Zanzibar Archipelago
East Africa

Zanzibar Archipelago

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Welcome to the Zanzibar Archipelago in Africa, a cluster of islands off the Tanzanian coast, home to some of the best beaches in the world.

From the 2 main islands of Zanzibar (Unguja as locals call it) to the lush Pemba and several tiny islets, there’s a slice of paradise waiting just for you.

Zanzibar isn’t just another pretty face. This place is steeped in history, with tales of spice traders, sultans, and explorers woven into its very fabric.

Once a bustling hub for the spice and slave trades, it’s been touched by numerous cultures from the African continent and beyond, creating a history as rich and complex as a cup of Zanzibari coffee.

Where is the Zanzibar Archipelago located?

Zanzibar map

The Zanzibar Archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa, and is part of Tanzania.

The archipelago is situated about 35 kilometers (22 miles) off the coast of the mainland, near the Tanzanian capital city of Dar es Salaam.

Things to do in the Zanzibar Archipelago

The Zanzibar Archipelago is a playground for adventurers, culture enthusiasts, and those just looking to unwind.

Let’s dive into some activities and experiences that make Zanzibar an unforgettable destination:

Diving and Snorkeling

Diving and snorkeling in the Zanzibar Archipelago

Underneath the surface, Zanzibar’s waters are bursting with life.

The coral reefs around the archipelago are some of the most vibrant in the world.

Mnemba Atoll, off the northeast coast of Zanzibar Island, is a snorkeling and diving paradise where the kaleidoscope of corals and fish will leave you mesmerized.

Chumbe Island Coral Park is another gem, a fully protected marine reserve that’s home to about 90% of East Africa’s hard coral species and more than 500 fish species.

It’s like swimming in an aquarium!

From playful dolphins that often accompany dhow boats to the magnificent humpback whales that migrate through the area, there’s always something exciting to see.

The archipelago is also a crucial nesting site for green turtles, and conservation efforts in places like Mnemba Island and Prison Island are helping to ensure these gentle creatures thrive.

Whether you’re a seasoned diver or trying snorkeling for the first time, the underwater world of Zanzibar will not disappoint.

Dhow Safaris

Dhow safari

Experience the Indian Ocean the traditional way – on a dhow, a wooden sailing vessel used for centuries by local fishermen.

Set sail at sunset for a romantic cruise or spend a day island-hopping, snorkeling, and enjoying freshly caught seafood.

It’s a peaceful, picturesque way to appreciate the archipelago’s beauty.

Spice Tours

Zanzibar Island is known as the Spice Island for a reason.

A spice tour is a sensory journey through rural farms where cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices grow.

You’ll learn about the farming process, the uses of various spices, and even get a chance to taste and purchase some to take home.

It’s not just informative; it’s aromatic and delicious!

Visit Stone Town

Stone Town Zanzibar

The heart of Zanzibar’s culture beats in Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wander through narrow alleys lined with ancient buildings, and visit the historic Sultan’s Palace, the Old Fort, and the Slave Market.

Don’t miss the iconic carved wooden doors sprinkled throughout the town.

For a truly local experience, visit the vibrant markets where everything from spices to handcrafted jewelry is sold.

Visit Prison Island

Prison Island

Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island, is a small island located off the coast of Zanzibar.

It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Zanzibar Archipelago, known for its rich history and the giant Aldabra tortoises that inhabit it.

Some of these tortoises are over a hundred years old, and visitors can interact with them, feeding and taking photos.

Despite its name, Prison Island was never actually used as a prison for convicts; instead, it was initially used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases and a place where slaves were detained.

How to get to Prison Island

Prison Island is easily accessible from Stone Town.

It’s about a 30-minute boat ride from the shore.

You can arrange a trip to Prison Island through most hotels or tour operators in Stone Town.

These tours not only include the boat ride to and from the island but also typically provide some time to explore the island, visit the tortoise sanctuary, and even snorkel around the coral reefs nearby.

The waters around Prison Island are clear and rich with marine life, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling.

Explore Zanzibar’s unique beaches

Let’s talk beaches because, oh boy, Zanzibar’s got some stunners.

Nungwi
  • Nungwi Beach

Located on the northern tip of Zanzibar Island, Nungwi is known for its crystal-clear waters, fine white sands, and the absence of the extreme tidal variations seen elsewhere on the island.

This makes it perfect for swimming at any time of the day.

Ideal for all types of travelers, including families, couples, and solo travelers.

It offers a vibrant nightlife and a variety of dining options.

Some of the activities that you can try at Nungwi Beach are snorkeling, diving, sunset dhow cruises, and visiting the nearby Nungwi Turtle Conservation Aquarium.

  • Kendwa Beach

Just south of Nungwi, on the northwest coast, Kendwa offers a similar beach experience to Nungwi, with beautiful sunsets and soft, white sands, but with a more laid-back atmosphere.

It’s less affected by tides, allowing for all-day swimming.

Kendwa Beach is perfect for travelers looking for a relaxed vibe but still want access to activities and amenities.

Snorkeling, diving, beach volleyball, and full moon parties are great activities available at Kendwa.

Paje Beach
  • Paje Beach

Located on the southeast coast of Zanzibar, Paje features a wide, white beach with clear, shallow waters, backed by palm trees.

It’s known for its strong winds, making it a top spot for kite surfing.

While more laid-back than its Northern counterparts, Paje is one of our favorite beaches in Zanzibar, thanks to the showstopping tide.

During low tide the ocean retracts a few hundred meters, allowing locals to use the ocean floor for seaweed farming.

For those passionate about photography, this is a sight not to be missed.

Another reason why Paje Beach is special is its local population of dwarf cows, which locals let wander freely on the beach.

This usually happens at sunrise and it’s a beautiful spectacle to witness, especially if you happen to book a beach bungalow.

The only downside of Paje beach is the fact that you are not able to witness the sun going down, due to its southeast location.

This should, nevertheless, stop you from visiting this gorgeous beach.

Jambiani
  • Jambiani Beach

Located south of Paje, along the southeast coast, Jambiani is a long, quiet beach that offers a glimpse into the traditional village life.

It has beautiful blue waters and is affected by tidal variations, revealing a wide, exposed reef at low tide.

This beach is ideal for those looking to experience local culture in a serene setting.

Matemwe
  • Matemwe Beach

Matemwe Beach, on the northeast coast of Zanzibar, is known for its fine white sands and proximity to the Mnemba Atoll, making it excellent for diving and snorkeling.

The beach has a peaceful, secluded feel, perfect for honeymooners or anyone seeking tranquility away from the crowds.

  • Bwejuu Beach

A quiet, pristine beach offering a more secluded atmosphere, Bwejuu Beach is located on the southeast coast, north of Paje.

Lined with luxury resorts, palm trees, and coral reefs just offshore, Bwejuu Beach is great for travelers looking for luxury and relaxation in a less crowded setting.

Kizimkazi Beach
  • Kizimkazi Beach

Located on the southern tip of Zanzibar, Kizimkazi Beach is famous for its dolphin tours.

Kizimkazi offers a different vibe with its rustic charm and fewer tourists.

The beach itself is picturesque, with soft sands and traditional boats dotting the shore.

Ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and those looking for a quiet retreat.

Some of the activities available on Kizimkazi beach are dolphin watching, snorkeling, and visiting the 12th-century mosque, one of the oldest Islamic buildings on the East African coast.

Vumawimbi Beach on pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago
  • Vumawimbi Beach

Located on Pemba Island, known for its lush, green hills and clove plantations, Vumawimbi, a pristine and often deserted white sandy beach, offers a more secluded experience, ideal for those looking to escape the crowds.

How to get to Pemba Island?

By Air

The most common and quickest way to reach Pemba Island is by air.

There are several domestic flights available from Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and occasionally from Arusha (near Mount Kilimanjaro), directly to Pemba Island.

The main airport in Pemba is Chake Chake Airport (PMA). Airlines such as Coastal Aviation, Auric Air, and ZanAir offer regular services to Pemba.

The flight from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar to Pemba usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour, making it a convenient option for travelers.

By Sea

Ferries and speedboats operate between Zanzibar Island and Pemba Island, but these options are less frequent and can depend on the weather and sea conditions.

The sea journey can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on the type of vessel you choose.

The main seaport in Pemba is Mkoani, located on the southwestern tip of the island.

Keep in mind that sea travel can be less reliable than air travel due to variable conditions and sometimes less stringent safety standards.

Learn Swahili

Immerse yourself in the local culture by interacting with the friendly residents.

Learn a few phrases in Swahili, the local language, to connect better with the people you meet.

Some places even offer formal Swahili lessons for those interested in diving deeper into the language.

Take a cooking class

Zanzibari cuisine is a delicious blend of African, Arab, Indian, and Portuguese influences.

Take a cooking class to learn how to prepare local dishes like Zanzibar pizza, biryani, and urojo soup.

It’s a fun, tasty way to learn about the local culture and take a piece of Zanzibar home with you.

Explore the Monkey Forest

Monkey Forrest in Zanzibar Archipelago

Visit the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park to explore the indigenous forest, home to the rare red colobus monkey and other wildlife.

Walking through this lush, green landscape is a refreshing change of pace from the beach and a chance to connect with Zanzibar’s wild side.

Relax at a Hamam

After all the adventures, treat yourself to some relaxation at a traditional Hamam, or Turkish bath.

It’s a rejuvenating experience that combines steam baths, massages, and exfoliation, leaving you refreshed and ready for more Zanzibari adventures.

Accommodation in Zanzibar

The Zanzibar Archipelago offers a diverse range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s taste and budget.

From luxurious resorts to cozy guesthouses, each place has its unique charm, often blending in local design elements and offering warm Swahili hospitality.

When is the best time to visit the Zanzibar Archipelago?

The best time to visit Zanzibar is during the dry months, which are from June to October and from December to February.

These periods offer sunny, warm weather that is ideal for beach activities, swimming, snorkeling, and exploring the island’s cultural sites.

So there you have it, a little teaser of what the Zanzibar Archipelago has in store.

It’s a place where every day is a discovery, every night a celebration, and every moment an opportunity to fall in love with Africa.

Pack your bags, bring your spirit of adventure, and come find your piece of paradise.

Zanzibar is calling, and trust me, you’ll want to answer.