Zanzibar Featured, Top Destinations
Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of 50 islands, the two largest being Zanzibar (or Unguja, as it is locally known) with its historic centre, Stone Town; and Pemba Island (to the north-east). Referred to as the ‘Spice Islands’, the history here harks back to ancient trade routes. Indo-Arabic influences intertwine with the Swahili origins of this, the ‘Spice Island’, and the sights, sounds and aromas give an air of romance and headiness. Whether you’re looking for the noise and busyness of the historic cobbled streets of Stone Town, or the peaceful beaches and warm Indian Ocean offering dhow trips, excellent diving and more – Zanzibar is idyllic.
* Zanzibar Highlights
- ∞Stone Town with its cobbled streets and romantic, multi-cultured history
- ∞Palm-fringed, sandy white beaches
- ∞Warm, inviting turquoise Indian Ocean
- ∞Water sports galore
- ∞Spectacular coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving
- ∞Range of accommodation, from large hotels to tiny private lodges
- ∞White-sailed dhow trips
- ∞Spice farm visits
Zanzibar is one of those idyllic holiday destinations where there is plenty to do if you’re the active type. However, all the activity is set in a beautiful, relaxed island atmosphere, so if you're wanting to sit back and enjoy the view, it's perfect for that too! The weather is balmy, the sea is warm, Stone Town’s bustling activity is perfectly complimented by the aromatic spice farms and laid-back sandy white beaches… Seriously, it's paradise.
The history of the islands is a fascinating one and is still evident in the crazy, cobbled streets of Stone Town. The island is known as the birthplace of Swahili and it became a major port for traders from Persia, Arabia, Indonesia, India, China, Malaysia and, later, Portugal. It is this mix of cultures that brought about the melting-pot of architecture and tradition that still fills Zanzibar with an exoticness and sense of romance.
In the early 1500’s, after Vasco da Gama’s visit in 1498, Zanzibar became a colony of Portugal. The islands have a chequered history of rule – from Arab sultans in the slave trade to British protectorate to full self-government by Zanzibar in 1963, after which it was briefly ruled by the Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah, until he was deposed. In 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged to form the United Republic of Tanzania, of which Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region.
The biggest of the fifty islands that make up the archipelago, Zanzibar Island, is known by locals as Unguja. This island holds the capital, which incorporates the historic city of Stone Town, on its western shore. A little to the north-east is the second biggest island, Pemba, with all the rest of the islands being smaller.
The islands’ beach resorts range from tiny, secluded boutique hotels and houses with private beaches, to larger hotel resorts offering a plethora of activities. There is something to suit every person’s ideal beach holiday in this archipelago. On many of the smaller islands, more exclusive and private holidays are offered - ideal for honeymooners! - each one with its own charm and wonderful beaches.
On the islands, the soil is rich and fertile, which provides the terrain for Zanzibar’s spice and raffia farms (major contributors to the island’s economy). The heady aromas of cloves, cinnamon and vanilla float on the sea breezes. A farm visit is well worth doing!
This historic city is where most people land after catching the ferry from mainland Tanzania (a 75- to 90-minute ride from Dar es Salaam). It is noisy and busy and fascinating. Arabic influences mix with African in the ancient winding streets where mosques stand shoulder-to-shoulder with sultan’s palaces and bustling markets. There is so much to see, including the old and ornate, intricately-carved wooden doors for which Zanzibar has become renown.
A couple of days in Stone Town makes for a wonderful experience, especially when coupled with some days to relax at the beach. You’ll be pleased to leave the hustle behind, and enjoy the peace and relaxation of tropical island living.
Things to See and Do in Zanzibar
There is no shortage of adventures and activities in Zanzibar. Or things not to do! Whether it's relaxation or action you’re looking for, it’s available on Zanzibar.
This is the ideal spot to lie back on a lounger and read a book on the beach while you listen to the gentle sounds of the Indian Ocean lapping the shore. Look up every now and again, to see a traditional white-sailed dhow float by.
If you’re looking for more action, Zanzibar offers a range of water sports from kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, paddle boarding and snorkelling to some of the best deep-sea diving in the world, it’s a smorgasbord!
On land, there are beach activities like volley ball and bikes can be hired to gently ride around exploring. Need a gift to take home? Visit the markets in Stone Town or along the coast and support local traders by buying beautiful carvings or aromatic spices.
A ‘Spice Tour’ is a must-do. Visit the coconut and spice plantations where the aromas of cloves, cinnamon and vanilla intermingle with the scent of oranges, limes, coconut and the more exotic custard apples and breadfruit. Depending on the season, you’ll be able to sample these delights.
There is plenty to do from a cultural point-of-view, too. Ancient ruins whisper secrets of long-ago times and there are a number of museums chronicling Zanzibar’s rich history.
Best Time to Visit
Being slightly below the equator, the coolest months in Zanzibar coincide with the northern hemisphere's summer months. However, its weather is pleasant and comfortable all year round with two distinct rainy seasons - the long rains and the short rains - interspersed with dry periods.
Zanzibar, as an island, can have its own distinct weather patterns separate from the mainland. That said, the weather is generally similar. The long rainy season can stretch from mid-March until the end of May, bringing heavy early morning showers which often clear by midday. Many lodges close at this time.
The best months to visit are during the dry, 'winter' months from June through to October when daily temperatures average a balmy 25ºC.
The short rains occur erratically during November and December often with showers early morning and late afternoon.
'Summer' stretches from December to March, with hot sunny days and often cloudless skies. Temperatures range from mid 20ºC to low 30ºC and the evenings are balmy and comfortable.
By Air: A number of international airlines offer flights to Dar es Salaam and some directly to Zanzibar. Domestic flights are available from Tanzania’s main cities to Zanzibar. Mango Airlines offer 3 flights per week from Johannesburg's OR Tambo to Zanzibar Airport near Stone Town.
By Sea: Several ferries run between the mainland and Zanzibar.