SPA. Without a doubt there’s no better place to base yourself while visiting this part of the island.
Go swimming at any time!
One and probably the most important thing about Nungwi is the fact that this part of the island experiences tides differently from the rest of the island. While on the east and west coast the water can retreat as far as 700 hundred meters every 6 hours as the beach are shallow on hundreds of meters. In Nungwi, the beach and sand drops deeper way quicker. This makes it the only part of Zanzibar where you can swim in deep turquoise waters at any time of the day and night. And the sand doesn’t have any corals, algae or urchins.
Diving & snorkeling around Mnemba Island
Next in this Zanzibar guide : scuba diving. There are many beautiful dive sites in Zanzibar. The best two are considered to be in Kizimkazi on the south and around Mnemba Island on the north. We chose to dive in Mnemba Island and had fantastic experience.
As we are Open Water Padi certified divers we were able to complete two dives in one day up to 18m deep. The underwater world in Mnemba Island is spectacular and we had the best time with Dive Point team that day.
We decided to return to the same area just a few days later and try our luck with spotting wild dolphins. This time we booked a private boat with a guide and a captain and set for a half day snorkeling tour. We came across Tom Cruise tours on instagram and decided to go with him. He turned out to be the kindest, nicest and coolest guy and we spent a fantastic day with him. He also made our dream come true : we swam with a small pod of wild dolphins.
↬ Note : Contact Tom Cruise, best guide in Zanzibar, for any tours you might like to do on the island. And remember to say hi from us 😄
Stay at The Island Pongwe
What if we told you that there is a hotel in Zanzibar that is built on rocks? During high tide you have to take a small boat to get to the hotel, other times you can freely walk on the white sand.
Without a doubt, The Island Pongwe is one of the coolest places we have ever visited. If your budget doesn’t allow you to stay at the hotel, make sure to come for lunch or dinner. The food is exquisite and the absolute best we hqd in Zanzibar.
↬ TIP : Try to spot Kuku- a wild monkey which inhabits The Island from time to time.
Visit Paje & Jambiani
Considered the ‘hip’ part of the island, the miles long beach is lined with beautiful, boutique hotels and restaurants. Paje is the mecca of water-sports, especially beloved by kite-surfers. You will spot dozens of kites up in the air at any time of the day. Here, you can try paddle boarding or kayaking in the morning and take a yoga class at sunset.
Take a tour of the Jozani Forest
We could not forget one of the most visited attractions in Zanzibar. The Jozani Forest is home to a variety of animals, including rare Kirk’s red & red colobus monkeys, species that exists only in Zanzibar.
Visiting the reserve in Zanzibar is possible only with a guide or as a part of a tour.
Enjoy sunset at The Rock
The world famous restaurant built on a small rock just off the shore of Pingwe is a must while visiting Zanzibar. The restaurant is impressively located and serves a unique experience together with delicious drinks. Even if the prices are one of the highest on the island, a 10 EUR per drink in such scenery is really worth it.
Zanzibar guide: Practical infos
Traveling to Zanzibar during Covid
Zanzibar is open to tourists and remains relatively safe. There hasn’t been recorded cases of coronavirus in months and government continues to ensure that the whole country is Covid free. Therefore, there is no test nor quarantine required to enter the country. However, bare in mind that some airline companies, like Emirates, require travellers to have a negative PCR test just to board their flight, regardless of the regulations at the destination. Upon arrival at Zanzibar Airport your temperature will be checked and you will have to fill in a locator form. In most hotels and restaurants, the staff is wearing masks and disinfectants are wildly available.
Except of this, the life functions as normal. Restaurants & bars are open, tours depart everyday and tourists are welcome.
↬ Note : We do not encourage anyone to travel at the moment. However if you choose to travel, follow all the necessary procedures and rules. Before you confirm your trip, make sure to double check the regulations of your destination, as well as upon return. Make online researches, call the airline you plan to travel with, purchase an insurance that will cover everything.
Nearly all nationalities need a valid visa to enter Zanzibar. There are two ways of obtaining it. You can either request it upon arrival, by filling in a form and paying 50 USD. Otherwise, you can apply for a visa online through the official Tanzania’s Ministry of Home Affairs website. The process is easy, however it take apx 7-10 days for the application to be completed.
↬ Note : Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months.
With a driver
The best way to get around in Zanzibar is by hiring a driver/guide. The driving services are wildly available and your hotel can help you arrange a pick up. However, bear in mind that prices given to you by a hotel will be significantly higher than once requested by a local company.
Once again we recommend to contact Tom Cruise, who works as a Zanzibar guide and can arrange for you transportation anywhere around the island. WhatsApp works very well in Zanzibar and nearly all companies can be contacted via this app.
By renting a car
Another option is renting a car and driving it yourself during your trip in Zanzibar. We opted for this option as we love to be independent and we planned to move a lot. After a short google search we came across Zanzibar Best Car Rental and can recommend this company. Everything went smoothly and without any issues.
↬ Note : You need a drive permit issued by local authorities as well as International Driving License. The permit costs 10 USD and the rental company will issue it for you. We got stopped by police many times, however they always checked that our papers are in order and then let us go. Also, don’t drive too fast on the island, the police has radar-cameras and will stop you for speeding! If that happens to you… it might be good to have some dollars in cash… as you might have to “contribute” the officers salaries… 😅
Our experience driving in Zanzibar
We contacted the company via WhatsApp few days before our arrival and confirmed a small SUV rental for 11 days, the whole duration of our trip. As we rented for longer we also got a better deal than listed on the website. We payed 300 USD for 11 days. The driver picked us up from the airport upon arrival. We filled in some papers, paid in cash and 15 min later where on our way. The car wasn’t new, but in decent shape for Zanzibar conditions. We dropped it off at the airport without any problems just before our return flight.
There are few things you need to consider before renting a car and driving yourself. Driving in Zanzibar is not easy. First, they drive on the left, so it might require a little time to get used to it. The main roads are in good enough conditions, but others are in poor state. There are tons of people and animals on the road, especially around dusk. The traffic close to the city becomes very heavy and regular driving rules don’t always apply. You have to be a confident and good driver to drive in Zanzibar.
↬ Note : Avoid driving after sunset. There are no lights along the roads and the amount of people just hanging out next to the street is intense. Don’t trust google maps ETA. Always count more time for the journey.
Getting to Zanzibar
Best time to visit Zanzibar
Zanzibar has a tropical climate with two main seasons : dry and wet. However the seasons mix during the year. The dry and cool season is from June to October. November to December is a season of short rainfall and high temperatures. January and February are usually dry and very hot months. The wet season falls from March to May. It’s also Zanzibar lowest season.
We visited early December and during our 11 days on the island we had a 5 min shower on the very last day. Every other day was very hot (temperatures ranging around 35 celcius) and with blue skies.
What to bring
Zanzibar is 90 % a Muslim island. You will see women and girls dressed in burkas, including on the beach. Locals are very friendly and tolerant to tourist fashion, however we ask you to be considerate of their religion & traditions. Especially women should try to cover their shoulders and avoid short dresses/shorts while visiting the city. Hotels and the beach are “safe zones” and no one will have a problem seeing you in bikini. Out of respect we simply suggest you cover yourself when leaving the resort.
That’s why long dresses, skirts, flowing pants and longer tops will be the perfect choice for ladies.
cs we suggested earlier in this Zanzibar guide, Consider bringing donations for local schools. Contact them in advance and ask what they need the most. School supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks etc are always welcome, same as children clothing and shoes. We brought a whole suitcase of donations with us. We only wish we brought more kids shoes as the state of the ones local kids wear is extremely poor.
You can purchase a local sim card at the airport upon arrival. Zantel is the best provider covering nearly the whole island (we always had phone service). You can buy sim card for 10, 15 or 30 days. The price depends on how much data you need. A 15 day sim card with 20 GB costs 30 UDS.
There is wifi in every hotel, most bars/restaurants and it works really well.
The local currency is Tanzanian Shilling. 1 EUR = 2800 TZS. Dollars are highly acceptable (not Euro). There are only a few ATMs around the island. Bring the necessary currency with you, or withdraw all the money you will need for your stay from the ATMs in Stone Town or at the airport upon arrival. You can exchange only a part of your money and keep the rest in dollars.
Credit cards are accepted in every hotel and in most restaurants. However, there is always 3-5% surcharge added to all transactions operated by credit card.
Costs in Zanzibar
A trip to Zanzibar can be done in many ways- either super luxurious thus expensive, medium range or on a budget.
- Hotels: you can find rooms for as cheap as 20 EUR/night for 2 people. A medium range hotel costs 50-80 EUR. In luxurious 4*5* resorts, rooms will even cost few hundred Euros.
- Restaurants: If you choose to eat locally more than in touristic restaurants, a meal will cost you as little as 2-3 EUR. In mid range restaurants, a seafood plate costs around 12 EUR, while in luxury places prices start at 20-30 EUR.
- Bars: A drink in The Rock restaurant costs 8 EUR. A fresh coconut at a local stand is 0.34 EUR. A beer at a beach restaurant is around 3 EUR.
- Boat rental: A half day private boat snorkeling tour costs 85 EUR (per boat, up to 6 ppl).
- Diving: 2 dives with equipment (PADI certified) is 75 EUR (cheapest dive ever for us!).
- Car rental: a small SUV costs around 25 EUR per day. A scooter is around 30 EUR per day.
Where to eat
Lukmaan Restaurant: as we mentioned above, Lukmaan is one of the best places to eat in Stone Town. It’s a local food restaurant beloved by both locals & tourists. The staff is very kind and speaks well English.
The Island Pongwe Restaurant: the best food in Zanzibar. The restaurant is located on a small island just off the main land. You can either walk during low tide, or take a small boat when the water is high. It’s an experience per se and on top of that the food is delicious. Each dish is prepared with the freshest ingredients. Highly recommended.
Gabi Beach & Restaurant: it belongs to Melia Resort and is located at one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Here you can dine directly on the white sand and the food is delicious.
Mama Mia: a very good Italian restaurant in Nungwi. You can get a lobster spaghetti for 11 EUR.
Duyen – Vietnamese Homecook by Kim: right next to Sharazad Boutique in Paje, it was our second favourite food we had in Zanzibar. Everything Kim prepares taste authentic and delicious- just like in Asia. The dumplings were AMAZING.
Ocean Restaurant: a good place for an easy dinner and drinks in Paje. The food was all right and drinks not too pricey.
The Rock: the world famous restaurant located on a small island. We cannot testify about the food quality, because we didn’t try any. However, the main reason we didn’t try was the opinions of locals- everyone told us it’s a cool place to hang out and have a drink, but the food is not worth the price. In fact, The Rock has one of the most expensive menu’s in Zanzibar. We had cocktails which were very good and enjoyed the sunset.
Where to stay
There is a wide range of accommodations to choose in Zanzibar. Check booking.com for the best deals.