An archipelago located along east-central Africa’s coast, Zanzibar is a place of beauty with captivating beaches, luscious forests, and fascinating historical sites. Zanzibar is comprised of several islands, the largest ones being Unguja, or Zanzibar Island, and Pemba. Read on to learn about some of the main reasons why you should visit the region.
It doesn’t matter which island you choose to stay on when in Zanzibar. The islands boast stunning, white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. Paje, located on the island of Unguja, is the preferred location for kite surfers and other sail-based water sports activities due to the constant winds, while snorkeling and scuba-diving expeditions can be arranged from any part of the island. Other beaches are ideal for deep-sea fishing trips, parasailing, and jet skiing, as well as cruises on traditional wooden Zanzibar boats. There are also, of course, plenty of opportunities to relax on the beach and paddle in the pristine waters.
However, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can head to the Kizimkazi fishing village and arrange a dolphin tour, where you will be able to spot the animals from the boat and, if you’re lucky, get close enough to swim alongside them.
In the Zanzibar archipelago capital of Zanzibar City, you can visit Stone Town, one of East Africa’s oldest living Swahili towns. The area is a worthwhile place to spend the day exploring, and you can wander the streets to obtain a sense of the region’s traditional culture and take in the town’s ornate 19th century stone buildings.
You also can visit the market stalls near Creek Road, purchase locally made arts and crafts from street shops, and take a walk around the House of Wonders, the Arab Fort, the Palace Museum, or the Livingstone house. The lattermost of these was once home to the great 19th century African explorer David Livingstone.
Furthermore, you can stop for afternoon refreshments at the Swahili House’s rooftop bar and see Stone Town from above. You can also go to the Sunset Bar at the Africa House Hotel for the early evening, where you’ll be treated to the most spectacular sunsets. After the sun goes down, head to the night market at the Forodhani Gardens and feast on the many street-food options available, such as fresh seafood, falafel, Zanzibar’s famous curries, and fresh juices.
If there is one thing Zanzibar is world famous for, it’s the incredible array of spices. Numerous kinds are grown and cultivated in the region’s spice plantations, including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, chili, and many that you may not have ever heard of before.
Consider taking your sense of smell on a journey by booking a tour through the spice plantations. These excursions take you around the area and explain the process of creating the spices and reveal the uses of many of the spices and spice oils to address medical ailments. Additionally, some tours offer cooking lessons or guide you in cooking a dish yourself.
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
For unspoiled nature, take a trip to the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, the only national park in Zanzibar. It is home to the Zanzibar red colobus, a species of monkey that has become synonymous with the region. There are approximately 1,000 red colobus living in the area, and you’ll likely see them swinging and roaming freely on the treetops above you. Jozani Park’s wildlife also comprises other species of monkeys, as well as 50 varieties of butterflies, numerous kinds of birds, and the nocturnal Zanzibar tree hyrax.
Moreover, another reason to visit the beautiful Jozani Park is the mystique of the reportedly extinct Zanzibar leopard, which could still be living within the forest. Although there has not been an official sighting in over a decade, documentary footage from 2018 includes a possible spotting of this elusive and nocturnal leopard, although the filmed animal’s species has not been verified.
Changuu Island, commonly known as Prison Island, has a fascinating and eerie history and is worth a visit to gain insight into Zanzibar’s past. Originally owned by an Arab slave trader as a confinement for refractory slaves, the island was eventually purchased by First Governor Lloyd Matthews for use as a prison site for the mainland. The jail was built in 1893 and still stands today. Years later, the structure was used to quarantine yellow fever patients.
A visit to Prison Island will also offer the opportunity to see Aldabra giant tortoises, which were introduced to the island in 1919 when the British governor of Seychelles gifted four of the animals to Changuu. Today, the existing tortoises are closely protected by a foundation on the island, due to their status as a vulnerable species. However, under the guidance of the foundation’s staff, some Prison Island tours will enable visitors to observe and feed these animals. Such excursions often also include a guided walk around the island and its buildings, as well as an opportunity to swim and snorkel in the water.