Zanzibar Island: Beautiful Beaches, Adventure, and Swahili Culture

Zanzibar is an island archipelago in the Indian Ocean and belongs to the East African country of Tanzania. This paradise vacation destination offers something for beach lovers, sports enthusiasts, history buffs, animal lovers, foodies, and adventurers.

Spice Island, or as this island archipelago is also known as, got its name from the spice trade. Which is only one of the chapters in the island’s rich history. You can learn about it while getting lost in UNESCO World Heritage site Stone Town alleyways, visiting the Slave market, Prison Island, or admiring the Freddie Mercury house.

Outside Zanzibar City, you will find numerous spice plantations, pristine sandy shores, aromatic cuisine, endangered Red Colobus Monkey, rich Swahili heritage, and warm hospitality. It is an ideal tropical island destination for solo travelers, families, and honeymooners.

Best Time to Visit Zanzibar Island

Paje Beach on Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@magdalena.paluchow/DepositPhotos]

Being only 6° South of the equator, Zanzibar enjoys warm tropical weather year-round, making it an ideal destination for beach lovers and tropical island seekers.

However, the best time to visit is during the dry seasons. The main one is from June to September, and the small dry season is from mid-December to mid-February. During these months, travelers can expect clear skies with sunny weather, minimal rainfall, and pleasantly warm temperatures for visiting spice plantations and historic sites. Calm seas create ideal conditions for exploring the best beaches in Zanzibar for outdoor activities such as snorkeling, diving, and swimming in the turquoise waters.

It is important to mention that dry seasons coincide with Zanzibar’s peak tourist season. This means higher prices on accommodation and more visitors on the island.

There are two rainy seasons (March to May and October to December), where the weather can still be enjoyable with more showers.

Getting to and Around Zanzibar Island

Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@_Ansud_/DepositPhotos]

The best way to get to Zanzibar is by flying into Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ), located on Unguja Island, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Numerous international airlines offer direct flights to Zanzibar from major cities such as Nairobi, Dubai, and Qatar.

Alternatively, you can fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam and then take a short (40 min) domestic flight or ferry (2 h) to Zanzibar. Ferry services provide an affordable and scenic option for travelers who prefer sea travel.

On the island, various transportation options are available to explore Zanzibar’s attractions and easily get around the island. You can choose from local dala dala buses and taxis to rental cars and scooters.

Things to Do on Zanzibar Island

Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@OlegDoroshenko/DepositPhotos]

With its pristine beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites, Swahili vibes, and abundant natural wonders, Zanzibar has many amazing things to do for all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re seeking relaxation on sun-kissed shores, immersion in the history of Stone Town’s doors, or thrilling adventures in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. From snorkeling to culture, below are the best things Zanzibar has to offer that must be included in your Zanzibar itinerary.

Zanzibar Beaches

Kendwa Beach on Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@STYLEPICS/DepositPhotos]

Zanzibar beaches, with powdery white sand and turquoise ocean color, are postcard-perfect. Most accommodations on Zanzibar’s east and north-west sides are beachfront and have a pool. The decision on where you will go will depend on the tide. Beaches on the East side have a bigger difference between the low and high tide than those on the NW.

Jambiani Beach (South East): A quieter village with a nice mix of locals and tourists. Here, you will find pristine sands, opportunities for kitesurfing, and admiring algae farms.

Paje Beach (South East): A livelier beach than Jambiani, but with enough of a tranquil vibe for perfect relaxation. It gets windy and is, therefore, great for anyone who loves kitesurfing.

Matemwe Beach (North East): This less touristy beach is ideal for a quiet tropical getaway. It is close to some great snorkeling spots.

Nungwi Beach (North West): A famous beach where you can swim for a whole day. It is more touristic than the south beaches and has a more lively atmosphere.

Kendwa Beach (North West): Known for stunning sunsets and a vibrant beachfront scene with beach clubs and water sports activities.

Adventures in Nature

Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park on Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@PantherMediaSeller/DepositPhotos]

Mnemba Island: Explore the vibrant marine life while snorkeling or diving in the coral reefs off the coast of privately owned Mnemba Island.

Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park: See rare red colobus monkeys, diverse bird species, and different types of mangroves.

Prison Island: Take a boat trip and learn why it is called Prison Island. Don’t skip the sanctuary for giant Aldabra tortoises and relax on secluded beaches.

Spice Farm: Dive into the island’s spice trade history, visit one of the spice farms, and sample exotic spices like cloves, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Stone Town

Stone Town on Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@storyteller2k20/DepositPhotos]

Don’t skip the old part of Zanzibar City, Stone Town. Visit historic landmarks, wander through narrow alleyways, and bargain for souvenirs on vibrant markets in history-rich Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Things to do in Stone Town include:

Old Fort: Also known as Arab Fort, it is the oldest building in Stone Town. Omanis built it in the 17th century to protect Zanzibar from potential invaders.

Anglican Church & Old Slave Market: Pay respect to more than 50,000 souls that were sold on the largest and last closed slave market in East Africa. Visit the Anglican church that was built directly on the site of the former slave market.

Freddie Mercury House: Take a photo in front of the house of the famous Queen’s frontman.

Stone Town Doors: Learn the difference between Arabic and Indian doors.

Forodhani Market: At night, visit Forodhani Gardens food market and try local Swahili dishes at affordable prices. Keep reading to find out what those are.

Restaurants in Zanzibar

Biryani - Zanzibar Food
Photo Credit: [@manubahuguna/DepositPhotos]

Zanzibari cuisine is a reflection of the island’s turbulent history. It is a fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Indian, and Portuguese influences that can not only be seen in stunning architecture but can also be tasted by dining at local restaurants.

Sample dishes like seafood curry, Biryani (rice infused with spices and topped with tender meats or seafood), and Zanzibar pizza (thin pancake-like crust filled with savory ingredients like minced meat, vegetables, and cheese). Then there are also dishes like Wali wa Nazi (coconut rice), Mshikaki (grilled meat skewers), and Ugali (maize porridge), paired with aromatic curries and flavorful sauces.

For dessert, try Mandazi (coconut doughnuts) and Kaimati (fried dumplings coated in syrup), a wide variety of fresh tropical juices, sugarcane juice, or refreshing coconut water. Here are some of the best places to eat in Zanzibar:

Forodhani Night Market: Street food style food market in Stone Town where you can try local Swahili dishes.

The Rock Restaurant: A unique seafood restaurant on a rock on the east coast of Zanzibar. Enjoy panoramic views and delicious seafood dishes paired with refreshing cocktails. The restaurant is small, so book your table in advance.

Emerson Spice Tea House: Located in the heart of Stone Town. Dine in a historic setting for breakfast, eat Swahili dishes at lunch, or go in for their famous rooftop tea ceremony at sunset.

Zanzibar Island Day Trips and Tours

Prison Island in Zanzibar Food
Photo Credit: [@ozimicians/DepositPhotos]

Zanzibar is big enough to keep your travel itinerary full for a week but also small enough so you can stay on one part of the island and explore the rest with day trips and organized tours all around the island.

Prison Island Tour: Take a boat trip to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island, and visit the giant Aldabra tortoise sanctuary. Relax on pristine beaches, snorkel in the clear waters, and explore the island’s rich history.

Spice Tour: A must-do in Zanzibar is to visit a spice tour, where you will learn about spices, find out how they are used, and try them. You can also book a cooking class and try to make traditional dishes with local spices.

Jozani Forest Tour: Discover the unique flora and fauna of Jozani Forest, from different types of mangroves, birds, and rare red colobus monkeys.

Stone Town Tour: Wander through the winding streets of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a knowledgeable guide to get the best stories and local insight on attractions like the Sultan’s Palace, baths, doors, and markets.

Zanzibar Island Vacation

Zanzibar Island
Photo Credit: [@Pakhnyushchyy/DepositPhotos]

Zanzibar may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning a tropical getaway. Still, it is a perfect exotic destination with its spicy blend of cultural richness and stunning nature.

It offers a wide range of activities, from snorkeling to kitesurfing, admiring giant Aldabra Tortoises on Prison Island, or searching for Red Colobus Monkeys in Jozani Forest. Listening to happy Swahili beats or following the steps of young Farrokh Bulsara.

There are plenty of opportunities for adventure or for a relaxed time off on the world’s most beautiful beaches. From Paje and Jambiani on the East to lively Nungwi and Kendwa on the West.

Whether you’re diving into the colorful underwater world or wandering through the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town. Zanzibar has it all combined with delicious food and welcoming people.

Zanzibar Island is one of the dream vacation spots that leaves a mark and makes it to your bucket list of places to return to.


Zanzibar Island: Beautiful Beaches, Adventure, and Swahili Culture
Anja Ilar

Anja travels around the world as a solo traveler and a tour guide and shares her adventures on Anja On Adventure travel blog. She loves tropical islands and has lived in some amazing tropical places when filming the reality TV show Survivor. When not traveling, she creates travel itineraries for others or is outside on a walk with her dog.