9 Things to See & Do in Zanzibar
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Ah Zanzibar… I can’t help but sigh with happiness thinking of the beautiful beaches, culture and adventurous experience on my recent travels to this paradise island, off the East coast of Tanzania. If you haven’t heard already, Zanzibar has become a hotspot location for tourists and travellers all around as an ideal getaway for several days, either for a cultural experience or to simply soak in some sunshine.
I was on the island just a couple of weeks ago, having quite a packed but enjoyable time. So if you’re looking for an exotic location to visit on your upcoming holiday – add Zanzibar to your list guys! Trust me, there’s plenty to see and do. For 4 days, these are 9 things that my friends and I opted to get up to. Check it out!
1. The Beautiful Beaches
No one can speak about Zanzibar and not speak about the pristine beaches that this tourist spot is so well-known for. The white sandy shores against the stretch of the Indian ocean is the perfect postcard for the island! Just imagine being able to soak in this view of the Indian ocean on a beautiful sunny day, lazing the day away…
On the first day here, we were at the beach in Uroa, and all that my friends and I wanted to do was relax with the beach breeze as company, being immersed in the landscape surrounding us. Can you blame us? I still recall how at peace my heart felt just looking out to this breathtaking scene…
Also, don’t forget to carve out some time to watch some spectacular sunsets by the beach too! Zanzibar is known for them 🙂
Sundown at Nungwi – northern part of Zanzibar
Stonetown is a locality filled with culture. You’ve got the variety of food you can try at the Night Market (see below), the ever-so charming streets, and the exotic stories that passer-bys and guides will explain to you, about the history of how Stonetown came to be.
Stonetown was ruled by the Portugese in the 17th century, and later in the 19th century, thrown out by the Sultan of Oman, then building from there this beautiful city to what it is now. You’ll find some fascinating architecture by the narrow alleyways. A guide who we met at a historical structure called the Old Fort, spoke to us about some of the history, mentioning that Stonetown used to be a place known for the wealthy. Those who had money, built their houses with stone, it was as simple as that.
Exploring the Old Fort
Don’t be fooled by this though, within each street you’ll find an interesting corner, and tons of shopping opportunities. Also, bring out your bargaining skills for some really beautiful pieces out here.
Overlooking the beach at sundown…
3. Spice Tour
Zanzibar is known for its spices, both made within the country, and brought in from various parts of Asia and Africa. Spend a morning on a spice farm learning about the various delicacies, trying out some fresh fruit and having a chance to purchase some truly organic products.
Photo courtesy: Amith Anderson
4. Prison Island
This was one place that unfortunately we didn’t make it out to due a rainy afternoon. However, I still can give out some information about the island.
There’s a sad history to Prison Island; this was the place that the Arabs brought in slaves from Tanzania before taking them out to the Middle East. Often times the slaves would try to escape, and Prison Island was the spot that they were taken to in order to avoid that.
On the island, you’ll also be able to witness some of the oldest and largest giant tortoises, and I believe you can get a chance to feed them too. Fret not if you don’t make it to Prison Island like we did; at Nungwi on the northern most tip of the island, there’s a turtle conservation area where you can see some beautiful turtles (more below).
If nothing at all, you’ll also be able to snorkel in and around Prison Island, and speaking of snorkelling…
5. Underwater Experiences
Ever since I’d gone scuba diving in Thailand, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to get back into the water. There’s something truly surreal about being underwater, and I felt so at peace, to the point that this time around I was encouraged by the instructor to get my certificate. 🙂 Hopefully soon!
Don’t you just want to jump into these waters?
On both our snorkelling and diving trips, the marine life was something else. Being beginners at diving, you don’t go beyond 9-12m in depth, and with snorkelling you’re on the surface anyways, just watching the life underwater…
If you’ve got the health and courage for it, I would definitely recommend going diving! Its totally life-changing. Zanzibar on top of that has some truly pristine and crystal clear waters which makes the experience all the more memorable.
Check out the clear waters!
With the snorkelling trip, we were out on Matemwe on the East coast of Zanzibar, and we’d gone with Eagle Ray Divers. Having not planned our trip out well enough (I’ll put up a tips section soon which will include this!), we were fortunate enough to be able to book a last minute slot with them and head out for our snorkelling experience. They were perfectly helpful, very chilled out, and we had an amazing time. 🙂
For our diving experience, we were booked with One Ocean, who have multiple sites across Zanzibar. We’d set up our diving experience starting at Stonetown. Our instructor, Eva, had been professional and super nice throughout our whole diving experience. Definitely would recommend these guys too!
6. Night Market
Now, I’m a vegetarian, so I couldn’t enjoy the night market. This is where you can get some sensational and fresh seafood, all made right in front of you – its really something! My friends loved it; I could see that much on their faces. Squid, octopus, different fish; you name it they probably have it.
Starting just a little after sundown, the whole vibe of Zanzibar changes with the night market, and you’ve got an abundance of people frolicking the area looking for the next bite to eat!
This is located at Forodhani Gardens, kind of like a pop-up food festival, and is not worth missing out on, if you can eat seafood of course 🙂
7. The Rock
No no, not Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – don’t misunderstand. This is a little restaurant and the only structure on this tiny island. You can relish in some spectacular seafood & Italian cuisine, and its a romantic and fascinating location. This postcard worthy spot is also worth visiting for the experience of the trip to the island; during low tide you can walk to the restaurant, or during high tide you take the boat out. Quite cool hey?
What the restaurant looks like at low tide
We ended up going a little after sundown and in time for dinner, and it was quite the experience. ($$ too by the way!)
Sundown on their terrace
8. Quad Biking
I know – who would’ve thought you could go Quad Biking on an island!? Well, we were surprised too. This is a good time to mention that Zanzibar is not only made up of its beautiful beaches, but a really stunning countryside as well. For me personally, it reminded me of my hometown in India a lot, with the paddy fields, cows that you bump into every now and again, and the coconut trees – but a much cleaner and less populated area.
Quad biking was quite an adventurous experience. For the first 20 minutes or so you’ll be on road, moving inward from there into the countryside and dirt roads. Its really fun, and you get to see some spots that you wouldn’t be able to just by car – so if you’re up for this, definitely try it out 🙂
Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera out with me on the quad bike and so I don’t have any photographs to highlight from this spot.
9. Turtle Conservation
At Nungwi, which is the northern most point of the island, there’s this little conservation centre called Mnarani Aquarium that works with sea turtles, and it was a fascinating experience here – feeding the turtles and just learning a little bit more. They do a fair amount of work with the rehabilitation of these turtles, and also in conserving the local turtles around the area.
The lagoon area at the aquarium is so peaceful as well…
Serenity at the lagoon
If you’ve got time after you can pop out and just relax to watch the sun go down. You’ll find the locals playing football out on the beach; something that you’ll find on a lot of the public beaches and its great fun to observe.
Locals playing football out on the beach
More about traveling to Zanzibar
You can either obtain this at a Tanzanian consulate prior to your trip, or get it on arrival. We got it on arrival and it took about 30 minutes at the Zanzibar International Airport to fill up the forms and go through immigration. More info here.
Yellow fever, if you're traveling from yellow fever endemic countries. Malaria is not found on the island however you can take malaria prophylaxis or bring mosquito repellent to get rid of the bugs!
Tanzanian Shillings, and you can use US dollars as well.
You can purchase a sim card either at the airport or within Stone Town. We got it at the airport itself for the four of us and were able to negotiate for a bulk deal. Note point 7.
Swahili, but you'll find that locals can also speak fluent Arabic, Italian and French.
Clothing:I'd read up on this before my trip. Zanzibar follows a slightly conservative culture, particularly in Stone Town. Ideally, you can wear long trousers and cover your shoulders to respect this culture whilst visiting Stone Town. No one will say anything if you don't (I didn't feel it much the one time I had bare shoulders), but I'd tried to follow it as much as I could whilst I was visiting.
Find out more about getting around Zanzibar here.
When to visit
II went in August 2019, where the weather was pleasantly warm and ideal.
An apt time to visit therefore would be during June to October during the cooler months. December to February is hot and dry, which tourists sometimes prefer traveling during this time too.
The rainy season is during mid March to late May, and November, which is definitely not a good time to visit.
Having said this, you can expect rain at any point in time on your stay as Zanzibar is a tropical island and sometimes they get showers. We experienced rain on 1 of the 5 days we were there.
That’s a wrap! Hope you enjoyed the 9 things that we’d opted to do whilst in Zanzibar. If you’ve been here before and have anything to add, let me know in the comments section below – I’d love to hear it! If you haven’t been yet, and you’re planning to go, I hope this list helps you 🙂
Check out my 9 top tips on holidaying in Zanzibar! Trust me, there are some ones that you may not necessarily think of.