Family vacations to Zanzibar

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Zanzibar – Family holiday guide

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.

Why go on holiday in Zanzibar

  • Direct flights

    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

    Stone Town, the historic heart of Zanzibar Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Nature and biodiversity

    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.

  • Spice Islands

    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.

  • Swahili culture

    Traditional Swahili culture is richer and more vibrant in Zanzibar than almost anywhere else on the East African coast.

Where to go and stay in Zanzibar

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.

Stone Town

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.

  • Visit The Old Fort for henna painting and traditional Zanzibar cooking classes. It’s also one of the best places to see Ngoma music and dance performances.
  • Stone Town’s imposing ‘House of Wonders’ was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, it’s now a fascinating and eclectic cultural museum.
  • Visit Darajani Bazaar in the morning to see the fish sellers at their noisy finest.
  • Forodhani Harbour is where everyone congregates in the evening for street food and brilliantly lively atmosphere.
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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.

  • Buy seaweed based soaps and other handmade products from the farm shops.
  • Big, white Paje Beach, north of Jambiani, is fantastic for kite-surfing.
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Michamvi Peninsula

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.

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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.

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Pemba Island

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.

  • Pemba is quite undeveloped, but the few beach resorts are stunning with features like underwater suites, thatched family villas and eco lodges.
  • Regular flights from Zanzibar island to Pemba take less than 30 minutes.
  • Ngezi Forest Reserve’s double canopy rainforest is unique in Tanzania and home to large troupes of Vetiver Monkeys.
  • Don’t miss: 19th century Ras Kigomasha Lighthouse; Kidike Bat Sanctuary; Chake Chake morning market; the baobab beaches at Makoba.
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What to do and see with kids in Zanzibar

  • Jozani-Chwaka National Park
    This 2500 hectare protected forest in the centre of the island is the last remaining natural habitat of the Red Colobus Monkey. It also contains a huge mangrove swamp were kids can see bush babies.
  • Bet el-Sahel, Stone Town
    This imposing waterfront palace was the royal residence of Zanzibar’s sultans in the 19th century. The collection’s quite large but a little faded. Buy a copy of ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess’ published by Princess Salme in 1886 (it’s the inside story of Zanzibar’s sprawling and scandalous sultanate).
  • Muyuni Village Visit
    A visit to a traditional Swahili village is a wonderful family experience and helps support local communities.
  • Kite Surfing, Zanzibar Island
    Kite surfing on the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Zanzibar is amazing. The local school offers lessons for beginners.
  • East Africa Diving, Nungwi Beach
    The Zanzibar Archipelago is the most rewarding area to dive in Tanzania. East Africa Diving is a Five-Star PADI centre and has beginner day courses for kids as young as eight.
  • Snorkelling, Tumbatu Island
    Isolated Tumbatu is the least known of the archipelago’s populated islands. Completely undeveloped, its pristine and shallow coral reefs are remarkable for snorkelling.
  • The Rock Restaurant, Michanwi Pingwe Beach
    Quite possibly the most enchanting restaurant in the world, even food-for-fuel younger kids will love the all at sea Indian Ocean location.
  • Prison Island, Stone Town
    An historic penal colony and now a stunning nature reserve, Prison Island is a 20 minute sail along the impressive Stone Town waterfront. The island’s home to giant Aldabra Tortoise and famously good for snorkelling.
  • Zanzibar Butterfly Centre
    A brilliantly colourful and interesting afternoon for kids, this butterfly farm supports local communities too.
  • Kiwengwa Caves
    A guided tour of these strange and eerie coral caves is exciting for older kids and the protected bat population in permanent residence only adds to the thrill.

Educational value for kids

  • Spend a morning at Darajani Market in Zanzibar Town. It’s the archipelago’s biggest and local life plays out here at full-blast – bit of a culture shock for younger kids.
  • Take a tour of the 17th century Slave Chambers beneath Stone Town’s Anglican Cathedral to understand the fractured social and political culture prevalent in Zanzibar in the 20th and 21st
  • Visit Ngonga Cave with a local guide and learn about the spirit world and sacred healers at the heart of traditional Swahili life in Zanzibar.
  • Spend an evening at Stone Town’s Forodhani Harbour snacking at the street food stalls and listening to musicians and storytellers.
  • Have a look at the interesting museum in the upper floor of the Old Dispensary, one of a handful of Stone Town’s historic buildings restored to its original state.
  • Take teenagers along Kanga Street near Darajani Market where local women chattily pair customers with jewel bright cloth kanga.
  • Jozani Forest is where to see Colobus Monkeys and over 50 species of birds and butterflies, Sykes Monkeys and Bush Babies in the mangrove swamp at its heart.

Getting about with kids in Zanzibar

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.

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