Top Things To Do in Zanzibar: Outdoor Activities and Travel Planning Guide

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Found just off the eastern coast of Africa, Zanzibar is the largest island in Tanzania and is found just a short boat ride away from the mainland, and the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam.

Known in local dialect as Unguja, Zanzibar is the largest of several islands in a small archipelago that offers a diverse and attractive escape from the rest of the country.

Zanzibar is just about as tropical as it gets, with beautiful stretches of pure, white sand beach to be enjoyed around the island, palm-fringed shorelines with outstanding vistas and plenty of opportunities for encountering marine life and wildlife.

white sand beach in Zanzibar

This has long been an important trading hub on the East African coast, and Zanzibar offers travelers an eclectic mix of culture, cuisine, and history that reflects the long-established ties between the island, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

The historic Stone Town is the island’s most impressive settlement, and there are museums and forts to wander around and restaurants and cafes to dine at.

Away from the old streets of this small city, the island is home to small fishing villages and coastal communities, where life is slow and it’s easy to relax. There is a lot to do when visiting the island, but to help you to plan your trip, here’s our guide of things to do in Zanzibar.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Tanzania (Travel Guide)


10 Best Things to do in Zanzibar

Lina Stock of Divergent Travelers Adventure Travel Blog on a beach in Zanzibar

Zanzibar has something for everyone, and there are a great many great things to do in Zanzibar and to experience across the island, from beach bathing to exploring museums.

Exploring urban centers is also a wonderful way to promote local life and drive community engagement. Stone Town is a thriving city, who’s Old Town is reminiscent of what it meant to be a thriving port city.

Weave your way through tiny, hidden cobblestone corridors and alleyways, or gaze at some of the most impressive architecture that survives throughout the city.

Follow the trails of the slave trade, visiting the museums and memorials that mark the history of one of the World’s biggest slave ports in its main day. As a final stop, be sure to take a moment and visit The House of Wonders that lies right by the oceanfront.

1. Stroll Around Stone Town

Streets of Stone Town Zanzibar historic center

Stone Town is Zanzibar’s historic center. It’s the old part of what is now the modern Zanzibar City, and it’s recognized as an important UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stone Town can trace its origins back hundreds of years, but most of the current buildings date to the 19th century when the British used the city as their base in the region.

The best thing to do in Stone Town is simply to walk the veritable maze of streets and buildings, exploring the hidden mosques and shops, wandering the fort and visiting the House of Wonders, the island’s national museum.

Our top recommended tours:

2. Paje

Small fishing boat next to Paje fishing village Zanzibar

Paje is another sleepy fishing village, that has recently become popular with kite surfers due to the windy coastline here. It’s in beautiful surroundings along the eastern shore, with a few rustic lodgings and restaurants and spectacular scenery.

3. Scuba Diving

David Stock Jr of the Divergent Travelers Adventure Travel Blog scuba diving a reef off Zanzibar

Sitting just south of the equator, Zanzibar’s waters are warm, calm and the perfect place to take a dive into the colorful coral reefs. Due to the country’s position, we highly recommend making this one of your must-do activities while visiting.

Some of the most prominent diving spots are at the Mnemba Island Atoll. Atolls are ring-shaped coral reefs that form an island surrounded by a body of water or lagoon. These areas are known for their aquatic diversity and wildlife.

4. Prison Island

Prison Island, also known as Changuu Zanzibar

Prison Island, also known as Changuu, is a small, idyllic white sand island that is found just off the coast of Stone Town. It looks like paradise, but for many escaped slaves in the 19th century, it became their prison if they were recaptured.

Today though, the island is better known as the home of a large population of giant tortoises that were given as a gift to Zanzibar and have since flourished.

Our top recommended tours:

5. Jambiani

Rows of seaweed on a seaweed farm, Jambiani, Zanzibar island, Tanzania

Found on the secluded eastern coastline, Jambiani is one of Zanzibar’s most authentic fishing villages. It’s found on a beautiful stretch of white sand beach and it’s an incredible place to laze away the day, enjoying the tropical setting and the relaxed pace of life.

6. Spice Island Tour 

Open achiote seed pod from the urucum tree used as natural lipstick on the spice tour in Zanzibar, Tanzania - Spice tour

One of the first things you should do when you arrive on Zanzibar sign up for a spice tour. The island is world-famous for its production of spices and you will have the opportunity to visit a private estate and sample spices in their natural harvested state.

These tours usually include a beautiful local lunch and local celebration.

7. Night Food Market

Night food Market in Stone Town, Zanzibar

This is, in my personal opinion, one of the best things to do in Zanzibar. Every single night there is a local food market that takes place in the main square down by the water.

Food stalls are set up serving all kinds of specialties including unique heritage dishes and various offerings from the melting pot of countries that form the current population of the island. 

We had kebabs from Syria, crepes from Tanzania, fruit bowls from the island and so much more. This event is a feast for senses and something that you cannot miss while you are in Stone Town. 

8. The Old Slave Market

Old Slave Market Zanzibar

If you are interested in the darker side of the island’s history, then visit Stone Town’s old slave market. This was one of the last slave markets left in the world before the British forced its closure when they gained control of the island in the 19th century.

Today, it’s an intriguing and moving museum, that will help you learn more about the sometimes conflicting history of Zanzibar.

Our top recommended tour:

9. Nungwi

Nungwi Beach at the most northern tip of Zazibar

Nungwi is found at the far northern tip of Zanzibar, and it’s possibly home to the best beach in Zanzibar. It’s away from the city and a quiet spot to explore, but one which may one day be taken over by resorts, the sand is that good.

The water here is shallow and there are a great many opportunities for snorkeling and diving off the beach.

10. Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park

Red colobus monkey in Jozani forest Chwaka Bay National Park Zanzibar

The island’s only national park, this small area of protected rainforest is pristine, and conservation efforts mean that it’s the home of many rare and endangered species, such as the red colobus monkey, a small unusual primate.

There are a few hiking trails and is the best of things to do in Zanzibar if encountering wildlife is high up on your list.

Our top recommended tour:


Zanzibar Travel Planning Guide

Where is Zanzibar?

Art for sale on the beach in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is found just 15 miles away from mainland Tanzania. The island itself is relatively small, with an area of just 950 square miles, but a huge range of nature and cultures to be found in this confined space. Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, is just across the strait and well connected to the island.

There is some ongoing debate about whether Zanzibar should be considered part of Tanzania or not, but officially it is. However, when you fly to or arrive by boat you will receive an entry stamp that refers to Zanzibar as it’s own entity. 

Don’t forget: Zanzibar Travel Map (Globetrotter Travel Map)

How to Travel to Zanzibar

Art boats for sale on the beach

Zanzibar has its own international airport, however, flight options are generally more limited than nearby Dar es Salaam. There are connections though, too many neighboring East African nations, in particular, Kenya and Ethiopia.

There are also long haul flights to the Middle East, to Dubai, Qatar, and Oman which then all have very frequent connections to the rest of the world.

Zanzibar’s international airport is just a few miles away from the main area of Stone Town, but many travelers may find that they are staying in resorts or in hotels across the island, particularly near the best beaches in the north, and accommodation providers can generally arrange efficient transfers. There are also plenty of taxis outside of arrivals.

Because of the limited flight options to Zanzibar itself, many travelers will choose instead to fly into Dar es Salaam. This is the capital of Tanzania, and as such there can be a great many more flight options, particularly from further afield, and it may be much cheaper to land here as well.

Sunset in Zanzibar

From Dar es Salaam airport, head to the ferry port, where fast boats leave for Zanzibar on a regular schedule. The journey takes on average, 2 hours to complete, but this can depend on weather and sea conditions.

Adventurous travelers may choose to save a few dollars and take the much slower overnight ferry for a more local experience, however, this is not for everyone.

Alternatively, from Dar es Salaam you can of course also fly domestically, a very short journey, but one which will save you time and trouble finding the ferry.

Getting around Zanzibar is easy, with many options available. You can hire a car at the airport, or book out a taxi, or if you are feeling more adventurous, then try flagging down a dalla-dalla bus, to travel for cheap as the locals do.

Priceline and Skyscanner offer great deals to Tanzania.

Best Time to Visit Zanzibar

Sunset on Nungwi beach, Zanzibar

Zanzibar enjoys a warm, tropical climate all year round, making it the perfect island getaway. The island does, however, experience a significant amount of rainfall, and most of the year, it is likely to rain at some point.

Most of the rainfall happens when the island is hit by monsoon weather which is carried across the region at its worst in November and December and again in April and May. During these rainy periods, it can be incredibly humid so it might not be the best time to explore the things to do in Zanzibar.

We personally visited Zanzibar during the month of August and we had beautiful weather. The days were sunny and warm with super bright sunsets each night. We didn’t experience any rain at this time of year. 

Where to Stay in Zanzibar

Luxury resort on Zanzibar Africa

Zanzibar has a real range of accommodation, and there is something, somewhere on the island, that will suit any budget and level of required comfort. There are many high-end resorts, with a price tag to match the luxury, of course, to be found across the island.

The north and the northeast, with beautiful beaches, is one of the best areas to find these.

Stone Town, the cultural and historic heart of Zanzibar, is a good choice for those looking to see a different side of the island, other than beaches and coral. Those on a budget, who are looking for a rustic, beachside experience though, will find many different, more basic options on many of the eastern beaches.

Our Top Hotel Recommendations:

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Is Zanzibar Safe for Tourists?

Stone Town streets, Zanzibar

Zanzibar is generally a very safe destination. It is an island that is set up for and used to tourism, and locals are likely to be on your side, as they want to benefit from tourist money. That being said, it is an area that does struggle economically, so be wary of petty crimes such as theft.

Foreign tourists also need to be aware of the conservative nature of Zanzibar. The predominant religion is Islam, and locals dress and act very conservatively inline with this, especially in the city. Be respectful when on the beaches, or enjoying drinks out, as what may be fine in your home country, maybe frowned upon in Zanzibar.

Currency and Language

Beach markets in Zanzibar

Travelers will find that Zanzibar’s locals speak a dialect of Swahili for the most part, a language common along the East African coast. Due to its long-standing position as a vital stop along with the region’s trade networks though, you will also encounter people who speak Arabic, French and of course, English.

The currency used across the island is the Zanzibar Shilling, however, US Dollars are widely accepted across the island and can be exchanged in many places, particularly the airport and Stone Town.

It is wise to bring hard cash, as the island has few ATMs, and most of them are found in or near the Stone Town area, and rarely outside of this, so be prepared and stock up on cash before venturing across Zanzibar.

Practice Sustainable Tourism

Zanzibar red colobus monkey. Zazibar, Tanzania.

The biggest thing is to be mindful of the environment during your stay on a small island like Zanzibar. Don’t bring plastic to the island and if you do, take it with you when you leave. Where do you think it goes if you leave it there? Support local trade and be mindful of the tours your participate in.

No matter how you choose to spend your time on Zanzibar, I guarantee it will be a memorable experience.

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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2 thoughts on “Top Things To Do in Zanzibar: Outdoor Activities and Travel Planning Guide”

  1. What a lovely blog, David! The pictures are stunning, and the details you provided are truly handy for people who want to explore Zanzibar. Zanzibar has always been a top destination for me. The reason behind is as clear as the turquoise seas in this part of Tanzania, and because yes, I love beach getaways! Zanzibar is a great retreat and a finale of an African trip, no doubt. Thanks for this inspiring article. I look forward to reading more about your African adventures!

    Reply
    • Zanzibar is a lovely beach getaway and something completely different that you can add onto a safari vacation when in Tanzania. The island has so much to offer, as well. Glad you found the story helpful. 🙂

      Reply

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