11 Exceptional Things to Do in Zanzibar

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In all my time spent in East Africa, I think Zanzibar is one of the best places I have ever visited. I grew up near the beach in Florida, so beaches and sunny destinations are always the things I look forward to the most when traveling.

Zanzibar has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with pure white sand and turquoise water. While most visitors spend the majority of their time at the beach, there are plenty of other things to do as well!

This guide will help you plan the best Zanzibar vacation, including top activities, hotels, and restaurants recommendations. And, of course, it includes the weather and the best time to visit Zanzibar to plan your vacation.  

restaurant in the middle of the ocean, best time to visit zanzibar

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Zanzibar Tourist Attractions & 11 Top Things to Do

If you decide to stray a little bit from the beach or even take up some of the fun beach-area activities, there are a lot of fun things to do in Zanzibar. Here are some of the top picks.

1.  Take a Spice Tour 

Zanzibar is commonly referred to as the Spice Island, and you’ll definitely understand why once you’re done with your Spice tour. You can book a tour through your hotel (which I did) or through a travel agent. 

Tip: Consider booking all your tours through the same place as they often offer major discounts if you’re booking two or three tours at the same time. Spice tours are definitely touristy, but it’s a great way to learn about the island. 

Most spice tours also offer tastings and free samples to take back to the hotel with you. The local vanilla and turmeric were some of the best I’ve ever had. 

The tour guide will also explain how locals on the islands use spices to cook and make local medicine. 

spices in stone town market, things to do in z, z tourist attractions

2.  Explore Stone Town 

Stone Town is the oldest city in Zanzibar. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could easily spend a whole day just walking around Stone Town and exploring the shops, markets, and restaurants. 

Here are some of my favorite things I did in Stone Town:

  • Eat at Forodhani Gardens Food Market. Definitely head here in the late afternoon or evening to get the most options for food. They have freshly caught fish, pizza, kebabs, chapati, and tons of other local food choices. 
  • Visit the Old Fort. You can walk around and see some of the old ruins in this area, which is interesting. It’s free to enter and is usually really quiet. 
  • See the Old Slave Market. Zanzibar has a huge history when it comes to slavery that most people don’t know about. The island was the center of the East African slave trade. You can take a guided tour through the market, including a museum and the old slave chambers. 
  • Get some coffee at the Zanzibar Coffee House. Tanzania is famous for its coffee exports. You can take a small tour of the coffee hours and then head up to the rooftop, where they have a huge coffee menu and a small food menu as well. 
  • Buy some souvenirs. I bought tons of souvenirs and gifts in Stone Town. Most of the narrow streets are lined with small shops selling African print bags, carvings, and paintings. It’s a great way to remember your trip and to support local workers. 

Since there is so much to do in Stone Town, consider spending a night or two at a hotel here. Mizingani Seafront Hotel and Tembo House Hotel are both nice mid-range options. 

 I spent a few days beach hopping around the island before spending two nights in Stone Town and then heading back to mainland Tanzania. 

stone town from the beach, places to visit in zanzibar

3.  Go Snorkeling on Nungwi Beach 

This is an activity not to be missed! Snorkeling on Nungwi Beach was my favorite thing to do in Zanzibar. I booked a full-day tour, so we set off early in the morning.

The tide is super low in the morning, so we had to drive to the ocean’s edge. Then we took the boat back in the late afternoon. 

The ocean is clear turquoise, and you can see down to the bottom. I’ve been snorkeling in many different countries, but nothing compared to the fish and reefs on Nungwi Beach. 

Most tour companies also bring you fruit and a light lunch, which you can return to the boat and eat before diving back into the water. 

4.  Go Kiteboarding 

If you want to get your adrenaline going, go kiteboarding! You’ll meet tons of ex-pats that kiteboard almost every day during the dry season. Imagine working for only a few hours a day and then spending the rest of your time kiteboarding and lying on the beach. 

Almost every hotel and hostel has options for kiteboarding. And if you meet ex-pats, you might get lucky and get offered a free lesson as I did! A guy I met from Australia offered to give me a short kiteboarding lesson, so I didn’t have to book it through the hotel. 

Paje Beach is the best place to kiteboard on the island, and you’ll see tons of locals and ex-pats doing it here. Give it a try!

5.  Watch the Sunset at Jambos Bar and Restaurant 

Jambos Bar and Restaurant is one of the best places to enjoy the sunset. Many people come here, and you can even grab a hammock to lay in or just sit in the sand. And, of course, you can order a few drinks at the bar.

The receptionist at the hotel I was staying at in Paje Beach recommended this to me, and I’m so glad she did! She even got one of her friends to pick me up in the evening and drive me to Jambos. The locals in Zanzibar are incredibly friendly and helpful!

They also build a nightly bonfire as the sun goes down. It was a  great place to sit and relax and just enjoy the view. It was also filled with ex-pats, so you can make a few friends! 

bonfire on paje beach, jambos bar and restaurant, z must see, best time to visit zanzibar
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

6.  Take a Sunset Cruise 

Depending on your preferences, you have some different options for a sunset cruise. You’ll find catamaran rides, which are small with few people on board, and they can be lots of fun. They are small wooden boats, though, so if you’re prone to getting seasick, it might not be your best option.

You’ll also find cruise options, which can be a better choice for some. They usually take you out on a large sailboat. It’s a bit less intimate as there are more people, but they offer a range from romantic cruises to small groups to all-out party boats. 

You’ll usually pay a fixed price that includes a small meal and drinks. For the party boat cruises, you usually get unlimited alcohol plus some snacks. 

Cruises usually start from Stone Town or Nungwi Beach. If your hotel is not in these areas, they should arrange transportation. 

I booked a sunset catamaran ride through my hotel, which was amazing. I highly recommend it if you’re ok with small boats on the ocean! 

Other Things to Do in Zanzibar

Have more time in Zanzibar? Here are a few more things to do!

7. Take a trip to Pemba Island. This island is uninhabited compared to other parts of Zanzibar, but it has a few hotels. Most people take a day trip here to snorkel and dive because it has the best coral reefs and gardens.

8. Rent a bike. If you like to cycle, you can rent a bike from your hotel or hostel and go on an amazing and relaxing bike trip along the beach.

9. Eat The Rock Restaurant. This restaurant is literally on top of a giant rock and is one of the most popular places to eat in Zanzibar. Most people come here for the amazing fresh seafood.

10. Visit Jozani National Park. Just like mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar is home to many national parks. Jozani National Park is like a lush green forest in the middle of the mountain and is home to the famous red colobus monkeys.

11. Go sailing on a dhow. You can book a tour to go dhow sailing and enjoy the views of the Indian Ocean. The best times to go are during sunset or early morning when you can see all the locals catching fish.

Jozani National Park

    How to Get to Zanzibar

    Zanzibar has a small airport (ZNZ). If you’re traveling from elsewhere in Tanzania or East Africa, you can catch a direct flight to Zanzibar. If you’re coming internationally, you’ll probably need to connect through Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. 

    From Dar Es Salaam, you can take a flight with Precision Air or Air Tanzania. You can also take a ferry to the island. It costs  $35 USD for foreigners and takes about two hours. 

    How to Get Around Zanzibar

    You can easily walk to the beach, shops, and restaurants from the hotels. It’s totally appropriate to go barefoot everywhere, and you’ll see locals and ex-pats without shoes. 

    A taxi is your best option if you’re traveling from one part of the island to the other. Your hotel will be able to book one for you. 

    If you want to take local transportation, you can catch a Dala Dala from one place to another. They don’t run on a specific timetable, but the good thing is no one is ever on time for anything in Zanzibar anyway! 

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    Best Zanzibar Hotels

    Budget—Seles Bungalows is a great budget option in Zanzibar. The bungalows are right on the beach, and there’s an outdoor bar with a small swimming pool. You can also book snorkeling excursions with them, as well as airport transfers. All the meals you can order are also freshly caught! I stayed in a private room with a bathroom at a super affordable cost. 

    Mid-range—Dhow Inn Boutique Hotel Zanzibar: The rooms are amazing, all arranged around the pool in the courtyard. Each patio also has a sitting area and hammocks. The breakfast is free. You can get to the beach through the bar in the back, where you can walk to many different restaurants and nightlife right on the ocean. 

    Luxury—Hotel Verde Zanzibar-Azam Luxury Resort & Spa: This hotel is right in the middle of Stone Town. Make sure to book a room that has a balcony with an ocean view. They have an amazing spa with massages. You can also have cocktails in the lounge and enjoy the outdoor pool. 

    Best Restaurants in Zanzibar

    If you’re looking for a great place to eat in Zanzibar, walk along the beach and stop at one of the many shacks you see that display their menu on a chalkboard outside. Locals own them, and the menu usually includes whatever they caught that day from the ocean. Most places also make fresh juice and smoothies that are amazing.  

    Eating in Zanzibar is fun because of all the diversity of food. Much of the food has been influenced by Middle Eastern and Indian dishes with a traditional Tanzanian flare added. 

    If you want to go to a “proper” restaurant, check out these great places in Stone Town:

    Luukman Restaurant: This restaurant doesn’t look like much outside, but it’s the best place to try local food because of the large variety. They don’t have a set menu, but you can see everything they cook. I loved the octopus curry and fried fish. 

    Mzuri Sana: With only a few tables, this restaurant is simple but has all the Zanzibari and Tanzanian food you could dream of. I loved the fish soup with chapati. They have tons of veggie dish options as well. (Note: there is no website but ask at your hotel for directions.)

    Sunset Bar: This restaurant is in the Africa House Hotel. Most people come to the rooftop bar to see the sunset and have a few beers, though the food is also excellent. They have local and western options. Most of my friends who ordered Western choices were underwhelmed, so I definitely chose something from the local portion of the menu. 

    seafood feast, best beach z, best beaches in z, best time to visit zanzibar
    Seafood feast at a local beach shack, Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

    Best Time to Go to Zanzibar

    Zanzibar experiences warm temperatures all year round, which is different from mainland Tanzania, which can get pretty cold. You never have to worry about cold temperatures in Zanzibar. 

    The best thing about Zanzibar is that the weather is always warm, unlike some areas in mainland Tanzania. There is a heavy rainy season, though, which is important to know if you want to enjoy the beaches and the water. 

    The main weather challenge you’ll find with Zanzibar is that there’s a heavy rainy season. It essentially rains every day in April and May, which can really dampen your vacation, especially if you plan to spend most of the time on the beach. 

    Many people are tempted to book holidays during this time since the flights and hotels are often super cheap. However, the nonstop rain is not worth it. 

    fishing boat, nungwi beach, beaches in z, visit zanzibar
    Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

    In November and December, you might experience brief rains for a few hours a day, followed by intense sunshine for the rest of the day. This makes it a nice time to visit if you want to save money on hotels and enjoy the beach. 

    Zanzibar, from July through September, is unbeatable. The sun shines all day long with hardly any rain or clouds. You can be sure you won’t miss any beach or snorkeling excursions due to poor weather. 

    It’s hot during this time, though! Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. You’d be surprised how quickly you can get burnt. 

    Now You Know the Best Things to Do in Zanzibar (and When to Visit)! 

    The best time to visit Zanzibar is during the dry months of July through September. Not only will you be able to walk around Stone Town without getting wet, but the strong sun will also ensure you get plenty of time in the beautiful island waters. 

    While I could happily spend my whole time in Zanzibar on the beach, plenty of things don’t involve getting sandy and wet. Zanzibar is full of history and filled with fun activities. 

    Is visiting Zanzibar now on your bucket list?

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