Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (2024)

Zanzibar is a set of islands in Tanzania, located just off the coast of the capital city, Dar es Salaam. That conveniently means there are loads of connections every day between Zanzibar’s airport and the rest of Tanzania.

It might pop up on your radar because of its endless white-sand beaches, or maybe for the excellent kite surfing conditions, thanks to the Kaskazi & Kusi (north and south) winds that sweep the length of the main island. It’s also a popular place to wash away the stress of a bumpy safari on the mainland.

Even though the locals are predominantly Muslim, alcohol is permitted. That encourages laid-back beach town hangouts that attract visitors from all over, including other African countries. Accommodation is super affordable because of the low cost of living.

Seven Jack’s Flight Club team members have visited Zanzibar, and we’ve stuffed this guide full of our top tips from experience, as well as from other members who have visited.

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The team on Paje beach

Quick Reference

  • Pre-trip Checklist
  • Currency/Cash
  • Seasonality
  • Transportation
  • Internet and Cell Service
  • Experience Level
  • Area Guides
  • Beaches
  • Watersports
  • Safari
  • Spice Farms
  • Food
  • Events

Pre-trip Checklist

Visas

Visas are pretty simple — while some nationals don’t require a visa for Tanzania(see the full list here), if you do need a visa, you will likely be able to apply for either:

  • A “visa on arrival”
  • An “e-visa” that you apply for before you arrive. We found it took 7–10 days to be approved, but don’t leave it until the last minute, especially in the high season.

An ordinary visitor visa costs $50/£40/47 for most nationalities, or $100 for US citizens (at the time of writing in May 2024).

You’ll also need to show your return ticket to the immigration officer when you arrive in Tanzania.

The Tanzanian government recommends all visitors apply for an e-visa, rather than wait to get your visa once you arrive (since it’s not guaranteed you’ll be approved on arrival). But, some of our team found the online application to be a little confusing, and other tourists have reported a buggy website and uncertain visa timelines, and so prefer to wait for a visa on arrival if they can.

FYI, if you’re travelling on a passport from this list, you must apply via an e-visa—you won’t be able to get a visa on arrival.

Vaccines and medication

  • Essential vaccines: hepatitis, typhoid, and DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus).
  • Medicines: it’s worth stocking up on these medications before you leave:
    • Anti-diarrheal and anti-nausea medications
    • Anti-malarial tablets (you’ll need to start taking them a few days before your trip)
    • Antihistamines are also useful for insect bites and allergic reactions
    • Pain and fever relievers

Where possible, bring these medications from home — it’s often cheaper (especially if you buy the generic brand), and it can be hard to find specific types of medication in Zanzibar. For example, when it comes to anti-malarial tablets, while doxycycline is widely available on the island without a prescription, malarone (which travelers usually prefer) is harder to find.

Disclaimer: always check which medications and vaccines are recommended by your local healthcare service before travelling.

Other essentials

  • Sunscreen and after sun lotion: You’ll need SPF 50+ to avoid nasty sunburn on these super sunny islands—we learned the hard way.
  • Mosquito repellent: A high-level DEET repellent (at least 50%)
    • Any higher % DEET typically only increases how long it’ll be effective for, rather than offering ‘better’ protection from biting insects. A 50% application should last you 10–12 hours.
    • FYI, when you wear sunscreen and DEET repellent together, it can limit the sun protection of your sunscreen, so give it 30 minutes after you’ve applied your sunscreen (or until it’s fully absorbed) before spraying your repellent.
    • Find more anti-mosquito tips in the clothing section below

Pro tip: We found that local sunscreen was not as effective as sunscreen we brought from home, so it’s worth bringing more than you think you’ll need.

  • Travel insurance: there are hospitals and medical centers in Tanzania, but they may not be up to the same standard you’re used to at home. The cost of transportation to the hospital can also be expensive if you have to pay upfront.

Clothing

Bring loose-fitting clothes that you can layer. As you’d expect on a tropical island, it can go from blazing heat to a thunderstorm in a matter of minutes, so dress accordingly!

Dressing modestly is important to Zanzibarians. As a tourist, you don’t have to follow any guidelines, but a good rule of thumb to avoid looks from locals is to wear loose-fitting outfits that cover your knees and shoulders. Swimwear at the beach is fine—locals are accustomed to it; just remember to also take a shawl to cover up once you leave the sand. This is a great guide for deciding what to wear.

Light-colored clothing (like white or khaki) isn’t attractive to mosquitos, so opt for those over dark colors like blue or black. Remember that mosquitos can’t bite through most fabric, so long-sleeves, long pants and proper shoes are best for keeping the bites at bay.

FYI: All disposable plastic bags have been banned in Tanzania. This includes grocery store bags, packaging, and zip-lock bags (except for storing toiletries) and you could get a fine if you’re caught with one. Bring tote bags instead!

Mindset

Hakuna matata! What a wonderful phrase!

You’ll hear the expressions hakuna matata (‘no problem’) and pole pole (‘slow slow’) in Swahili a lot during your visit.

Locals have a relaxed and carefree attitude, and you’ll have a much better time if you just roll with it. Car broken down in the middle of nowhere? Hakuna matata. Dinner served 1.5 hrs after ordering? Pole pole. Preparing to embrace the focus on joy, gratitude, and living in the moment will be essential for anyone prone to stress on holiday.

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Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar seaplane

Currency/Cash

Local currency: Tanzanian Shillings (TZS)

Commonly accepted currencies: United States Dollars (USD), Euros (EUR), British Pounds (GBP)

Where to use cash

Cash is king in Zanzibar, but Tanzanian Shillings usually can’t be found in foreign exchange shops, so the best way to prepare is by taking US dollars. You’ll be able to exchange them at banks or currency exchange offices once you arrive.

Your money will go further if you pay in shillings, as locals typically use them for their shopping.

When we visited (Feb ’24), a 10,000 shilling note was worth slightly less than $4/£3/€4. But when using them to pay for taxis, shopping or activities, many locals accepted them as if they were equivalent to $5/£4/€5.

If you’d rather use USD, it is widely accepted throughout the island and is accepted as payment almost everywhere.

Important: USD notes must be 2009 series or later—Tanzanian banks do not accept anything earlier.

In touristy spots like hotels, restaurants, and the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, you can often pay with EUR & GBP as well. The exception is when you’re in small local shops—it’s best to pay with shillings there.

Where you can use card

Most bars, restaurants, and hotels that cater to tourists also accept major credit and debit cards. But you’ll want to use cash most of the time to avoid the (typically 5%) fee (see more about this below), and there’s also a danger of your card details being swiped.

ATMs and general tips

ATMs on the island are pretty scarce, and they don't always work or have cash in them. You can find one at the airport, as well as near the popular beaches and gas stations in Stone Town, Paje, Nungwi and Dunga.

  • You can only withdraw up to 400K shillings (approx. $150/£120/€140) per day.
  • When you take out cash, the machines charge an extra fee of 10K–20K shillings ($4–$8/£3£6/€4€8) per withdrawal. Your home bank may also charge you for converting the currency.
  • Some restaurants and bars tack on an extra 2–5% fee to your bill if you pay by card.
  • Some places have different prices for residents and non-residents, but this is usually clearly advertised.

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Kendwa Essence Restaurant

Seasonality

Tanzania is a tropical country, so it only has two official seasons: dry and wet. But it’s not really as simple as that—here’s a clearer breakdown:

Long dry season (June to October)

June to October tends to see the coolest temps, ranging from 68 to 77 °F (20–25 °C).

If you’re visiting during this time, be prepared for a passing rain shower or two, but you can mostly expect clear skies. Because of the lower temperatures and slightly weaker UV index (relative to other times of the year!), you can be out in the sun longer without needing to take cover.

Unsurprisingly, that makes it the most popular time to visit. It’s ideal for:

  • Beaches
  • Watersports, because the sea is typically calm
  • Jozani National Park
  • Snorkeling to see blacktip reef sharks, whale sharks on Mafia Island, humpback whales, eagle rays, green turtles and seahorses
  • Mainland safari trips—the Mara River crossing coincides nicely with the cooler months

Short rains (November to December)

As you roll into November and December, you'll be greeted by short bursts of rain, typically in the morning, but they don’t last long.

You can keep on with your adventures fairly undisturbed, but the heat and humidity tend to ramp up during these months. When the sun does shine (typically after lunch), it can be a lot stronger than the previous few months, so keep this in mind if you’re planning to visit the beach or tour the island.

The beaches should at least be quieter because this is the ‘off season’ for tourists.

Short dry season (January to February)

From January to February, the sun cranks it up a notch, bringing in those scorching, dry days, along with very high humidity.

The humidity and heat usually mean that visitors during this time of year don’t stray far from the shade. You can still plan to do outdoor activities, but just schedule breaks under cover during the hottest part of the day.

This time of year is ideal for snorkeling with manta rays, hammerhead sharks, green turtles and seahorses.

Long rains (March to May)

At this time of year, the beach lodges and resorts close, with heavy rains most afternoons and high humidity. There tend to be strong winds too, making some watersports tricky. It’s officially the ‘worst’ time to visit Zanzibar.

It means you’re probably not going to be able to bet on much beach time, but it likely won’t rain the whole time you’re visiting. That being said, it’s probably a better time to travel to the mainland (particularly the Serengeti), where you can take advantage of lower lodge costs and see more predators on the plains.

Pro tip: animals like white tip reef sharks, dolphins, and hawksbill turtles are in Zanzibar’s waters all year around.

Transportation

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The team boarding the plane from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam

How to get to Zanzibar

You can get to Zanzibar by sea or by air.

By air

Tanzania’s main airports all have flights to Zanzibar, plus there are non-stop flights from these major cities (as of May 2024):

  • Istanbul
  • Dubai
  • Zurich
  • Rome
  • Frankfurt

There are loads more flights from many other cities direct to Dar es Salaam (DAR), including from Paris and Amsterdam.

Here are the JFC stats for cheap flights to Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam we’ve seen from Europe, UK and the USA.

From Europe:

  • Dar es Salaam
    • Expected price: 300s-470s rtn
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 5-7
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: 240s rtn
  • Zanzibar:
    • Expected price: 350s-500s rtn
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 1-2
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: 290 rtn

From the UK:

  • Dar es Salaam:
    • Expected price: £450 rtn
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 6
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: £170s-£280s rtn
  • Zanzibar:
    • Expected price: £450 rtn
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 4
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: £310s-£380s rtn

From the USA:

  • Dar es Salaam:
    • Expected price: $780s-$790s RT
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 1-2
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: $580s-$590s RT
  • Zanzibar:
    • Expected price: $700+ RT
    • How many cheap flight alerts we’d expect in a year: 0-1
    • Lowest price we’ve ever seen: $590s RT

TLDR: while the price of flights to DAR vs. ZNZ can be similar, flights to Zanzibar don’t come up all that often in comparison to Dar es Salaam. This is especially true from certain departures, like Amsterdam where we see cheap flights to Dar es Salaam every 2–3 months, where we haven't seen Zanzibar go cheap in over 2 years.

Because of this, lots of travelers will arrive in Dar es Salaam and then take the 20-ish minute flight over to Zanzibar (ZNZ).

The route is covered by more than ten airlines, with Precision Air typically the cheapest, running daily for $35–$75/£28£60/€33€70 round trip. Here’s a list of the others:

  • Air Tanzania
  • Flight Link
  • As Salaam Air
  • Sky Shuttle
  • Coastal Aviation
  • Auric Air

Pro tip: some of these airlines that operate on this route don’t show up on Google Flights, but they are easy to find on Skyscanner.

The domestic and international terminals in Dar es Salaam are quite far apart—it’ll take around 40 minutes to walk between them.The roads also aren’t very pedestrian-friendly (you’ll be surrounded by motorcycles), so we’d recommend haggling for a taxi. It should cost around 10K TZS ($4/£3/€4) in cash, but we wished we’d shelled out rather than make the trek.

Flying around the area

In case you want to extend your trip and see other places in Africa while you’re visiting Zanzibar, these are the most common transport links to mainland Tanzania (other than Dar es Salaam):

  • Arusha/Mount Kilimanjaro (JRO): 1 flight a day in $150s-$200s/140s-190s/£120s-£160s rtn
  • Tanga (TGT): 1–2 flights a day in $300s/€280s/£240s rtn
  • Serengeti (Seronera Airport SEU): 3 flights a week (Mon, Thu and Sat) in $430s-$600/€400s-€550s/£340s-£480s rtn

There are also hubs within Africa, like Nairobi, Mombasa and Johannesburg where you can also pick up direct flights to Zanzibar.

You can also book a charter plane to take you between Zanzibar’s main islands, like Pemba Island and Mafia Island. The most popular is between Unguja Island and Pemba Island—a 30-minute journey that can cost around $250/€230/£200 rtn. This is the easiest way to get there if you’d prefer to skip the 4-hour ferry.

By sea

You can take the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Stone Town, which takes up to 2 hours and will cost around $70/£56/€65 round trip for non-residents. Getting to the ferry from the airport takes around 20-minutes in a taxi, which should cost around $15/£12/€14.

While plenty of people will be trying to sell ferry tickets outside the main ticket office, we recommend you buy them at the main ticket office or on the Azam Marine’s website.

Pro tip: Azam Marine is really responsive on Whatsapp—you change your ferry times by sending them a message, and since April 2024, passengers can actually book tickets this way, too.

This guide goes into detail about how to navigate the terminal, choose your seats and the ferry ride itself. When we arrived at Dar es Salaam ferry terminal, we also experienced the chaos described, with a crowd of people offering to help and trying to pick up our bags. If you don’t want help, it’s best just to say ‘hapana’ (no in Swahili) and keep walking.

At the time of writing (May 2024), there are four departures each day, with the latest at 4pm. If you’re prone to sea sickness, it’s probably best that you head out on an earlier ferry when the water is a bit calmer. Luckily, you can change your ferry if you ask before the scheduled departure time.

Getting around

Taxi

Taxis in Zanzibar are generally quite modern and air-conditioned, which makes them one of the most comfortable ways of getting around.

If you’re arriving at the ferry terminal, read up on how to choose your taxi or organise your trip to your hotel here. It’s easier to arrange a taxi driver with your hotel beforehand to skip having to ask around and haggle with the drivers as soon as you arrive.

Otherwise, here’s a quick price guide for a one-way trip from the ferry terminal: Stone Town ($10/€10/£8), Paje ($40-$60/€30-€55/£28-£50), Nungwi/Kendwa ($50-$60/€47-€55/£40-£50):

Or, from the airport: Stone Town ($20-$50/€20-€45/£15-£40), Paje ($30/€25/£20) and Nungwi/Kendwa ($35/€35/£30). All these prices are approximate as of May 2024.

With every taxi trip, agree on a price ahead of time. You’ll usually get the lowest rates if you haggle and pay in Tanzanian shillings. Drivers are often willing to wait hours for you while you enjoy yourself and take you back to the hotel, but be prepared to fork over some extra cash for the convenience.

Once you have a driver you like, keep their phone number and call them to schedule other trips throughout your visit.

Pro tip: Most restaurants and bars are happy to call a taxi for you as needed throughout your visit.

Ride-share apps

While Uber and Bolt are available on mainland Tanzania, there are no active ride-share apps on Zanzibar.

If you visit mainland Tanzania during your trip, Uber and Bolt are reportedly unreliable and drivers will often ask for extra cash on top of what the app will quote you, so it’s best to stick to licensed taxis regardless.

Renting a car

While you can rent a car, it’s not recommended for most people. You’ll need to get a local driving license first, and show this documentation at checkpoints. Between that, the chaotic roads, and the police checkpoints, we’d only recommend renting a car if you have a specific need for one.

Bus

Zanzibar doesn’t have the usual public buses you might expect; instead, they have privately owned minibusses named dala dalas. While they do have a set route, they don’t run on a schedule (instead, they leave when the bus is full), so it can be difficult to navigate without knowing how to speak Swahili. Tourists don’t tend to use them as a reliable mode of transport.

Some dala dala drivers will take advantage of tourists and charge more than they usually wouldyour ride should cost no more than $1/£1/€1.

Have a read through this dala dala bus guide so you know what to expect before hopping aboard. The ride will certainly be hot and crowded, but a chat with some friendly locals (and their chickens!) can be fun.

Traveling between islands

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A plane from Zanzibar to the safaris on the mainland

Zanzibar is actually an archipelago of islands. Unguja is the main island that’s commonly referred to as “Zanzibar”, and it’s where you’ll find ZNZ airport and the capital, Stone Town.

Here’s how you can move between the islands:

  • Pemba is the second-largest island, sitting just north of Unguja and reachable via a 30-minute flight, or by taking a 4-hour ferry ride. A one-way flight is $130/£100/€100, versus the $65 ferry, but keep in mind that the ferry only leaves on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and returns on Thursdays and Sundays.
  • Changuu (Prison Island) is a 25-minute ferry ride from Stone Town. The most common way to visit is on a day/half-day tour, which gives you time to swim or snorkel while you’re there. Tours include boat hire, snorkeling equipment and food (fruit/lunch), costing between $25–$65/£20–£51/€24–€61, depending on how long you’re out there.
  • Mafia Island is actually geographically closer to Dar es Salaam than other islands in the Zanzibar archipelago, and there’s no scheduled ferry or flight from Stone Town. Instead, it’s recommended you can fly or sail from the mainland.

    Pro tip: It’s better to book an organized tour to Prison Island in advance—while it might be tempting to negotiate a private charter with locals on the beach in Stone Town, these types of trips aren’t regulated. The boat may be unsafe, or you may be overcharged.

    Internet and cell service

    Wi-Fi and cell service are generally reliable and fastest within Stone Town, where most locals actually live and work.

    Cell service and mobile data

    The main cell service providers are Airtel and tiGothese are more likely to have coverage around the island than others like Vodacomm or Halotel.

    In most places, you’ll get 3G coverage (with some connection losses, depending on where you are). You might occasionally have a 4G or even 5G connection, but it’ll be unreliable.

    This blog post will give you a good understanding about coverage and what you can expect from each plan if you intend to work remotely in Zanzibar.

    Physical SIM card

    You can buy a physical SIM card at the airport when you arrive, but it’ll be at a premium. Instead, it’s a better idea to wait until you find a street vendor in one of many touristy spots, like outside Darajani Market in Stone Town. Even though it might not look it, they are official providers who can take you through the registration process quickly, and it’ll likely be cheaper than even the brick-and-mortar phone shops.

    eSims

    If your phone supports it, you can also buy an eSIM. Companies like Airalo sell pre-paid data plans, and you can get connected before you arrive.

    Wi-Fi

    Hotels will have a better Wi-Fi connection than any restaurant or café in terms of internet speed and stability. Access will vary depending how nice the hotel is and just how isolated you are from the rest of the island. Think of it this way: the more beautiful and remote the beach, the less chance you’ll be boasting about it live on the socials.

    Remote working from Zanzibar

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    The pool at Hotel Matemwe

    While digital nomading is definitely possible in Zanzibar, speeds only reach up to 1520mb download/8mb upload.

    Even the newest hotels near popular places like Nungwi will have slower connections than you’d expect. It should still be enough for basic emailing and messaging, but probably not enough for video calls. Hyatt Stone Town is the most reliable for working remotely. You can also buy portable routers that have Wi-Fi once you arrive on the island, but those will be significantly slower than phone data or whatever Wi-Fi exists in your hotel.

    Pro tip: Always remember to check your existing phone plan to see if they give you any kind of coverage in Tanzania or Zanzibar before spending money on an international package that might not be necessary.

    Experience Level

    We’ve rated travel to Zanzibar as a 2 out of 3 difficulty in terms of safety and required travel-experience. In general, it is relatively safe, although there have been some issues for solo women and LGBT+ travelers—read on to find out more.

    Getting by

    Although English is widely spoken across the island, we recommend learning a few basic Swahili words, such as:

    • Hakuna Matata - No worries
    • Jambo - Hello
    • Hapana Asante - No, thank you
    • Pole pole - Slowly, slowly

    Hassle

    You’ll likely be offered help in exchange for tips which can feel insistent or, at times, aggressive. The best way to decline is with a polite yet firm “hapana asante” or just “hapana”. If you would appreciate the help, it’s expected you’ll show your thanks with a couple of dollars.

    You can expect to encounter this in the airport and ferry terminals, in taxis, on public beaches, and in other touristy areas in Stone Town.

    Is Zanzibar safe?

    Petty theft is the most common crime, so be alert and don’t carry too much cash, or wear anything flashy. Don’t wander down dimly lit roads after dark, as tourists have been targeted in the street at night—instead, take a taxi.

    When we visited, we also felt similarly intimidated by persistent beach sellers, which has been reported by solo female travelers. But, in general, we felt safe to walk around during the day and didn’t have a bad experience when interacting with locals.

    When I visited, I didn’t experience anything that made me feel particularly unsafe. I wore swimwear, shorts, and vests on the beaches, but wouldn’t recommend wearing anything too revealing otherwise. At night, I carried a personal alarm with me. If I were to return solo, I would definitely feel a little more cautious and would probably avoid travelling after dark at all” - Flight Finder Lauren

    If you’re part of the LGBT+ community, it’s worth noting that some travelers have reported feeling uneasy during their trip to Zanzibar. hom*osexuality is illegal in Tanzania, but it’s unlikely to really affect you as a visitor. But, there have been very rare instances of tourists being targeted and deported.

    Also worth noting:

    • Road safety can also be sketchy—it’s common to see missing seat belts, people hanging off moving trucks and scooters using the sidewalk as a road.
    • Electrical black-outs happen regularly across the island.
    • It’s worth double-checking your hotel has mosquito nets over your bed to protect against malaria.

    Area Guides

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    Paje Beach

    Unguja

    North Coast—Nungwi and Kendwa. You’ll find lots of hotels, restaurants in these two popular tourist towns, with miles of beaches in between (scroll down to the Beaches section below to read more).

    Nungwi is a solid all-rounder option, but does attract a lot of tourists. You’ll be able to lay on the beach, organize your watersports/activities and enjoy your all-inclusive resort, but the town is overdeveloped. It’s also one of the best places to see the sunset.

    Kendwa has lots of resorts and a beautiful beach (and practically no change in tides, letting you swim all day), but some travelers report that there isn’t as much to do there as there is in Nungwi. It's become famous for its monthly ‘Full Moon party’.

    East Coast—Paje, Jambiani, Jozani Forest and Mnemba Island. This side of the island is ideal if you prefer a little more nature without going completely off-grid. Strong offshore winds and shallow waves make it perfect for kite surfing. Just remember to keep an eye on the tide timesbecause these will limit the hours you can swim.

    Paje is also a great base to explore the nearby Jozani Forest (learn more in the Safari section below) and Bill Gates-owned Mnemba Island, which sits just off the coast. Not to mention, you're in easy reach of the iconic Rock Restaurant. Just remember to book ahead, as it’s on most tourists’ to-do list.

    Pro tip: while you can’t actually step foot on Mnemba Island (unless you fork out for a very pricey reservation to stay at the hotel), many boat tours stop nearby where you can swim, snorkel and dive—usually starting from around $40/£30/€35 for a half-day tour.

    South CoastDimbani, Kizimkazi, Mtende Beach. If you're hoping to leave the crowds and tour-selling ‘beach boys’ behind, the South is where you want to head. With a distinctly more rural feel, it’s more peaceful and better for anyone who wants a bit more privacy.

    The hotel options are limited, mostly consisting of boutique villas and beachfront bungalows. Some of the nearest places to day-trip offer an equally remote feel, like mangrove-covered Uzi Island to the south-west and the tranquil Kuza Cave towards the south-east.

    West CoastStone Town. Whether you arrive by sea or by plane, you will inevitably pass through the capital, Stone Town.

    It’s home to historic sights such as the Old Slave Market, the Hamamni Persian Baths and Freddie Mercury’s childhood home.

    If you’ve got time, spend a day or two in Stone Town before you head to the beaches. Alongside the usual tourist hotspots, keep your eyes on the architecturethe unique doorways, for example, reflect the island’s blend of African, Indian and Arabic influence.

    There are plenty of affordable hotel options there, and easy transport links to the airport, nearby beaches, and spice farms.

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    Mnemba Island

    Zanzibar's other islands

    Pemba—Unguja’s sister island is known as the ‘little sister’, and visitors often describe it as what Zanzibar Island was 10-20 years ago, before mass tourism hit. So, that means the all-inclusive resorts are switched for rustic bungalows and small villages, and you might be one of only a few other tourists on the beach.

    It’s also known for its diving, which is classified as a little more ‘wild’ than what you can find off Unguja, with fewer tourists meaning the marine life is healthier, with corals in better condition. This does mean that there are fewer dive shops around, but the main hotels will be able to point you in the right direction.

    Most hotels you’ll want to stay in are in the far north of the island, which you can only get to by taxi or dala dala bus.

    Changuu (Prison Island)—A day-trip from Stone Town, Changuu is the spot to hang out with giant tortoises and learn more about the history of the archipelago.

    You can visit the old prison ruins, where enslaved people were held during the slave trade. The island has also been a quarantine station before it was turned into a holiday spot.

    Most visitors don’t stay overnight since it’s a small island, and as a result there are limited hotel options (which can be pricey!). The beaches and swimming are typically better on one of the other islands, too.

    Mafia Island—the marine park (Utende) at Mafia Island is known for one thing: whale sharks. Mafia Island is well-known as being the best spot across the whole Zanzibar archipelago for divers, with unbleached coral and crystal-clear waters, with the possibility of swimming with the gentle giants giving it the edge over Pemba.

    Similarly to Pemba, you won’t find many 5-star, all inclusive resorts. Small guesthouses, more locals than tourists and a similarly laid-back attitude. Hiring a tuk tuk is the best way to get around the island.

    Keep in mind that there aren't any scheduled flights or ferries from Stone Town to Mafia Island—you’ll need to go straight from the mainland (Dar es Salaam).

    Beaches

    You’ll probably want to visit at least one beach during your visit. They’re easy-to-reach by taxi (and some can even be reached by dala dala, if you’re brave), and unlike beaches in other parts of the world, they’re all public land. That means you can lay your towel wherever you like.

    If you’d like to level up with an umbrella and chairs, you’ll have to pay a rental fee. Some restaurantslike Essence in Kendwawill let you use their facilities if you have lunch with them.

    Need to know:

    • Avoid a lunchtime dip (12pm–3pm) if you don’t plan to rent an umbrellathe sun is very strong, and it’s difficult to find shade.
    • Bring your own garbage bag and dispose of it at your hotel, as it’s rare to find bins on the beach.
    • Remember to cover up when outside the beach/touristy areas.
    • Some beaches are stony, so it’s a good idea to pack water shoes.

    Nungwi

    • Location: Northern tip of the Island
    • Activities: Dhow-building, fishing, sunset watching, partying
    • Need to know: This is the most popular beach on the island, so it’s relatively crowded, and you’ll be approached by beach boys selling their wares. But the tides are flat and calm, meaning you can swim throughout the day.

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (9)

    A restaurant on the water in Nungwi

    Kendwa

    • Location: Northern tip of the Island
    • Activities: Watersports, horseback riding, sunset watching
    • Need to know: Less touristy than Nungwi with a more laid-back vibe. Good for families, since the tides aren’t strong here either.

    Paje

    • Location: Southeastern coast
    • Activities: Kitesurfing (both beginners and advanced), walking, swimming
    • Need to know: This side of the island is impacted by the tides, so the sea level is not constant. You may have to walk out over half a mile (1 km) or so to reach calf-height water when the tide is low, and we suggest bringing water shoes to protect you from sea urchins and crabs.

    Jambiani

    • Location: Southeastern coast
    • Activities: Kitesurfing, diving in nearby coral reefs, swimming, walking
    • Need to know: Less touristy than Paje, you’ll find cheaper hotels and restaurants, but with similar beaches, also impacted by the tides.

    Matemwe

    • Location: Northeastern coast
    • Activities: Snorkeling excursions to Mnemba Atoll and mangrove forests
    • Need to know: Has a strategic location close to the party scene, but on the quieter (and cheaper!) side of the island.

    Watersports

    In Zanzibar, you’re able to try your hand at several types of watersports.

    You can pay for equipment hire, lessons, or a tour straight on the beach, especially in more popular areas like Paje & Nungwi. That being said, providers may not include rental insurance with your purchase, so you’ll want to opt into it when you choose your travel insurance.

    Pro tip: Many companies offer the same activities, so it’s worth shopping around and haggling down the initial price you’re quoted. Try asking your hotel if they recommend a particular provider, since you may be able to get a discount on lessons through them.

    Types of watersports

    Kite surfing

    Paje is undeniably the hot spot for kiting in Zanzibar, with dozens of centers dotted along the beach. December to March and June to October are the best times of year to give it a go here.

    You’re able to kite surf in Zanzibar without any prior experience, but don’t expect to become an expert after one day. The average learner needs at least 9–12 hours of lessons to be able to confidently go it alone.

    Check out the wind forecast on Windguru a couple of days before you plan to kite surf.

    Snorkeling/diving

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (10)

    Unguja, Paje and Mafia Island have some of the best diving in the world. There are over 30 different dive sites across the archipelago, with lots of options for beginners and pro divers.

    For beginners:

    • Unguja inner reef: the inner reef circles the island, with popular spots at Kendwa and Nungwi for beginner divers or if you just want to take things easy.
    • Kizimkazi Reef: One of the best coral gardens off the island, it’s on the southwestern tip of Unguja.

    For experienced divers:

    • Leven Bank: North of Unguja, this bank is over 100 ft (30 m) deep, with super-clear water thanks to strong currents.
    • Mapinduzi Reef: Located off Pemba Island and similarly deep as Levan Bank, this reef is prone to unpredictable currents but you’ll be able to see groupers, barracuda and even a hammerhead shark (if you’re lucky!).

    Other great diving sites include Coral Mountain, Wattabomi, Mafia Island, Nankivell and Hunga Reef.

    If you’re keen on getting open-water certified, PADI courses are available, with multiple diving companies on the island running the 2-day certification.

    Jet skiing

    Jet skiing is pretty popular around Nungwi and Kendwa. Tours can last anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours, with longer tours often available if you want to jet over to Tumbatu (known for its seclusion and witchcraft) or other remote islands.

    Some tour providers will include pick up/drop off from your hotel to the beach, as well as food and drinks while you’re on your tour.

    Stand-up paddleboarding

    You’ll find a lot of SUP rentals and guided tours on the island with something for everyone,, even if you're not a pro. You can go through mangroves, along the coast, or even to some of the smaller islands around Zanzibar.

    Some of the top spots include Nungwi, Paje, and the Michamvi Peninsulajust don’t let the monkeys distract you in the mangroves of Chwaka Bay!

    Dhow sailing

    Dhows are traditional wooden sailing vessels originally used by Arab traders. A dhow cruise can vary from a few hours to a full day, depending on what you’re looking for:

    • Sunset cruises: Typically last for 2–3 hours. You’ll usually be offered light snacks and live Swahili music.
    • Snorkeling cruises: These are longer, typically half a day, and include stops at coral reefs for snorkeling. You’ll be given equipment and your guides can help you spot and identify different fish.
    • Sandbank picnics: These are full-day excursions that include stops at sandbanks for swimming, snorkeling, and enjoying a picnic or barbecue.

    FYI, dhow cruises aren’t fully accessible because you may have to wade through water/climb up rocks to get to the ship, and sometimes use a ladder to board.

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (11)

    Dhows on Kiwengwa Beach

    Safari

    While you won’t find any safaris on Zanzibar’s islands, you can take a short detour over to mainland Tanzania and join a safari there.

    The parks in the north, such as The Serengeti and The Ngorongoro Crater, are well-known for the ‘Big Five’. But the parks in the south are a lot more accessible from Zanzibar via ferry or plane, and they still offer the chance of glimpsing all your favorite animals.

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (12)

    The team on safari

    Closest parks to Zanzibar

    • Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve): One of the largest game reserves in Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
      • Known for: vast savannas, woodlands, the Rufiji River, hippos and crocodiles.
      • Types of safaris: boat safaris, walking safaris, and game drives (a good option if you don’t feel like being stuck in a jeep for the whole trip.)
    • Mikumi National Park: This is the closest (and most easily accessible) park to Dar es Salaam.
      • Known for: open grasslands, acacia woodlands, elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, birds.
      • Types of safaris: most of your tour options here will involve game drives.
    • Ruaha National Park: This is Tanzania's largest national park, accessible from air strips close to the park (or, it’s a 9+ hour drive from Dar es Salaam.
      • Known for: large elephant population, rugged terrain, baobab trees and the Great Ruaha River.
      • Types of safaris: game drives, walking safaris, and birdwatching.

    If you’re short on time, check to see if you can fly into the park directly from Zanzibar. Prices definitely vary, but for flights and a 1-day safari to Nyerere National Park, you can expect to pay between $440$565/£350£450/€410525 (May 2024).

    Booking and prices

    When organizing your safari, this website is a good place to start because you can tailor your search to suit your budget. We used this site to find our provider, and then we emailed them directly to negotiate a discount from what was initially listed on the website.

    We ended up taking a 3-day safari tour to Nyerere National Park from Dar es Salaam Airport, and it cost around $390/£310/€362 per person (in January 2024).

    Where to see wild animals on Zanzibar

    A visit Jozani Forest is the best place to get your animal fix in Zanzibar. This National Park is home to around 5,000 red colobus monkeys, antelopes, and lots of reptiles.

    Located in the south of Unguja, you can get there from Paje and Stone Town. You’ll find most hotels offer organized tours, and you can try to negotiate a little discount if you're a larger group.

    You can’t go into Jozani without a guide, but you can just show up and the park staff will set you up with a tour, covered by your entry fee. Visit during the dry season to avoid the heavy rains and mud (since you’ll be going by foot).

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (13)

    The team and their safari guide, outside Nyerere National Park

    Spice Farms

    You’ll see that spice farms come up very quickly when you start researching things to do in Zanzibar. The spice trade started in the 8th century and over time, the islands have been famous for exporting spices like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. In the past few decades, the farms have been running tours for visitors.

    These plantations are outside Stone Town and along the West Coast, and tours can last between 2 hours and half a day. Most tours are very similar: you’ll be taken around a farm to learn about the fruits and spices that are grown locally, with plenty of samples to eat and lunch included (which you can sometimes help cook yourself).

    As spice farm tours are heavily marketed to tourists, the workers will probably put on a ‘show’ of singing, dancing and/or having crowns and necklaces made of leaves made for you. Also, most tours are only operated in certain parts of the farm, away from the commercial or working areas. Some travelers have felt disappointed and like they didn’t have an ‘authentic’ experience because of it.

    Organizing your tour

    You can either book your spot on an organized tour, or you can organize a visit yourself.

    If you book an organized tour, it’ll be a little pricier and you’ll probably be in a large group, but transport to/from the farm is usually included in the price. The popular ones do sell out, so you’ll need to book in advance.

    To arrange your own visit, you can contact the farm directly (typically via WhatsApp) and negotiate a price for your group. You’ll have to make your own way to/from the farm, but you can often get a cheaper price overall.

    Depending on the farm you choose to visit, you may be asked to tip your guides more than once throughout your tour (usually there are multiple workers showing you different parts of the farm, so this can get pricey). The farms where this is expected are nicknamed ‘tip farms’, so double-check reviews before you book to avoid these.

    Don’t feel pressured to buy spices at the end of your spice tourin general, you can find the same spices a lot cheaper in Stone Town.

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (14)

    The team on a spice farm tour

    Food

    Since Zanzibar’s trade winds have long carried spices like cumin, coriander, and cardamom to its shores, it’s no surprise that their local cuisine is packed with flavor.

    You’ll get a glimpse into the cultivation and harvesting of the island’s coveted spices by touring a spice farm, but you don’t want to miss out on other local delicacies either.

    Here are the top 4 dishes to try:

    • Urojo (Zanzibar Mix): this eclectic stew is a staple and the most popular street food among locals in Zanzibar. A mix of Swahili and Indian flavors, with boiled potatoes, crispy chickpea noodles, grilled mutton or beef, and boiled egg, in a simmering stock of turmeric, mango, and a heap of top-secret spices.
    • Zanzibar pizza: what starts as a run-of-the-mill pizza with crispy dough, meat, onions, peppers, and cheese gets unique fast. Zanzi pizza throws in a handful of mango, swaps out the sauce for a dollop of mayo, and adds chili sauce before flipping, frying, and slicing into bite-sized squares. More adventurous eaters can try versions with toppings like squid and Nutella.
    • Mandazi: deep-fried dough with cardamom, coconut, and vanilla, perfect to dip into coffee.
    • Octopus: on skewers, in coconut curry, or straight off the grill, Zanzibar’s octopus is famous. While tasty, it’s also loved for its supposed medicinal powers.

    In Stone Town, Lukmaan restaurant is a firm favorite serving massive portions of biryani, mandazis, curry, and fried-fish. There’s no menu, you just point and pay!

    Forodhani’s nightly food market is where you can find vendors on the waterfront at sunset and cook up an impressive array of cuisine. Sure, the falafel is superb, and yes, the mishkaki skewers are probably as big as your head, but it’s the atmosphere that you’ll love the most.

    Pro tip: Your hotel will likely have a restaurant if you’d rather not go far, but we weren’t super impressed with the food at our hotels. It’ll be decent, but for a taste of local food, you’ll be better off branching out.

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (15)

    The view from a restaurant in Nungwi

    Events

    Zanzibar’s annual events are a mix of religious holidays, cultural festivals, and sporting events. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular:

    • Eid-al-Fitr & Eid-al-Adha: The two major Islamic holidays are celebrated in Zanzibar, with the main celebrations taking place in Stone Town. Join Eid al-Fitr celebrations by dressing up and mingling around Forodhani Park.
    • Sauti za Busara: A massive mid-February music festival at the Old Fort in Stone Town, featuring artists from around the continent, with a special emphasis on Tanzanian music.
    • Zanzibar International Film Festival: Occurs in June or July, ZIFF is the biggest film event in East Africa and showcases majority African filmmakers in Stone Town and rural villages.
    • Mwaka Kogwa: Also called Shirazi New Year, it takes place in late July in the town of Makunduchi in the south. Merging Islamic and Zoastrian culture, this celebration sees men fight using banana sticks to get out the year’s aggression, while women dress up and taunt them.
    • Kizimkazi: Welcomes both locals and visitors for arts, crafts and musical performances in the village of the same name to the south of Stone Town. It’s held in the latter half of the year.
    • Seafood Festival: Despite the name, this June party is actually a music festival focusing on modern day African Music. It happens on Kendwa Beach on the north shore of the island.

    Have you visited Zanzibar? Share your tips with us!

    Zanzibar travel guide - Jack's Flight Club (2024)

    FAQs

    How many days are enough for Zanzibar? ›

    As a leading tours & activities operator company in Zanzibar, we have come up with the final conclusion that 7 days (Week) is enough to get the most of Zanzibar. We have prepared our best 7 days itinerary which you can check here. This is a perfect plan which you can start with.

    Is Zanzibar expensive? ›

    Within Africa, Zanzibar is a reasonably affordable destination compared to other places. It is in the top 25% of cities in Africa for its affordability. You can find more affordable cities such as Dahab, but there are also more expensive cities, such as Dar es Salaam.

    How long does it take from Zanzibar to Tanzania? ›

    The best way to get from Zanzibar Island to Tanzania without a car is to ferry which takes 1h 48m and costs $35 - $100. How long does it take to get from Zanzibar Island to Tanzania? It takes approximately 26 min to get from Zanzibar Island to Tanzania, including transfers.

    Which airlines fly to Zanzibar? ›

    Airlines that fly to Zanzibar
    • Ethiopian Airlines.
    • Emirates.
    • Turkish Airlines.
    • Qatar Airways.
    • Kenya Airways.
    • KLM.
    • Air France.
    • British Airways.

    Which part of Zanzibar is best to stay in? ›

    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.

    What is the cheapest month to go Zanzibar? ›

    The best time to nip over to Zanzibar City is usually from June to October. During these months, you can expect temperatures to be a bit cooler, ranging from 22°C to 27°C. If you prefer fewer crowds or want to save some money, consider popping over during the low season from March to May.

    Do you need to take malaria tablets for Zanzibar? ›

    Malaria is a risk in Tanzania. Fill your malaria prescription before you leave and take enough with you for the entire length of your trip. Follow your doctor's instructions for taking the pills; some need to be started before you leave.

    How safe is Zanzibar for tourists? ›

    Zanzibar is very safe for travellers from all over the world to visit. The gorgeous, paradisical island offers the best beaches in Tanzania, luxury accommodation, a vibrant historic centre, and a truly relaxing getaway in a temperate climate.

    Is Zanzibar cheaper than Maldives? ›

    Tourists and locals intermingle throughout the island, so a Zanzibar holiday will be more of a cultural and local experience than one in the Maldives. And much cheaper too!

    How long is flight from US to Zanzibar? ›

    There are 11 airlines that fly from the United States to Zanzibar. The most popular route is from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar City. On average, this one-way flight takes 20 hours 58 minutes and costs $1,872 round trip.

    What is the best time to visit Zanzibar? ›

    The best time to visit Zanzibar is during the archipelago's dry season, from July to September, which is a very popular time to travel. However, it's worthwhile travelling at most times of year, with balmy temperatures between 28°C and 34°C and sunshine the norm.

    Can you do a safari from Zanzibar? ›

    3 days Serengeti Safari from Zanzibar

    This 3 days Serengeti safari takes you from the beautiful island of Zanzibar to to the most famous and best national park in Tanzania and Africa at large. We include return flights from Zanzibar to Seronera Airstrip in the heart of Serengeti and back to Zanzibar Island.

    What is the cheapest time of the year to go to Zanzibar? ›

    The winter months (June to October) are also a great time to visit if you want to enjoy balmy temperatures and experience the bustling holiday atmosphere. These months also offer excellent conditions for scuba diving. For cheap flights to Zanzibar, the best time to visit is from March to May.

    Is Zanzibar worth it? ›

    If you relish the idea of a tropical beach vacation with miles of endless white sand, warm inviting ocean waters, relatively affordable accommodation and food, a diverse culture and great weather, then the answer to “Is Zanzibar worth visiting” is overwhelmingly YES!

    How much is a plane ticket to Zanzibar? ›

    How much are return flights to Zanzibar? The best price we found for a return flight to Zanzibar is R 3,188. This is an estimate based on information collected from different airlines and travel providers over the last 4 days and is subject to change and availability.

    Is 3 nights enough in Zanzibar? ›

    Zanzibar has a lot of activities to do, from Snorkeling, Skydiving, Scuba diving, Quad bike Tours, and so on. But when you want to get something which is unique for Zanzibar, 3 days might be pretty enough.

    How many days do you need for safari and Zanzibar? ›

    PLANNING YOUR TANZANIA SAFARI TRIP

    If you only have three days, you should fly into Zanzibar for beach time and watersports, with the added bonus of cultural exploration in Stone Town. Zanzibar is the ideal complement to a seven-day (or longer) safari trip.

    How many days do you need in Tanzania and Zanzibar? ›

    Recommended Duration for Zanzibar is:

    4-6 nights, If you want to relax at beach + explore cultural tours at stonetown. 5-9 nights, If you want to relax at beach + explore cultural tours at stonetown + engage in waterbased tours like scuba diving, snorkerling, sea excursions, etc.

    Is 2 days enough in Zanzibar? ›

    two days might be good enough for Zanzibar beach holiday But when you want to get something that is unique to Zanzibar, as it has a lot of activities to do, from snorkeling, skydiving, scuba diving, quad bike tours, and so on.

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