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It’s hard to describe with words. It’s one of the most beautiful and mysterious places I’ve ever seen. This Tanzanian island is a one stop shop for culture and history, delicious food and crystal clear beaches. In a perfect world, most people would spend a lot more time discovering this unique island, but if you do it the right way, you’ll be able to cover some of the main attractions in just 3 days. I’ve written this guide to help you make the best out of your trip!
One thing that is particularly important to note is that Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim. Calls to prayer will be heard and the majority of men and women will be dressed in typical Muslim attire. Out of respect, it is highly recommended to dress conservatively in the city, with your knees and shoulders covered. Beach attire and short shorts are totally ok for the beaches though.
Getting to Zanzibar
My boyfriend and I were planning on ending our Tanzania safari with a little bit of relaxation on the beach. We had heard about Zanzibar and most people we knew that had been raved about it.
As we were already in Tanzania, we only had to take a short local flight from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar airport. With the assistance of our safari tour operator, we were able to book a direct 35 minute flight for about 200$ CAD (It’s possible to get this flight at a lower price, but we booked it quite last minute).
Our tour operator also arranged the transfer from Zanzibar Airport to our hotel for $80 one way. In many cases, this can also be arranged directly through your hotel for about the same price.
Staying in Zanzibar
Again, with the assistance of our tour operator manager, we booked 4 nights in an ocean front deluxe room at Next Paradise Boutique Resort for $195 per night. We were booked on a Half Board basis, which meant that breakfast and dinner were included but we had to pay for drinks. Since we’re not big drinkers, this was more than ok for us. Our room was beautiful. It was basically a fully detached beach house a few steps away from the beach. It was spacious, extremely clean and equipped with top of the line air conditioning (the love of your life whilst in Zanzibar). The resort, with its pools and beaches, was lovely. There was clean and comfortable beach chairs and cabanas with drinks and snack service. The water was crystal clear, the sand was white and the beach was quiet. We were there in March and there were very little people sharing the beach with us and we didn’t experience any pressure sales from beach boys whatsoever.
I loved the hotel and their beach, but the only thing is that you’re quite far from the main city. It was a solid 40 minutes car drive to get into town and and to the airport.
What to do in Zanzibar
We arrived at our hotel around 11pm on night 1 so we went straight to bed. This gave us 3 full days in Zanzibar and we wanted to see as much as we could within the short time we had. To ensure we were making the best of our visit, we went ahead and booked private tours with our tour operator (also doable directly with your hotel). After doing our own research, we knew exactly what we wanted to do and they were able to arrange perfect little excursions for us. They included everything from transport to and from, as well as meals.
Here’s the list of the activities we did. I copied and pasted exactly what we were sent.
DAY 1- STONE TOWN TOUR – Half day 08:30am - You shall be picked up at your Hotel by our representative for Stone Town tour. Begin with a visit to Zanzibar’s colourful market, alive with the buzz of locals bartering fresh vegetables and baskets of tropical fruit, cocoa farm, amongst the heady smell of exotic fruit. Continue to the site of a cathedral built in 1874. The cathedral signifies a potent time in Zanzibar’s history and stands on the site of a past slave market with the high altar standing on the exact site of the whipping post. Slavery was abolished in 1873 by decree of the Sultan of Zanzibar. From here visit the residence of the late Sultan of Zanzibar, ‘Tip Tip House’, the Old Fort, ‘People's Palace’ and the House of Wonders’, Forodhani garden full of intrigue from days of long ago. The tour ends with a stroll down the narrow streets of the old Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar’s chequered history. 12:30hrs end of the tour whereas you will drive to Silk Route restaurant for lunch before proceeding with the Spice tour. Day 1 - SPICE TOUR – Half day 14:00hrs –Guaranteed to awaken your senses. Visit spice plantations where you will have the opportunity to pick, smell & savour fruit & spices that you have probably never seen on the supermarket shelf. Commencing at the ruins of the Maruhubi Palace, via the site of David Livingston’s house (one of Africa’s greatest explorers) the journey continues north toward the Kidichi Persian Baths. From here we continue to the rural areas where local farmers live & produce some of the world’s most exotic fruit and spices. Cloves, star fruit, ‘bulls heart’, tangerine trees, lemon grass, mangosteen and lip-stick trees, to name but a few, are what you can expect to see – according to the seasons. Perhaps you will fancy buying a basket of freshly picked spices to take home with you! 17:00hrs – End of tour and transferred to your hotel at the beach. The cost for both excursions is $150 per person including lunch at Silk Route restaurant.
Day 2 - Safari Blue - Full day tour with lunch (Shared activity) 08:00am – You shall be picked up your Hotel for Safari Blue. Original and the best, ‘Safari Blue’ is a full-day excursion using locally made traditional sailing dhows of between 8 to 10 metres in length, carrying up to 22 passengers plus crew. These passenger-carrying dhows are fitted with outboard engines, marine VHF radios, gas inflatable life jackets, sunshade, boarding ladder, waterproof bags and first aid kit with DAN oxygen unit. The excursion starts at the fishing village of Fumba, 30minutes drive from Stone Town. Fumba is situated in the southwest corner of the island and is an ideal starting point to explore Menai Bay, designated a Conservation Area. The bay has a number of beautiful, uninhabited islands and sandbanks and is often frequented by humpback and bottlenose dolphins. On arrival at Fumba you are given a briefing and a life jacket demo. You then board the dhows and set off to explore the bay and search for the dolphins. Dolphins have been spotted on at least 85% of these trips. Later in the morning stop on a sandbank. Guides, who can safely lead the snorkelling session and show points of interest, accompany you. For beginners or those who are not confident swimmers, there are inflatable snorkelling vests and the guides can give tuition. After snorkelling sample, a fresh green coconut before sailing to another sandbank for lunch. During the morning a catering boat has gone on ahead to prepare lunch which is served on teak picnic tables set up beneath smart canvas sunshades. Lunch is a traditional Zanzibari meal followed by fruit tasting, with a selection of different tropical fruit. Coffee and Amarula liqueur are served after lunch. Cold drinks are available throughout the day. When the tide allows, visit a beautiful mangrove lagoon where it is possible to swim through the mangrove forest. Return to Fumba by sail boat and arrive back at 6 pm, in time to see the colourful African sunset. There are no formal changing facilities at Fumba so please wear your swimming things under your clothes. Bring waterproof shoes for boarding the dhows and bring towels, sunscreen and a spare T-shirt for snorkelling. The tour includes Return Transfers A buffet seafood lunch comprising (subject to availability): slipper lobster, two types of grilled fish, chicken, grilled calamari, vegetarian/non-fish dishes by prior request, rice, two sauces – tomato with tamarind and coconut with coriander, large selection of tropical fruit (10-15 types), Beverages: soft drinks, mineral water and beer, Coffee and Amarula liqueur. The cost is $100 per person.
Stone Town Tour
Stone Town was captivating so it’s no wonder it is part of the UNESCO cultural heritage. The tour provided us with a guide who was extremely knowledgeable and thought us so much about Stone Town’s history, including its Arabic influences, slavery and its abolishment in 1873 and the stories behind the different buildings and sites. The architecture was so mystifying, like each square foot had gone through thousand stories.
While in Stone Town we took the opportunity to visit the Freddie Mercury Museum. The museum is set in the actual building that Freddie grew up in. It’s basically a small space displaying old pictures of Freddie and the people he shared his life with. My favorite part was the display of the framed letters written by Freddie that were donated to the museum by the people he gave them to (friends, family, celebrities…). For 10$ per person the experience was ok but a little bit underwhelming. Note that you are not allowed to take pictures in the museum, except for this little area where you’ll find his yellow jacket sitting on a piano (picture below).
We had lunch at Silk Route. Indian fusion cuisine. We really enjoyed the food although the service was extremely slow, despite us being one of the two only tables in the restaurant. But honestly when the food arrived it was so good that we didn’t really mind. The saag paneer and tandoori chicken were good, and the Kulfi ice cream was to diiiie for.
You can take the rest of the day to walk around the story filled streets, shop at the hundreds of markets and relax with a drink at the Secret Garden inside the Emerson Spice Hotel.
We then went on to visit a spice farm. It is a touristy activity, but I found it so educational and it was interesting to see how the exotic fruit and spices grew! I had never seen a cinnamon or clove tree before! We had a guide who made us smell, feel and taste everything he was showing us. They also taught us how to use the different spices in cooking as well as in natural medicine. At the end of the tour, we had a tropical fruit tasting and then they made us visit the spice stand where they sell spices, teas and other products. Unfortunately, even with bargaining, these were overpriced and you could find the most of the same products in all of the regular markets around town.
Safari Blue was a very enjoyable activity. We boated to Menai Bay, where we were able to get off the boat and swim in the calm waters. The water was freakishly turquoise, it was insane. We then went on to the sea for scuba diving. It was full of beautiful coral, with lobsters and various types of fish. After scuba diving, we visited Sandbank, a tiny little island in the middle of the ocean. Super cool and worth having a little tanning session on.
After Sandbank, we boated to another island with shaded grills and picnic tables alongside a strip of local shops. This is where we had lunch. The lunch included with the tour was delectable. Fresh grilled seafood, with salads and a variety of home made hot sauces. Granted, my picture isn’t the greatest but the taste was way up there. We also were served soft drinks and beers and cold water as well as exotic fruit for dessert, SO good.
We then went to browse through the shops, where they sold the typical beach side shop clothes, accessories and souvenirs. The prices were quite fair. I got two really nice 100% linen beach tunics for $15 US each. We had a couple hours to chill, tan and swim on the island before heading back for the end of the tour.
Prison Island, north of Stone Town, is only accessible by boat and used to shelter a prison for the rebellious slaves. It is now known for its tortoise sanctuary and beautiful peacock sittings. Although we did not get the change to visit Prison Island, we are aware that it is a thing to see. If you get a chance to go, please let me know how you found it in the comments!
Zanzibar suitcase essentials
Ok please take me seriously when I tell you it gets really freaking hot in Zanzibar. I love the sun and have a really high heat tolerance but this was like 45 degrees celsius hot. We got burned. Additional to usual packing essentials, first aid and medication (see my Safari guide for more details on this), consult the list below to see what needs to go in your suitcase. You’ll need to protect that little body of yours in more ways than one! Make sure you take turns between the sun and the shade and do not cheap out on sunscreen.
Also, I’ll just repeat here that Zanzibar has a huge Muslim population, like literally 95% of people living there are Muslim. So when you’re scrolling around Stone Town and other main parts of the city, make sure you’re covering your shoulders and your knees. Keep the beach attire and short shorts for the beach, where it is totally acceptable.
Lastly, in order to get to Zanzibar, you’ll most likely be taking a local flight from your latest destination, so keep in mind the baggage weight restriction of 33 pounds or 15 kilograms. Local transfers usually have much lower baggage limits than your international carrier.
3 days in Zanzibar – Packing List
- Sun hat. I loved this one because it was actually really nice and affordable, was foldable (easy packing) and offered UPF 50+ sun protection. I got the SMALL in colour CREAM
- Days around the resort: beach wear, tunics, shorts, t-shirts and camis
- Evenings around the resort: casual dressed up outfits for dinner
- Comfortable sneakers or walking shoes
- Flip flops
- Dressier sandals
- Light sweater
- Shall. This is the most practical thing I brought on this trip. Multipurpose. High quality for low price. I wore it almost every day. Cooler evenings, over my bathing suit, as a head scarf etc.
- Reusable water bottle that keeps your water cold. Your plastic bottled water will last stay cold about 0.1 seconds in the Zanzibar heat
- Beach bag. You can even use this as a carry on for the plane too.
- Heavy duty sunscreen (I like the spray sunscreens because they’re quicker to apply and you’ll need to be applying some often).
- Waterproof protective bags
- Lip balm with SPF
- Bug spray (Zanzibar does not have tsetse flies but mosquitoes do come out at night)
- Aloe gel. Hopefully you won’t get as burnt as me, but this is SO important to have, you’ll thank me
- Evian mist (extra alert, but this was so practical because it would get SO hot!)
- Laundry: Most hotels are able to provide day laundry service, weather permitting. Dry cleaning can be arranged at most hotels, but if this is essential to you, check with them prior to booking
There it is, friends. I really hope this helped anybody looking to spend some time in Zanzibar. If you’ve already been and have some tips that I didn’t include in here, please let us know in the comments and as always, any questions and suggestions are welcome!