There are countless incredible places to see and things to do in Zanzibar, Tanzania! We spent a week exploring the island, from the enchanting historical allure of Stone Town to the untouched beauty of pristine beaches and the vibrant underwater tapestry of marine life, our time in Zanzibar was nothing short of a dream trip.
Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It’s an archipelago that consists of several islands, with the two main ones being Zanzibar Island and Pemba. We didn’t have time to visit Pemba on this trip, but we heard great things about it. If you have more than 1 week, you can definitely fit in a visit to both islands!
The island of Zanzibar is known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty. It’s a perfect destination for anyone seeking a mix of historical exploration, relaxation on pristine beaches, and immersion in the island’s unique culture.
Climate and Weather
Zanzibar has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures throughout the year. The climate is divided into two main seasons:
Dry Season (June to October):
- This period is considered the best time to visit Zanzibar.
- Expect warm and dry weather with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F).
- The skies are clear, making it ideal for outdoor activities and beach lounging.
We visited during July and had great weather! A mix of sunshine and light clouds, with a little bit of rain one afternoon. The temperatures were perfect too!
Wet Season (November to May):
- This season is characterized by the “short rains” from November to December and the “long rains” from March to May.
- Humidity is higher, and temperatures can reach around 30°C (86°F).
- If you’re looking to save some money on your trip, visit in November or December during the wet season. Rain showers are common, but they are usually short-lived, and the landscape becomes lush and green.
Stone Town is the cultural and historical heart of Zanzibar. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located on the western coast of the island.
This town is a living testament to the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Zanzibar over the centuries. With a history rooted in the Indian Ocean trade, the town has been influenced by Arab, Persian, Indian, and European cultures. The architecture, narrow winding streets, and historic buildings reflect this rich tapestry of influences.
There is a lot to see and do in Stone Town, so I recommend staying for at least 3 days. We stayed for 2 days and found ourselves busy the whole time. From exploring the winding streets and markets to trying local foods and so much more.
Make to head down to the sunset jump spot, to catch some locals doing dives and flips off the pier! There’s a big crowd every evening and it’s super fun to watch. We went both evenings, but the second night we were hungry and decided to head to Cape Town Fish Market. We grabbed a table on the side of the restaurant and watched the “show” from there!
Do not miss a stop at Secret Garden Restaurant located in Emerson Spice Hotel. It is the perfect place to cool down on a hot day.
#2 – Take a sunset dhow boat cruise
Taking a dhow boat tour a must on your things to do in Zanzibar list!
Dhows are traditional wooden sailboats that have been used for centuries in the Indian Ocean region. They typically feature a distinctive lateen sail, and their elegant designs have stood the test of time. Boarding a dhow instantly transports you to a bygone era, providing a genuine maritime experience.
Dhow boat tours in Zanzibar offer various options, including sunset cruises and daytime excursions. Sunset tours are particularly popular, because they provide a romantic and picturesque setting as the sun sets. Day tours often include visits to scenic spots, snorkeling opportunities, and glimpses of marine life.
We opted for the sunset cruise (organized by our hotel) and it was one of the most stunning experiences we’ve ever had!
#3 – Snorkel at Mnemba Atoll
Mnemba Atoll is a marine conservation area off the northeast coast of Zanzibar. The atoll is renowned for its vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life. Snorkeling around Mnemba Atoll from a boat allows you to explore the underwater wonders of Zanzibar’s crystal-clear waters.
We set off around noon on a speedboat to go to Mnemba Atoll. The tour was set up by our hotel and included transportation, the boat tour, and stops at a few other beaches. Most hotels are able to set up customized tours for you depending on where you want to go. Our full day tour cost around $60/per person.
The snorkeling at Mnemba was picture perfect – like diving in an aquarium! We felt it was 100% worth the visit. We were unaware of this when we visited, but although there is a beach and hotel on Mnemba Island, you cannot walk around on the island. It is private for hotel guests only.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Mnemba Island
Many of these tours to Mnemba Island offer swimming with dolphins as well. We heard some bad things about it and we decided that we would only swim with the dolphins if there weren’t tons of other boats there.
By the time we arrived to the area where the dolphins were playing, there were only 5 other small boats, so we decided to jump in and swim with them. It was honestly one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. They were super playful with us, probably because there weren’t a lot of other people around. I fogged up my mask from crying tears of joy (haha).
If you’re visiting during high season, you may see 50+ boats there at the same time. If this is the case, I DO NOT recommend jumping in the water with the dolphins or encouraging your boat driver to chase them. This causes the dolphins a lot of distress when they are surrounded by hundreds of tourists and have numerous boats chasing them around.
If you want to swim with the dolphins, please consider a visit during off-season or on a rainy afternoon when there are very few boats going out.
#4 – Shop in Darajani Market
Darajani Market is a bustling and historic marketplace located in the heart of Stone Town. It’s a sensory-rich haven, offering an authentic glimpse into the daily life, cultural diversity, and culinary wonders of Zanzibar.
The market is a treasure trove of goods, offering a wide variety of products ranging from fresh produce and spices to textiles and handmade crafts. Numerous stalls offer local snacks, street food, and refreshing beverages, allowing visitors to indulge in Zanzibar’s culinary delights amid the market’s vibrant atmosphere.
It’s the perfect place to find some unique souvenirs! If our suitcases weren’t already full, we would have definitely bought even more from this market.
Bargaining is a common practice in Darajani Market. While prices may be initially quoted higher, negotiating in a friendly manner is part of the local shopping culture. It’s an opportunity for visitors to interact with sellers and secure a fair deal.
#5 – Take a spice tour
Embarking on a Spice Tour in Zanzibar is a captivating experience that unveils the secrets of the island’s renowned spice industry. As you venture into the lush and aromatic spice plantations, the air becomes infused with the heady scents of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, and an array of other exotic spices.
Knowledgeable guides lead the way, unraveling the historical, cultural, and culinary significance of each spice, creating an immersive journey that engages all the senses. The tour offers a hands-on exploration of spice cultivation, from witnessing the delicate process of clove harvesting to discovering the intricacies of spice processing.
Visitors have the opportunity to touch the leaves, smell the fragrant spices, and taste the fresh fruits plucked directly from the trees.
Some tours may even include visits to local spice markets in Stone Town, where the spices grown on the plantations find their way into the vibrant tapestry of Zanzibari cuisine, offering travelers a holistic understanding of the island’s flavorful heritage.
#6 – Enjoy the views from a beachfront hotel
Taking in the views from a beachfront hotel in Zanzibar is like stepping into a real-life postcard. The beachfront vistas are nothing short of mesmerizing.
The white, powdery sand stretches out before you, inviting leisurely strolls along the water’s edge. Palm trees sway gently in the breeze, framing the view like nature’s own picture frame. As the day transitions into evening, the sky comes alive with a breathtaking display of colors, turning the oceanfront into a canvas of pinks and purples.
Both hotels we stayed at were located directly on the beach. I highly recommend a stay at either Baladin Zanzibar or Bamboo Zanzibar Design Hotel. Our room at Bamboo Zanzibar was our favorite place we stayed on our entire trip to Tanzania!
If you want to splurge on a room with an INCREDIBLE view and private pool, book the ocean view suite with a private plunge pool at Bamboo Zanzibar. Prices start from $430/night.
#7 – Horseback riding on the beach
Embarking on a horseback riding adventure along the pristine beaches of Zanzibar is a truly magical experience. The expansive stretches of white sand extend as far as the eye can see, bordered by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and swaying palm trees on the other.
Horseback riding in Zanzibar offers a unique perspective of the island’s beauty, allowing you to explore areas that might be otherwise inaccessible. You can find tours for every level from beginner to advanced.
While we were planning to do a horseback riding tour on our trip, we unfortunately ran out of time. We will definitely be doing this next time! The company we found with the best reviews was Zanzibar Horse Club. They offer tours for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders. Prices start from $65.
#8 – Go clear kayaking
Clear kayaking is one of our favorite things to do in Zanzibar! Embark on an aquatic journey that combines the thrill of kayaking with the enchanting underwater world of the Indian Ocean.
Gliding atop the crystal-clear waters, peering through the transparent hull of our kayak to witness vibrant coral reefs and tropical fish is an amazing experience! The color of the water is next-level, with countless shades of blue.
It didn’t just feel like a kayaking excursion, but a unique opportunity to seamlessly merge above-water exploration with the wonders of the ocean’s depths. If you’re staying on a beachfront hotel, many of them offer clear kayak rentals for $10-$15/hour.
Both hotels mentioned above, Bamboo Zanzibar and Baladin Zanzibar, offer clear kayaking experiences. Just reserve your time with the front desk, pay your hourly fee, and you’re off on an adventure!
#9 – Explore Jozani Forest
Jozani Forest, is a unique and ecologically significant area located in the central-eastern region of Zanzibar. Spread across approximately 50 square kilometers, this national park is known for its rich biodiversity, unique flora and fauna, and its role in the conservation of the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkey – a primate species found only on the Zanzibar archipelago.
You can also expect to see Sykes monkeys, bushbabies, and many different types of birds, as well as, ferns, tropical flowers, and indigenous plant species. Visitors can explore Jozani Forest through well-maintained walkways and trails.
Guided tours are available, providing informative insights into the forest’s ecology, the significance of the red colobus monkeys, and the broader conservation efforts in place.
#10 – Chill out on Nungwi Beach
Nungwi Beach, loacted on the northern tip of Zanzibar, captivates visitors with its pristine white sands, turquoise waters, and vibrant local atmosphere. This idyllic stretch of coastline, known for its stunning sunsets and laid-back ambiance, has earned its reputation as one of the most popular and picturesque beaches on the island.
The beach is a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure. Sun-seekers can unwind on the soft sands, basking in the warm African sun, while the crystal-clear waters invite swimmers and snorkelers to explore the rich marine life.
Nungwi is also famous for its traditional wooden dhow boats, adding a touch of local charm to the seascape. The beach is a hub of activity, with fishermen bringing in their catches of the day and beach vendors offering an array of handmade crafts and local snacks.
As the day transitions into evening, Nungwi Beach transforms into a lively social hub and the beachfront comes alive with beach parties, bonfires, and the rhythmic beats of local music. Visitors can indulge in fresh seafood at beachside restaurants, savoring the flavors of Zanzibari cuisine while enjoying the serene sound of waves crashing against the shore.
If you’re looking for great views and delicious cocktails, head to Mama Mia restaurant! If you’re there at the right time, you can even watch live acrobatic performances on the beach. We absolutely loved this Nungwi Beach (even though it’s quite touristy), and would recommend staying here for a night or two.
#11 – Swim in Kuza Cave
Kuza Cave is a hidden oasis catering to snorkelers, divers, and nature enthusiasts, located in Jambiani. Concealed within a small jungle, this 50-meter round sinkhole becomes accessible by crossing a bridge and descending a staircase, revealing an enchanting crystal-clear pool.
An adventure to Kuza Cave is suitable for anyone with a general fitness level. This cool water oasis offers a revitalizing escape, perfect for cooling off on hot and humid days.
Make sure to keep an eye out for Red Colobus, Vervet, and Skyes Monkeys – they often visit the caves and its surroundings!
#12 – Take a day safari to Selous National Park
If you’re not planning on doing a longer safari in mainland Tanzania, taking a day safari to Selous Game Reserve from Zanzibar is a possibilty. The Selous Game Reserve is known for its pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife.
While a day trip to Selous involves logistics, it might be more practical to plan an extended visit to fully appreciate the reserve’s beauty. However, you’re short on time and you don’t mind a full-day (expensive) adventure, this day trip is for you!
Begin your adventure with an early morning flight from Zanzibar to an airstrip near Selous. Selous Game Reserve is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, and much more.
Enjoy a packed or picnic lunch within the reserve, immersing yourself in the natural surroundings.
After a full day of safari adventures, you’ll head back to the airstrip for your return flight to Zanzibar, arriving in the evening.
Note: We did not do a safari day trip, because we did a 5 day safari in Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater before our trip to Zanzibar.
Don’t forget your camera and the insect repellent. Avoid wearing blue, black, or bright colored clothing because these colors attract tsetse flies.
#13 – Indulge in a cooking class
Taking a cooking class in Zanzibar is an exciting journey into the heart of the island’s vibrant culinary tapestry. Rooted in a harmonious blend of African, Arab, Indian, and European influences, Zanzibari cuisine is a celebration of flavors, aromas, and spices.
A typical Zanzibar cooking class often extends beyond the kitchen, beginning with a guided tour through local markets where fresh produce and spices are sourced.
This immersive experience not only provides a glimpse into the bustling rhythm of Zanzibari daily life but also allows participants to handpick ingredients for their upcoming culinary adventure.
The heart of the experience lies in the hands-on cooking session, where you can work alongside seasoned local chefs to create traditional Zanzibari dishes. From aromatic biryanis and flavorful curries to coconut-infused seafood delicacies, the cooking class is a sensory delight.
#14 – Attend a full moon party at Kendwa Beach
Attending a full moon party at Kendwa Beach in Zanzibar is an experience that combines the rhythmic beats of music, the soft glow of moonlight, and the gentle lapping of the Indian Ocean waves.
Kendwa Beach, renowned for its pristine white sands and crystal-clear waters, transforms into a lively, enchanted haven during full moon celebrations. The air is filled with excitement as locals and visitors alike gather to revel in the magic of the moonlit night.
The beach comes alive with vibrant colors, bonfires, fire dancers, and the infectious sounds of Afro beats and Swahili rhythms. As the moon ascends, beachgoers join in the celebration, dancing barefoot in the sand under the stars.
#15 – Explore Prison Island
A visit to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island, off the coast of Zanzibar, is a fascinating journey into history, natural beauty, and a unique encounter with giant Aldabra tortoises.
Originally intended to serve as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 1860s, the island took a different turn in its purpose, becoming a quarantine station for potential yellow fever cases. Today, it stands as a captivating destination that seamlessly weaves together tales of the past and the picturesque allure of the present.
The journey to Prison Island involves a short boat ride from Stone Town, Zanzibar’s historic capital. As you approach the island, the turquoise waters reveal glimpses of coral reefs, setting the stage for the underwater wonders that await.
The main attraction on Prison Island is undoubtedly the giant Aldabra tortoises, some of which are over a century old. Visitors can interact with these gentle giants, feeding them and observing their slow, majestic movements.
Beyond the tortoises, Prison Island offers opportunities for snorkeling in its crystal-clear waters, allowing you to explore the vibrant marine life and coral formations that surround the island.
The historical remnants of the old quarantine station, including the decaying buildings and eerie cells, add an extra layer of intrigue to the visit.
#16 – BBQ experience at Bamboo Zanzibar
This was another one of our favorite things to do in Zanzibar!
Our evening at Bamboo Zanzibar Design Hotel unfolded into an unforgettable barbecue experience as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the idyllic surroundings.
We indulged in a feast for the senses, savoring succulent lobster, perfectly grilled steak, crisp salads, and an array of mouthwatering delicacies.
What made the evening truly exceptional was the live culinary spectacle – the skilled chef worked his magic right in front of us, infusing the air with tantalizing aromas. The freshness of the ingredients and the expertly crafted flavors made every bite a culinary delight.
We recommend this experience for couples, as it’s the perfect date night. The BBQ experience blends delectable cuisine with the romantic backdrop of a Zanzibari sunset!
#17 – See the sandbanks at low tide
Exploring the sandbanks during low tide in Zanzibar is like stepping into a dreamy landscape where the Indian Ocean reveals its hidden treasures. As the tide recedes, vast stretches of pristine sand emerge, creating pathways and revealing corals and sea stars.
Walking along these exposed sandbanks is a must-do experience in Zanzibar! If you have a drone, this is the time to bring it along. The drone shots from above the sandbanks are nothing short of incredible.