TOP 10 Sights and Activities on Zanzibar Island

by Kassay Tamás

Zanzibar is a jewel in the Indian Ocean, offering numerous sights, activities, excitement, and relaxation in every corner for travelers. The island is reachable by a two-hour (15-mile) ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam, one of Tanzania’s major cities.

Important information about Zanzibar before traveling

Zanzibar is not a country but a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, with the island of Zanzibar being the largest among the Zanzibar Archipelago’s multiple islands.

Zanzibar’s Four Main Islands

  • Unguja Island (commonly known as Zanzibar),
  • Pemba Island,
  • Latham Island,
  • Mafia Island.

When to Travel to Zanzibar for the best weather?

The period from June to September is officially the dry season, with the highest number of sunny hours. This makes it the busiest time for tourism, and accommodations are also more expensive during this period. Due to its proximity to the Equator, Zanzibar experiences minimal weather fluctuations, ensuring almost guaranteed sunshine during the vacation. April and May mark the rainy season, with extended showers and occasional flooding, leading some hotels to temporarily close their rooms.

Top 10 Sights and Activities on Zanzibar

Here, we present 10 experiences and attractions that guarantee a life-changing adventure when you travel to Tanzania’s island paradise. In addition to Zanzibar’s attractions, we have compiled a list of Zanzibari hotels in another article to assist in decision-making.

Jozani Forest National Park

Jozani Forest National Park is one of Zanzibar’s most popular excursion destinations. The forest is the last refuge for the Zanzibar red colobus monkey globally. Located on the eastern part of the island, the Jozani Forest is one of Zanzibar’s most vibrant places. While it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Jozani Forest, numerous trails guide you through the stunning locations. Red colobus monkeys are easily spotted, as they are typically not shy. To avoid the tourist crowds chasing the monkeys, it’s advisable to arrive at Jozani Forest National Park before 9 a.m.

Snorkeling at Mnemba Island

Tanzania’s marine life is captivating, not just in the forest but also in the sea! Consider joining a snorkeling tour around Mnemba Island. Mnemba Island is a small island just 3 km off the coast of Unguja. With a diameter of only 500 meters, it offers a breathtaking walk around or through it, surrounded by turquoise waters from every direction. For those with a scuba diving certification, Mnemba Island is a must-visit spot in Zanzibar!

The Rock – Restaurant in the Indian Ocean

The Rock restaurant is synonymous with Zanzibar and is mentioned in almost every Zanzibari restaurant guide. Located in Pongwe (southeastern part of the island), it is accessible by motorcycle or taxi from Paje. The Rock restaurant is an iconic place, visually stunning in photographs, and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who can witness it in person.

During high tide, a free boat taxi transports guests to the rock (unless you prefer to swim). If you not only want to marvel at the scenery but also indulge in a meal, be prepared for higher prices compared to mainland Zanzibar, which is understandable. Dining in the ocean is a rare opportunity, so it’s advisable to make a reservation in advance!

Stroll in Stone Town

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Stone Town is Zanzibar’s major city, hiding numerous unique attractions with enchanting restaurants, quirky boutiques, and plenty of intricately carved doors. While exploring the city, it’s worth wandering in the Forodhani Gardens and the Old Fort.

The narrow streets of the city are filled with traditional Arab and Indian-style houses, along with elaborately carved doors. Door decorations hold special significance; often, various carvings and patterns symbolize the owner or family’s social status, religion, or even the function of the house.

Stone Town is easily navigable on foot, but you can enhance the experience by taking a dhow cruise. The Darajani Market (or bazaar) is Stone Town’s main market, offering spices, dates, bread, fruits, and almost everything else. Beyond souvenir shopping, it’s a perfect place to immerse yourself in local culture.

Watch Zanzibari Acrobats and Capoeira at Sunset!

On pleasant evenings, during sunset, many local young men gather at Stone Town’s public beach to enjoy the last rays of the sun through acrobatics and capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. It’s quite entertaining to watch from nearby restaurants or the beach as these young individuals showcase their spectacular passion. The Stone Town beach becomes lively with people gathering around the most impressive performers.

Nakupenda Beach

Since we’ve mentioned beaches, it’s essential to highlight that Nakupenda Beach offers a unique experience for visitors. Its name translates to “I love you” in Swahili, and with its magical combination of turquoise water and white sandy beaches, it provides a breathtaking view. The beach is located on the northern coast and is an ideal place for relaxation, sunbathing, and enjoying the sea. For the more active, various water sports options are available, such as diving or kayaking.

House of Wonders, Stone Town

The “House of Wonders” is Stone Town’s tallest building and one of Zanzibar’s main attractions. Located right next to the old fort, it is a sightseeing must when exploring Stone Town. It houses East Africa’s first elevator. History enthusiasts can delve into Stone Town’s history here and view numerous historical artifacts. However, during the writing of this article, the House of Wonders is undergoing renovation, and unfortunately, entry is not allowed.

Spice Farms, Spice Tours

Zanzibar is often referred to as the “Spice Island” due to the centuries-old cultivation of cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon. Most spice tours start from Stone Town and take you to a large spice farm, where you can not only see but touch and taste various spices of Zanzibar. It’s recommended to wear sturdy walking shoes, as the tour can get a bit muddy at times. Be sure to carry cash if you plan to buy spices and tea.

Makunduchi Village

Makunduchi Village is a traditional Zanzibari village in the southeastern part of the island. For visitors, it offers an opportunity to get a closer look at Zanzibari local culture and lifestyle.

Makunduchi is best known for the Mwaka Kogwa or Mwaka Koga (“the show of the year”) celebrations held in July and August, rooted in Shirazi and Swahili heritage, celebrating the new year. During Mwaka Kogwa, a ritual battle takes place, culminating in the burning of a hut. Predictions for the new year are then made based on the direction taken by the smoke. Today, only Mwaka Kogwa, the New Year celebration, remains. In recent years, the significance of this festival has grown rather than diminished. Tours are organized to visit the festival and explain and demonstrate the customs, and the festival continues to this day.

Prison Island

Prison Island is one of Zanzibar’s unique attractions. Located just 5 km from Stone Town, Prison Island, or Changuu Island in technical terms, is accessible by boat. Built in the late 1800s, this prison held slaves and violent prisoners, also serving as a quarantine island.

The primary purpose of visiting the Zanzibari Prison Island today is not to explore the ambiance of the former prison but to see the nearby turtle sanctuary. Aldabra giant tortoises, which now only inhabit the Seychelles in their natural habitat, reside here. These giant tortoises can live for at least 100 years, with the possibility of reaching two hundred. They are considered the longest-living species on Earth. Sunscreen is a must if you plan to take a boat transfer or go snorkeling!

Wishing you a great journey and many memorable experiences on Zanzibar!

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