What's On travel guides: Bucket list things to do in Zanzibar
An undisputed jewel in the ocean, Zanzibar has it all, from dreamlike beaches, superb seafood, a UNESCO world heritage old town and welcoming locals. Here, What’s On shares its favourite tips and tricks…
Zanzibar, an archipelago off the Tanzania coast, has long-attracted travellers to the historic birthplace of the Swahili language. As easy as it would be to spend an entire trip to Zanzibar lazing around on soft-sand beaches and embodying the hakuna matata mantra, it’s well worth skipping an hour or two of sunbathing to explore its rich history, colourful blending of Arabic and Swahili cultures, and world-class reefs.
Bucket list things to see and do
Get lost in Stone Town
With its narrow cobblestoned streets and intricately carved front doors, the ancient district of Zanzibar has a charm that’s sufficiently exotic for a chase scene in a Bond movie. Historically, Stone Town was a flourishing capital for the spice trade, which attracted businessmen from across the globe. They introduced different architectural styles as they built their homes and businesses, creating a unique blend of Arabic, Persian, Indian, European, and African buildings in the city. Explore the market where locals still shop and haggle for goods, and then settle at a table at one of the many rooftop bars to enjoy the sunset.
Snorkel the reefs surrounding Mnemba Island
Located just 20 minutes off the northeast coast of Zanzibar is Mnemba Island, a breath-taking private island rumoured to be owned by Bill Gates. On it lies a luxurious lodge where stays will set you back over US$2,000 a night. But the surrounding coral reefs are the island’s hidden gems and are free for all to enjoy. Spend a few hours snorkelling and marvel at the tropical fish in colours Crayola never imagined. Better still, if you’re lucky, you might even be joined by a pod of dolphins, who’ll appear completely unfazed by your presence.
Eat local foods at the night market
Each evening as the sun fades, Stone Town’s Forodhani Park transforms into an open-air food night market. A kebab of tandoori lobster accompanied by freshly pressed sugarcane juice is a quintessential treat. Haggle your price and wait for the vendor to heat up your choice on an open fire stove in the middle of the park.
Enjoy the beaches of Paje
Long walks on Paje Beach are almost mandatory. Unlike the northern tip of Zanzibar, Paje lies on the southeast coast, the uncommercial side of Zanzibar with a shoreline dotted with palms. Out at sea, the water is bright blue, unblemished to the horizon, where it seems to liquefy into the sky. The swimming is good at high tide and there’s excellent snorkelling and kitesurfing offshore.
Visit the hundred-year-old tortoises on Changuu Island
Also known as Prison or Quarantine Island – as it was once used to house slaves suffering from yellow fever – Changuu is a small island roughly 15 minutes northwest of Stone Town by boat. Today, the island is owned by the government and acts primarily as an endangered giant tortoise sanctuary, whom visitors are welcome to feed. These massive Aldabra tortoises are thought to be among the longest-lived animals on earth, with the oldest thought to be roughly 150 years old.
Dine in the middle of the ocean
An evening spent dining on this rock in the middle of the Indian Ocean is almost a rite of passage for first-time visitors to Zanzibar. The restaurant has gained something of a cult following, thanks, in large part, to its Instagrammable location. Not surprisingly, The Rock (@therockzanzibar) – accessed by boat during high tide or by wading out during low tide – serves up seafood among a range other international cuisine. Guests can sit inside, but we suggest you arrive early and make a beeline for one of the sofas out on the terrace. Order a cocktail and a plate Zanzibari fish fingers and grilled calamari and admire the spectacular view. Reservations are essential.
See the sights with a tour guide extraordinaire
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One of the best ways to explore the island is by putting your plans in the hands of an expert. Thirty-year-old Adam Simai has been offering private tours of his beloved Zanzibar for years. Honest, friendly and extremely knowledgeable, he’ll help arrange a suitable itinerary based on your activity preferences, and sort out all boat and car transfers, picking you up and dropping you back at your guesthouse each day. Daily rates start at US$100.
Flight time: 5 hours and 35 minutes direct via flydubai from Dhs2,500 return
Visa: Visas cost US$50 and can be purchased on arrival or applied for in advance via eservices.immigration.go.tz
Currency: Tanzanian Shilling but US Dollars are accepted almost everywhere
Average temp (Jan to Mar): 26-32°C
Images: Supplied and Getty