I’d had Zanzibar on my travel radar for a while and finally I made it. I had a week exploring the island, staying in three different areas. I wouldn’t say this was long enough but when you’re sleeping only metres from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, for me, it’s hard to ever say “I’ve had enough”.
Zanzibar is a region of Tanzania and is made up of two main islands, lying only a short distance from the mainland. My friend Bianca and I spent a week exploring the island of Unguja, which is the most populated of the islands and generally just referred as Zanzibar. We stayed in two different villages while there, Nungwi and Paje. Looking out at the ocean, especially up north, it was hard to believe it was real life, so amazing!!! The water is the most incredible blue and crystal clear. It’s a perfect location if you want to sunbake and relax, but also offers a number of tours and activities.
The international airport is about a 10 minute drive to Stone Town, which is the main area in Zanzibar city and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent our first night here as we flew in quite late. I loved Stone Town and I think it’s a story within itself, so next week I’ll post an article on my time in Stone Town.
If you’re already on mainland Tanzania there is a ferry you can get directly to Zanzibar, which I’m told takes an hour and a half. We were in Kenya so flew directly from Nairobi to Zanzibar with Kenya Airways. There are also direct flights from Johannesburg with South Africa’s budget airline Mango. If you’re coming from Australia or Europe the easiest option would probably be with Qatar Airways, fly to Doha then from there directly into Zanzibar.
As an Australian, I was required to get a visa. I could do this on arrival and it cost me 50USD.
The official currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling, although you always have the option to get things quoted in USD. Some places would even prefer you pay in USD over their local currency, 50,000TZS is roughly 22USD. ATM’s are available in Stone Town but not so much over the rest of the island. I’d suggest having some cash on you before leaving Stone Town as the only other ATM we saw was in Paje. Before leaving I’d read a lot online about many places not having credit card facilities. We didn’t find that and paid for our accommodation in Nungwi and Paje by card.
Escape the city to experience the islands best beaches.
Nungwi village is located at the northern tip of the island and, in my opinion, the absolute best area. It’s one of the biggest villages on the islands so there are plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants.
I’m honestly finding it hard to put into words just how incredible this beach was! We arrived after sunset on the Sunday night and when we went to breakfast Monday morning I was blown away at how perfect it was. The colours and the clarity were amazing.
We stayed at Baraka Beach Bungalows and paid 65USD per night, including breakfast. This was considered mid-range but we really enjoyed our stay. The location was perfect, the restaurant was right on the beach and our room was only a very short walk away.
The hotel had sun lounges along the beach and is where we spent our first couple of days. The water temperature was perfect as well, really refreshing but not cold. Before arriving in Zanzibar I was warned about the sun and how strong it is. I didn’t think much of it because I’m used to the strong Australian sun and after two days in the Zanzibar sun I was a little red but nothing dramatic. Then after a week my skin started to all peel off (yuck), so I suggest doubling up on the sunscreen!
Along the beach there’s many restaurants, bars, shops and tour operators but it’s nothing crazy busy like many Asian destinations. In this area especially there are a lot of ‘beach boys’, walking up and down the beach selling activities and tours. We never found them too annoying, everyone was really nice and offered a much cheaper prices than the hotels were offering. Also there were a few people around selling souvenirs and fresh coconut juice. So really I had no reason to get off my sun lounge all day haha.
If you’re after night life check out Kendwa Rocks, they host a number of different parties including full moon and foam parties. We had planned to go to a foam party on the Tuesday night but unfortunately I was too busy vomiting my guts up (I have no idea what from). So I was way to sick too go but all the locals said that Kendwa was the best party spot in the area.
From our hotel it would have been a 15 minute taxi ride, I don’t know the price but you can barter with the drivers. Or you could walk along the beach to get there, we were advised not to do that as some tourist have been mugged along the beach late at night.
We got to Nungwi in a taxi from Stone Town and it cost us 60,000TZS, we had found this driver on the street and negotiated a price.
After our time in Nungwi we were heading to Paje village. This trip we shared with a couple we’d met and in total paid 90,000TZS, which took about an hour and a half.
I think any car trip on the island shouldn’t cost more than 50USD.
Paje village is located on the southeast coast of the island, a beautiful area but just not quite as picturesque as Nungwi.
We stayed at Kilima Kidogo Guest House for 80USD per night (including breakfast) and I really liked the property. I thought it was beautiful but just very quiet. All the staff there were great, very friendly and attentive, except the guy behind the front desk. The most annoying thing was after we were told we’d pay for our stay upon departure, he charged my credit card anyway! We then told him we were actually planning on paying in cash and his response was ‘oh I would’ve preferred cash’ – well too late now buddy!
The beach along Paje wasn’t as amazing as up north, more waves and not that magical blue colour. I’m really glad Kilima Kidogo Guest House had a pool because when the tide was out, it was way out, so you couldn’t have gone swimming at all. There was a spa at the property and I got an amazing full body massage for 50,000TZS.
If I had my time over I’d stay a bit closer to the centre of Paje. We were more south in-between Paje and Jambiani Villages. Purely because there is more to see and do closer to the centre and a lot more restaurant and bar options. Kilima Kidogo was about a 25 minute walk to the centre of Paje.
If you’re after night life there is plenty of it around Paje, just ask around to find out where the best party will be each night. On the Friday night we went to the Jumbo Beach Party, it kicked off about 11pm and cost 10,000TZS entry fee. It was a really cool setup; there was a couple of bars, massive dance floor and awesome music.
As Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, if you plan on entering any of the villages it’s really important to cover up (at least to your knees and shoulders) Even though it’s a tropical paradise, we’re still visiting their home and I believe it’s so important to respect them and the culture. The villages are great if you’re planning on doing some shopping; there are plenty of souvenirs and paintings to be found. I have no doubt at some point you’ll have local kids coming up to you asking for lollies or biscuits. There are a few little mini marts around if you wanted to buy them something.
Activities / Day Trips:
We organised this cruise with some of the ‘beach boys’ at Nungwi, they charged 15USD (the hotels were advertising 30USD) We left at 16:00 and arrived back a bit after 18:30. The price didn’t include any food or drinks but we could bring our own alcohol on board. There were a couple of mini marts around and drinks only cost a couple of dollars each.
It was a really fun afternoon, very relaxing and travelled up and down the coast so it was cool checking out all the other hotels. Then right as the sun was going down we stopped for a swim and could jump off the top of the boat.
We had heard good things about Safari Blue, especially how good the seafood lunch was so we thought for 45US we’d head out for the day. Unfortunately, it was raining that day but we still went and were picked up about 08:30am. It wasn’t a long car ride to the boat and from there we went out to a large sand bank and were served a selection of fruits. The rain and clouds made this a pretty boring stop, you couldn’t even go swimming because it was surrounded by so many boats coming and going. It was irritating as well because so many people were grabbing star fish from the sea and posing for photos! Like yeah no worries, kill the animal so you can get a good picture! Then from there the boat took us to a snorkelling area – terrible spot, there was nothing really to see. Then we went to an island for lunch, the lunch was the best thing about the whole day, BBQ seafood and so much of it.
This was just one of those really touristy tours where you’re jumping from one spot to another. At one point I counted 23 boats, with 10-15 people on each boat. Way too busy and touristy for my liking.
The Rock Restaurant:
This isn’t so much of an activity but I think no matter where you are staying on the island you need to make the trip to the iconic Rock Restaurant. From our guest house in Paje we paid 20USD for a taxi to take us there and back. This would have to be the most famous restaurant on Zanzibar and probably the most expensive as well. But I didn’t find the price ridiculous, we paid 93USD for two mains, entrees and cocktails and everything we got was delicious.
The location is really what you go for though. You need to make a reservation in advance and I’d suggest checking the tide times beforehand. It’s way better if the tide is in, then the restaurant is completely surrounded by water and there’ll be a boat waiting to take you across when you arrive.
A couple of other activities that can be done on the island are:
- Kite Surfing
- Spice tours
- See Zanzibar’s endangered Red Colobus Monkey’s in Jozani forrest (we just saw some from the car as we were driving though).
One of the most popular activities on Zanzibar is the Dolphin Tours. In Kizimkazi village there is a cove where Dolphins come to everyday to feed. Boats take tourist out so they can jump in the water to swim alongside these beautiful animals. Before we arrived in Zanzibar this was something that I really wanted to do; I love Dolphins and it sounds awesome right?!?
When we were there and spoke to locals on how this tour is conducted and also read many reviews online, we decided we didn’t want to take part in this activity. In reality this is a small cove with potentially only a small number of Dolphins and up to 20 boats chasing after them. That in itself sounds horrible (the guy trying to sell us this tour didn’t understand why we had a problem with it). Then I read a review on trip advisor and a lady was explaining how she felt the dolphins were terrified and she heard them screaming under the water as more boats were approaching.
Hearing about this was so sad because I’ve always loved Africa for their love of animals. I’ve always found that every country in Africa I’ve been to, when viewing an animal, the animal’s well-being has always been put first. I think this tour is exploiting the Dolphins for human entertainment and I’m very glad I didn’t take part in it.
When you’re planning your travel dates, the two main things I’d suggest looking at first are:
- Weather; you don’t want to visit in the rainy seasons. If it’s pouring with rain everyday you’re not going to be able to experience the island at its full potential and beauty. Plus you’ll be limited on the activities you can do.
- Ramadan; During the month of Ramadan many shops and restaurants will be closed. As a tourist this could affect your time so probably easiest to avoid that month.
I loved my time in Zanzibar, the food, cocktails and incredible beaches is something I’ll definitley be coming back for again.
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