The Zanzibar Archipelago, cradled by the motherly warmth of the Indian Ocean, is made up of Unguja, or Zanzibar Island, and Pemba, as well as a host of other tiny, twinkling gemstone islets. Each dew-drop constituent helps to form the United Republic of Tanzania of eastern Africa. Everything about this quintessential, paradise pit-stop suggests a by-gone age – spice plantations, raffia and clove exports, houses of coral, and brass studded doors warding off elephants. Streets are an intricate labyrinth of winding alleyways that gleam with a robust history of blended ethnicities and remarkably tenacious spirit.
Play castaways on the private island of Mnemba, in a cottage shaded by coconut fronds on the border of pool-like waters. Don’t expect to rough it too much – request a deck with an outdoor Persian bath, or a big brass bed on the balcony for a smooching session under the stars. Come evening-tide, dine at a table set up on the shore where you can savor succulent, freshly caught lobster and prawns on antique plates heated by the limelight of the moon. On Mangapwani beach, wash down an icy glass of local ginger beer, tingawazi, or scamper and splash in Pemba’s Fundu Lagoon.
Reminiscent of its trading era, Zanzibar boasts the fully operating ancient city of Stone Town. Here you’ll find exquisite examples of 19th century Arab architecture, stretches of bustling bazaars, and softly luminous mosques. Along the coast, over 25 beaches kiss the sea and gardens of coral reef wait to be explored. Monkeys tease, antelopes graze, and mongoose play underneath clouds of butterfly flutter, while the satiny canopy of banana palms and mangrove trees rustle and sing. Murmurings of Swahili waft along the air while traditional dhow boats are crafted against a backdrop of sunny fishing villages.
Zanzibar is scuba diving heaven for watersport zealots. Choose from Indo-Pacific-perfect wall, drift or night diving. For some amped up ‘venture, test your flippers in and around the wreck of the HMS Pegasus, fatefully sunk back in 1914. For an aquatic after-party, check out Misali Island, just off of Pemba's eastern coast. Cruise the horizon aboard a dreamy dhow, or catch lunch on a deep sea fishing expedition for scores of barracuda, kingfish, or wahoo. Snorkel alongside elegant manta rays - and if you’re lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of a demure shark.
In the hush of twilight, two-step together to the rhythms of traditional Taarab music, or explore the Forodhani Gardens night market. For an outlan-dish dining experience, reserve a table for two at restored dhow restaurant, moored to the Zanzibar harbour. Offered cuisine is sure to be stirring with hints of African, Goan, and Indian influences. Jozani Natural Forest Reserve is superb for a snapshot of the rare Red Colobus Monkey, also home to the fly-by-night Zanzibar leopard, said to roam the area in the midnight hours, often eluding curious visitors.
Deep in the north, the village of Ras Nungwi, you’ll find an endearing turtle sanctuary, organized by its goodhearted locals. Here these slow-and-steady sweethearts, alongside fellow injured marine playmates, are nursed back to health, and then dutifully released back into the wild.
Make sure to plot out some offshore day-tripping – Zanzibar offers plenty of richly naturalistic trails and experienced guides for the choosing. Must-see sites include the House of Wonders, the Palace Museum, Arab Fort, and Sultan Barghash's harem at Marahubi Mtoni. For a satisfying dose of culture-luster, immerse yourself in Zanzibar’s International Film Festival, or urban niches for a chance at a Zanzibari chest and painting, along Kenyatta Road or Gizenga Street.
On historically visceral Prison Island, you’ll find a colony of Aldabra tortoises as well as a café for midday eats. In the fishing village of Kizimkazi, take a boat trip out where you’ll encounter schools of bottle-nosed dolphins, unabashedly swimming right along your starboard bow. For the earliest example of Islamic evidence in Eastern Africa, eclectic Kizimkazi is also the site of a wow-inducing, impressively regal 12th century mosque.
before you go
What to Expect
Summer: October through March are the most pleasant months, with temperatures averaging around 25-30°C/77-86°F offset by a nice, cool sea breeze. November can sometimes bring short rainfalls.
Winter: April through September are just as warm as the summer months (24-28°C/75-82°F), save for the rainy spells in April and May (referred to as the ‘Green Season’).
Zanzibar is a conservative Muslim society, so dress modestly, but light – covering your shoulders and knees is recommended.
Kiswahili, English, Arabic, Italian
A valid passport and a visa (obtainable at point of entry for about $50)
Kashata: a sweet, candy-like cookie made with peanuts or coconut (or both)
M'Chuzi wa Nyama: curried stew of beef and onions flavored with lemon juice.
A Yellow Fever vaccination is required before you go
Smoking in public places is illegal.