Most people hear "Zanzibar" and the immediate thoughts that come to mind are stunning white sandy beaches, tropical extravagance, and a magical vacation.
While Zanzibar is all of these things, there is far more to learn and know. This little 67-kilometer island, 6 degrees south of the equator I now call home has so much to offer!
I moved here from South Africa going on 16 years ago, and over the years this little island has given me so much to be thankful for that I wanted to share all that Zanzibar is with the world, not just the beaches but the people, the hidden gems and what you may be very surprised to find out and not likely to find in a general search.
If you are looking to visit Zanzibar and experience what really makes this island magical then you have come to the right place.
I will share my 16 years of lived experience, which will include all my favorite things, from places to stay, things to do, the quirky, the beautiful, and why Zanzibar will forever hold a place in my heart.
As we say in Swahili - Karibu (Welcome)
Lets talk Swahili
Swahili is the mother tongue of Zanzibar, which I am sure you would easily find out by a simple Google search, however, what you may not know about this delightful language is that many of the most common Swahili words you would already know from a childhood Disney favorite The Lion King.
To mention a few:
- Swahili word Rafiki -Translated means Friend
- Swahili word Pumba - Translated means Pig
- Swahili word Simba - Translated means Lion
"Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going." Rita Mae Brown
I believe this quote could not be more true when it comes to the people of Zanzibar and how the Swahili language is woven into a story of beauty, strength, and resilience.My own spoken Swahili I would have to say shamelessly after 16 years is not perfect, at least not grammatically.
I never took any official lessons but learned to speak Swahili through my day-to-day interactions with all the Zanzibar people, while doing my shopping and going out.
One of the many beautiful things about the people here, they not only want to teach you Swahili at every opportunity but also are so gracious and kind about the fact that though you may not have perfected the language, "Hakuna Matata" that just means they get to continue to teach you.
So remember when you visit Zanzibar, you could get ahead with some key phrases, by rewatching a Disney favorite, and what you don't know when you get here, don't be shy to ask, many of the local's English is probably better than your Swahili.
Location, location, location!!
In the last decade, Zanzibar has grown immensely in the global tourism market, which means more hotels.
Since I moved here I have seen the hotel development go from about 100 hotels, lodges, and backpackers on the whole island, to now almost 500 hotels, lodges, and backpackers.
This can be very overwhelming when trying to decide where you want to stay based on your budget and often not much else knowledge to choose the best place to stay.
Aside from your budget, many people do not realize that deciding where to stay in Zanzibar should also include, the type of holiday you are wanting? busy and fun or quiet and peaceful? and what you value most? comfort, food, service?
Zanzibar has such a wide variety of options that these questions really do matter when making the decision of where to stay.
I will be listing below some of my favorite places to stay based on my own personal experience which will include
- Coastline location North, East, South, and West pros and cons
- Holiday type, family, couples, groups
- What makes each unique and one of my favorites.
Drone film from Hotel Kilindi, ZanzibarCoastline
Located on the northwest coast of Zanzibar, Kendwa Beach. Sometimes referred to as the “little sister” of Nungwi Beach, Kendwa Beach is much quieter than its sibling in the north.
This is one of the few beaches in Zanzibar where the tide doesn’t really change, which means the clear waters are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The sunsets at Kendwa Beach are legendary, and lying adjacent to the clear turquoise waters of the coastline part of the Indian Ocean sits the extraordinary and mesmerizing Kilindi Zanzibar.
Dotted across 50 acres of lush, tropical garden and blessed with a secluded powder-white sand beachfront extending over half a kilometer, Kilindi Zanzibar with its arched pavilion-style villas overlooks an ocean that has witnessed the spice trade route for over 500 years.
This is the perfect honeymoon, couples retreat property, not for kids or family-style vacations.
My personal experience and the little details that make it so special.
I have had the privilege of staying at Kilindi only twice in my 16 years, and both times were truly memorable, from the gorgeous completely private villas, each with its own private plunge pools and outdoor bathrooms overlooking the gorgeous ocean to the personalized service, its definitely a couples paradise.
One of my favorite things about Kilindi is their approach to meal times and location, to me a holiday should not be dictated by a hotel's restrictive meal times, but rather you should be able to eat when you want and where you want.
Kilindi has perfected this, you are able to eat breakfast lunch, and dinner at any time of the day, and you can decide if you would like any of these served in your private villa, on the beach, or if you feeling sociable can enjoy any of your meals in the main dining area overlooking the ocean, top this off with the fact that the food is all freshly prepared and delicious!
Never will you eat, drink and be so merry than when you stay at Kilindi.
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The Dream Holiday is becoming real at Tulia Zanzibar Unique Beach Resort*****.Coastline
Located in the laid-back area of Pongwe on the East Coast of Zanzibar. The East of Zanzibar is a quieter coastline and you’re surrounded by long beaches and tropical forests, and palm trees are the typical landscape.
The strong tides completely transform the view from the morning to the afternoon, so this is something to keep in mind for ocean swimming time is dependent on the tides each day
The resort offers the following room types:
5 Seafront Luxury Villas with breathtaking Indian ocean views from a waterfront terrace with a 145 sqm living area and 60 sqm garden
Deluxe Garden Bungalows nestled in the grove of palm trees with private terrace and garden with 102 sqm living area and 140 sqm garden area
Royal Suites with peaceful garden views, complete privacy, and whirlpools with 160 sqm living area and 140 sqm garden area
This is one of those unique properties that has perfected being perfect for both couple and family vacations, with their perfectly private villas that offer in-room dining and amazing views its perfect for a couple's escape, and with their amazing pool that has the only water slides in Zanzibar and some fun water activities available all perfectly situated in front of the main dining area and bar its perfect for small family vacations.
My personal experience and the little details that make it so special
So this is more of a little anecdotal story, however, I believe it holds true and is part of why Tulia is one of a kind.
When the owners were building the property, they decided they wanted to have the very first botanical gardens in Zanzibar, much like the first and only waterslides in Zanzibar ( you can see a trend here with Tulia )
So they decided to work with the local community and they reached out to the nearby villages and asked if they were interested in making some extra income they were welcome to come to look at the current gardens and plants and for every plant, flower, bush cutting they bring to the owners that does not already exist in their property they would pay them for each they brought.
Well over the next week, they had between 20 to 50 local Zanzibari people at their gate with plants, flowers, and bush cuttings to be planted, and now they really do have the only and most spectacular botanical gardens in Zanzibar.
I am not sure if the owners expected to have such a turnout from this initiative, however either way the end result I believe is one of those things in life that just make you smile.
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We really felt at home! A wonderful place with delicious cuisine on the eastern coast of Zanzibar. Qambani's generous proportions provide six bedrooms vi...Coastline
Located in Michanvi South Coast of Zanzibar, bordered on one side by an unbroken band of swaying coconut palms and on the other by the Indian Ocean’s turquoise waters, Michamvi’s beaches are the firm focus of this paradisiacal peninsula.
From its rugged tip, where you can view sunrise over the Indian Ocean and sunset over Chwaka Bay’s glassy waters, its spectacular shoreline runs south as a continuation of the East Coast’s palm-fringed coast.
Qambani's generous proportions provide six villas, living spaces, pools, and a lush tropical garden, a promise of complete relaxation and indulgence.
A fusion of ancient Swahili crafts - perfected in the palaces of the sultans along the East African shores - and modern coastal design, it gives shady sanctuary while turning the inside out, so every space takes great gulps of the sea and the balmy tropical air.
The perfect group, family, and small wedding location, with plenty of room to have privacy and quiet time while still offering shared spaces for dining and spending time together.
My personal experience and the little details that make it so special
Another lifetime ago in Zanzibar, I was a destination wedding planner, and one of the most memorable smaller weddings I planned was hosted at Qambani.
It was a wedding of only 15 people including the Bride and Groom, however, the location, the service, the food quality, and the experience made it one of my most memorable planned weddings.
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Keeping busy quality over quantity.
There is so much you can do to keep busy while in Zanzibar, from the famously known spice tours to full-day trips out on the gorgeous Indian Ocean, or a day filled with history and culture there is something for everyone.
However, there are some BIG differences in quality and experiences depending on what you know.
I have shared below 3 of the top MUST dos while in Zanzibar, in my experience if you tick these off your list then you have seen and experienced some of the very best Zanzibar has to offer.
Safari Blue (The Original)
Safari Blue Zanzibar is a popular experience that takes visitors on a unique tour of the Menai Bay Conservation Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The tour involves a boat ride across the crystal-clear waters of the bay, giving an incredible view of a variety of sea life and coral. Guests are also given the chance to snorkel with dolphins, swim with turtles, and explore traditional fishing villages. The activity finishes with a BBQ lunch on the beach before the return Sailing boat ( Wind permitting) rides back to the mainland.
Safari Blue Zanzibar is a must-do for anyone visiting the Zanzibar area.
The original Safari Blue ( There are many knockoffs of this experience so be sure to only book the original) as they have been operating sustainably since 1996 with a highly professional crew, beautiful traditional dhow boats, quality equipment, and excellent food. They are the original and the very best and they take every step to take care of the environment around them.
Be sure to read all about why this is Zanzibar's most talked-about sea adventure! It's the people that make this the Original Safari Blue.
Stone Town by night ( For the foodies )
Stone Town by Night is a must-see for all who visit the beautiful city of Zanzibar, Tanzania. Showcasing the colorful, vibrant culture of Zanzibar, Stone Town is alive after the sun goes down.
As the sun sets, locals come into the city to shop and visit with friends at the many late-night restaurants and cafes.
The narrow, winding streets are lit up by strings of lights and traditional lanterns, while the spice and perfume of the many restaurants provide a stirring atmosphere.
This Stone Town tour was curated to be one of a kind, where you can experience walking the streets of Stone Town and all its night-time charm and enjoy some of its best places to eat and drink.
Stone Town by Night is the perfect place to experience an enchanting evening of culture and history.
Below is an overview of this amazing one-of-a-kind tour with some pictures.
Starting with a cocktail
6 Degrees South rooftop for an iconic African sunset.
P.S. This is actually me in this picture :)
Starters served at Double Tree Hilton
Take a 10-minute stroll from 6 Degrees South with your guide, who will share some historical stories of the streets you are walking to get to Double Tree Hilton to enjoy your starters.
The Main event is served at The Secrete Garden
After you have enjoyed your starters, your guide will walk you through some of Stone Towns' most iconic locations, past the Old Fort, Forodani Night Market, and through the winding streets of stone buildings where you will learn about the fascinating history and cultural significance of the enormous doors and understand where the name of this little town comes from.
You will then enjoy your main meal at the famous Emerson Spice Secret Garden Restaurant, a wonder for all the senses.
Sweet ending at House of Spices
Finish your foodie walking tour at Stone Towns House of Spices, where you can enjoy some traditional Zanzibar Sweets and freshly brewed teas and coffee.
Fauna & Flora on the Rocks
This full-day tour is the perfect way to enjoy some of Zanzibar's most iconic experiences.
Flora ( Spice tour )
Starting your day with a Spice tour and the opportunity to explore the tropical countryside to reach the heart of Zanzibar’s spice plantations. During your tour, you will be able to learn about the existing variety of spices, plus the various nutrients these spices have for health and different culinary options. During the guided tour, you will be able to witness the production and harvest processes of spices found in Zanzibar, such as cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and vanilla, to name a few.
You will also have the opportunity to listen to stories from the local guides on the history of the spice trade, learn about the flowery aromas, and taste the spices and herbs. The Spice Tour is an excellent way to discover one of Zanzibar’s main features, its fragrant, colorful, and tasty spices.
Fauna ( Jozani Forrest )
Jozani Forest is a protected area located in the middle of Zanzibar Island, Tanzania. It is the only national park and protected area in all of Zanzibar. Within the park, Jozani Forest is home to an abundance of wildlife, including birds, plants, trees, and mammals, particularly the rare Red Colobus Monkey. Additionally, The Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park is a Ramsar wetland site and is rich in mangrove vegetation.
On the Rocks ( The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar )
The Rock of Zanzibar, locally known as Zimweru Rock, is a huge limestone boulder located on Songo Mnara Island in Zanzibar. The Rock stands at over 20 meters above sea level, making it one of the most prominent landforms in the archipelago. Over the years, it has become an iconic symbol of Zanzibar, playing an important role in the island’s history and culture. The Rock is surrounded by beautiful beaches and coral reefs, making for the perfect spot to end your day with some fantastic food and drinks and capture some iconic Instagram moments.
What is Zanzibar ?
Many people assume that Zanzibar is its own island country like Seychelles, and with a population of 766,000 as of the end of 2022, compared to that of Seychelles only 92,000 it is understandable that it could be mistaken for being a country of its own.
However, Zanzibar is only one of many islands that form part of Tanzania. Zanzibar the island offers an incredible island vacation destination, but Tanzania has some of the world's most stunning and iconic safari experiences, Serengeti and Ngoronngoro Crater, and let's not forget the famous Kilimanjaro Mountain, to name a few.
What type of food is available in Zanzibar?
You can find a variety of food and cuisines in Zanzibar. African food is the most common offering, with traditional coastal fares such as grilled fish or seafood, coconut rice, and curries. Rice and beans are staple foods. Zanzibari pizzas which include toppings like minced beef and stewed dough are popular snacks. Indian cuisine is also widely available. Spices are used heavily in Zanzibari cuisine, including pepper, cloves, cayenne, and nutmeg.
What is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is a year-round destination, but the high season is from June to October when the weather is at its best and the sea is at its calmest. From November to March the weather can be very hot, and the sea is more prone to storms, but it is still possible to visit and find cheaper prices. April to May is the low season in terms of prices, but there is still plenty to enjoy.
My Love Letter to Zanzibar Tanzania
My sweet Tanzania and Zanzibar, You have captivated my heart with your beauty, and drawn me in with your charm. I stand in awe of the gorgeous landscape and am mesmerized by your stunning views.
You have been wonderfully loving and hospitable to me. I have felt welcomed and embraced in your presence. Even when I was a stranger to your shores, I was welcomed with warmth and kindness.
Your culture is truly unique and remarkable. I was captivated by the colorful architecture and vivid customs that you offer.
You have shown me a glimpse of a world that I had never known. Furthermore, I am in awe of your wildlife.
I have been lucky enough to experience some amazing sights and sounds, and have seen the most beautiful creatures in their natural environment.
Thank you for being an incredible place I now call my home.