What to do in Zanzibar or rather Unguja Island

Not always must a wall necessarily be built of brick, sometimes it is not tangible, not visible but is felt. Unguja, erroneously known by all as the island of Zanzibar, made me live two distinct situations though in just a single step. In/out.

Inside, side of the beach in one of the many resorts where we are, and, out beyond that wall that separates the hotels from the villages, them, living with almost no real integration with the tourist closed in a world of its own.

Very different from the Tanzania I know so far, chaotic and all-encompassing, Zanzibar represented the end of the journey that lasted two months, in a huge country that has tired me beyond belief catapulting me in a dimension hitherto unknown, that of the beaches, the resorts, of the Western lifestyle implanted in a profoundly different cultural context, remember that Zanzibar is 90% Muslim.

An island of a thousand facets, mainly known for its idyllic beaches and the sailings on a dhow, but also for the spices and the colorful Stone Town Market, the turtles of Nungwi Natural Aquarium, and a particular charm that so much distinguishes it from the Continent. Unguja, that from now on I will call Zanzibar conscious of making a mistake, is relaxation and the sea that those traveling in the dusty Tanzania desire and look for, and that presents itself as a country in itself, distinct that at the beginning left me quite puzzled, making me feel OTHER than those same others that, until now, had had the ability to catapult me into their world of discussions about cows, cattle and huts.

And yet, it just needs a little time to get to the heart of this island where chaos seems to be a priority of Stone Town and the quiet and semi-deserted beaches even in high season captivate and invite into the sweet “do nothing” letting yourself be pampered by the sun burning on sand white as snow.


The archipelago of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is an archipelago belonging to the United Republic of Tanzania, from 1964, and it consists of two main islands, Unguja and Pemba, and numerous smaller islands. What we commonly call Zanzibar is nothing more than the island of Unguja, the name to be used also in the search for hotels, but I think it fair to say that Zanzibar is referred to the entire archipelago and not the island.

The name Zanzibar probably derives from the Persian zanj, with which the Persians indicated the blacks; Zang-i bars mean "Land of the blacks." Another etymology has been offered, zanjabīl from Arabic, meaning "ginger", one of the traded spices from Zanzibar, but less reliable than the first.


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Zanzibar and the slave trade

Knowing the history of Zanzibar is important to understand the island, going beyond the wonderful beaches and the highly respected resorts. Slaves have always represented a source of wealth, a business that exported slaves from Africa to Arabia, Persia and India.

With the increasing demand in the eighteenth century, the Arab merchants pushed towards the interior of Africa to find other slaves who were sold at the market of Zanzibar Town, combining this human trade to the other of equal importance, that of the Ivory.

In fact, to reduce transportation costs, the ivory was transported by the slaves themselves along the coast. Those too weak incapable to carry the heavy load and march were killed.
Starting from the ports of Kilwa and Bangamoyo, the slaves, loaded into the dhow, arrived at the destination exhausted and famished. Those who arrived.
In fact, since for every slave the trader is obliged to pay the customs, those considered not strong enough or unable to survive were thrown into the sea before arrival.

On the death of Sultan Said, the Sultanate of Oman became separated from Zanzibar, that, in the meantime, had reached prosperity thanks to the export of cloves and the slave trade, which has always been hampered by the British.

It was thanks to the mediation of Atkins Hamerton and John Kirk that the British government was able to win the trust of the Sultan Said and his son Bargash, managing to abolish this inhuman practice. But the effective disappearance came only 50 years later, in 1873.



What to do in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is very large and the activities to do are many, not just lounging in the sun or by the pool. This is a selection of the activities that I recommend.


Stone Town and the spice tour

The excursion begins usually at one of the spice plantations, where the secrets and uses of spices such as vanilla, cloves, cardamom, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and tropical fruit trees will be revealed.
The tour then continues to the island's capital where you will visit the slave market and the market of today colorful and chaotic as well as the city, famous for some important architectural structures, such as the palace of the Sultan, better known as the house of wonders, and the house of Freddy Mercury, who, for those who do not know, was born on this island.

If you want to book some tours I woul recommend the Stone Town spice tour or the tour included also the cooking class.

stone town

stone town

Snorkeling in Dhow from Jambiani

As a place to stay, recommended by a friend seen in Zanzibar for 10 years, I chose Jambiani beach that remains among other things, my favorite beach.
Here it is easy to find some Dhow owner who, at low tide will take you on a nice private tour and snorkeling in the fantastic waters of this still fairly pristine corner of the Zanzibar coast.


Prison island

Also known as Changuu, Prison Island is a small island 6 kilometers north-west of South Town.
Besides the wonderful snorkeling in its coral areas the real attractions of this place are the huge turtles, some have more than 180 years, and the slave museum. The waters are among the most beautiful of the island, with luck the dolphins that inhabit these waters can also be seen.
For booking the tour to Prison Island click here.

Mnemba Atoll

Recently declared a marine conservation area, Mnemba Island is a coral atoll surrounded by thriving, vibrant and crystal clear reefs of the Indian Ocean. The waters are teeming with a huge number of tropical fish, green turtles. On the return trip, if at high tide, you have the opportunity to visit Muyuni Beach.

Nakupenda Beach

This is an island that is seen only at low tide, a sandbar that appears and disappears. The island is a 30 minute boat ride from Zanzibar. My advice is to ask the locals to organize the tour for you, maybe in a way to avoid the crowds of resort tourists that flock to this heavenly place.
Make sure you arrive at low tide, and to leave when the high tide comes back, but the guys will know how to help you.
Generally, included in the cost is also a lunch of seafood. This tour is usually offered in combination with Prison Island.

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The tides of Zanzibar

High and low tide alternate cyclically throughout the year in all parts of the world, however, in Zanzibar things change, in fact at low tide the sea withdraws a lot offering tourists something unique: incredible walks on strips of sand surrounded by women who, at this time of the day, cultivate algae, while we seek natural pools for swimming.
The tides alternate cyclically around every 6 hours and the hours vary from day to day. On the Northern Beaches, in particular, Nungwi, the tide phenomenon is less pronounced, while in the south, the phenomenon is daily and very accentuated.



Blue Safari

A very beautiful and varied tour, only problem is the overcrowding due to the fact that now this is one of the most popular tours of the entire island. We start in the morning with a dhow to reach the strip of sand that appears only at low tide. After snorkeling follows the visit to Kwale island where we normally have the seafood lunch. The day ends with a visit to the mangroves around the lagoon.

Mkokotoni Fish Market and the northern beaches

It is worth visiting the fish market of Mkokotoni, a small traditional village famous for its fish. After the visit, you should do in the morning when the market is active, you can continue the visit to Nungwi and the nursery of marine turtles, created to preserve and defend them from extinction at Nungwi Natural Aquarium.

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The best beaches of Zanzibar

One goes to Zanzibar for the sea and the island is famous for the phenomenon of the tides that make its beaches special, not always appropriate for bathing but very suggestive.
Wherever you go in Zanzibar you will not go wrong but what follows is my personal ranking. The beaches that make Zanzibar a unique place.

Jambiani beach

My favorite and where I stayed for the entire period. It is not yet besieged by tourists like many other better-known areas and most of all, the total absence of large resorts.
The beach is huge and beautiful, walking toward the south, you will reach a strip of sand that, at low tide, is surely the most beautiful of the whole island.



The beach is very beautiful and very quiet, white sand, clear water and coral reefs nearby. From here you can organize the dhow ride to Mnemba atoll.
Like other beaches of Zanzibar the phenomenon of the tides is quite interesting but if you arrive at the wrong hour, it will be impossible to swim. A 20-minute walk, at low tide, makes it possible for you to reach the barrier.


Kizimkazi was the capital of the island under the power of pre-Oman Wawinyi Wakuu. A beautiful beach and a few resorts make this place special. Known by tourists for the tours with dolphins, what characterizes this village is the presence of the oldest mosque in East Africa.

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This tour, according to what I was told since I did not want to do it, is more of a dolphin hunt that on one hand disappoint you, but above all does not help our friends to live in peace. I invite you to think about the impact that tours like this can have in regard to the animals, before getting caught by the desire to see them in the water.


Michamvi and The Rock

A beach with a special charm thanks to the rocky cliffs and the mangroves. Famous area to admire the sunset and perhaps better known for The Rock restaurant, a small restaurant built on the rock accessible by foot at low tide and by boat, service of the restaurant, at high tide.
The prices are quite high and the food is not that good but this place represents Zanzibar in the popular imagination.

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Getting around Zanzibar

Although Zanzibar is a very well-organized tourist destination, apart from your hotel/resort, you return to the scarcely equipped and logistically unnerving Tanzania.
The dala-dala pass by infrequently and takes hours to go 50 km. There are no times nor stations in the small centers but you have to wait for the dala-dala to honk to announce its arrival, rush to the streets to stop it and hope that there is enough place for you to get in.

Obviously, it is the cheapest solution but it does amplify travel times.
The best and easiest solutions are to rent a car or use a taxi. An international driving license is not requested to rent a car but you must obtain a permit from the police paying around ten dollars that will allow you to drive on the island. Alternatively, travel on taxis makes transport easy and simple, just ask your hotel to have one organized.



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How to get to Zanzibar

The solutions to get to Zanzibar from Tanzania are 3 depending on the place of departure.
If you start from Arusha, the best option is to fly from Kilimanjaro to Stone Town.
It's important to know that if the idea is to take the catamaran from Dar es Salaam you will need to consider at least a day traveling by bus and probably a night in Dar, it's unlikely for you to arrive in time to catch the catamaran in the same day after the long journey by bus. Do not rely on the times that the drivers tell you, you will probably arrive one if not two hours after the scheduled time.

If you leave from Dar Es Salaam, the catamarans are comfortable, fast and cheap (it is recommended to buy your ticket at least one day before departure whether you leave from Dar or from Stone Town).
The problem is that you have to be in Dar Es Salaam which is quite far from Arusha, the majority of tourists combines Safari northern parks and Zanzibar.
For more information click here.

If you leave from Pangani it is possible to arrive by speed boat but it is a journey not really very simple and very adventurous. It is not recommended for those who are afraid of the sea and wants to travel comfortably. I would invite you to go to the bathroom before boarding the boat or you will end up like me in the middle of the sea to dive into the water with a number of people watching while I kept close to the ladder to not fall in completely in view of the waves. The cost, in this case, depends on the number of people on the boat, they do not depart daily and can be arranged by the Pangani tourist center.


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Where to stay in Zanzibar  

I state beforehand that my choice on where to stay fell on Jambiani on the advice of a friend who lives on the island for 10 years now. Solution that could not be more apt because after driving along almost the entire coast, I can say that it is a beautiful corner where, above all, there are not yet large hotels and several resorts or villages that spoil these wonderful places.

Jambiani not only has a beautiful beach but the phenomenon of the tides makes it even more spectacular, especially at low tide, I invite you to stroll south to reach the strips of sand that while you walk, beside you women sitting on the wet sand take care of seaweed cultivation.

The North has not particularly impressed me, it is where are concentrated the large resorts all-inclusive, which is why after visiting the length and breadth of the island, I confirm Jambiani as my favorite corner (as long as they will not build other resorts, until today, it is probably one of the wildest stretches of coast).

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My selection for you!

Bungalows from €45

Delightful and spacious bungalows that sleep up to 4 people. Paul the guy who runs it is very kind, very good and generous breakfast. You can also do yoga classes on the equipped wooden platform in the beautiful private beach.

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Double rooms from €60

Delightful and spacious bungalows that sleep up to 4 people. Paul the guy who runs it is very kind, very good and generous breakfast. You can also do yoga classes in the platform in the beautiful wood-equipped private beach. Bungalows from € 60 per night.

Book now
[one_third_last]villa da coco
Double rooms from €90

Bungalows on the beach surrounded by a tropical garden, a restaurant and a bar overlooking the sea. All bungalows have private patio, fan and mosquito net. The structure is low ambiental impact and the bungalows are made with coconut palm.

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Tanzania offers a very interesting and trilling trip!

Safari among the best in the continent, Swahili culture and dream islands. Zanzibar is definitely very special, and also very different from the rest of the country, especially if you have traveled Tanzania in length and breadth. A detour that gives a different and intriguing face to this amazing African trip.


Plan your safari in Tanzania with local T.O 

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Aggiornato il: 30 Settembre 2021
Scritto da: Giulia Raciti

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Scritto da Giulia Raciti

Esperta di Africa e Latino America sono in viaggio dal 2011. Attualmente a bordo di un van. Ho fatto un giro del mondo in solitaria durato 3 anni. Scrivo delle destinazioni che visito. Mi occupo di realizzazione viaggi personalizzati e su misura in Africa e Sud America sul sito dedicato Kipepeo Experience.

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