Top 10 things to do in Zanzibar

15 Feb 2023

Located just off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is a paradise, surrounded by the Indian Ocean with sounds of palm leaves rustling, sweet smell of spices, and enviable surroundings.

Zanzibar has idyllic pristine white-sand beaches and warm, pale blue waters, but also features a beautiful setting for sheer leisure and offers a variety of unique cultural and adventurous activities. The island intrigues you with its traditional Dhows sailing on the ocean and the ornate Omani imperial architecture. It also attracts visitors with its narrow cobbled alleyways in Stone Town, and beautiful accommodation for every budget.

Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Zanzibar when you are there:

1. Stone Town

Stone Town is the historic city of Zanzibar and is inscribed on the World Heritage List. It is located on the east side of the island of Zanzibar. The city was founded in 1832 and served as the capital of Zanzibar until 1976. Today, Stone Town is still a bustling city that is full of charm. Tourists come to see the ancient colonial mansions, bazaars and mosques.


2. Swim in the ocean and laze on sandy beaches

Zanzibar offers that idealised beach holiday we all fantasise about when enduring a tough winter. The white, powdery sands of the beaches invite you to plop down on a towel or deckchair, bury your feet, and just be. And the blue, blue waters make an ocean dip more appealing than ever before! There are many absolutely gorgeous, palm-fringed beaches all around the main island of Umguja to visit. You won't want to limit yourself to just one. So visit a few and give yourself plenty of time to just soak it all in and let the warmth and sea views work their restorative powers on mind and body.

  • Bwejuu – a palm-lined beach that's one of the island's quietest.
  • Kendwa – a wide beach that's not effected by the tides and has epic sunsets.
  • Nungwi – the best beach for night life.
  • Kizimkazi – the coastline is raised and drops down to form lovely coves.
  • Jambiani – a beautiful, quiet, palm-lined beach.
  • Michamvi-Pingwe – a remote sequence of picturesque coves.
  • Matemwe – the longest beach in Zanzibar and it has traditional fishing villages where the land meets the sand.
  • Pongwe – a beautiful beach that's an arc and offers maybe the best swimming conditions because the nearby reef keeps the water really calm and safe.


3. Mnemba Atoll

Mnemba atoll is a small coral atoll that lies 10 km northeast of Zanzibar. It is made up of about 20 islands and can be reached by boat from the port of Zanzibar. The atoll has an area of 2.5 km² and there are about 350 inhabitants living there. Mnemba atoll is famous for its idyllic beaches, blue lagoon and coral reefs. The transparent waters allow divers to see fish and corals at a depth of up to 30 m.


4. Mafia Island

Mafia is an island located south of Zanzibar, just across the street from Tanzania. It has an area of 585 km². The island is known for its idyllic beaches, blue lagoon and coral reefs. The transparent waters allow divers to see fish and corals at a depth of up to 30 m.


5. Jozani Forest

Jozani Forest is a natural area in the east of Zanzibar covering an area of 3400 hectares. The forest is made up of a wide range of majestic trees, wild animals and spectacular natural landscapes. Visitors can see animals such as antelopes, monkeys, baboons and various species of birds. There are a variety of activities for those visiting the forest, including walking, cycling and hiking.


6. Pmeba Island

Pemba is an island that lies to the east of Zanzibar and has an area of 965 km². A paradise for lovers, it offers long walks on secluded beaches or in the heart of lush nature. The island of Pemba also allows you to discover its culture, focused on rice, coconut and banana crops, as well as the cultivation of cassava root, which is most of the staple foods consumed locally by locals.


7. Matemwe village

Matemwe Village is a small fishing village that lies northeast of Zanzibar. It is located on the coast and can be reached by car or bus from Stone Town. The village is known for its idyllic beaches, blue lagoon and coral reefs. The transparent waters allow divers to see fish and corals at a depth of up to 30 m.


8. Prison Island

The inhabitants know the island Changuu actually only under the name “Prison Island”. It is located about five kilometres off the coast and has a rather scary history. The first Sultan of Zanzibar gave away the tiny spot in the sea to Arab slave traders. The proportion of slaves in the total population of Zanzibar at that time was at times around seventy percent.

In 1893 a prison for criminals was established on the island, but it was later used as a quarantine station when there was a danger of a yellow fever epidemic in neighbouring Stone Town. Today Prison Island with its beautiful beaches is owned by the government. Numerous Aldabra giant tortoises live here in a fenced off area.


9. Sailing with a traditional Dhow

Dhows are the traditional sailing ships of East Africa. They have one to three masts and the trapezoidal sails are their main external features. In two places on the island, Nungwi and Mtoni, the boats are still made by experienced builders today – almost always to order. A sailing trip with a dhow is an interesting experience and a change from staying on the beaches.

Some providers offer full day tours on Zanzibar to the idyllic Menai Bay. The chance to spot dolphins on the way is very high. But also shorter tours can be easily found, both on the beaches of the hotel resorts as well as in the capital Stone Town. Especially popular (and romantic) are of course the sunset tours, while the sun slowly sinks behind the Indian Ocean.


10. Spice tour on Spice Island

It is not without reason that Zanzibar is regarded as the “Spice Island”, so it is probably not surprising that a spice tour is virtually a must. Here you will learn many backgrounds and experience up close how pepper, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla grow under the East African sun. Also saffron and cinnamon can be found on Zanzibar’s plantations, they were introduced one by the Sultan of Oman.

Today there are still numerous spice farms from Zanzibar, but not all are open to the public. In order to get a good impression of the variety, a guided tour with a guide is always worthwhile. The trained employees tell funny anecdotes and present the exotic spices and fruits in an entertaining, short-lived way. Very popular are for example the Tangawizi Spice Farm, the Zanzibar Spices and Heritage Centre and the Maganga Farm.