The archipelago of Zanzibar lies 35km east of mainland Tanzania, just 6 degrees south of the Equator. Two main Islands, Unguja & Pemba and numerous smaller islands and coral atolls combine to make this not only an outstandingly beautiful location for beach lovers, but also for the underwater adventurers that return again and again. Miles and miles of palm lined powder white beaches are lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
Zanzibar has a vibrant past littered with invasions, empires & conquests resulting in a unique language of Kiswahili. Rooted in Bantu and Cushitic tongues but flecked with Hindi, Portuguese, English and Arabic, the spoken word on the Archipelago has an occasional little something of familiarity for many guests to the region. Unguja Island, known commonly as Zanzibar, tells this story of ever changing powers and fortunes uniquely through the Architecture and monuments in Stone Town and beyond. The remains of Sultan’s palaces and the slave caves of the west coast amongst some of the most striking; visually and emotionally respectively. Stone Town itself is a UNESCO world heritage site (one that has been nominated for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the labyrinth like streets of the Old Town are never more alive than at night with the soft flicker of candle light, alluring aromas of spices for which the Island id famous and ancient sounds of Swahili Taarab music.
The coastal regions of Unguja Island (Zanzibar) each offer something slightly different with the North coast being the liveliest & home to Nungwi, the Island’s second biggest settlement after Stone Town. As such, this is where tourism first evolved in the 1960’s and today offers travellers a wealth of options from back packer hostel style accommodation to luxury eco lodges & private villas.
The east coast is home to those powder white sand beaches that stretch uninterruptedly for miles down the coast & in parts is wonderfully quiet, peppered in places with just a few small independent lodges. Other areas of the East coast are home to the larger ‘resort’ style hotels – specifically the mid east coast where the full service properties thrive with families and sports enthusiasts.
The Southern coast has spectacular sunsets and the waters of menai bay are home to schools of hump back and bottle nosed dolphins. There are much fewer hotels and lodges in this area but the swimming from the beach is the best on the Island as you are not as affected by the tidal characteristics of the North and East coasts which sees you walking out a good 20 minutes at low tide to reach the waters edge.
The West coast is home to Stone Town and many of the historical sites for visitors to explore. Beaches here are less picturesque than other coasts and characterised by smaller bays and a rocky shoreline.
Pemba & indeed the smaller Mafia Island are again luscious, green tropical paradises suited well to the sea adventurers with phenomenal diving & snorkelling opportunities. They are equally magnificent for those really seeking to escape to paradise lost with an abundance of wildlife and far fewer people living and visiting them.
Of course, the beautiful climate of Zanzibar is a significant part of the destination's appeal. Sitting just south of the equator, Zanzibar has very similar weather to the rest of Tanzania, though you can expect slightly higher humidity.
June to October is the long dry season, when rainfall is rare - and for that reason, this can be a fantastic time to visit Zanzibar. During November and December are the 'short rains', meaning that these months are punctuated with short, light bursts of rain ahead of the short dry season in January and February. The rainfall recommences in March and, until May, this represents the rainiest season - heavy tropical downpours are common during this time, while humidity can be quite high.
Without doubt, the beaches of Zanzibar are among the most beautiful you are ever likely to come across - but they are by no means all the same. Indeed, you will find there are different types of beaches to enjoy depending on exactly where you are.
On Unguja, for example, the east coast is the destination to make for if you dream of relaxing on idyllic white sand beaches - and this area in itself can be quite diverse. Indeed, there are near-deserted beaches where you'll come across just a few small lodges, while others are backed by much larger resort style developments.
The west coast (where you'll find Stone Town) has a much rockier shoreline, and the bays here are much smaller. So, overall, its much less of a beach destination. Over on the southern coast, meanwhile, you'll find charming beaches that are absolutely fantastic for swimming, as well as spotting creatures like turtles and dolphins. If you do spend time on the west coast, be sure to enjoy a sunset or two here - they are truly spectacular.
In terms of cultural attractions not to miss on your holiday to Zanzibar, Stone Town is without doubt the number one place to visit. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a wonderfully well preserved example of a typical Swahili coastal trading town in East Africa. It is home to labyrinthine streets and fascinating architecture, while the scent of spices and sounds of Swahili Taarab music fills the air.
The best way to discover Stone Town is simply to take a walk and get lost in the winding streets. As you do so, you'll come across Arabic-style houses, old mansions and bustling bazaars. It's impossible not to be enchanted.