Dreaming of coconuts on palm trees, crystal clear blue water, and stunning beachside resorts that ooze relax? You must be talking about Zanzibar! Located on an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar really is that dream island holiday you’ve always wanted.
Located on the western coast of the island is Stone Town, the historic centre of Zanzibar. The town feels like a little bit of Morocco, Cuba and Philippines. The streets are very narrow lane ways, so much that one car will struggle to drive down due to the tight corners.
Wandering around the streets is the best way to get to know the city. Turn down one corner and you’ll run into beautiful buildings, mosques, cafes, boutiques. You can get absolutely lost in these little lane ways, so make sure you have Zanzibar in Google Maps saved offline on your phone.
Eventually you’ll end up at Forodhani Gardens along the water. At night time, the garden turns into a night market filled with a great selection of food stalls. The seafood here is fresh, caught that day and sold that day. It is totally safe, and absolutely delicious. Lobster on a stick for a few dollars? You bet!
I would recommend at least 2 full days to explore Stone Town. The laneways are very unique, and the feeling in the town isn’t like many other places I’ve visited.
WHERE TO STAY IN STONE TOWN
Looking around, you’ll quickly realise that accommodation prices vary vastly. You can either get a cheap room, or an extremely expensive room for $1200USD – no joke! I stayed at two hotels in Stone Town.
I stayed here as a part of my G Adventures Serengeti to Zanzibar tour. The hotel is filled with character, with an internal courtyard that looks like it’s something out of Morocco. Rooms feature four poster beds, were clean and had hot water, which for us was an unbelievable luxury after days of camping! The rooms had nice touches of Zanzibar, but still minimal. This is after all, still a budget hotel.
Tausi Palace is 5 floors, each with very high ceilings. It makes for spacious rooms, with tight and tall stairs to climb. On the rooftop, you’ll find a gorgeous view over stone town, where you can peacefully kick back and enjoy a beer in the evening. You’ll also enjoy breakfast up here.
AFRICA HOUSE HOTEL
After my G Adventures tour finished, I spent one night in this beautiful hotel. Sister hotel to Tausi Palace (I genuinely had no idea until they told me), Africa House Hotel was originally a Gentleman’s club. Featuring extremely elaborate decor and staircases, this was a welcome change. The hotel boasts stunning ocean views from its sunset deck, open to anyone. The Sunset Bar is the spot to be in Stone Town for sunset, with an uninterrupted views of the sea and sun! Make sure to get here around 5pm to grab a good spot and watch the sun go down.
The rooms are beautifully appointed, with character literally screaming at you from the moment you reach your door. Inside are 4 poster beds, character threaded sheets with accompanying mosquito nets. The bathroom featured one of the nicest bathtubs I’ve ever seen in a hotel. The only drawback was that it’s your shower too, which meant that it got a little messy. At night, housekeeping will leave a chocolate on your pillow. We slept so comfortably, and made leaving Zanzibar and Africa even harder.
Located at the very top of Zanzibar is Nungwi. This is the place to be for pure beach vibes. No pressure, just great sand sun and sea. Give yourself at least 3 days here to relax and enjoy the beach and peaceful surroundings. You can still organise snorkelling trips etc from Nungwi.
To reach Nungwi from Stone Town, you can either take a taxi for $50USD or a Dala Dala. Dala Dala are a form of bus and costs just a few dollars, however may take a few hours. In a taxi, it will take approximately 1 hour from Stone Town.
We stayed at Amaan Bungalows for 2 nights, and were pleasantly surprised. The bungalows are super clean, air-conditioned and most importantly, just steps away from the beach. The hotel has a large swimming pool, which made for perfect afternoon swims.
Breakfast was nothing to rave about. There was an egg station available, which was a nice treat.
THINGS TO DO
When in Africa, everything is safari themed. Safari Blue is just like your typical snorkeling trip. Depart the shores on a traditional African sail boat (with a motor fitted), and cruise over to a sandbar. At low tide, the sandbar quite large and provides for really unique photos. You’ll really notice throughout the day how high and low tide affect the area.
From the sandbar, you’ll be taken offshore to do some snorkeling. If you are an strong swimmer, you can even manage to swim your way back to the sandbar. The reef is in ok condition. Some tourist damage has occurred, however, as in any Reef, there are always things to see.
Once you’ve finished snorkeling, you’ll be taken to a private lagoon. Again, at low tide, the experience here is totally different to high tide. At low tide, the lagoon is almost empty, barely knee deep, meaning the water is incredibly warm. At high tide, the lagoon almost entirely fills up, and is very cold.
After that, they will take you to the main island where you’ll stay the rest of the day. Here, you’ll see an ancient Baobab tree that has fallen over, and then it’s time for lunch. Lobster anyone? Yes please! You’ll enjoy a full seafood buffet, chicken, chips and beer to your heart’s content.
After that, we were lucky enough to have our crew stop off at the sandbar whilst heading back to land. As you can see, high tide on the sandbar is vastly different!
You’ll then sail back to shore, which somewhat doubles the time it would with a motor. The sea started to get a little rough, so we asked them to use the motor as some of our members started to feel seasick.
Safari Blue costs $60USD per person (depending on pickup location), with lunch and snorkeling gear included. Onboard the boat, you’ll be served soft drinks, fresh coconuts and fresh fruits. I strongly advise covering yourself head to toe in sunscreen. My group didn’t apply sunscreen all that well, and everyone came back burnt or a shade of lobster.
The experience to swim with wild dolphins is something magical. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent animals, and their nature and fun in the water is something truly beautiful. I went on a dolphin adventure from Kizimkazi, on the southern tip of Zanzibar. This is the dolphin spot. It’s a truly unique experience for as long as you are the only boat out there. The dolphins will get quite close to your boat, enjoying several minutes of ‘clicks’ and sirens underwater. It’s an unparalleled feeling. Watching the dolphins below, they will do pirouettes, jump right up out of the water, and will really swim with you.
The problem begins when suddenly you aren’t the only boat. We found that quite quickly there were 10 boats all chasing the dolphins so that us tourists can swim with them for all of 2 seconds. The dolphins became scared of us. Remember, these are intelligent animals, and they simply will come up for the absolute minimum that they have to, and then they will dive straight back down. It became a dolphin man hunt. Everyone on my boat quickly realised why this isn’t a recommended tour by G Adventures. We also realised that it’s not the safest experience either. You’re on a dingy, jumping off the edge of the boat with the motor still running, and no life jackets onboard. That wasn’t too bad when it was just one boat, however, when there are so many all bolting around trying to get the dolphins, it actually becomes quite dangerous.
I wouldn’t recommend dolphin swimming. I left regretting my decision, feeling as if I’d just helped fund the very type of tourism that I don’t like most. Money fulfills every tourists wish here. Some things should just be left alone. This just didn’t feel right, especially after days of safari observing the animals. The same respect should be given to the dolphins.
This is one of the cheapest places in the world to go diving. Approximate costs between $150-200USD for 3 dives in one day.
I didn’t have a chance to go on one, however Zanzibar is known for it’s variety of amazing spices.
Hooray, you’re back in a metropolitan city with ATM’S. You can go to the ATM! Such a luxury! Did I mention that the ATM might not necessarily have any money in it? Cash replenishment to Zanzibar isn’t so often, so unfortunately the ATM’S tend to get emptied pretty quickly. For my group of 15, this became problematic as not everyone could get money when they needed it. I strongly recommend getting more money out in Arusha or Dar Es Salaam before you arrive to avoid this stress.
If you cannot get money out before, and there is none in the ATM, there is a bank branch located in Stone Town. They will sort you out if you can’t get any money. There is no ATM in Nungwi. Your only option is in Stone Town, so plan appropriately.
Food is a little more expensive in Zanzibar as they know tourists are eating here. Be wary of any meal that is too cheap, it might not be fresh. Budget $10USD per meal minimum. In resorts, food is priced higher, generally $15USD minimum.
In Stone Town, I can recommend Ocean Grill and Buni Cafe. In Nungwi, I recommend Mangi’s Bar and Restaurant. I would avoid Baraka Beach Restaurant – almost everyone in my group of 17 had some kind of upset tummy the next day.
Zanzibar is 99% Muslim, therefore there are many mosques around. Please make sure to cover up when not on the beach. Many tourists show their shoulders and knees which does upset the locals. Have a scarf handy to cover your shoulders. I found the locals were somewhat ok if one or the other were covered (eg. knees covered but shoulders exposed).
Getting to Zanzibar is simple enough. Zanzibar has an international airport in Stone Town, which serves many international airports like Doha (Qatar), Rome (Alitalia), and Istanbul (Turkish) to name a few.
If you are flying domestic, Dar Es Salaam is just a short 20 minute flight away. I can recommend Auric Air, which were absolutely on time and took all safety precautions necessary. Choice of aircraft amongst domestic operators is propeller aircraft, usually Cessna Grand Caravan. These planes have the best safety record in Africa, so this should ease your mind. If you book enough in advance, a one way flight will cost about $60USD including luggage. I flew from Arusha (1.5 hours) and really enjoyed quite the scenic flight.
If propeller planes aren’t for you, then your only option is by ferry. The ferry costs $50USD per person, and take approximately 2 hours to reach Dar Es Salaam. You can buy a ticket for the ferry up to 48 hours in advance. There are mixed stories of tourists being pickpocketed on the ferry, as the boat is usually quite overloaded. Be vigilant and aware. Don’t leave your luggage unattended.
Zanzibar is a beautiful island getaway that is the perfect place to finish your trip to Tanzania in. You don’t need to be on a tour to get around here. It’s simple enough for any tourist to get around. As I was short on time and my tour included the stay in Zanzibar, I was glad we visited. Next time, I’ll be back and will gladly spend a week poolside with coconuts and cocktails.