Where to Go in Zanzibar
Zanzibar Island, also known as Unguja, is by far the largest and most famous of the islands that make up the Zanzibar Archipelago. Zanzibar has such a diverse coastline that there are plenty of different experiences across the main island, from vibrant culture in the south to idyllic barefoot luxury in the north. There is plenty to see beyond stately palm trees, white beaches and water the colour of malachite - we've collected the best places to visit based on our numerous visits
Off the main island are also a series of much smaller islets that offer a more exclusive, away-from-the-crowds experience and are perfect for honeymooners and romantics. We take a look at where to go in Pemba, Mafia, Chumbe and Mnemba below.
First, a look at the different areas of Zanzibar, where to go and what to expect at each:
- Zanzibar East Coast: home to the island's best and most idyllic beaches, the east coast is home to a wide range of lodges and hotels but the tidal aspect of the Indian Ocean may mean you have walk to go swimming or snorkelling.
- Zanzibar North Coast: as a rule, the further north on Zanzibar you go, the more private and less crowded the beaches are. The north coast is also least affected by the tidal range.
- Zanzibar North-east Coast: the island's prime location, most of Zanzibar's top-end accommodation is set on the north-east beaches. The diving is excellent here, there's not much tidal variation and the archipelago's best reefs of Mnemba Island lie about a kilometre or half a mile offshore.
- Zanzibar South Coast: the further south you go on Zanzibar, the more populated it becomes. And with people, comes culture - head south for cultural and spice tours along with more opportunities to engage with the locals.
- Zanzibar South-East Coast: there are plenty of beaches and resorts on the south-east of Zanzibar but the tidal range is more marked than other regions.
- Zanzibar West Coast: there are fewer lodges on Zanzibar's west coast and it feels a little more remote but it is, of course, home to Stone Town, located on the island's central-west coast.
- Stone Town: Zanzibar's historical capital No visit to Zanzibar would be complete without exploring the narrow, cobbled streets of Stone Town, a World Heritage Site and former capital of the main island. There are several places of interest scattered around town, not least Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), a former sultan's palace. Absorb the history, culture and cuisine of this former slave and ivory port on guided tours, or simply wander around at your own pace.
Zanzibar’s ‘Other’ Islands
Some of the best places to go in Zanzibar take you even further into the African island experience. The Zanzibar Archipelago is dotted with spots that have never made it onto the global map - we love sharing these secret treasures with clients who enjoy an authentic and laidback beach vacation.
- Mnemba: a classic 'desert island' experience A tiny island about a kilometre or half a mile north-east from Zanzibar Island, Mnemba is vintage beach paradise. The reefs just offshore provide excellent snorkelling and diving spots and the island is also a nesting site for the endangered green turtle. Although Mnemba Island is privately owned, the reef is open to everyone and is a popular day excursion from Zanzibar. Attracting very discerning and exclusive-minded visitors, Mnemba can be hired in its entirety to become a private island holiday paradise.
- Pemba: remote, little-developed island with amazing diving: Lying 50km / 31mi north-east of Zanzibar is little-visited and largely undeveloped Pemba Island, home to small fishing villages, historic ruins, and miles of wild coastline. Infrastructure is limited and tourism still in its infancy but thanks to its pristine coral reefs, water temperatures between 25°C / 77°F and 28°C / 84°F and visibility between 20 and 40 metres / 66 and 131 feet, Pemba ranks among the world's best dive sites.
There are plenty of other activities on Pemba Island: water sports are on offer as are excursions to mangrove forests, sunset dhow cruises and spa treatments. Pemba offers the discerning visitor a large dose of privacy and exclusivity, a more laid-back atmosphere to Zanzibar, and it combines well with a mainland Tanzania safari.
- Chumbe: exceptional diving & snorkelling in a marine sanctuary Lying 12km / 7.5mi south of Zanzibar Town, uninhabited Chumbe Island was designated Zanzibar's first marine reserve and now delivers an incredible underwater experience within the ambit of strictly controlled eco-tourism. The shallow-water reefs are pristine and there are turtles, rare birds and some 370 fish species to discover.
- Mafia: superb diving, far from the crowds A classic, off-the-beaten-track tropical island, Mafia provides the discerning visitor with a serene and exclusive hideaway, far removed from the crowds of Zanzibar. The largest island of the Mafia Archipelago, Mafia lies 120km / 75mi south of Dar es Salaam and is widely acknowledged as one of the best dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Diving equipment and logistics are provided by Mafia's excellent lodges and staff will take you to remote beaches and pristine reefs. Go between late May and mid-October for the best weather; there's rain between April and May and again in November while February and March can be very hot and humid.
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