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The Zanzibar archipelago sits just off the east coast of Tanzania surrounded by the Indian Ocean.
The tourist-light version of this collection of coral atolls and islands is defined by white beaches, lush rainforests, luxury hotels and world-class diving. Nothing if not complex, Zanzibar’s also a dense mix of cultures, deeply held beliefs, dark history, ancient customs, spirituality and ritual. It’s a popular beachy break at the end of Serengeti safaris and several exquisite resorts are designed to utterly cocoon visitors. But if you’re travelling with more on your mind than sun, sand and sea, you’ll be warmly welcomed by Zanzibari people and unfailingly inspired by their resilience, humour and astonishing resourcefulness.
Flights from the UK to Zanzibar via Nairobi take just over 11 hours. Direct daily flights from Arusha City (hub of Tanzania’s game reserves) to Zanzibar take one hour.
Stone Town, the historic heart of Zanzibar Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Zanzibar’s the only place in the world where rare Colobus Monkeys are native and can be seen in their natural rainforest habitat. Coral reef diving and snorkelling off the coast of Zanzibar is the finest in East Africa with vast shoals of tropical fish and visibility up to 30 metres.
Known for centuries as the Spice Islands, the Zanzibar archipelago is still one of the main producers of cloves – Pemba Island has over 3 million clove trees.
Traditional Swahili culture is richer and more vibrant in Zanzibar than almost anywhere else on the East African coast.
Tourism’s vital to the economy in Zanzibar and there’s no shortage of stunning resorts for wonderful family beach holidays. Many are owned by international luxury brands but do a bit of research into their ethics. It’s not too difficult to make sure that at least some of your spend goes directly to local communities and your stay is as low impact as possible in terms of natural resources.
UNESCO World Heritage Stone Town is the historic heart of Zanzibar’s capital. A maze of alleys, narrow streets and tall, skinny buildings interspersed by elaborate mosques, temples and churches. 16,000 people live here and the hectic, colourful atmosphere is as much of an attraction here as the architecture.
A sheltered and beachy stretch of Zanzibar’s south east coast, this is where to find some of the most eco-conscious resorts and a wide range of water sports at nearby Paje. Jambiani Village is very traditional and unspoiled. Fishermen sail ngalawa canoes on the ocean here and the shoreline’s trimmed with seaweed farms tended from morning to night by the amazingly enterprising local women.
The striped blue-green waters and white coral sands of the Michamvi Peninsula are one of Zanzibar’s most iconic sights. Here, a handful of exclusive resorts and spas overlook the 10km stretch of Indian Ocean beach against a backdrop of lush forest. A favourite location for post-safari escapism.
In the far south west of Zanzibar island, big beaches and safe swimming waters have created the archipelago’s liveliest holiday town. Resort hotels scatter along the sunny coast, every water sport you can think of is here and the atmosphere’s non-stop lively all year round. The town itself is good fun but most families prefer to stay on its quieter northern and southern outskirts.
The Zanzibar archipelago’s only true remaining ‘Spice Island’, Pemba is the green and fertile heart of Tanzanian clove production. But for all the industry it would be difficult to find anywhere on earth more unspoiled, slow-moving, delicately beautiful and charming.
The 21st century hasn’t really touched Pemba at all: fishermen use nets and canoes; clove farms are more like smallholdings and traditional dress is worn by everyone – except the tourists. A paradise for divers, the sea here’s kaleidoscopically shaded from glass-green to a blue, so deep, it’s almost black. Pristine coral reefs teem with spectacular marine life and the beaches are some of the loveliest on Africa’s east coast.
June to October is the best time to visit Zanzibar, the weather’s dry and temperatures are not much higher than 26˚. The island roads are surprisingly good and hiring a car, even for a few days, is the best way to explore. If you don’t want to self-drive, many car rental companies offer inexpensive car and driver packages charged at daily rates. Walking is the only way to get about Stone Town. Cycling’s safe and easy in quieter coastal areas and on Pemba Island – bike hire’s available in Zanzibar Town and most resorts have bikes for guest use.