Lying off Tanzania’s coast, the Zanzibar Archipelago consists of over 50 islands, most of which have a long history and a rich cultural mix. The best known island here is Zanzibar. It is an integral part of Tanzania .
The larger islands in the archipelago are highly fertile, with many agricultural resources. They’re covered with small farms and everywhere the air is thick with the aroma spices – it’s an exotic atmosphere. The beaches on these islands are often stunning: many are powdery white sand, shaded by palm trees. The sea is shallow and tropical, and the reefs are great for snorkelling and diving.
The heart of Zanzibar Town, Stone Town, is a labyrinth of narrow alleys complete with palaces, mosques, and tiny shops. Come here for a night or two to stay in a small hotel or converted merchant’s house – and soak up the atmosphere.
East Coast Zanzibar
The east coast of Zanzibar is lined with long, powder-white beaches; it’s very sow and relaxed. We’ve included here the best small resorts; all quite different! Or travel offshore to the magical Mnemba Island – for the ultimate private island getaway!
Two or three hours’ drive from Stone Town, Nungwi has long been a magnet for visitors seeking their slice of paradise. Come for good diving and beaches, and a lively village atmosphere; there’s a lot going on here!
Zanzibar’s southeast, the Michamvi Peninsula is very similar to the ‘East Coast’ – small lodges, and the odd larger hotel, on long, stunning, powder-white beaches and palm trees.
South of Stone Town, the Fumba Peninsula is one of the most relaxed and friendly corners of the island – and its very quiet, with few visitors. There are two beautiful lodges here – and offshore is an award-winning eco-resort on Chumbe Island
Although part of the archipelago, Pemba is a half-hour flight north-east of Zanzibar. It’s a less developed island with a more traditional people, and one smart lodge.
Although not part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, the neighbouring Mafia Archipelago deserves to be better-known – even if we are often glad that it isn’t! Come for a handful of great-value tiny beach lodges, and great snorkelling and diving. They’re not glitzy or glamorous – but they’re good!
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.
For those in search of a remote island getaway, Tanzania has two other gems: Mafia Island, a long-time favourite of diving aficionados, and the newly accessible hideaway of Fanjove.
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.
Beach lodges on Zanzibar
Far from the super-slick style of international hotels found all over the Caribbean, many Zanzibar beach lodges have more in common with a good African safari lodge. Typically you can expect attractive beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, while at the top of the range are some smaller and more intimate beach lodges that have a boutique feel. Most of our suggestions in Zanzibar are along these lines, and to find them start looking along the east coast, on theMichamvi Peninsula and in south-west Zanzibar.
Zanzibar beach resorts
Good-quality, larger beach ‘resorts’ which suit our travellers in Zanzibar are few, notably including Breezes and Blue Bay Beach Resort – both of which can offer very good value to families and often honeymooners on a budget.
Other holidays on Zanzibar
While a beach holiday in Zanzibar is the ultimate appeal for many travellers, many are attracted by the island’s rich culture – and for them Stone Town usually becomes a big attraction. A labyrinth of narrow alleys complete with palaces, mosques, and tiny shops. it has a vibrant, exotic atmosphere that can be enticing. Spend a night or two at one of the beautiful converted merchant’s houses, and look forward to eating out – perhaps at the end of a trip, before your return morning flight from Dar es Salaam to London.