When I moved to Dubai, I had no idea what Zanzibar was or even where it was located. But pretty quickly I realized Zanzibar was a stunning island, with incredible beaches! And that was enough for me to book a flight. Unfortunately, I had little holidays left last year, so I only booked a 4-day trip, to celebrate my birthday. Obviously it is not nearly long enough for me to give extra detailed recommendations, but still, here are 5 best things you should do in Zanzibar.
1. EXPLORE THE SOUTHEAST COAST
One of the first things to do when planning your trip to Zanzibar is figuring out where to stay. It took me many hours of reading blogs and asking around before I decided. The most important for me was to find a place quiet, beautiful, away from the crowd.
I finally chose to spend these 4 days in Jambiani. Jambiani is a small traditional village on the south-east coast just over an hour away from Zanzibar’s airport. It is a very small and traditional village stretching along a beautiful white sand beach. The beach is equally stunning at high tide, with its turquoise sea as it is at low tide when you can witness the local ladies collecting and drying the seaweed they cultivate. It is gorgeous, relaxing and you don’t have to put up with local touts which apparently are heavy-handed in the Zanzibar most popular beaches (located in the North I believe).
I also had the chance to stop by Bwejuu
. We ended up there by accident and luckily found the most pristine beach ever! We had a beer and some calamari at Evergreen Bungalows, and the service was absolutely lovely!
Last but not least, you have to go to Michamvi Kae ! I had quickly read in the Lonely Planet that the beach was beautiful, but nothing much. Still, since we were going for diner at The Rock that day I thought we could check it out in the afternoon before heading for dinner. After parking our car, we walked down a tiny sandy path to end up in one of the most stunning beach I have ever seen.
The sea is turquoise, the sand is white and there is nothing around except a small hotel. We asked if we could use the sunbeds and for around 20 USD, redeemable again food and beverage, we got to spend the afternoon there. It was pure paradise, and I kept on telling my (rather unimpressed) boyfriend: “Isn’t it amazing!”, “Isn’t it the most beautiful beach ever!”
The only downside about the South East coast is the tide. You won’t be able to swim at all times, but most of the hotels on the beach have a pool anyway.
2. GO DOLPHIN WATCHING, BUT …
One of the greatest things you can do in Zanzibar is to either take a blue safari (a full day boat trip, including snorkeling and exploring amazing nearby islands), or if you don’t have that much time, go dolphin watching early morning, which is what we did.
We arranged the tour with our hotel and a driver picked us up before sunrise and drove us to Kizimkazi. There we got onto a fisherman boat, and we drove offshores. At first, I really loved it. Arnout and I were alone on that boat, the fisherman was friendly, the ocean in front of us was beautiful and the sun was rising! What else?
However, I got quickly disappointed when we reached the dolphin watching spot. There were a dozen boats filled with tourists, around a small group of dolphins trying to getaway. Every time some the fishermen spotted the dolphins, they would quickly drive ahead of them and the tourists would jump into the sea, with their snorkels and flippers to watch the dolphins. It would have been a funny scene, if it wasn’t actually quite dangerous, with the speed boat navigating among the swimmers and very close to the dolphins. I was definitely not reassured and decided to stay on the boat, to the greatest disappointment of our driver.
Eventually, after a while, most of the boats went back to shore and only 3 stayed around. This is when our driver convinced me to jump right in, and live a little! I did, and I don’t regret it. I got to snorkel for a while, with the dolphins swimming right under me, and it really was amazing. It doesn’t matter how cliche and obvious this might sound but really, dolphins are beautiful, graceful and fascinating animals! We were back at our hotel by 10 am for breakfast and still had the full day to enjoy!
I think it was a beautiful experience because we waited for a quiet moment… But being in the middle of the touristy frenzy was definitely not for me.
3. BE PREPARED TO WAIT FOR DINNER
My only disappointment in Zanzibar was definitely the food and the service.
On our first night, we decided to have a quick dinner on the beach .. Quick ? So we thought!
We sat at a tiny restaurant, with 5 tables in the sand, and ordered some fried calamari and two fishes as our main courses. We started to unwind, with 2 beers, really enjoying the laid back atmosphere .
So laid back that our dinner only came 2 hours later (we had 6 beers by then, I was kinda tipsy and not hungry anymore!). Because it was such a tiny restaurant, with very limited appliance (VERY) I thought it was okay, and would probably be a one-time thing … but it wasn’t!
The service in Zanzibar is extremely slow everywhere! If you go for dinner. I suggest to stop by, order and then go for a walk, or a swim or anything that will keep you busy for at least an hour. I know I could probably embrace a little more this slow way of life, especially on holidays … but when it comes to my food … I just couldn’t.
4. EXPLORE STONE TOWN
It was not easy to squeeze Stone Town in the itinerary, since the plan was mostly “relax on the beach”, but I thought it would have been a shame not to spend at least a few hours in the Unesco World Heritage capital of Zanzibar
To make the most of it we booked a local guide, and did a 3h tour. Our tour guide walked us through different markets, the slavery memorial, the old fort, the House of Wonders etc…. The Slavery Memorial was, in my opinion, the most interesting part, as it gives a detailed insight into the history of the country, the melting pot of cultures and religions … and obviously it provides the beginning of an understanding of what slavery was like, finishing with what modern slavery looks like nowadays. You won’t get out light-hearted, but it is worth it.
We could probably have done more, getting lost in the alleys of Stone Town, and take more pictures, but it is was incredibly hot that day, and after 3 hours we just needed to cool down.
5. STAY / DINE AT EMERSON SPICE
Early on when organizing this trip to Zanzibar, I came across the wonderful Emerson Spice Hotel. I immediately wanted to book a night in this incredible 19th-century Swahili mansion.
Unfortunately, our trip was a little too short to stay in two different places … but I wasn’t about to give up!
The Emerson Spice not only have the most unique rooms ever, but it also has the best restaurant in town. On our last day in Zanzibar, we had dinner at the Tea House, Emerson Spice rooftop restaurant, and it was a feast.
Where to stay in Zanzibar:
- Jambiani Villas: 12 villas and apartments built around a pool and with direct access to the beautiful Jambiania beach.
- Mchanga Beach Resort. If you like to have your toes in the sand all the time, Mchanga is perfect. Simple but comfortable rooms and an excellent Italian inspired restaurant directly on the beach. The ideal place to disconnect and relax.
Still looking for a hotel in Zanzibar? Find good deals on Booking.com.
Where to eat in Zanzibar :
- The Rock: Beautiful restaurant on a rock standing the middle of the sea, it could deserve a spot on the list of best things to do in Zanzibar. Reservation is a must.
- Tea House, Emerson Spice: For the finest dining on the island. Reservation is a must.
The restaurant offers a 360 view over the city and a spectacular sunset, but the main highlight is definitely the 5 courses degustation menu.
Dinner is served at 7pm, although it is great to come earlier to have a cocktail and enjoy the sunset. Every single dish was amazing, fresh and full of unique flavours. This was our last meal in Zanzibar and it helped me make peace with my otherwise disappointing culinary experience on the island.
Voila, you know a little more and hopefully I can go back soon and share even more information with you.
Did you ever go to Zanzibar, is it on your bucket list ? Let me me know in the comments below ! And you found this article interesting, don’t hesitate to share it ! Sharing is caring !
A très vite,