The Zanzibar archipelago consists of over 50 islands – which vary from tiny outcrops to the larger, more populated islands of Zanzibar (more properly called ‘Unguja Island’) and Pemba. The beaches are often stunning: powdery white sand, shaded by palm trees. The sea is shallow, but venture further out into the sparkling, turquoise water and you’ll find coral reefs for great snorkelling and diving. The larger islands are lush and highly fertile and everywhere the air is suffused with the aroma of fruit and spices; it’s an intoxicating, exotic atmosphere.
Popular as a post-safari choice, a Zanzibar holiday can also be a great stand-alone escape. The island offers an exceptional diversity of accommodation, from simple beach lodges and small boutique hotels to all-inclusive beach resorts and even the odd luxury hotel.
Although Zanzibar receives a trickle of holiday visitors all year round, most come between June and February, outside of the main rainy season, when Zanzibar’s weather is at its best. This can link in perfectly with a safari in Tanzania, which shares the same weather pattern.
Zanzibar beach holidays
Options for a Zanzibar beach holiday are many, but broadly, the island can be divided into five: Nungwi in the north, the east coast, the south-east, the west coast, and a few offshore islands.
Two or three hours’ drive from Stone Town, the village of Nungwi marks the northernmost tip of Zanzibar. Surrounded on three sides by turquoise-blue ocean, Nungwi has long been a magnet for visitors seeking paradise. Come for some good diving and beaches, and proximity to a lively village where there’s always a lot going on.
Zanzibar’s east coast is lined with long, powder-white beaches. To the north, numerous small resorts boast similar beaches, yet all are quite different. Offshore you’re find the magical Mnemba Island – the ultimate island lodge for those who can afford it!
Continuing along Zanzibar’s south-east coast, the beaches remain stunning: powder-white sand with a barrier reef, lots of palm trees and a significant tidal range. The villages become a little sleepier and more relaxed as you head south, and Jambiani, in particular, is very relaxed indeed: for an authentic visit to a friendly village, you can’t beat it.
In south-west Zanzibar, the Fumba Peninsula is a very laid-back and friendly corner of the island, with two good lodges, while offshore is the award-winning eco-resort on Chumbe Island.
A 30-minute flight north-east of Zanzibar Island, Pemba Island is comparable in size, but far more traditional in outlook, and tourist numbers here are tiny. Apart from a handful of honeymooners, most come for the diving, which can be excellent – although it’s really best suited to advanced divers.
Equally magical, although not part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, is the Mafia Archipelago. More remote, and quieter, than many places on Zanzibar, Mafia Island offers some superb diving and snorkelling in its own marine park, served by just a few small lodges. And new on the Tanzania beach holiday scene is Fanjove Island, an ideal spot to wind down after a safari in southern Tanzania.
What to expect on a Zanzibar beach holiday
Sun, sea and sand: a Zanzibar beach holiday offers these in abundance. Zanzibar’s beaches differ, but almost all feature crystal-clear waters lapping at the edge of powdery-white sand that trickles through the toes. Be aware, though, that many beaches have large tidal ranges; at many, especially on Zanzibar’s east coast, swimming is possible only when the tide is in.
Zanzibar offers some excellent snorkelling, and world-class diving – which is centred around Mnemba Atoll to the north-west, and the Menai Bay Conservation Area, to the island’s south-west. But even if you’re not a water baby, the chance to view the coastline from a traditional wooden dhow is not to be missed.