Discover The Traditions Issue

Going to Zanzibar? Here’s what you should know.

It serves as a wonderful getaway if you want a place to refresh your mind as it has great hidden spots for relaxation and self-meditation.

Have you ever had the travel bug, but with no specific destination in mind? Are you tired of being between the hustle and bustle of big cities? Then I have the perfect location for you! Let me introduce you to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is an archipelago comprised of two main tropical islands- Unguja and Pemba- that rest off the East African coast and form a part of Tanzania. It serves as a wonderful getaway if you want a place to refresh your mind as it has great hidden spots for relaxation and self-meditation.

These islands are also famously known for their wildly diverse and rich culture- a mixture of native African, Omani, Yemeni, Indian, Persian and Comorian cultures- all thanks to the great Zanzibari history.

I moved to Zanzibar when I was 11 years old- which basically means that I grew up there- and so I’m here to help you have the best time when you visit this hidden gem.

What to expect

Zanzibar has great spots for relaxation and self-meditation.  Photo: Unsplash.

If you’re looking for malls and luxurious shopping centers, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Several people have personally told me that they did not enjoy their stay in Zanzibar because they could not find any malls. But malls aren’t what make Zanzibar the place to visit- it’s the outdoors.

Out here, you can have the best ocean experience if you’re a sea lover. You can go diving, snorkeling, jet skiing and swimming with the dolphins in their natural habitat.

Ngezi Forest Reserve in Pemba. Photo:Unsplash.

If you’re not a swimmer, you can lay on the pearly white sands of Zanzibar’s beaches or you can visit the forest reserves, such as the Jozani Forest Reserve in Unguja and the Ngezi Forest Reserve in Pemba, the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre, Prison Island, go on picnics on the Fungu Sandbank, take a tour of the spice farms, walk in the caves, or even explore the deep history that lies within the heart of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Unguja.

Stone Town. Photo: Shutterstock.

Though Zanzibar doesn’t have malls or large shopping centers, there are lots of shops and mini-supermarkets scattered around town. There is a famous market or souq called the Darajani Market located in Stone Town, which is mainly like a central market place for all the fishermen and farmers.

Many souvenirs can be found in Stone Town. Photo: Shutterstock.

For souvenir collectors, there are plenty of shops around Stone Town and a famous one is “Memories of Zanzibar”, located close to the Forodhani Garden. If you are looking for a special gift for a loved one, there are jewelry shops that sell Tanzanite, which is a rare gem that looks like blue diamond, found only in Tanzania, hence the name ‘Tanzanite’.  Make sure to buy the gems at a reputable shop and to get a certificate of authenticity to avoid scammers.

When to go

Zanzibar offers many water activities. Photo courtesy of the Manta Resort.

Weather plays a very important role in how you’ll enjoy your Zanzibari vacation. You don’t want to be stuck in your hotel room for days, especially if you’re a beach lover, just because the weather’s unfavorable.

June, July and August are the best months to be in Zanzibar due to the cool weather, which ranges from 20 to 30 degrees C during that time. If you love the rain, though, then the season for that is between March and May. However, I wouldn’t advise visiting between November and February because that’s when it gets unbearably hot!

Where to stay

If you want to experience the Zanzibari history, culture, cuisine and heritage, then I suggest you stay at a hotel in Stone Town.

If you want to be near the glowing white sand beaches and enjoy breathtaking sunsets, then stick to the hotels on the west coastal sides of Unguja. Swimmers, there is a beach called Kendwa Beach where you can swim any time you want because the sea there does not have low tides.

The Manta Resort’s Underwater Room (exterior). Photo courtesy of the Manta Resort.

For an even more adventurous experience, there is an underwater hotel room in the Manta Resort on Pemba Island, where you can actually spend the night under the sea!  

The Manta Resort’s Underwater Room (interior). Photo courtesy of the Manta Resort.

Where and what to eat

Zanzibar is also referred to as the ‘Spice Islands’. This is because it has been known for centuries for its spice farms and plantations, where spices such as cardamom, cloves, black pepper, and vanilla are grown. This is why the Zanzibari cuisine is rich in spices and flavors. With each bite you’ll experience bursts of flavors that will leave you wanting more.  

You’ll find a variety of delicious food outlets in Stone Town, but you can’t leave Zanzibar before visiting the Forodhani Garden. This place comes to life after sunset, when the garden turns into a bustling food market. You can find different kinds of Zanzibari cuisine there, from mishkaki (beef skewers), to fish and chips, to the iconic square Zanzibar pizza- my personal favorite!

Mishkaki is amongst the foods on offer in Forodhani Garden.  Photo: Shutterstock.

Mishkaki is amongst the foods on offer in Forodhani Garden. 

For an extra special experience, visit the famous Rock Restaurant – a restaurant on a rock in the middle of the ocean. In addition, if you’re a rice fan, I strongly recommend you try the Zanzibar Biryani. Your taste buds will thank you!

And on that note, I hope that your trip to Zanzibar will be worthwhile. And if you’re worried about safety, don’t be! The people of Zanzibar are very humble, friendly and hospitable.  

Aisha Al Mughairy is a Zanzibari storyteller.