Located along the east coast of Africa, Zanzibar is a group of islands with miles of beautiful beaches and a culture that’s unique to the continent and the rest of the world. Travelers visit this rare and remote region for adventure, relaxation, cuisine, wildlife, festivals, and so much more. This is a land of exotic spices, water sports, fresh seafood, rare primates, colorful markets, and lots of history. It definitely still offers that off-the-beaten-path vibe, but Zanzibar is tourist-friendly, accessible, and full of exciting opportunities.
These are some of our favorite things to see and do in Zanzibar when you visit this amazing island paradise.
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Snorkeling at the Pange Sandbank
There are lots of great places to snorkel when you visit Zanzibar, but one of the all-time great spots is the Pange Sandbank. This area of the Indian Ocean is colorful, and the beaches are lined with white, powdery sand. During most times of the year, this is a good snorkeling spot for beginners because the waters are calm and shallow, yet full of coral reef and tropical fish. It’s a 20-minute boat ride from Stone Town and a relaxing city break.
Tour of Stone Town
Stone Town is the first stop for many travelers to Zanzibar and known as the cultural heart of the islands. Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tells the story of many different classes and eras of inhabitants. It’s the most populous area of Zanzibar and full of Tanzanian, Arab, and Indian culture. This is the place to visit colorful bazaars, mosques, and ancient architecture. Stone Town is also next to some of the most beautiful beaches in the region.
Jozani Chwaka Bay Conservation Area
One of the big draws to this conservation area is the red colobus monkeys that call the Jozani forest home. There are only around 1,500 of these monkeys that still survive today due to harvesting and deforestation. This is also a great area for bird watching and nature lovers of all kinds because there are over 100 different species of trees here, just 37 miles south of Stone Town.
Mtoni Palace Ruins
History buffs and anyone in need of a little city break will enjoy the Mtoni Palace Ruins, which is north of Stone Town. This palace was built in the 1800s and used as a home for royalty before it was destroyed by a fire. Travelers can take a bus to see the ruins today and maybe even catch a concert or lecture here on select days.
Local Bazaars and Markets
Shopping enthusiasts will love Zanzibar for the jewelry, handbags, accessories, local crafts, and foods you can buy on the streets of this island community. Stone Town is a top spot for shopping, and the Darajani market specializes in traditional vegetables, seafood, and spices. You can create your own personal walking tour and visit many of the bazaars on foot in a single day. Don’t miss a local festival if one is happening during your visit. Popular festivals include Mwaka Kogwa at the end of July, Eid-al-Fitr in August, and Eid-al-Hajj in October.
Swim with Dolphins in Kizimkazi
Kizimkazi is the place to be for dolphin-lovers who want to have the experience of swimming with these gentle marine animals. You may very well see bottle-nose dolphins and humpback dolphins in this area, and tour operators can guide you to their habitats on group excursions.
Visitors typically take a 20-minute boat ride to Prison Island to see giant tortoises that are hundreds of years old. The official name of this destination is Changuu Island, and it’s also known for its top-notch beach lounging opportunities.
Culture Musical Club
Traditional Zanzibar Taarab music can be heard at venues around the islands, but one recommended Swahili orchestras to see is the Cultural Music Club. This musical group’s roots date back to the mid-1950s, and they play in Stone Town and villages across the islands and even in Europe.
Located in Stone Town, the Old Fort was built in the 17th century as a church and garrison for protection against enemy forces. The fort was successful in protecting the native inhabitants from Mazrui Arabs in the mid-1700s when they tried to attack the fort. Since then, the fort has been used as a railway depot, and it is home to cultural shops and live entertainment for locals and visitors to enjoy today.
Dhow Safari via Swahili Boat
One of the most classic experiences you can have in Zanzibar is taking a Dhow safari and going for a cruise on a Swahili boat. These boats are carefully hand-crafted and operated by local professional crews. Seeing the islands by boat offers a unique perspective of the landscape and a chance to chat with locals who make a living on the surrounding waterways.
Wildlife Watching on Misali Island
One amazing place to visit around Pemba is Misali Island, which has lots of nature trails to explore and plenty of history to learn about on the way. A type of bat called the flying fox can often be seen here, and this is also an ideal starting point for diving and snorkeling. There are many types of coral reefs and fish in this region that are best seen while swimming underwater.
Cycling in Ngezi Forest
Situated on Pemba Island in the northwestern corner, Ngezi Forest is a wonderful place to get active and see native wildlife species. Rent a bike when you visit to see larger sections of the forest than you’d be able to cover on foot. A great end spot for your cycling tour is the quiet and unpopulated Vumawimbi Beach.
Zanzibar Butterfly Centre
Ecotourism opportunities exist for travelers to Zanzibar, and one of the most interesting ways to get involved in the sustainable community here is with the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre. The interactive butterfly center is located near Jozani-Chawka Bay National Park on Unguja Island and one of the largest exhibits of its kind in Africa. Take a tour, which lasts about 30 minutes, with a guide to learn about the project’s background and how local farmers are involved in the conservation process.
And of course, don’t forget Zanzibar’s beaches, which are one of the most popular reasons to visit this island region. The best ones are on the north and east coasts, with white sandy beaches surrounded by picturesque villages. You may encounter modestly-veiled women, young travelers, and fishermen on these beaches. Some of the most scenic beach areas to visit include Kendwa, Nungwi, and Matemwe.