When dreaming of white sand beaches, delicious food, and exciting adventures, the island of Zanzibar usually doesn’t come to mind. But, situated off the coast of Tanzania, this African archipelago stuns its visitors with its blue waters and kind local population. If you want to discover the best things to do while on island time, keep reading!
The largest town on the island, Stone Town offers visitors everything from historical museums, great food, Persian baths, and a look into how Zanzibar experienced the slave trade. Center yourself here so you can explore every nook and cranny. Stare out into the vast Indian Ocean while sipping on fresh fruit juice, and this island city will feel just like a second home.
This is one of the top activities to participate in while you’re visiting Stone Town! Every single evening, the city comes alive with a huge seaside market. Stalls pop up and display delicious street food, from freshly caught fish to ripe fruit. Eat your heart out at fantastic local prices while you watch the sun set off the coastline.
Officially named the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, this 19-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) expanse of jungle will give you an insight into how this region of the world looked 100 years ago.
Zanzibar’s only national park is a huge attraction to visitors because it is also home to monkeys! Jozani Forest is the only place in the continent to see the native Red Colobus monkeys, and while you’re strongly advised to keep your distance the monkeys are amazing to see in person.
If you’re the kind of traveler that loves giving back during your trips and strives to support local movements, the Seaweed Center should not be missed. This social enterprise empowers local women who harvest the immense amount of seaweed on Zanzibar’s beaches and create various art pieces and items from it. From soaps and scrubs to essential oils, this center is located on the eastern side of the island (in Paje) and offers an incredible insight to the innovation of these women.
While you’re in Paje perusing the Seaweed Center, why not stop at a gorgeous beach? While popular among travelers who are familiar with Zanzibar, it has not yet become a backpacking mecca. Bordered on one side by a small beach town and the other by the Indian Ocean, Paje Beach provides activities for everyone. If you love water sports, from wind surfing to wake boarding, you will have the time of your life here. If you want to sit in a palm-frond cabana and sip a refreshing cocktail, you can do that as well. Rent some snorkel gear to see what some say is the best sea life off the coast of Zanzibar, including sea turtles, starfish, and octopus. If you want to immerse yourself in beachy, island time, book a few nights at a reasonably priced Paje beach resort and relax!
If you’re visiting Zanzibar, you’re taking a spice tour. That’s inevitable and everyone who has been on one raves about it. What is a spice tour? Well, Zanzibar is not only known for its beaches and seaweed trade. Historically named the spice islands off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is one of the largest producers of cloves in the world. With strong roots in the slave trade, taking a spice tour allows you to delve into history as well as learn about the current state of the spice trade. Take your time to search for a tour that benefits local farmers’ families and allows person-to-person connection versus just a spice farm tour.
One of the most popular day trips off the island is to Prison Island, which is a historic hospital and quarantine space that was originally constructed to be a prison but has been converted into a fantastic tourist destination! The boat you take there gives you a great view of both the island of Zanzibar and the prison, and while the hospital is fascinating to walk through, most visit for the giant tortoises that have taken residence. Make sure that the tour you book includes entrance to see the tortoises, as well as snorkel gear, so you can explore the surrounding waters.
This final destination in Zanzibar is, yes, a restaurant, but not just any mom-and-pop eatery on the beach. The Rock is an iconic spot on the island, so we recommend making a reservation for a few weeks in advance. It will be worth it, because the restaurant itself is perched on a huge rock that, during high tide, is only accessible by boat. During low tide, you can walk right up to the stairs that take you to your table. Formerly a fisherman’s post, the Rock is not to be missed.
How do you feel about Zanzibar now? It’s a difficult destination to define. Yes, it is a beach destination with beautiful sea life and stunning white sand. It is also a center of history, from centuries of trade to stories of plagues. You can also wander down cobblestone roads and eat at famous restaurants. Do you feel drawn to Zanzibar now?
Thanks for reading!
Xoxo, Grace Poulos — follow her adventures on Instagram.