There are many places to visit and things to do in Zanzibar. The East African island has a lot of things to do and experience. It’s safe to say that excitement and relaxation can be had in every corner of Zanzibar.
We arrived without knowing the island but set off to explore Jozani Forest, Paje Beach, and even a cruise on the local boat, a dhow. We could cover most of the hot spots for almost a month on the island. Looking for where to start once you arrive in Stone Town? Here are the top places to visit in Zanzibar.
Where is Zanzibar Located?
Before we jump into this guide of things to do in Zanzibar, let’s focus on geography. Zanzibar is an island in the Indian Ocean, a two-hour (15 miles) ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam, a major city in Tanzania.
Zanzibar is not a country but is considered a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Politically it is part of Tanzania. Zanzibar is also isn’t just one island but is the largest of the Zanzibar Archipelago, which consists of several islands. The four main islands are Unguja Island (which is Zanzibar), Pemba Island, Latham Island, and Mafia Island.
The Best Things to do in Zanzibar
Jozani Forest is one of the most popular places to visit in Zanzibar. The forest is the last sanctuary in the world to see the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. The forest is located in the Eastern part of the island and is one of the lushest places on Zanzibar. It’s a staunch reminder of what we have done to our environment over the centuries.
Getting lost and finding the monkeys in the Jozani forest is easy. Many nature trails lead through beautiful forests, and the red colobus monkeys are not shy. After your visit to Jozani, be sure to cross the street and visit the Mangrove forest.
I recommend getting to Jozani forest before 9 am as busloads of tour groups arrive after that, and people bombard the monkeys.
If you’re wondering what to do in Zanzibar that is not beach hopping or wandering around Stone Town, a visit to the seaweed center is a must. We decided to visit the Seaweed Center right in Paje after reading this great post from our friends at Hey Dip Your Toes In.
The Seaweed Center (now called Mwani Zanzibar) is a women’s initiative that employs local women to make products from the abundance of seaweed around the island. Guest can take a full tour to see the daily tasks of the seaweed farmers, or they can relax at the shop with a glass of seaweed fruit juice!
House of Wonders
When wondering what to do in Zanzibar, a visit to Stone Town is essential. Or the “Palace of Wonders” is the tallest building in Stone Town and a main Zanzibar point of interest. It’s right next to the Old Fort and is a sight to see while in Stone Town.
It is also the spot for the first elevator in all of East Africa. History buffs can learn about the history of Stone Town here and view old exhibits and rooms.
The name comes from the house’s modern amenities first in Stone Town, such as plumbing and electricity. However, it now has none of those wonders as it is under renovation, and entering is not permitted at the time of writing.
Dine at Forodhani Gardens
One of my top Zanzibar travel tips is to visit the Forodhani Gardens on at least one night on your trip! Forodhani Gardens refers to a public park in Stone Town. These gardens are set right in front of its most famous buildings, Old Fort and House of Wonders. It’s sometimes referred to as Jubilee Gardens, Forodhani Park, or the main town square.
The best time to head here is around sunset. You’ll know when you arrive as your senses will be overwhelmed by the fresh grilled seafood. The open-air food market vendors sell mostly Swahili and Zanzibari cuisine, such as samoosas, seafood, and kebabs.
Even if you are not hungry, we still recommend heading here as it is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar to experience the local culture. It’s also a very affordable place to eat!
If there is a backpacker spot on Zanzibar, it’s Paje beach. The beach has hip cafes, burger joints, kite surfing companies, bars, and hostels, making it one of the great places to visit in Zanzibar. We spent a few days relaxing in the inviting turquoise waters, which is the perfect thing for those looking for free things to do in Zanzibar.
For those looking to have an active holiday in Zanzibar, kite surfing is the most popular thing in Paje. There are endless schools and rental shops dying to take you out on the water and show you the ropes of kitesurfing.
If you’re not a beginner, Paje has the right amount of wind to spend the entire Zanzibar holiday improving your kitesurfing skills. It’s often considered one of the best places in the world to go kite surfing, and it’s easy to understand why when you feel the wind and see the gorgeous water.
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Zanzibar is often referred to as “Spice Island” for its centuries of clove, nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon production and is one of the top five things to do in Zanzibar. Most of these spice tours depart from Stone Town and take you to a large spice farm to see, touch, and taste the many flavors of Zanzibar.
I would recommend bringing decent walking shoes as it may be muddy. Make sure to bring extra cash if you want to buy some spices and tea to take home. Don’t come full as there is a full tasting at the end of the tour.
Zanzibar Butterfly Centre
The Zanzibar Butterfly Center is near Jozani Forest, so is a really great experience if you are already in the area. It offers an interactive environment that both children and adults will love.
With the help of 40 local farmers from a nearby village, butterfly farming is done here. Farming provides a stable income for the farmers while giving back to the environment. At the butterfly center, you can let the butterflies flutter all around you while having an educational visit and learning about conservation.
You can enjoy a 30-minute guided tour around the property, and the admission fees directly support the training of the farmers.
Safari Blue Cruise
After having a memorable time sailing on a dhow in Mozambique, we decided not to miss it in Zanzibar. So we set up with the guys at Colors of Zanzibar for a fun day out at sea. We departed early morning from the fishing town of Fumba. The team specializes in individual tours, so we enjoyed having the entire dhow to ourselves.
We made our way to a little sandbank off the coast of Zanzibar, which was about three hours away from being swallowed by high tide. On this island, visitors can get the best views of the blue ocean while snorkeling and enjoying the cool morning air with fresh fruit.
Afterward, there are options to keep snorkeling or see a hidden lagoon before enjoying a seafood buffet lunch on Kwale Island. It is here that there are massive baobabs, small shops, and more beach paradise.
Don’t expect the snorkeling to be great, though. Unfortunately, the safari blue cruise’s area has become so massively commercial that the reef has been ruined. A sad sight to see and a bit of a disappointment for the marine enthusiast.
Prison Island is one of those great places of interest in Zanzibar. Take a boat just 5 km from Stone Town to reach the iconic Prison Island or Changuu Island to be technical. Built-in the late 1800s, this prison served as an island for slaves, violent prisoners, and quarantines.
The main joy of visiting prison island is seeing the nearby tortoise sanctuary. Some of the giant Aldabross tortoises also call Seychelles home. Make sure to bring sunblock for the boat transfers and snorkeling.
Snorkel Mnemba Island
If you haven’t gotten your fill of Tanzania’s marine life, you stand your best chance at seeing some incredible tours with a snorkel tour around Mnemba Island.
Mnemba Island is a small island just 3 km off the coast of Unguja. It’s only 500 meters in diameter, but it is stunning to walk on and enjoy the turquoise blue water. If you are dive certified, you can also book a tour around Mnemba!
Have Dinner at The Tea House Restaurant
Honestly, having a meal at this establishment is one of those must-do things in Zanzibar. Anyone wanting a night out in Stone Town should visit the Tea House Restaurant at Emerson on Hurumzi.
The restaurant is located on top of the boutique hotel in the middle of the kasbah. And it has one of the best views of Stone Town, making it my favorite thing to do in Zanzibar.
They get quite popular for sundowners and dinner, so we recommend making a reservation beforehand. We spent an entire evening here drinking spicy cocktails, listening to live Zanzibari music, and chowing down on delicious Persian-inspired cuisine before retiring to our gorgeous room.
Visit The Rock
The Rock restaurant is pretty synonymous with Zanzibar and is usually mentioned in every best Zanzibar restaurants guide. The restaurant is located in Pongwe (the southeast part of the island) and is accessible by motorbike or taxi cab from Paje.
We made the memorable trip out to The Rock to get some lovely photos of the iconic spot. If you visit during high tide, a free boat taxi will deliver you to the rock (unless you feel like swimming).
We wanted to get food and drinks but be warned that the prices are sky-high for Zanzibar. I suppose it’s your price to have dinner literally in the Indian Ocean. We didn’t have reservations and weren’t given excellent service because of this, so I would highly suggest calling ahead if you plan to go.
Even if you don’t have a meal here, just coming to see the unique building is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.
Coffee at the Zanzibar Coffee House
This Zanzibar Cafe is located right next to Emerson Spice in the heart of Stone Town and is one of those Zanzibar points of interest you have to see. We had lunch and breakfast here a few times, but nothing was as memorable as when we sat there and documented Zanzibari life.
The Zanzibar Coffee house roasts its coffee and serves anything from cafe lattes to delicious vegetable chapati wraps. Once you walk into the cafe, it feels as if you are transported back in time to a coffee house in the old Arabic world. Even if you don’t like coffee, this is a must-visit. Make sure to visit Upendo right across the street for any shopping you may want to do.
Upendo employs all local women through education and teaches them how to sew beautiful clothes. We found ourselves here a few times for unique clothing and jewelry for both men and women at an affordable price.
Catch Park Hyatt Zanzibar Happy Hour
For great cocktails in Stone Town, head to the Park Hyatt Zanzibar. A half-price happy hour every day starts at 18:00 and includes all drinks. So if you’re craving a New York cocktail off the coast of Africa, the Park Hyatt is calling your name. We even got our bourbon fix, making us two happy travelers.
Wander Through Stone Town
One of the best things to do in Zanzibar is wander the streets of Stone Town. There are many unique places to see in Stone Town, including beautiful boutique shops and plenty of fabulous restaurants. Venture around the Forodhani Gardens and the Old Fort!
You can easily walk around Stone Town yourself, but it’s best to book a walking tour with Colors of Zanzibar to learn more about what you see.
Go Shopping at Darajani Market
The Darajani Market (or Bazaar) is the main bazaar in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It’s the most popular place to come and get spices, dates, bread, fruits, and almost anything you could need. Beyond getting some souvenirs, it’s a fantastic place to soak in the culture.
Watch Locals Do Acrobats and Capoeira at Sunset
On pleasant evenings at sunset, many young local boys will head to the Stone Town public beach to enjoy the last light of the day with some acrobatics and capoeira. What is capoeira? This is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. It’s pretty fun to watch from any of the nearby restaurants or on the beach.
It’s far from the nicest beach in Zanzibar, but if you are in Stone Town for sunset, this is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar. Look out for the large crowds – these tend to form around some of the most talented boys!
Learn About the Slave Trade
Zanzibar is best known for its white sandy beaches and bright blue water, but it has a darker past than many realize.
Zanzibar was the Africa Great Lakes’ main slave-trading port. It’s said that as many as 50,000 slaves passed through here in the 19th century. These slaves were sold at the slave markets until the late 1800s.
This area of Stone Town is one of the last places to host open slave markets. It’s worth visiting a former slave market site in Stone Town to learn more; you can book guided slave trade tours here.
Enjoy the Many Beaches
Make sure to get out of the city and explore as many Zanzibar beaches as you can. There’s a beautiful one around every corner. My favorites are Nungwi Beach and Pongwe Beach, but so many others exist to explore.
Of course, if you are staying at an oceanside Zanzibar resort or hotel, you’ll likely want to chill at their beach for at least one of your days too! So choose a great hotel with the ideal location!
Where to Stay on Zanzibar
The most exclusive of all the resorts on Zanzibar is, without a doubt Kilindi Zanzibar. The resort is near Kendwa on the Northwestern part of the island and is one of the top Zanzibar hotels on the beach. Its large grounds give plenty of privacy to its 15 villas that pop up from a lush hillside.
Park Hyatt Zanzibar
The Park Hyatt Zanzibar is an exquisite hotel delivered in a way only capable of a Park Hyatt and is easily one of the top 10 hotels in Zanzibar.
Essque Zalu Zanzibar
Essque Zalu is one of the best beach resorts in Zanzibar. This Zanzibar hotel is not for the faint of heart, at Essque Zalu bigger is better.
When is the Best Time To visit Zanzibar?
June to September is officially the dry season meaning your chance of a sunny day is exceptionally high. In general, this is the busiest time to visit Zanzibar and prices for accommodation will be at their highest. Zanzibar is near the equator so the weather doesn’t sway too drastically, and you are almost guaranteed some sunshine on your vacation.
That being said, April and May are the rainy seasons, and you can expect long downpours. Flooding is typical during these months, and many hotels will shut their doors. You’ll likely still have sunny weather, but I would expect to get wet during these months.
When is the Best Time to Visit Zanzibar?
How to Get to Zanzibar
Not many US air carriers fly directly to Zanzibar. However, there are flight connections from major hubs in the Middle East, such as Muscat, Doha, Dubai, or Qatar. You’ll also be able to find flight connections through select European hubs like Amsterdam and London. From Africa, Johannesburg and Dar Es Salaam have the best connections.
If you are in Dar Es Salaam, you can take the ferry from the port to Stone Town. Azam Marine runs daily ferries between the mainland and island and costs $35 one way.
Whether you’re coming from the Serengeti or jumping into the rest of East Africa, a trip to Zanzibar should be on your radar. There are so many things to do in Zanzibar that visitors never risk getting bored!
Book A Trip Around Tanzania
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari, you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They suggest camps and lodges then present you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way, you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. Experts on staff can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details like a travel agent.
Another great option is Safari Bookings. Safari Bookings offer safaris all around Africa in every price range!
ZANZIBAR TRAVEL TIPS
We hope you enjoyed this guide on the best things to do in Zanzibar. We have many more Zanzibar articles for your trip!
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.