27 February 2023
The Spice Island of Tanzania
Situated in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Tanzania, the “Spice Island” of Zanzibar is best known for its idyllic beaches, vibrant culture and rich history. This breathtakingly beautiful archipelago is made up of two main islands - Unguja and Pemba - and numerous smaller islets, each with their own unique charm. Covering an area of about 2,460km² and with a population of 1.6million people, this small island nation is a melting pot of cultures, history and breathtaking scenery.
Home to a rich tapestry of landscapes filled with the most incredible wildlife; towns brimming with history and culture, and a magical underwater world, Zanzibar is a destination that offers a diverse and well-rounded holiday experience. Whether you're a history buff, looking for a warm-weather beach holiday, or wanting to explore a relaxed culture that is worlds away from the stresses of everyday life, this is a country that never fails to amaze.
Experience the beauty of Zanzibar, as you relax on the pristine beaches of Nungwi, Kendwa, and Paje; delve into the islands’ history and culture as you wander through the House of Wonders, or sample the flavours of cloves, cardamom and cinnamon at the spice plantations of Kidichi and Kizimbani. From the cultural riches of Stone Town to the natural beauty of the beaches and spice plantations, Zanzibar is a destination that promises to enchant and inspire.
What makes Zanzibar, Zanzibar?
1. Dream-like beaches
Famous for its beaches, Zanzibar is a quintessential tropical island paradise. Fine white sands edge clear turquoise waters, traditional Arabic dhows sail into the dawn, silhouetted against pastel-tinted skies. Coconut palms wave gently in the breeze. This is a place where each beach takes on its own personality…
Paje Beach - where the wild things go
Head to Paje Beach for an adrenaline-fuelled adventure like no other. Known as one of the best kitesurfing spots in the world, Paje Beach boasts consistent winds and flat, shallow waters that are perfect for beginners and experts alike. Kiteboarding schools line the beach, offering lessons and equipment rentals for those looking to take to the water. But kitesurfing isn't the only way to get your heart pumping at Paje Beach - you can also try your hand at windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and even surfing when the waves are right. The beach is a playground for adventure seekers, and the breathtaking scenery only adds to the excitement of the experience.
Matemwe Beach - an enchanting escape
Nestled along the east coast of Zanzibar, Matemwe Beach offers an equally enchanting escape for travellers seeking a tropical paradise. The beach boasts pristine white sands that stretch for miles, crystal-clear waters that invite you to take a dip, and an idyllic village setting that is rich in culture and history. Matemwe Beach is the epitome of a relaxing tropical getaway. This hidden gem along the east coast of Zanzibar exudes a serene and tranquil atmosphere that is perfect for those seeking a peaceful escape. The powdery white sands, lined with swaying palm trees, lead to the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean that invite you to take a refreshing dip. The soothing sound of the waves, combined with the gentle sea breeze, creates a calming ambiance to melt away the stresses of everyday life. Watch the sky come alive with a stunning array of colours as the sun sets: the perfect backdrop for a romantic stroll along the beach.
Nungwi Beach - where modern and ancient worlds collide
Set in northern Zanzibar, Nungwi sees tradition mix with contemporary life. Fishing boats launch from the beach and dhow builders ply their ancient craft against a backdrop of western-style hotels and partying. The nearby Nungwi village provides a fascinating glimpse into the local culture, where you can experience traditional Zanzibari life, sample the delicious cuisine, and learn about the island's rich history. As the sun sets, the beach comes alive with a vibrant atmosphere, where you can enjoy live music, dancing, and cocktails while admiring the breathtaking views.
Fun fact: Zanzibar is famous for its beautiful beaches, but did you know that some of the island's shores are made up entirely of coral rock? This unique feature gives the beaches a striking, otherworldly appearance.
2. A rich history and eclectic fusion of cultures
Zanzibar's location as a gateway to East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia has given it unparalleled strategic importance throughout history. As a hub of trade and commerce, Zanzibar has welcomed a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups, and such cultural mixing has left an indelible mark on the island’s culture. The influence of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European traders can be seen throughout the island, from the intricate designs of the buildings to the tantalising aromas wafting from the bustling markets. With an impressively rich and fascinating history spanning centuries, Zanzibar offers a window into a bygone era of exploration, trade, and colonialism. A visit to this island is a journey through time, where visitors can immerse themselves in the island's colourful past and experience its captivating present.
One of the most significant and heartbreaking periods in Zanzibar’s past was its role in the East African slave trade. Millions of people were taken from East and Central Africa and transported across the Indian Ocean, with Zanzibar serving as a major center for this inhumane trade. But despite the island's dark past being fraught with tragedy, it is also a testament to the resilience and determination of its people. Today, visitors can explore the island's history and learn about the struggles and triumphs of its inhabitants. Don't miss the chance to visit sites like the Old Slave Market and the former slave chambers, where you can immerse yourself in Zanzibar's history and gain a deeper understanding of its cultural significance. These sites offer a sobering yet captivating glimpse into a time when humanity was tested, and remind us of the importance of learning from the past.
But though the island’s past is intertwined with such darkness, it’s history is a tapestry woven with threads of commerce, trade, and cultural exchange, and that lends itself to immense beauty today.
A trip to Zanzibar isn’t complete without exploring its heart and soul: Stone Town. Take a stroll along Forodhani Gardens to get a glimpse of what Zanzibari culture is all about. This lively stretch of seafront is where Zanzibaris of all ages gather in the early evening to watch the sun go down. Young men jump from the thick stone seawall into the harbour waters below, children play and women in bui-bui (black shawls) gather to chat. Food vendors hawk sizzling skewers of grilled pweza (octopus), steaming bowls of urojo (a tasty coastal soup) and hot mkate wa kumimina (a filling rice-flour bread).
Just opposite the gardens, take in Zanzibar’s distinct architectural style, which is unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. The massive Old Fort, built by Omani Arabs when they seized Zanzibar from the Portuguese in 1698, are a testament to this. You’ll also find the imposing House of Wonders - once the center of colonial power and now a museum that showcases the island's rich history. This iconic museum boasts what are said to be the largest carved doors in East Africa. From the House of Wonders, wind your way through Stone Town’s maze of narrow alleyways to find the Palace Museum. Once the residence of the Sultans of Zanzibar, today, it houses displays on the Omani sultanate in the 19th century. Other worthwhile stops include the beautiful Aga Khan and Ijumaa mosques, Hamamni Persian Baths – Zanzibar’s first public baths – and the Anglican Cathedral, with its moving Slave Memorial and the East Africa Slave Trade Exhibit. When you’ve had your fill of exploring, head to the bustling Darajani Market, where sellers offer a colourful assortment of textiles, fruit, spices and more - and where you can taste the delicious local cuisine while soaking up the vibrant atmosphere.
Fun fact: Darajani Market is the longest continuously operating market in East Africa.
3. The most diverse wildlife
Imagine this: you're standing on the shores of an island paradise, the salty sea breeze blowing through your hair as you take in the stunning natural beauty around you. Suddenly, you hear the sound of branches rustling overhead, and you look up to see a bright red monkey swinging from tree to tree. Zanzibar is a true paradise for nature lovers. Here, visitors can encounter a wide variety of unique and fascinating creatures, from the playful red colobus monkeys to the graceful sea turtles and playful dolphins that call the island home. Whether you're exploring the island's lush forests, snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, or simply soaking up the sun on one of its pristine beaches, you'll be surrounded by the wonders of the natural world at every turn.
Red Colobus Monkeys
One of the most iconic species on the island is the red colobus monkey, a charming primate with bright red fur, distinctive white whiskers and impressive acrobatic skills. These monkeys are found only on Zanzibar, making them a truly unique and unforgettable part of the island's wildlife. Whether you're hiking through the forest or simply enjoying a stroll on the beach, keep your eyes peeled for these lively creatures as they swing from branch to branch and playfully interact with each other.
Zanzibar's giant tortoises are some of the most fascinating and beloved creatures on the island. These ancient reptiles are a sight to behold, with their massive shells and slow, deliberate movements that speak to the wisdom of their many years on this earth. As you approach these gentle giants, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of awe and respect for these magnificent creatures. Their sheer size and impressive lifespan of over 100 years make them a true marvel of nature and a testament to the island's rich natural history.
The waters surrounding Zanzibar are home to several species of sea turtles, each more magnificent than the last. With their graceful movements and striking patterns, these creatures are a true marvel of the marine world. As you explore the crystal-clear waters surrounding the island, keep your eyes peeled for the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, and other sea turtle species that call Zanzibar home. These graceful creatures are completely at home in their natural habitat, and watching them glide effortlessly through the water is an experience you'll never forget.
Few things can match the sheer joy of watching dolphins at play, and Zanzibar is the perfect place to witness these intelligent and playful creatures in action. With several species of dolphins calling the waters surrounding the island home, you're sure to catch a glimpse of these fascinating animals as they swim, jump, and play.
Zanzibar is a birdwatcher's paradise, with over 200 species of birds calling the island home. Whether you're exploring the island's wetlands, forests, or mangrove swamps, you're sure to encounter a wide variety of bird species, from the striking Zanzibar red bishop to the colorful Zanzibar sunbird.
Good to know: The Red Colobus Monkey is considered one of the most endangered primates in Africa, with only a few thousand individuals remaining in the wild.
4. Its reputation as a "Spice Island"
For centuries, Zanzibar has been a hub of the spice trade, cultivating and exporting some of the world's most coveted spices, including cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. Today, the “Spice Island” is home to vibrant spice markets and sprawling spice farms, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the island's rich cultural heritage.
One of the most popular ways to explore the island’s spice heritage is by visiting one of the many spice farms located throughout the island. Zanzibar's spice farms are a true sensory wonderland, where the lush greenery and vibrant colors of the gardens are matched only by the intoxicating aromas of the spices themselves. As you wander through the gardens, you'll be greeted by an explosion of colours and scents, from the bright red pods of cardamom to the golden blooms of turmeric.
Your guide will introduce you to each spice, explaining its origins, uses, and traditional medicinal properties. You'll see firsthand how spices like cloves and nutmeg are grown, harvested, and processed, and you'll even have the chance to taste the fresh, raw spices right from the source. In addition to the more well-known spices like cinnamon and black pepper, you'll also discover some lesser-known gems that are unique to Zanzibar, such as lemongrass ginger: a cross between lemongrass and ginger, prized for its sweet, tangy flavour and digestive properties.
When you’re done, get stuck in with a delicious local meal that showcases the rich flavours and aromas of Zanzibar’s spices - the perfect opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the island’s culinary traditions.
Good to know: Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the red colobus monkey, an endangered primate species with distinctive red fur and white whiskers.
5. Seriously beautiful landscapes
Dive into an underwater world like no other in Zanzibar! The island's coral reefs are a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, housing an incredible diversity of marine life that will leave you breathless. With over 500 species of fish and 200 species of coral, you'll encounter everything from vibrantly hued angelfish to majestic green turtles.
For the ultimate snorkeling experience, make your way to the world-famous Mnemba Atoll, where crystal-clear waters surround the atoll and reef, providing the perfect window to the underwater world. Mnemba Atoll is a true paradise for snorkelers and divers, offering a stunning underwater world that is sure to take your breath away. The crystal-clear waters surrounding the atoll are home to an incredibly diverse array of marine life, including over 600 species of fish and 40 species of coral.
One of the most thrilling experiences that Mnemba Atoll offers is the opportunity to swim with dolphins in their natural habitat. The atoll is home to a pod of around 200 dolphins, which are often spotted playing and swimming around the reefs. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Mnemba Atoll is home to several underwater caves that can be explored with a trained guide. These caverns are home to unique marine life, such as shrimp, lobsters, and colorful reef fish.
At night, Mnemba Atoll transforms into a magical wonderland as bioluminescent plankton light up the water, creating a surreal and enchanting atmosphere. Night dives and snorkeling trips are available for visitors who want to experience this incredible natural phenomenon up close.
Jozani Forest is a natural wonderland tucked away in the heart of Zanzibar. This unique and precious ecosystem, located in the central part of the island, covers an area of approximately 50km² and is the largest remaining area of mature forest in Zanzibar..The forest is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna that you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.
The star of the show at Jozani Forest is the rare and endangered Red Colobus Monkey. These stunning creatures are the last remaining population of their species in the world, and they're found only in the forests of Zanzibar. Visitors can watch these playful primates as they swing from tree to tree and leap effortlessly through the forest canopy.
But the Red Colobus Monkey isn't the only highlight of Jozani Forest. The forest is also home to over 100 different species of trees, plants, and animals, including over 50 species of butterflies, more than 40 species of birds, and various reptiles, such as the chameleon and the gecko. As you walk through the forest, you'll marvel at the towering trees and the lush greenery that surrounds you.
Immerse yourself in nature and take part in a guided nature walk, where you’ll learn about the different plant species and the medicinal uses of certain plants in traditional medicine. Or try your eye at birdwatching in a place where you can spot some of the most colorful and exotic bird species on the planet.
Perhaps one of the most unique experiences you can have in Jozani Forest is exploring the mangrove swamps. These tidal forests are a crucial part of the Zanzibar ecosystem, and they're home to an array of marine life, including crabs, fish, and other creatures that thrive in the shallow waters. Walking through the mangroves is an otherworldly experience that will transport you to a world unlike any other.
However you choose to spend your time there, Jozani Forest is an enchanting destination that will leave you in awe of the natural beauty of Zanzibar.
Good to know
Visitors from most countries will need a visa to entire Tanzania - which includes Zanzibar. You can get a visa on arrival at the airport, but if you want to save time, get an e-visa in advance!
Zanzibar is a malaria-endemic area, so it's important to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Make sure to bring mosquito repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and consider taking anti-malaria medication.
US dollars are widely accepted in Zanzibar. Make sure to bring small bills with you for convenience, and also to exchange money at authorized exchange bureaus to avoid scams.
Zanzibar is a conservative Muslim society, and while homosexuality is not explicitly illegal in Zanzibar, it is generally not accepted by the local population. Same-sex relationships are not recognized and can be met with societal disapproval or even hostility, so unfortunately, we’d recommend that LGBTQIA+ travelers should avoid public displays of affection.
Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim society, and it's important to respect local customs by dressing modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Women should cover their shoulders and wear skirts or pants that cover their knees, while men should avoid wearing shorts in public.
Zanzibar is a small island, and it's easy to get around by taxi, dala-dala (local minibus), or motorbike. There are no fixed fares, so make sure to settle a price with your driver before you start the journey.
The essence of exploration
Zanzibar is a hidden gem that will steal your heart. From its stunning beaches to its vibrant culture and rich history, this island is a traveler's paradise. The warm hospitality of the locals, the tantalising flavours of the food, and the breathtaking beauty of the coral reefs will leave you with memories that last a lifetime. Zanzibar is a place that truly captures the essence of adventure and exploration