There are few places on Earth that are as culturally crosshatched as the archipelago as Zanzibar. Over the centuries, this island paradise has been a trading hub for Persians, Indians, Europeans, and Africans thanks to its important geographical location. It is a place of exotic music, bold spices, powerful smells, beautiful oceans, and well-aged architecture.
Often thought of as a destination for honeymoons and romantic retreats, the Zanzibar Archipelago can be an adventure for anyone! Here is a short list of some of the most fascinating sights and activities as you island hop your way to paradise.
If the heart of Zanzibar is Zanzibar City, many people regard Stone Town as its “soul.” One of the greatest examples of a classic Swahili coastal trading town, Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's heavily suffused with an antique sense of life. The whitewashed buildings and architecture reflect the cultural blending that took place here, as various groups of traders passed through. There are a multitude of historic sites to explore that are interspersed with bountiful local markets.
100 meters off the coast, this small island is a haven for anyone trying to get off-the-grid. Despite its close proximity to Zanzibar, Pemba is relatively unknown as a tourist destination, so prices are lower and the crowds are significantly thinner. But Pemba is extremely different than Zanzibar – in fact, the two are so different it is hard to believe they are so close to each other. You will find picturesque white sand beaches interspersed with great fields of mangrove trees and lagoons.
Embrace the Ocean
Islands usually have great access to the ocean and water sports and Zanzibar is no exception. Try scuba diving with one of the local tour companies to witness the complex and vibrant biodiversity of coastal African marine life. Rent a windsurfing rig and spend your days gliding across the waves, powered by the sea breeze from the Indian Ocean. Or just hang out on the beach and surf some of the archipelego's gentle waves.
Forests and Nature
Beyond the beautiful waters, the island is covered in greenery, ripe for animal and plant exploration. Check out the Ngezi Vuma Wimbi forest reserve on Pemba Island, where the effective conservation laws have increased the number of individual fauna species to over 20,000! Another awesome natural destination in the Zanzibar archipelago is Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, which functions as the last sanctuary in the world for the Red Columbus Monkey.
If you want to see the oldest building in Zanzibar, go see the aptly named Old Fort. This structure is pressed up against the seafront opposite the gardens in Stone Town, once used to defend the island from the Portuguese. Or, if you want to see the ruins of something more elegant, head to Mtoni Palace. Here you can find local eats, often accomanied by live music.
Most people wouldn’t expect a place called “Prison Island” to be a vacation destination – but Zanzibar is a place where expectations are shattered at every turn. These gorgeous white sandy beaches are perfect for kicking back and soaking in the rays. There is also a wildlife sanctuary on the island full of large tortoises. The boat ride is only about 30 minutes long, and well worth the short trip and cheap cost. Hire a guide and they can fill you in on the strange history of the island.
Known for it's exceptionally clear water and warm conditions, beach-going is one of the most popular activities in Zanzibar. No matter what part of the island you explore you will find some pretty amazing stretches of sand, but the best sites are usually Nungwi, Kendwa, Pongwe, Paje, Matemwe. There will usually be crowds during the high season, but the dry heat, blue skies and Zanzibar charm make these some of the easiest places to kill time.
Any trip to a trade hub would be remiss without a visit to at least one bazaar or market. For hundreds of years, sailors and tradesmen have traveled through as a means to sell or transport their goods – and that spirit is still very much alive on the islands. Darajani bazaar is a great place to buy spices, fabrics and seafood. The smell is intoxicating, with hundreds of salesmen hocking their wares. Feel free to haggle your heart out or simply take in the street scenes.