There are a plethora of places to visit and things to do in Zanzibar. The East African island packs a whole lot of punch for things to do and experience. It’s safe to say that excitement and relaxation can be had on every corner of Zanzibar.
We arrived with no knowledge of the island but set off to explore Jozani Forest, Paje Beach, and even a cruise on the local boat, a dhow. With almost a month on the island, we were able to cover most of the hot spots. Looking for where to start once you arrive in Stone Town? Here are the top places to visit in Zanzibar.
Where is Zanzibar Located?
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 Zanzibar Archipelago, which consists of several islands. The four main islands are Unguja Island (which is Zanzibar),
Pemba Island, Latham Island and Mafia Island.
Best Things to do in Zanzibar
1. Jozani Forest
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.
It’s easy to get lost and find the monkeys in the Jozani forest. 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 would recommend getting to Jozani forest before 9 am as busloads of tour groups arrive after that, and people bombard the monkeys.
2. Seaweed Center
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!
3. 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 modern amenities the house had first in Stone Town, such as plumbing and electricity. However, it now has none of those wonders as it is under renovation, and at the time of writing, entering is not permitted.
4. Paje Beach
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 to do for those looking for free things to do in Zanzibar.
For those looking to have an active holiday in Zanzibar, the most popular thing to do in Paje is kite surf. There are an endless amount of schools and rental shops all dying to take you out on the water and show you the ropes of kitesurfing.
If you’re not a beginner, Paje has just 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.
5. Spice Tour
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.
6. 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 area the safari blue cruise takes place has become so massively commercial the reef has is ruined. A sad sight to see and a bit of a disappointment for the marine enthusiast.
7. Prison Island
Prison Island is one of those great places of interest in Zanzibar. Take a boat just 5 km away 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 quarantined.
The main joy of visiting prison island is seeing the nearby tortoise sanctuary. There are some of the giant Aldabross tortoises that also call the Seychelles home. Make sure to bring sunblock for the boat transfers and snorkeling.
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 would 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 Zanzibar 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 the price you pay to have dinner on 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.
11. 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 ever as memorable as when we sat there and documented Zanzibari life. It’s our favorite photo series to date and was even featured by Lonely Planet.
The Zanzibar Coffee house roasts its own coffee and serves up 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.
12. Catch Park Hyatt Zanzibar Happy Hour
For great cocktails in Stone Town, head to the Park Hyatt Zanzibar. There is a half-price happy hour every day starting 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.
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 is the rainy season, and you can expect long downpours. Flooding is typical during these months and because of this many hotels will shut their door. You’ll likely still have sunny weather, but I would expect to get wet during these months.
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 of course, 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!