Zanzibar: what to see, when to go and various tips

I have to be honest, before I go to Zanzibar I was a little skeptical, I was afraid of being in a destination invaded by mass tourism and not very authentic. In reality it is none of this, or rather, there are areas where it is so but many others where it is not, and it is a really beautiful island. I liked it right away, I liked the color of the sea (the Indian Ocean never disappoints! trip to the Seychelles I was a little afraid I must say ..), the sand of its beaches, the bright green of the hinterland and the magnificent decadence of the buildings of Stone Town. I went there after doing a trip to Tanzania, 8 days of safari, and it is an island where I immediately felt at ease. I'm already sure I'll be back! Overall I was there for 1 week (sleeping in 2 different locations, east and north) and I consider it a good time to visit it all, but you can easily stay there even 2 weeks without getting too bored in my opinion. In this article you will find a bit of all the info you need to better organize this trip (or I would better say vacation) on the island that has been one of the largest cultural crossroads in the world. 

Zanzibar: entry visa and necessary documents

To enter Zanzibar (as well as in the rest of Tanzania) a visa is required, but don't worry: the visa can be purchased directly upon arrival at the airport for the modest sum of $ 50. Normally you should be able to pay with VISA or Mastercard (for me it was), but I also know of people whose flights arrived at unlikely times who could only pay in cash (there is a change at the airport in case ). 

Currency in Zanzibar: can you also pay in euros or dollars?

The official currency of Tanzania and Zanzibar is Tanzanian shilling (TSH). Being a very touristy island actually they also accept dollars or euros (in general dollars better anyway). If you pay in euros or dollars, however, they almost always give you the rest in shillings. Regarding the prices, Zanzibar is quite expensive (as well as the rest of the country); the cost of living for tourists is slightly lower than in Spain. The things that cost the most are the excursions and transfers. Obviously, this is if you want to eat / sleep in places of western standard. If you go to eat in local places you will spend less than half.

Best time to go to Zanzibar: the weather

Zanzibar has two periods of high season: from December to February  and July and August. The months at the turn of August correspond to their summer, the temperatures exceed 30 ° and the humidity is very high (you can also find a little rain); July and August are the most popular months for European tourists and temperatures are always around 30 ° but the climate is much drier (it is undoubtedly the best time!). The rainy season is from March to May and many facilities close. 

How to reach Zanzibar and how to get around

Zanzibar has a brand new international airport (in August 2019 it was close to the inauguration) which is served by direct flights, both charter and scheduled flights. The airport is located about ten kilometers outside the capital Stone Town. From there you will then have to take a taxi or a bus to reach the area where you will be staying. Calculate that a transfer from the airport to Paje costs about 30-40 dollars) and to Nungwi 50-60 at least. To move from one part of the island to the other, I suggest you use taxis or collective transfers (you can book them from all the structures).

Do you need vaccines for Zanzibar?

There are no mandatory vaccinations to do before going to Zanzibar. Tropical diseases are widespread both in the mainland part of Tanzania and in Zanzibar, albeit the incidence of malaria is very low in Zanzibar.  La dengue fever and hemorrhagic dengue, again caused by the bites of infected mosquitoes, are endemic everywhere. The most important thing to do is to protect yourself against insect bites. However, always consult the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before leaving to get all the updates. 

Health Insurance is required 

A Zanzibar our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!).

Zanzibar: time zone

Among the many positive elements of Zanzibar there is also the fact that it is in exactly the same time zone as us so: goodbye jet lag !! A great convenience, let's face it!

Internet and mobile: how to buy a local sim

If you want to always be connected but don't want to spend a fortune I highly recommend you buy a local sim (but don't buy it at the airport which costs more!); depending on how many Giga you want, you will be able to spend around 10 euros. If you go only to Zanzibar, the operator that works best is the Zentel; if you also go to mainland Tanzania, you should buy the sim of the Vodacon. In general, however, the wifi is found everywhere, both in hotels and in clubs and restaurants and it works quite well.

Where to sleep in Zanzibar: Paje and Nungwi

On this point, I can naturally tell you about my experience and above all about my choice, based on the advice of friends and guides mainly. I have decided to divide my days in Zanzibar sleeping in 2 different places, first in the east (Paje) and then in the north, in Nungwi. In addition to the convenience of being able to better explore the whole island, these 2 locations also differ in other things.

Paje it is a place frequented mainly by independent travelers (in particular kite-surfers), it does not have large facilities (but it has a decent nightlife) and is very affected by the phenomenon of the tides: for several hours of the day there is low tide and it is impossible to get swimming in the sea (unless you want to walk for miles). It is a very nice and relaxing place and I loved that they weren't there. 

  • Ananda Beach Resort: very small structure with several bungalows practically on the beach. The bungalows are very nice and clean. Perfect for those who want to spend little and feel at home.
  • Paje by night: bigger and very nice structure, with a small swimming pool and a good restaurant (where you can also find wine and cocktails!).
  • Villa Haruma: structure with few well-kept rooms (some with terrace); there is a pool and they serve a great breakfast.

Nungwi, on the northern tip, is on the contrary the most touristic place of Zanzibar and its long beach is dotted with tourist villages mainly frequented by Spain. I must say that, although they are very large, they do not disturb the view and the environment on an architectural level. The advantage of Nungwi lies in the fact that the tide here is less and it is possible to swim in the sea practically all day. In addition to this, it has beautiful beaches (from which you can see a crazy sunset!) And it is undoubtedly a lively place, with many restaurants and several bars / clubs. 

  • Aluna Beach Lodge: nice and not so big property located right on the beach. There are 2 swimming pools and each room has its own private terrace.
  • With Hotel: High-end hotel (4 stars) with private beach and infinity pool. Clean and well furnished rooms, with sea view or garden view. 

What to see in Zanzibar

Stone Town: the historic district of the capital

Even if you decide to come to Zanzibar for its beaches, you cannot fail to visit Stone Town, or the historic district of the capital. It is a fantastic place, decadent at the right point (it reminded me a little of Havana Vieja), with magnificent buildings of African, Arab, Indian and European inspiration. Stone Town was in fact one of the most important cultural crossroads in the world, and here the slave trade, ivory and precious woods to India and many other Southeast Asian countries took place. Stone Town absolutely deserves at least a day; get lost in the alleys of the center, between the markets, the historic buildings and the beach, to end the day watching the sunset from one of the many rooftop bars (As the Emerson or the Swahili House). If you are a fan of Freddy Mercury, know that he was born right here and you can go in front of his house (now a 4-star hotel). 

The most beautiful beaches of Zanzibar

The greatest attraction of Zanzibar are them, the beaches of fine white sand decorated with palm trees. Difficult to say which are the most beautiful (also because it is impossible to see them all!). All beaches have the barrier Reef (which can be reached by boat) and, among those I have seen, I can certainly recommend:

  • Kendwa (north, 3 km south of Nungwi): very wide and long beach that can be reached on foot from Nungwi. Beautiful and perfect for swimming at any time. The top spot to watch the sunset on the island (along with Stone Town). 
  • Paje (southeast): long beach of incredible colors. Thanks to the tide, a beautiful effect is created between water and sand. The favorite beach for kite-surfers (but not only!).
  • Pongwe e Kiwenga (to the east): wide and very quiet beaches, for those who love relaxation. 
  • Michamvi Peninsula (east): where The Rock restaurant is also located (see below), one of the most exclusive areas of the island. 
  • Jambiani (south-east): similar to Paje, very beautiful and long beach with many villages in the hinterland to be able to get in touch with the local daily life. 

The Rock: a dream restaurant

If you ask me which is the restaurant with the most suggestive location in which I have ever eaten .. I would probably tell you this, The Rock, on the east coast of Zanzibar: simply a dream. The Rock is located on a rock, and can be reached on foot (at low tide) or by boat from the beach in front. It was designed by an Italian 10 years ago and quickly became the most famous and photographed restaurant on the island (and the fame is well deserved!). He has few covers (about 50-60 between inside and out) and works in shifts; Italian cuisine and it is very good. If you can book several days in advance on this site (it's really a popular place!): if you book for a few people you don't have to pay a deposit, but in the case of groups, yes. If desired, they can also organize a transfer from your hotel. Being so famous, the cost of a meal is higher than in the rest of the island (in August 2019 I spent about 50 euros, but it always depends on what you drink). If you want to get an idea, find the menu with prices on their website

Where to eat in Zanzibar

Where to eat in Stone Town 

  • Secret Garden Restaurant at Emerson Spice: as the name implies, you enter a secret garden surrounded by ancient ruins and tropical plants. A magnificent and super romantic restaurant!
  • The Swahili House: a beautiful hotel housed in a house that was first the home of a wealthy Indian merchant and then the residence of the sultan's family. Go up to the terrace and enjoy an aperitif or dinner with a breathtaking view.
  • Livingstone Beach Restaurant: beach bar / restaurant. Very nice and with a nice atmosphere. They also have music evenings.  

Where to eat in Paje

  • Fisherman: simple little restaurant on the beach, cheap and good. The dishes are very large. You can make a full meal for less than € 10. 
  • Paje by night: hotel restaurant. Nice location where you can eat well (they also make pizza and find wine / beers!). 
  • Mr Coffee: the place to be a Paje. The meeting place for young people but not only. It has a terrace right on the beach, the atmosphere is informal and the food is very good (especially salads and sandwiches). No alcohol. 
  • Shanti: new restaurant right on the beach. It's a little expensive but nice; here too you can order alcohol.

Where to eat in Nungwi

  • The Mace: very nice restaurant located behind the Amaan Bungalows Hotel. It is in a garden and the cuisine is French-African fusion. Really good! 
  • Mama Mia: for those nostalgic for Italian food (and not). Good Italian cuisine (they also make pizza .. decent), but also excellent fish dishes. Here you will also find good coffee and Italian ice cream.  

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