Known as the Spice Island, the beautiful island of Zanzibar on Africa’s east coast is bursting with culture and history, seemingly at odds with its idyllic geography of white-sand beaches with palms swaying lazily in the sea breeze. Together this makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind. Here are our 10 things to do in Zanzibar
- Stone Town
With stunning white washed buildings and culture galore, Stone Town is the heart of Zanzibar and is thought to be the only functioning ancient town left in East Africa. With its multitude of historic sites, markets and tours, Stone Town will see that every day you spend there is packed with activities. The architecture blends influences of Asian, Arabic and African styles, with maze-like lanes opening out into squares cooled by the ocean breeze and bazaars such as the Darajani Market, infused with the sights, sounds and smells of local life.
- Prison Island
Prison Island is only a 20 -30 minute boat trip from Zanzibar. This island is steeped in history; it was once used as a place where slaves were detained and after this period, it was turned into a camp where people with deadly diseases were sent(most notably yellow fever) . The buildings have now been converted into a tourist resort with one of the main draws being the giant Aldabra tortoises that were sent as a gift from the British governor of the Seychelles in 1919. They have since been listed as a vulnerable species and there are active conservation efforts in place on Changuu to protect these charismatic creatures for future generations.
Zanzibar’s eastern beaches are amongst the world’s best. These quiet, beautiful and pristine beaches will not disappoint! The top 5 beaches to visit are as follows:
- Nungwi:Nungwi is a village located at Zanzibar’s North West tip. It is a popular stop for backpackers though it has no-where near the same floods of tourists as many other backpacker spots, and it’s one of Zanzibar’s top beaches as the tide doesn’t head out too far.
- Kendwa: This village is located next to Nungwi and is within walking distance. Kendwa has pristine white beaches and azure waters with an excellent selection of bars and restaurants on the waterfront.
- Pongwe:A picture perfect beach located south of Kendwa and Nungwi; this is a quiet beach exempt from the backpacking crowd of Nungwi and Kendwa.
- Paje:This beach is located on the South East of Zanzibar and also draws the attention of travellers. Paje is a popular beach for water sports.
- Matemwe:A stunningly quiet beach which offers a small selection of cafes and guest houses. Palm trees sway in the Zanzibari breeze and local villagers go about their daily lives in this sleepy beachside sanctuary.
- Slave Market
The slave market is located in Stone Town. This ancient site is a sad, poignant yet interesting place to visit to learn about Zanzibar’s history of the slave trade.
- Snorkeling and diving
The coral reefs and marine life surrounding Zanzibar are legendary and visiting the island without getting a glimpse of this spectacular underwater world is a big opportunity missed. Whether you want to dive to the ocean depths or explore by mask and snorkel on the surface, there are a number of sites both immediately off the beaches and a short boat ride away where you can explore the island’s impressive biodiversity. Visit the protected marine conservation area of the Mnemba Atoll to the northeast of Zanzibar for some of the most impressive underwater landscapes, as well as possible sightings of green turtles, whale sharks and large pelagic fish, or explore the Pange Sandback whose vibrant tropical fish life is just a 20 minute boat ride west from Stone Town.
- Palace Museum & House of Wonders
The palace museum is also known as Sultan’s Palace, and is referred to as Beit-el-Sahel and it is one of the most prominent historic buildings in Stone Town and well worth a visit. The Palace Museum is situated in the waterfront; it was built in the 19th century to house the Sultan’s family. After the 1964 revolution the site was used as a Government building and re-named to “The People’s Palace.” Nowadays it serves as a museum and showcases relics of the past Sultan family. The House of wonders is also a very prominent building in Stone Town and functions as one of the main landmarks. It is a fascinating exhibition of Zanzibar and Swahili culture.
- Spice Tour
Zanzibar’s exotic history is entwined with that of the spice trade, with the island serving as an important stopover for spice merchants en route to India and particularly famed for its cloves. A spice tour will immerse you in the industry, offering an in-depth understanding of their cultivation and historical economic significance, as well as an up close look at them being grown in their natural form, often wildly different than what gets sold as ground spice in the supermarket.
- Forodhani Gardens
Located in Stone Town, the Forodhani Gardens are situated right on the coast and make for a perfect evening stroll; here, locals prepare tasty local dishes and there is a great atmosphere as locals and backpacker’s alike come to taste the delights of the local cuisine. Forodhani’s lively atmosphere, with jovial ‘spruikers’ and plenty of opportunity to banter with the chefs, is what makes this dining experience so special, all under a warm, starry Zanzibar night sky.
- Darajani Market
The Darajani located in Stone Town is famous for its vibrancy, colourfulness and range of vendors. This exciting market is well worth a visit and will give you a great taster into local life.
- The Old Fort
The Old Fort is Stone Town’s oldest building. This historic building is located on the seafront opposite the Forodhani Gardens. The Old Fort was built in the 17th century and its purpose was to defend the island from attacks from the Portuguese. Today, The Old Fort is a place to see the remains of the former fort, and the courtyard in the centre sells local merchandise and there is also an amphitheatre where events are held most evenings.