Lisa Owen

The East African island of Zanzibar is a must do on every African itinerary.

The ‘Spice Island’ is not just rich in spices, but also white sand beaches, marine animals and history.

Here are 10 things to see and do on the island of Zanzibar.

1. Roam the labyrinth streets of Stone Town

Your first stop in Zanzibar will likely be Stone Town, the historical centre of Zanzibar City.

Stone Town is rich in history and you can spend hours roaming the labyrinth streets.

But make sure you keep a map handy! The labyrinth streets can be disorientating and it’s easy to get lost.

A sombre but interesting place to see is the site of the former Slave Market. Zanzibar was once a large slave trading port – in fact it was the setting of the world’s last open slave market.

You can still see two of the claustrophobic underground chambers where slaves were kept before they were sold. A museum above the chambers details in Swahili and English about the history of the slave trade.

Other key sights in Stone Town include Mercury House, where Queen’s Freddie Mercury spent his early years; the House of Wonders; and the Old Fort.

Also keep an eye out for Zanzibar’s famous doors. The distinctive doors are fitted with brass studs originating from India. The brass studs functioned as a defence against war elephants, which were utilised to break down doors. However, the studs are purely decorative on the Stone Town doors. 

2. Pick up cheap eats at the Stone Town night market

You’ve probably worked up an appetite after all that walking through Stone Town, so head down to the night market for dinner.

The market is held every night in the Forodhani Gardens on the waterfront, and it’s a hive of activity as all sorts of foods are cooked up and vendors hustle.

Food and drinks on offer include:

  • Zanzibar pizza. You can get both sweet and savoury varieties with prices starting from $3000 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) – about £1 GBP. The pizzas consist of two layers of a thin dough containing your choice of fillings, and are freshly cooked while you wait. Savoury varieties all contain an egg and your choice of meat and/or vegetables. The sweet varieties are more crepe like than pizza, and the savoury ones taste like an omelette.
  • Skewers of all sorts of seafood and meat including octopus, prawns, duck, chicken, pork and beef
  • Meat or vegetarian samosas
  • Sugar cane juice
  • Coconut bread and traditional chapati flatbread
  • Shawarma – a kebab like wrap made with chicken, lamb or beef

3. Take a boat ride to Prison Island

From Stone Town, you can take a short boat trip out to Prison Island to find out about a part of Zanzibar’s history and also see the resident turtles.

Despite the name, the prison on the island actually served as a quarantine centre for people with yellow fever.

4. Visit a spice plantation

Zanzibar’s reputation as the Spice Island is due to its abundant production of spices ranging from cloves to nutmeg, and its importance as a trading post between Africa and the Middle East. Zanzibar was once the clove production capital of the world.

Tours are offered across the island for a two-hour visit to a working spice plantation. During the tour, you’ll find out the medicinal and cooking uses of a range of spices.

5. Watch the sunset

Zanzibar offers some magic spots to watch the sun go down.

One of my favourite spots to watch the sunset was the promenade in Stone Town’s Forodhani Gardens.

While the sunset casts a colourful glow across the sky, you can enjoy the local street food and watch the locals play volleyball or jump off the sea wall into the ocean.

6. Go swimming crystal clear turquoise water

One of the major attractions in Zanzibar is the chance to swim in the clear, bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

Your photos won’t need any Instagram filters to showcase the beauty of the water.

The water is also very calm, so it’s perfect for swimming without worrying about being knocked over by waves.

The most popular beachside towns are Nungwi and Paje. Nungwi is best suited to couples and families, while Paje is a popular spot for backpackers.

While Nungwi is basically a row of gated resorts, Paje offers budget accommodation along the beachfront (you can get a dorm bed from £13.5 GBP a night).

Paje also offers well priced cafes and restaurants along the beachfront. Mr Kahawa is a backpacker favourite, and offers snacks, meals and desserts until 5pm daily.

7. Enjoy happy hour cocktails

Many restaurants and bars offer cocktails at half price during daily Happy Hours, which generally run from 5pm to 7pm.

Try the traditional African Dawa cocktail – or go for timeless favourites such as a pina colada or daquiri.

Dawa means medicine in the local Swahili language, and the refreshing cocktail is made with vodka, honey, lime and sugar.

8. Go snorkelling or swimming with dolphins

If you’re keen on heading out on the water, take a snorkelling or dolphin spotting tour.

Boats leave at 6.30am daily to take you out to areas frequented by dolphins.

You’ll be provided with snorkelling gear and then you get to jump into the water near the dolphins.

You can also arrange snorkelling trips to the outlying Mnemba or Tumbatu islands.

Tours can be arranged from Stone Town, Nungwi or Paje.

9. Try your hand at Kitesurfing

Zanzibar’s east coast is a popular spot for Kitesurfers due to favourable wind conditions.

Paje is a good base for travellers interested in kitesurfing with equipment hire possible or you can also take lessons starting from £17 GBP per hour.

10. Cruise the Indian Ocean on board a traditional wooden dhow

You can also head out on a traditional dhow boat during your stay in Zanzibar.

From Nungwi, you can watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean from the deck of a dhow.

Cruises leave daily at 4pm and return around 7pm.

Prices start from £10 GBP and include fruit to snack on and soft drinks.

Things You Should Know

  • Zanzibar experiences both a wet and dry season. Plan your trip accordingly as the rain can be torrential in the wet season, which runs from April to June. In the dry season, Zanzibar is incredibly hot and humid. Make sure you bring a hat, and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Bartering is a way of life on Zanzibar. It’s possible to barter on goods such as fruit and souvenirs, even food sold at Stone Town’s street food market. If you think the price is too high, it’s probably ‘tourist prices’ so try your hand at bartering.
  • Mosquitoes in Zanzibar may carry malaria. Bring insect repellent and cover up at night to avoid being bitten. Also consider taking malaria prevention tablets.
  • The majority of the population in Zanzibar is Muslim. Respect local customs and cover shoulders and knees if walking around Stone Town or visiting villages in beach towns. However, it’s ok to walk on the beach in a bikini.
  • You can get around Zanzibar cheaply by using local minivans called dala dalas.  If you don’t want to use the minivans, you can opt for private taxis however these are a lot more expensive.
  • You will be asked dozens of times a day if you want to buy a tour or souvenirs from people on the street in Stone Town or one of the ‘beach boys’ in beachside locations. If you’re not interested, keep on walking and try your best not to engage in a conversation. Usually the opening lines will be asking what country you’re from and where you’re staying.
  • Keep an eye on the tide in Zanzibar. In Nungwi, the tide comes right up to the base of the pylons the hotels stand on so be careful with your belongings.
  • Make sure you download the Maps.Me app for Zanzibar. It will save you getting lost in the Stone Town labyrinth.
  • The local currency is Tanzanian Shillings (TSH), however US Dollars are accepted almost everywhere. Credit card facilities may be available in some places but attract a high surcharge – sometimes up to 25%.
  • You can’t drink the tap water but bottled water is readily available. Expect to pay up to $1500 TSH (£0.50 GBP) per 1.5L bottle.
  • Swahili is the national language in Tanzania, but English is also widely spoken. Key Swahili words are Jambo (Hello) and Asante (Thank You).

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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