Whilst we normally talk of Zanzibar the island, in truth it
is an archipelago of 3 main islands: Unguja, the one we all call Zanzibar,
Pemba and Mafia. These islands are located off the coast of Tanzania in the
warm Indian Ocean waters. Each is quite different, yet they all offer some
superb lodges in almost hidden coves and bays. Perfect for a relaxing end to
your adventures in Tanzania.
Zanzibar is the most developed of the 3 islands with hundreds of lodges across all price ranges. It’s also the easiest to get to with several flights daily.
Zanzibar is historically rich. Following Portuguese rule the islands became part of Oman. The wealth built here through trading in ivory, spices and slaves was so significant that Stone town became the de facto capital of Oman. From the late 19th century the islands were incorporated into the British empire in an effort to end the eastern slave trade.
The international trading and settlement created the Swahili culture and language, local Bantu with strong Arab and Indian influences.
The capital is Stone Town, clustered around the original beach port on the western coast just 20 miles from Dar es Salaam. The heart of the old town is a puzzle of meandering narrow alleyways. Getting lost can be half the fun. Look out for the traditional Zanzibari doors and the typically dilapidated historic buildings that tell of glorious heydays. There’s plenty to see and do here to easily pass a couple of days before you fly home.
Zanzibar, though, is most famous for its beaches and a trip to the island is not complete without at least a few days relaxing on one. Some areas are now very developed and cater to package tourism but they are many more beautiful and peaceful beaches to escape to with just a smattering boasting low-key nightlife. Just let us know what your preferences are and we'll guide you to your perfect beach escape.
If you’re looking for something with a little more activity there are several great diving areas, including a protected marine park to the north. Kite surfing is gaining in popularity and if you don’t mind the heat a bicycle can be a lovely way to explore this fairly flat island.
If you’ve not seen enough wildlife Jozani forest is the place for you. Home to the endemic red colobus monkey or take a walking or boat tour into the mangrove areas A spice plantation tour is a surprisingly fascinating way to spend a morning you’ll be able try local seasonal fruits too.
Zanzibar has pretty much everything you could wish for to give you a fantastic finale to your Tanzanian travels.
Mafia island is about 90 miles to the south of Zanzibar and much less developed. Perhaps not the best location for true beach holiday as they are few and far between here. But, if you prefer a more off the beaten track, chilled yet cultural place then this could be the island for you. If you are a keen ocean lover or diver you’ll find far superior oceanic destinations around Mafia. Chole bay to the east is within a marine reserve and boasts some spectacular dive spots with high chances of coming across mantas, whale sharks and other pelagic species.
Pemba island to the north of Zanzibar is quite distinctive. The other islands are coral islands. Pemba was originally part of the mainland giving an almost mountainous topography and soils much more amenable to intensive agriculture. This is the least developed of the islands in terms of tourism with far fewer accommodation options It’s better suited to adventurous travellers unless you’re planning on staying at one of the luxury high end lodges. Pemba is probably the best location for experienced and keen divers. There are several dive sites where pelagic species are regulars.