The Sandbars of Zanzibar
Where to spend your time and what to do
The magical island of Zanzibar, situated just off the cost of Tanzania, has so much more to offer than just white sandy beaches.
Also known as Unguja, this fascinating island is a destination in itself or can be easily combined with a safari. Here we try and help you understand what Zanzibar can offer, to help you plan where to stay and how to spend your time here.
A few facts first:
- Zanzibar is a small archipelago made up of 4 main islands and several smaller islands. The main islands are Unguja (Zanzibar), Pemba in the north and the Mafia and Fanjove in the south.
- The islands hold a very interesting and sometimes haunting history of the slave, spice and ivory trades.
- A visa is required to visit Zanzibar as the immigration laws fall within the same rules as Tanzania. The island is malarial.
- If you are seeking white sandy beaches and turquoise seas – head north, south or east as the west tends to have darker sands and mangroves.
Understanding the weather:
- Zanzibar is a year-round destination – in the Summer (our Winter) the temperatures peak in the mid to high 30’s whereas the Winter months still enjoy low 20’s.
- The island does experience a rainy season in April-May – however this could vary from an evening thunder shower to 7 days of solid rain.
- The best months to travel here are June – October, when both humidity and temperatures are cooler – around 25 degrees.
There are some beaches on the island where tides are barely noticeable, whilst in others the water can recede a long way during low tide. Thankfully, tides follow a predictable schedule so you can plan your holiday activities around the best waves or the calmest waters!
The northern coast of Zanzibar experiences minor tidal effects. As a result, the seabed is consistently full, which makes ocean swimming possible and pleasant throughout the day – however this area is busy with tourists.
The beaches on the eastern coast, are subject to noticeable but moderate tides. Here it is important to have a look at the tide chart and understand the schedule of high and low tides. This region is however more laid back and showcases long stretches of white sand accompanied by good snorkelling & diving.
If you are not concerned about keeping out of the midday sun – then head to the beach for a”reef walk” – low tide uncovers numerous starfish, crabs, and shells, and one can discover dozens of different sea creatures that remain on the sand as the ocean’s blanket rolls away.
Most hotels offer a selection of activities pending their size and location – the choice is yours – relax on the beach or around the pool or partake in diving, snorkelling, dhow cruises, sandbank BBQ or cultural tours to name a few.
If you opted to skip safari for a beach holiday and are in need of some wildlife exposure, why not head to the Jozani Forest National Park, in the South of the Island and home to the Red Colobus Monkey.
Zanzibar is also one of Africa’s best kite surfing spots, both for beginners and advanced surfers, The constant onshore winds and shallow lagoons create perfect conditions either in December to March or June to September. Paje is the ideal place to head if you’d like to make this exhilarating activity a key element of your beach stay!
Different areas and what they offer:
Situated on the west of the island, the enchanting small town is well worth a visit either for a 1-night stop on arrival or if you have a late departure from the island. To give you an idea – it takes just 20 minutes to walk through the narrow alleyways of town.
Day tours are offered with either a focus on the history of the spice or slave trade. Stone Town is in a perfect location to enjoy roof top sunset with a cocktail in hand or grabbing a unique curio or gift before heading home.
Note that Stone Town can be noisy and very busy with the day to day trade and local businesses. With the majority of people being Muslim you can expect the hear the call to pray 5 times a day.
North / North East Coast
This region is more touristy and home to the larger resorts for those fun seekers! Whist it is less impacted by the tides it can get busy with the hustle and bustle of passing trade and tourists on the beach.
Kwendwa is also a great area for deep sea fishing, snorkelling alongside some stunning coastline whilst Nungwi offers good selection of large resort style hotels. The beaches and sun set in these areas are a draw as well. Situated further down the coast is Matemwe, a quieter area with stunning beaches and good diving and sailing. There is a good selection of bars and restaurants too. Matemwe is effected by a moderate tide.
Central East Coast
The area around Michamwi is known for its long, white, sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets and small beach bars. With beautiful coral reefs off shore, it also offers some great diving and snorkelling opportunities. Still on the east coast but further south is the vibey Paje – better suited to kite surfers and families with teens, this region is fun with a party scene. However this whole area is impacted notably by the tides and can get busy with kite surfers in June and July when the winds pick up.
South East Coast
Continuing south down the coast you come to the area of Jambiani – this laid back area which has a village life feel offers more for explorers – from cycling and traditional cooking to swimming in caves or exploring local villages – this region is quiet and chilled and you can still swim at low tide!
Pemba in the north is lush and green, the beaches here are browner and a mix of mangroves. The island is quiet and beautiful and is accessed by a 30 minute flight from Zanzibar to Chake Chake.
Hotels in this region include: Fundu Lagoon
Mafia situated south of Zanizbar is know for whale sharks – best seen in the month of January however the season runs from October to March. The island also offers great diving and snorkelling.
Fanjove island is a 40 minute flight from Dar Es Salaam – this is a private island and offers Robinson Crusoe style holiday with some added luxury! It is a water & nature lovers paradise with dolphins and whales you can swim with, some amazing bird life as well as home to the Coconut Crab.
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