Oh myyyy geeee, Zanzibar was just amazing. I’d wanted to visit this beautiful and friendly island for the longest time and finally did in December. We literally had the BEST holiday while we were here and I wanted to put together a guide to Zanzibar so that you guys can also enjoy an amazing trip here.
It is a huge island and in a week there we barely managed to scrape the surface of all the amazing beaches and villages but if like us you only have a week then this guide is packed with great ideas and plenty of information.
If you want to know how much a week will cost you then I’ve also got a post for you.
A Guide To Zanzibar
This is the main town of the island and the most built up area you’ll find. We had just one night here as we headed off on a safari to the mainland before hitting up the beaches but I’d suggest at least one full day here if not two as there is plenty to do. Stonetown is so full of history about the slave trade, Freddy Mercury (his birth place is here), architecture and so much more. During our short time here we mostly focused on the architecture.
The part of Stonetown you are probably the most familiar with from photos is the old town, this part of the town is to the west of the town and backs right on to the edge of the ocean. We followed several different alleys off Kenyatta road to get a proper look at the gorgeous buildings and doors Stonetown is known for. We decided to wander around at 6.30am due to our short time in the city and we basically had the streets to ourselves except for a few locals. I’d recommend it if you’re keen to get those iconic door shots. But at this time of the morning the town did feel a little lifeless so I’d be sure to wander while everything is open to so you can get a real feel for the town.
Eat and Drink
I’d researched online before about where to eat and drink in Stonetown as I knew our time was short and nearly every sight had the same three recommendations.
African House Sunset Bar
This spot was recommended for drinks as the sun goes down and it did not disappoint. This bar overlooks the ocean and a little park where the locals were playing football and is the perfect spot for watching the sun sink into the ocean. The views are uninterrupted and the bar had a pretty lively feel from around 15 minutes before sunset. If you want a front row seat maybe get here a little earlier. The drinks are a little pricer than other spots but everything else makes up for that.
Forodhani Night Markets
This food spot was just as I imagined; a complete overload on the senses but with delicious food. We’d been in Stonetown only a few hours when we rocked up here so everything still felt so new and strange but it didn’t take much getting used to. The stall owners of the front facing stalls will be quite keen to make a sale to you but get past that and you’ll have some time to look around and decided on what you want. To be honest most stalls are selling one of two things: Zanzibar pizzas or seafood kebabs and the prices don’t seem to vary much.
We decided to try both while here. The pizza was made from a really thin, almost crepe like dough and we choose to have beef, veg and cheese on ours. Not a gluten or dairy free option for me but JP throughly enjoyed it. The seafood kebabs were much more up my street, we choose lobster, octopus and tuna which were all delicious.
The final suggestion but the one we never made it to is the restaurant at Emerson Spice, I guess I’ll need to go back at some point .
Read more about Stonetown from the very knowledgeable Helen in Wonderlust.
There are plenty of options for any budget in Stonetown but of course we choose somewhere on the cheaper side.
This little guesthouse was pretty basic but the location was super central and they had a gorgeous rooftop terrace where breakfast was served. We booked a double room and ended up with two small double beds but that seemed to be a thing in Zanzibar. Our room also had an ensuite and mosquito net over the bed. Total cost for 1 night in December was $60. You can book here.
Another budget place I’d seen recommend by so many was Lost and Found Hostel where they have 16 bed dorms.
This gorgeous beach side village is right on the north tip of Zanzibar and around 1 hour and 30 minutes from Stonetown. It’s possible to get here via taxi or bus but more on that below. Nungwi is a popular place to stop on a trip to Zanzibar and for good reason. The beaches are beautiful, it’s closely located to Mnemba Island for snorkeling, there’s a huge array of accommodation options and the village has a lively atmosphere.
Nungwi was our first beach destination in Zanzibar and I’ll never forget the first time I saw the beach with it’s gorgeous white sand and bright blue milky sea. Your beach experience will totally depend on the tide though. When the water is in much of the beach is cut off and it’s those paradise blue colours. However, when the sea goes out and it goes out for miles and the beach totally changes. During this time you can walk across the whole beach and the sand will be filled with seaweed and locals out working on boats or in the little pools of water. Just be careful during this time because there are a lot of sea urchins around and they can serious hurt your feet.
Visit Nungwi Aquarium
Silly name really as it’s actually a turtle sanctuary but this spot on the east of the beach by the lighthouse is worth a stop. Entry will cost you $10 and this helps with the upkeep of the turtles. While there you’ll get your own tour guide who will talk you through all the turtles they have, what they do to protect them and you’ll even be able to feed them seaweed. If you’re visiting at the right time you may even be able to help with the release!
Snorkeling to Mnemba Island
Mnemba Island is one of the best spots for snorkeling on Zanzibar and is just over an hour by boat from Nungwi. You’ll be offered a trip here by countless people while walking along the beach but we booked with our hotel which is safer. The reef around Mnemba island is pretty large and attracts a fair amount of visitors. When we first jumped off the boat into the water it was super busy but once we swam over to the reef it was just our group (about 10 people). The views you’ll get of the island are gorgeous but you won’t be allowed to set foot on it.
Eat and Drink
There are so many places to eat and drink in Nungwi and we didn’t find a bad spot. I tend to always looks for places that already have a handful of customers, in hope that they can’t all be thinking the same thing as me!
This is also the place that we stayed but their food was amazing and the portion size was huge. While we were there we ate off their regular menu several times (prices varied from 15000-20000tsh) and had a special Christmas Eve seafood bbq which was incredible!
This spot was a mega treat for us on Christmas Day. We dinned on their 6 course menu including a turkey dinner and dancing entertainment. It was incredible and there was even the option to dine on the beach or on the terrace above. At $45 each it was a hefty price tag but it was Christmas Day after all and the food was incredible.
This open and airy restaurant is again attached to accommodation but this spot is also right on the beach making it popular with all. They had a very chilled vibe and were busy for pretty much the entire time we were there. They had a decent menu with lots to choose from and everything was very reasonably priced to.
We only stopped here for drinks but again this place had a prime beach location (next to Nungwi Inn) and a great vibe. There drinks were the cheapest we found and the cocktails were delicious. Their food menu also looked pretty good.
We stayed at GOasis and I could not recommend this place more. The owner Tracey was the loveliest most welcoming host ever and their place is just gorgeous. It was a real family vibe and you were super safe as the whole place was gated off from the street. All the staff were super friendly and just couldn’t do enough for you. They also help to organise anything you want to do on the island. The rooms were all individual little villas hidden back among trees and with their own terrace. It was located roughly 5 minutes walk from the beach but this didn’t matter as it had its own pool for cooling off. You can book here.
Paje was our final stop in Zanzibar and wow did it impress. The minute we got out of the taxi and walked down the path to our hotel it felt like we literally walked into paradise. The blues were the most dreamiest of colours against the tall palm trees and soft, white sand. It didn’t matter here whether the water was in or out it stayed with gorgeous colour the whole day round. While the tide was out it left a kind of lagoon of sallow water behind and it was perfect for chilling in.
Paje was a much smaller affair compare to Nungwi but I loved it equally as much if not more. The main attraction that draws people in is the perfect kitesurfing conditions but we were mostly there to lay on a sun lounger and read books. The sea was continually full of kite surfers which could make swimming in the sea tricky at times but as the tide went out it became easier.
This seemed to be the reason most people came to Paje and there were schools offering to give lesson or loan gear up and down the beach. We thought about giving it ago but after I saw how hard you had to hold onto the kite I got a little scared!
Eat and Drink
We tired out several places to eat and drink while we were in Paje and none of them disappointed.
We decided to just head here for a drink but they have a super cool set up involving swings, deck chairs and cosy wooden sofas. It was a pretty small place so I suggest heading before prime dinner time when it became a lot busier. Their drinks were relatively cheap and there was a lively atmosphere with a DJ playing. They also had a good looking food menu with build your own burgers as well as more local dishes.
New Teddys Place
When I first said I was going to Paje so many people recommended staying here during our time. We ended up choosing somewhere else but decided to head round for food and to see what all the talk was about. It was a super relaxed place with hammocks everywhere and a cute little bar setup. The food we had was delicious and pretty cheap for the huge portions although the cute cats were pretty desperate to share my seafood!
I’d found a recommendation for here while I was researching before the trip and I can see why. It’s a super chilled affair with sofa like seating built into the steps and I’d almost call it a hipster cafe. They had a huge array of light bites on offer and the salad and sandwich we choose were yummy. It seemed like the perfect place to come for food but to stay and chill after (and use the wifi).
Our hotel also had a restaurant with a vast menu and plenty of specials in the evenings. We had a delicious Boxing Day bbq here as well as food from the main menu where they had a great selection of international dishes and Thai food. The only disappointment was that their prices were just a little more than the other places in Paje.
Not technically in Paje but only a 10 minute drive away and probably the most famous restaurant in the whole of Zanzibar. This place is as it describes, built on a rock that at certain tide times is cut off from the beach and only accessible by beach. It is mostly a seafood restaurant with both pasta and main dishes based around it. Both meals we had were delicious and the service was unbelievably quick, we even had to get dessert. Expect to spend around $100 here for a bottle of winer and 2 course meal for two. Booking ahead of a visit is highly recommended because it is so popular.
Cristal Resort and Spa
We went a little fancy for our accommodation in Paje as it was our first wedding anniversary and it did not disappoint! It was right on the beach front with the sand coming right up to our doorstep and palm trees visible from every angle. There was a gorgeous pool, sun loungers on the beach (I didn’t see any others available nearby), a restaurant, bar and spa treatments. It was the perfect place to spend a few relaxing days not doing much except walking between the pool, sun lounger and sea.
Our room was huge and was the only place we actually had a double bed, it also had an ensuite and air con. Cristal Resort also had cute eco villas with fan only but they had much better sea views. You can book here.
I have a whole post on budget for Zanzibar but I wanted to talk more specifically about the actual money. Tanzania Shilling is a closed currency, this means that you can only get it once you arrive in the country. There are many currencies they will accept in exchange for buying this but the most suggestible is US Dollars as these are also widely accepted by businesses.
When it comes to exchanging money there are 3 counters at Zanzibar airport and they all offer around the same price. I believe there are also some exchange places in Stonetown but I never made it to these. I found that the bigger and more crisp your note the more money you would be offered for it. However, I also found it very hard to get rid of my large notes that I didn’t exchange.
Moral of the story is: exchange quite a bit of your money to shilling and the money you keep in dollars make sure it’s in small notes (nothing over 20). In all honesty you’re better off with shilling as you’re offered a better price and can use everywhere. The only time it becomes a con is that you’ll end up with such a huge stash of it because of its value.
I found transport the most expensive part of out trip. There are local buses in Zanzibar but as someone who gets badly travel sick and as we were carrying suitcases we decided against them. They are of course mega cheap but they are pretty slow because they stop a lot and from what we saw they were also very crammed.
The only alternative it seemed were taxis and these were pretty pricey but then the distances were long. During a week we spent nearly $200 on taxi fares just doing the above destinations so it’s something to bare in mind.
There are plenty of taxi companies and your accommodation will be able to help you out too but I used Zanzi Taxi during our trip as they seemed to be a little cheaper.
During our time in Zanzibar I felt pretty safe the entire time, admittedly I was travelling with my husband so having two of you always helps. I also didn’t wander the streets late at night or go out alone. That being said in Nungwi our guesthouse owner said it was perfectly safe to walk around at night.
We did experience a lot of beach boys coming up to us while we were walking along the beach or sun bathing to try and sell us things. Some times they’d go straight in with a sale other times they would just have a general chat first. It was those latter ones I found hard to say no to or to just ignore but they generally were the best tactics. As long as you said no a few times they tended to go away.
Other safety strategies obviously apply: make sure your valuables are locked away in your room, never carry your passport around, only carry a small amount of cash, spread your spare cash around your bags, don’t keep valuables in your pockets and I could go on but that’s a list for another blog.
And with that it’s time to draw this guide to a close, at roughly 3000 words I’d be amazed if any of you actually make it to the bottom but hopefully just a little part of this guide to Zanzibar will be useful for planning your trip.