Few places in the world can induce images of pristine turquoise waters, white powdered sandy beaches and tropical palm-tree paradise. Zanzibar is one of them. Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous territory of Tanzania is located just off the country’s coast but with its own unique heritage and cultural flavor it feels like an entirely different world. It offers a unique culture experience along with being the most tranquil setting for pure relaxation. I can safely say that I found my personal slice of paradise here. There are many reasons Zanzibar is one of Africa’s top travel destinations, but here are my top Ten of the Zanzibari experiences to get you started.
1. Get Lost in Streets of Stone Town
Whether you’re coming from mainland Tanzania or any other side of the world, your first glimpse of the island will most probably be Stone Town, which marks the center of the island’s history.
Stone Town is a very lively place where you’ll find a mixture of Arabic, African, Indian and European cultures living comfortably together. Life is lived very much as it was in the past and the many mosques’ call to prayer can be heard echoing above the narrow streets five times daily. The labyrinth of narrow streets and dark winding alleys are packed with secret spots to eat and shop while you discover Zanzibar’s past.
Zanzibar was once the center for the East African slave and ivory trade. During its peak in the 19th century men, women and children were forced into slavery on the mainland, abused and auctioned in a slave market then shipped off abroad. The old slave market is a sobering reminder of man’s cruelty back in the day.
Stone Town is a perfect place to get lost in and absorb the timeless atmosphere of towns’ historic streets.
2. Relax on Picture-perfect Beaches
Zanzibar is blessed with some of the world’s most stunning beaches that won’t disappoint you! Here water is surreal blue and sands are pristine white.
For a picture- perfect beachside escape head to the east coast of the island.
Nungwi and Kendwa attracts younger, backpacking crowd and is said to have best parties on the island. Both beaches are an excellent choice for swimming due to the tide that doesn’t venture out too far.
Another great village is Paje, which is located on the South East of Zanzibar. It is referred as a kite surfing mecca and is popular not only for the most beautiful beach on the island but also for water sports.
If you really want to escape to tranquility, head to Matemwe or Kiwengwa, where luxury resorts are waiting to pamper guests and village life goes at an attractively sleepy pace.
3. Feast in Forodhani Night Food Market
In the evening, many little stalls set up business at Forodhani Gardens and sell ‘finger licking’ foods such as shawarmas, Zanzibar pizzas, sugar cane juices and samosas. You can also find freshly caught seafood, which will be made into small kebabs and grilled to order. Many swear by local Zanzibar pizza, which comes with meat and veg or as a desert with fruit, however it doesn’t look nor taste anything like a traditional pizza. Nonetheless it is so delicious, that you should definitely give it a try.
4. Take a Day Trip to Prison Island
Just a 25-minute boat ride away you will find another history filled attraction. Changuu, also known as Prison Island was once used as a place where rebellious slaves were detained prior to sale and shipping abroad and after this period, island was turned into a camp for people with deadly diseases.
Nowadays, island has been converted into tourist attraction with one of the main draws being giant tortoises that were brought there from Seychelles in 1919. There are almost 200 of them, with some reaching the age of 180 years old. As everywhere else, waters around the island are incredibly clear giving you another chance to spot dolphins while snorkeling.
5. Snorkel at Mnemba Atol
Zanzibar is excellent for its diving and snorkeling. Mnemba Atoll is one of the favorites amongst underwater lovers. You can take a snorkeling trip from any of the northeastern beach villages. There is always a chance spotting dolphins on the way, as they are frequent guests in local waters. Zanzibar is home to wide variety of fishes and colorful mesmerizing corals. Snorkel across shores of Mnemba Island and enjoy the magnificent creatures living underneath.
Although, the island is private, in fact it belongs to Bill Gates, boats will anchor close to shore, allowing you to explore the surrounding reefs.
You can book a day trip with your hotel or directly via boat owners on the beach.
6. Take A Spice Tour
Zanzibar is also known as the Spice Island, and has seen vast amounts of spices pass through its port. There are numerous farms growing cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla beans and other spices. An informative spice tour will give you a better understanding of their agriculture and historical economic significance, as well as an up close look at spices being grown in their natural form before reaching supermarket shelves.
7. Learn to Kitesurf
Kitesurf is one of the most fun activities you can try out during your stay in Zanzibar. In recent years, it became widely recognised as one of the best locations for kitesurfing in Africa as this is due to reliable winds and large shallow lagoons on the east coast. The reef is far offshore, after ample flat water, perfect for both learners and experts.
While Paje is referred as a kite surfing mecca, other spots like Jambiani, Matemwe and Kiwengwa are also great for practicing. Whether you are a first-timer or an expert, professional surf schools will equip you with everything you need to catch the breeze.
8. Spend A Day On A Safari Blue Tour
The original Safari Blue tour is one of the most popular day trips from Stone Town and other locations. It starts from Fumba village and you will sail on traditional hand built mahogany sailing dhow. A Safari Blue day is packed with adventure; where you have a chance to snorkel around crystal clear turquoise waters, sunbathe on an isolated sandbank, feast on delicious grilled fresh seafood lunch and if you are lucky you may spy some dolphins along the way.
This is a long and tiring day, but is definitely filled with adventure.
9. Go Reef Walking On A Low Tide
At low tide, waves around east coat recede more than a kilometer. It is a best time to go reef exploring. Use reef shoes and be extra careful avoiding sea urchins. You will see many sea cucumbers, small octopuses and starfishes. Many locals are spare fishing at this time and if you’re lucky, they might show you their methods and the catch of the day.
10. Wildlife Watching at Jozani Forest
Wildlife lovers may want to trek into the Jozani Forest in search of red colobus monkeys, a species that can only be found in Zanzibar. The forest also accommodates a large mangrove swamp and a tract of natural forest that is home to a few unique species including the Sykes monkey, Ader’s duiker, bush babies, over 50 species of butterfly, 40 species of birds and 100 species of trees.