Fancy a trip to one of the most desirable destinations in the Indian Ocean? Perfect! Today, on the IATI blog, we bring you a selection of the best experiences you can have in Zanzibar. Enjoy spectacular white sandy beaches, with the sea displaying hundreds of shades of blue and green. You’ll find luxurious resorts, diverse seabeds, and unique endemic species.

Just remember that in Zanzibar, everything works at a relaxed pace, or in other words, little by little. So, leave the rush and stress at home because you’re heading to paradise. A place where all problems are solved with a Hakuna Matata.

beach with crystal clear water seen from above in zanzibar

Getting to Zanzibar

A 20-minute flight on a small plane with 12 seats awaits you, bringing an island half the size of Majorca right to your feet. Undoubtedly, this short journey is the best introduction to this African pearl, located 36 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania.

While the island can be accessed from various international airports, most travellers take off from Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and fly over the ocean to reach Zanzibar. Alternatively, ferries depart from Dar es Salaam harbour. Fast ferries take about 2 hours, and slower, more affordable ferries take 4 hours. The official ticket offices are located at the Azam Marine-Coastal Fast Ferries building.

green crab in the sand in zanzibar

Enjoying life on dream beaches

Driving on bumpy roads has its rewards: access to Zanzibar’s stunning beaches, which are considered by many as the best in Africa. The most beautiful ones are concentrated on the East Coast. Long stretches of white sand, sheltered by coral reefs and adorned with slender palm trees, extend from Nungwi, one of the main tourist spots on the northern tip of the island—where you can observe dhows being built—to Jambiani, a beach famous for the incredible turquoise hues of its waters. Take note of these names: Kendwa, located very close to Nungwi and perfect for swimming; Pongwe, a quiet and uncrowded beach; Matemwe, boasting a lively village and fine sand; and Paje, an ideal spot for kitesurfing. However, keep in mind that swimming in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean always depends on the tide.

Precisely on these beaches, you can book all the excursions we are going to recommend and even customize them to your liking by negotiating with the staff. Another option to book these excursions is to go through a local agency.

sailboat at sunset in Nungwi, Zanzibar

Sail aboard a dhow cruise in Menai Bay

One of Zanzibar’s most popular activities is sailing around Menai Bay, a marine reserve in the southwest, dotted with picture-postcard sandbanks, mangroves, and coral reefs. You’ll embark on this adventure aboard a dhow, a sailing vessel of Arab origin that once transported goods and now carries travellers with the soul of explorers. The plan for the trip: snorkel, sunbathe on an uninhabited islet, stop for lunch – usually a barbecue buffet and fall in love with this corner of Zanzibar, which has been protected since 1997. A tip? If the tide is low, you’ll have to walk to the boat, so be sure to pack a waterproof rucksack and closed shoes.

sailing vessel on a beach in zanzibar

Safe travelling in Zanzibar

This incredible African paradise awaits you with a wide variety of things to do. That’s why it’s essential to be able to enjoy them, knowing that if anything happens, you’ll always be in the best hands. It is extremely important to have travel insurance for Zanzibar that protects you from the beginning to the end of this experience. IATI Backpacker (click here if your country of residence is within the European Union; click here if your country of residence is not part of the European Union) offers the best insurance for this demanding destination, and thanks to its extensive coverage, it will take care of you at all times. Whether you’re engaging in adventure sports like snorkelling, facing problems with your luggage, experiencing theft, dealing with transportation issues, or requiring high medical coverage, IATI Backpacker has you covered.

So choose to enjoy this destination with peace of mind, travel with confidence, and get your insurance now.

Explore Stone Town in search of Zanzibar’s soul

It would be unforgivable to travel to Zanzibar without stopping in Stone Town, the old town of its capital. It is a fascinating maze of narrow streets, declared a World Heritage Site, which witnessed the passage of various cultures that sought to conquer the island. Admire its famous wooden gates carved with large brass pieces, once used to deter elephants. Explore the vibrant Darajan market, where life goes on untouched by tourism. Visit the old Omani fort, the Persian baths, and the houses made of peeling coral stone. Take a stroll in the lively Forodhan Gardens and discover the historic House of Wonders and the Anglican Cathedral. The eerie cells of the former slave market serve as a poignant reminder that this island was once the main slave-trading center in Africa. Notably, this is the birthplace of Freddy Mercury, making it well worth leaving the Dolce far niente of the beach for a few hours. A word of advice: try to avoid the papacy, the unofficial guides who will attempt to convince you to hire their services.

From Stone Town, you can take a boat to Prison Island, which has a significant historical past as a slave prison and quarantine centre for the sick. Today, it has transformed into a nature reserve housing giant tortoises that were brought from Seychelles in the late 19th century.

a man standing in a building in stone town, zanzibar

Walk through Jozani Forest to see the last red colobus monkeys

You shouldn’t leave the island without visiting Jozani Forest because it is the only place in the world where you can find the red colobus monkey, a species at serious risk of extinction. Approximately 2,300 of these monkeys live here, and they are pretty accustomed to the presence of tourists, making it a unique and unforgettable experience. Additionally, Jozani Forest is the last remaining rainforest stronghold in Zanzibar, adding to its significance.

However, due to the high humidity and usually hot weather, the forest is prone to mosquitoes. To enjoy your visit comfortably, we recommend wearing trousers and a long-sleeved T-shirt, applying mosquito repellent, and carrying water to stay hydrated. The guided tour, lasting about 2 hours, will take you through mangroves, alongside substantial mahogany trees and sycamores, allowing you to discover the great ecological value of this area. While there is a small coffee shop available, it’s a good idea to bring your water for additional refreshment.

Make sure to explore Jozani Forest to see the last red colobus monkeys and appreciate the remarkable natural beauty of this unique ecosystem.

one monkey standing in a tree in jozani forest in zanzibar

Eat or Drink at The Rock

Indulge in a unique dining experience at The Rock, a small luxury restaurant perched on a rock that can only be reached by boat at high tide. While it may be a popular spot featured in countless Instagram galleries, it offers an unforgettable culinary adventure. We can’t deny that it’s a touristy destination, but the quality of the food and the exceptional location make it a worthwhile experience. Situated opposite Michanwi Pingwe Beach and surrounded by the enchanting beauty of the Indian Ocean, dining at The Rock is a truly magical experience.

Visit a Spice Plantation

In the 19th century, during the Sultanate of Oman’s reign, Zanzibar flourished in a golden age, fuelled by the trade in cloves and other spices. While its significance in the national economy has diminished today, there are still plantations in the centre of the island that you can visit during an excursion. There, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the culinary and therapeutic properties of spices like the ubiquitous cloves, as well as vanilla, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, and discover exotic tropical fruits you might not be familiar with. The visit only takes a few hours, so if you’re up for it, you know what to do.

Snorkelling or Scuba Diving at Mnemba Atoll

For snorkelling enthusiasts, the enchanting seabed you’re seeking lies at the atoll of the tiny Mnemba Island, Zanzibar’s most famous marine protected area. Prepare to be amazed by vibrant coral reefs, schools of tuna, barracuda, colourful fish, and even the chance to spot green turtles and dolphins. It’s the perfect activity to discover that the underwater beauty of this island is just as fascinating as the beauty on land.

a beach at sunset in zanzibar

Collecting Stunning Sunsets

Whether you’re in the gardens of Forodhani, on a secluded desert islet, lying in a hammock, or sipping a cocktail at a resort, it doesn’t matter where you are in Zanzibar; you’re in for an unforgettable treat. Zanzibar’s sunsets are some of the most breathtaking you’ll ever witness. As the sun slowly descends, the sky transforms into vivid shades of red and orange, while the sand glistens with a golden glow. The beauty is simply mesmerising. If you find yourself wishing to stop time and make these sunsets last forever, don’t worry, you’re not alone. We’ve all yearned for the same magical experience.

infinity pool near the sea with a palm tree in zanzibar

What do you think about this variety of things to do in Zanzibar? We’re sure you can’t wait any longer to go to this paradise! Let’s go!