You’ve probably heard Zanzibar being referred to as a “cultural melting pot,” and for good reason! Unlike its Indian Ocean Island counterparts like the Seychelles or Mauritius, what stands out about this picturesque archipelago isn’t pristine beaches or azure waters (as enticing as the waters may be), it’s the beautiful amalgamation of Arabic, Moroccan, and Swahili cultural influences, the spirited people, the “Hakuna Matata” philosophy that is embodied in every aspect of the local way of life.
Suppose you're looking for an African beach vacation that offers more than the typical beach retreat. In that case, Zanzibar calls out to you with its super-fresh cuisine, vibrant markets, and a plethora of activities that extend far beyond the shoreline.
While the east coast beaches follow the ebb and flow of the tides, restricting swimming during low tide, fear not! Our 5-star Zanzibar resorts have you covered with inviting pools and reefs that are a clear water paradise for snorkellers when the tide is low.
But it’s not just about the landscapes; it's the people who steal the spotlight. The "Hakuna Matata" spirit— meaning don't worry, be happy—fills the atmosphere all around you. The Zanzibarians radiate joy and contentment, a notably stark contrast to other destinations. Their warm smiles and genuine happiness add an extra layer of magic to your Zanzibar experience.
So, if you're ready for a journey where the culture is as captivating as the coastline, Zanzibar welcomes you with open arms and endless surprises. Karibu sana! An enthralling list of Zanzibar activities awaits your anticipation.
When is the Best Time to Visit Zanzibar?
Amongst the many great things to love about this African beach destination, is that it makes for a perfect vacation almost any time of the year due to its regular sunshine. So, there are plenty of things to do in Zanzibar no matter when you go. That being said, if you want to pair your beach vacation with a few weeks in the Tanzanian bush, we highly recommend planning it during the months from June to October. This is Tanzania’s peak safari season, so you’ll get to experience the best sightings that this beautiful East African country has to offer, before making your way to balmy Zanzibar - a popular combo, and for good reason.
1. Stroll Through Stone Town
Also known as Mji Mkongwe, which translates to “old town”, Stone Town is an ancient and colourful town and one of the best things to do in Zanzibar. Exploding with a number of cultural influences, the town bustles with locals and travellers alike, welcoming all who dare to leave the white sands and cooling waters of Zanzibar’s beaches to venture into the delight-filled passages of Stone Town.
Stone Town is both a cultural and historical experience and touring the town’s alleyways is the best way to learn about the history of this place of wonder. An added benefit of a day here is that you can make a full itinerary of it - boutique stores, fabulous restaurants, art galleries and restaurants galore await you, with an ambience that makes it easy to claim as one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.
2. Mnemba Reef
One of the best beaches in Africa, Mnemba is a private island on the north-east coast of Zanzibar. While access to the island is only permitted to guests of the lodge, all are welcome to delve into the crystal waters of Mnemba Reef on the sunniest and warmest of days. If you’re a water sports enthusiast or simply looking for somewhere a little more exclusive to retreat to, Mnemba is just the spot for you.
Not only is Mnemba Lodge on our list of best resorts in Zanzibar, but the dive sites on the island have also been ranked among the best in the world, and the surrounding coral reefs are perfect for snorkelling. Get your goggles on for sights of colourful fish, dolphins, and turtles, or simply kick back on the beach for a slow day spent on one of the quieter hidden gems among the Spice Islands.
3. Sunset Dhow Cruise
It almost seems like a breaking of tradition not to experience a dhow cruise when you are in Zanzibar, but we can promise you that this is an experience that truly lives up to the glory you have seen in images. While dhow trips can be taken any time of the day, the surrealness of a sunset cruise isn’t something to be missed.
After a day spent exploring (or simply beaching, because that’s what Zanzibar life is about right?) a dhow cruise is the perfect end to any day. Sit back mesmerised by the views, with local treats and drinks in hand, enveloped in the calming sounds of the lapping waters and the warmth of the last bit of sunshine of the day as the guides tell stories.
4. Spice Tours
At first, a tour of spices may not sound like the most exciting way to spend your day, but spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla have played a key role in Zanzibar’s history as the Spice Town. With a guide, the tour will take you on an aromatic journey, exploring spice farms with stories of the spice trades that brought great wealth and fame to Zanzibar when the Omanis arrived.
Taste and buy the spices, learn about their origins, how they are farmed, and how they are used by locals to prepare rich and fragrant dishes, or join a cooking class and put them to use yourself. After the spice tour, you may find yourself a little more sentimental and cautious about which spices you buy and use the next time you find yourself in the kitchen.
5. Forodhani Night Market
Forodhani Food Market is THE place to be on nights in Stone Town. After sunset, the energy in the streets peak with a different kind of excitement. With its vibrancy, the night brings new faces, markets and stalls, and it’s the perfect time to see the area in a different light. Gas lamps illuminate the space and fiery grills come alive as chefs in white enthusiastically set up shop for the night.
Visitors and locals alike fill the space as cooks entice you to try something new, and irresistible fragrances push you to experiment - lime and ginger sugar cane juices, Zanzibari pizza and coconut bread (which is to live for when paired with a meaty piece of fish) and even shawarma are just some of the delicacies that aren’t just delectable, but are also a nod to the fusion of cultures that make Stone Town so diverse and worldly.
6. Chumbe Island Coral Park
While Zanzibar may not have as many eco-friendly initiatives as say Seychelles, the Chumbe Island Coral Park is an award-winning Zanzibar hidden gem that stands out as both a fully protected private reserve and a beautiful nature-immersive and conservation-focused location to visit. Even when fully booked, the island is never crowded, allowing you the time to traverse at your own pace.
Stroll through the forest reserve, home to rare wildlife like green marine turtles and coconut crabs, or snorkel through the incredibly clear and cooling waters of a highly protected reef.
For a more in-depth experience of the island, spend a few nights at the 5-star Chumbe Island Coral Lodge where simplicity is embraced in design, providing a basic yet authentic accommodation and sustainable practices are prioritised in everything, from fishing to solar water heating and even photovoltaic energy usage.
7. Visit the Seaweed Farm
One of the largest sources of income in Zanzibar, seaweed farming was introduced to empower the women in local rural communities to earn a living, enabling them to support themselves and their families. To these women, seaweed is a gift from the ocean, and with it, various products including soaps, essential oils, cosmetic products, and medicine are produced.
Venture towards the Paje seaweed farm for an enriching journey where you will get a chance to witness the fascinating and intricate harvest process - if the tides allow! After that, you’ll move to the village where the processing centre and factory are located, giving you the chance to see how the seaweed is transformed into its final products.
A visit to the Paje Seaweed Farm gives you the opportunity to take part in a tour that goes beyond observation. Because it contributes directly to the livelihoods of the women who farm the seaweed, your visit becomes an act of empowerment, adding to the prosperity of these resilient women. Here, you will explore, learn, and leave with shared stories etched in the seaweed-lined shores of Zanzibar.
8. Swim in the Kuza Cave
On the southeast coast of Zanzibar, in the village of Jamibiani, is a little secret swimming destination. You may be thinking to yourself “But it’s Zanzibar, I can swim anywhere” and that may be true, but the Kuza Cave makes for an invigorating swimming experience unlike anything else you’ll find in Zanzibar.
This limestone jungle cave on the southeast coast of Zanzibar welcomes you to swim in crystal-clear freshwater that is believed to have healing properties. Opt for a tour to observe artefacts retrieved from the cave and learn about the history of Swahili. Afterwards, scout the islands for restaurants providing live music by local artists and local Swahili food. The Kuza Cave makes for a simple but fun day trip.
9. Visit Zanzibar Coffee House
While finding a good cup of coffee may not be a high-priority item on some lists, coffee enthusiasts can find a little off-the-beaten-track haven at Zanzibar Coffee House. Caress a freshly brewed cup of Arabica coffee just the way you like it or opt for an espresso paired with a slice of cake or mini pizza.
While here, delight in just how astounding your surroundings are. The Arabian influence throughout the region is a little more evident in the coffee house’s building (which is also a hotel), where the architecture and décor are distinctly Arabian. Rich fabrics and colours, antique ornaments, and a subtle but elegant ruggedness – these small details and the great service are sure to bring you back.
10. Tumbatu Island
Off the beaten path, Tumbatu calls out to those looking to leave the extravagance of five-star resorts and the bustle of more “touristy” islands in the archipelago in favour of a perhaps more rugged slice of heaven and a cultural experience. Most of Tumbatu remains untouched, making it one of the most special Zanzibar excursions that is not open to the general public without permission from the elders of the local Watumbatu elders.
Hit the waters and learn about the way of life of the locals, their traditions, and ancestral history. Set sail and witness their unique net-and-trap fishing techniques and visit the home of a local fisherman. Stroll or cycle around the island learning about the local school and its origins and observe the grand baobab trees which are over 900 years old and deeply significant to the community.
In the spirit of preserving the island’s authenticity, you won’t find any restaurants or modern amenities on Tumbatu, instead, this hidden gem offers an enriching cultural expedition that transcends the superficial, connecting you to the very soul of Zanzibar and solidifying this as one of a handful of must-see places in Zanzibar.
Ready to Start Planning Your Zanzibar Trip?
With so much to be enjoyed, it is hard not to want to put aside more than a few days for your Zanzibar holiday, exploring both its quaintly hidden crevices and its more widely loved spots. One thing is for sure, you will never get bored or tired of the sunny days that call for you to embark on a new and thrilling adventure. At the end of it all, you are sure to leave with plans to return, and a newfound appreciation for the Indian Ocean beaut!
Get in touch with our African Safari Experts to start planning the perfect African beach vacation. With over two decades of experience and knowledge, we are professionals in crafting tailor-made itineraries that are sure to be the trip of your dreams.