photo of Zanzibar

A tropical beach in Zanzibar. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Zanzibar

Zanzibar conjures all the exoticism of far-away mythical places, and as soon as you appear on its shores you'll quickly find it lives up to its legendary brand name. Like Timbuktu, it's one of those places no one's really sure exists, and if it does, where it is exactly. To clear things up once and for all, Zanzibar consists of a small group of islands 20-something miles off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Once the seat of powerful Muslim sultans, the isles have long been wealthy from spice trade, particularly cloves. In fact, for a period in the 1800s, Zanzibar was one of the wealthiest places on earth, due to trade in spices and slaves. First and foremost, nature lures visitors to these islands, which are surrounded by impossibly sparkling waters and a vibrant underwater world. But the island's fascinating history and culture run a close second. Stone Town on the main island of Zanzibar (also called Unguja) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of an enigmatic maze of ancient alleys and arches punctuated by elaborately carved doors and sultan palaces that are still in use. The variety of Arab, African, and Indian cultures—as well as Portuguese, German, and British heritage—creates an exotic, urbane environment.

Zanzibar has some of the best beaches in Africa, with wide swathes of postcard-perfect sand, lined with coconut palms and bleach-white sand bars that mysteriously rise out of the ocean during low tide, making perfect private beaches. Wooden dhow boats drift by, and the coal reefs are excellent for snorkeling and scuba diving. Whales, dolphins, turtles, and lobsters are everywhere you turn—outfitters such as Takims Holidays Tours & Safaris organize activities including dolphin safaris. The island's north coast beaches are dotted with guesthouses, and Sun Tours and Travel provides day-trips from there to the traditional fishing village of Nungwi. You can also join fascinating trips to Chumbe, Mnemba, and Pemba—all nearby isles with pristine and protected ecosystems—with Fisherman Tours and Travel. Don't miss the bragging rights of visiting one of the most exotic and stunning places on Earth.

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Traveler Reviews of Zanzibar


jerlich rates Zanzibar
Stayed for 5 nights. We spent 4 nights at the Sultan's Palace resort in Dongwe. Sultan's Palace is a very nice place, the food is excellent, and the beach is beautiful. The final night we spent in Stone Town at Jafferji House, which is beautiful. The historical buildings in Stone Town were not as well preserved as we had hoped but touring the area was interesting. Visiting the giant tortoises at Prison Island and snorkeling at the reef there was a highlight for us. We also had dinner at the Tower Top restaurant at 236 Hurumzi which had very impressive ambiance and wonderful live music. Overall, Zanzibar is a very unique and beautiful place if you can get over the fact that service is not quite at the level of some other top destinations around the world. There are language barriers and frequent power outages but hey, you're in Africa!
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Kathleen rates Zanzibar
This island is beautiful--I was there with medical missons but got to stay at the Tembo hotel---great food and wonderful sunsets--Everything is a walk away--the evening markets are great--you can purchase items made by the locals and food prepared on grills--This is a place everyone should visit at least once ---and believe me, you will want to go back!
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