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By Lauren 04 June 2020

The ultimate guide to where to stay on Zanzibar

Here’s our comprehensive guide to where to stay on Zanzibar, including luxury lodges, boutique hotels, and barefoot resorts set on the best beaches in Tanzania.

Unguja, the best-known and most popular island within the Zanzibar archipelago, encompasses everything you imagine when you think of this collection of islands. This little land mass covers an area of just 1,658 square kilometres, but it packs an almighty punch as a holiday destination, quite literally offering something for everyone. From travellers seeking cultural insights, historical meanderings, and getting lost in alleyways dotted with local market stalls, to couples more interested in romance and relaxation, to thrillseekers enticed by the prospect of all sorts of different watersports – snorkelling, incredible diving, deep sea fishing – Unguja has it all. And I haven’t even got started on the endless white powdery beaches and sparkling oceans with the kind of colour you genuinely believed were reserved for photoshopped postcards.

Also, Zanzibar works wonderfully in conjunction with safari time in East Africa – logistically it makes perfect sense, and all types of traveller can find accommodation to suit, whether you’re after a small boutique-style property, an all-inclusive resort, or something in between.

1. Zanzibar’s east coast

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The east coastline features beaches running from the village of Paje all the way up to Matemwe, and I’d definitely describe these beaches as the quietest and most laidback on the island. Well known for its collection of small fishing villages, the area maintains a real feel for the local culture, with not as much tourism disruption as you might find with other areas. With its wide stretches of pristine white-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms and licked by the bright blue Indian Ocean, this area is picture perfect and synonymous with your expectation of what an ideal beach getaway should be. One thing to consider here is the tides. As the beach is really flat, swimming isn’t possible at low tide – however, do bear in mind that not only do the tide times change daily but your hotel will have an inviting pool where you can while away the time.

Our favourite places to stay on Zanzibar’s east coast

Pongwe Beach Hotel sits within a gorgeous private cove on one of the best beaches on the island. Its unpretentious style gives this boutique property an awesome relaxed and chilled-out vibe – you can either get involved in a great range of activities (such as snorkelling, spice tours, day visits to Stone Town) or choose not to move from your sunlounger for days on end. The hotel also offers really competitive rates throughout the year, making it an all-round brilliant value-for-money option.

Breezes Beach Club & Spa is a fantastic little resort, located on Dongwe Beach on the south-east coast. This place has everything you’d expect from a resort – a couple of different restaurants and bar areas, a (great) shop, a beautiful spa… and all while managing to maintain an intimacy and personality you might not have expected. The beach here is wide, open, and shared with only a couple of other hotels, so it remains very peaceful and quiet. For those who are into watersports, there’s a fab activity centre and a top-notch 5-star PADI dive centre. The food here is first rate too – the breakfasts especially!

Matlai Boutique Hotel, just beyond the little village of Bweju, is a superb little property – a really stylish place without being over the top with it all. Each room is decorated slightly differently, is super-spacious, and boasts spectacular ocean views. The beach here isn’t huge at high tide, but this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem considering how quiet the area is. You’re just opposite the famous ‘Rock Restaurant’ too, as well as only a short walk from Upendo, another excellent little spot to grab a bite!

Baraza Resort & Spa is located along one of Condé Nast Traveller’s Top 30 beaches. Sandwiched between Bweju and Paje on the south-east coast, this luxury resort fuses Swahili, Indian, and Arabic influences, resulting in a stylish, super-luxurious boutique property. The hotel has a really slick operation, so you can relax in the knowledge that you’re going to be very well taken care of. There’s a great watersports centre for guests who want to stay active, a 5-star PADI dive centre, a stunning spa, and opportunities to enjoy cultural and educational activities also. The food here is definitely some of the best on the island!

The Palms, situated on the same stretch of beach as Baraza and Breezes, is an intimate resort, and with only six villas the property maintains a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The villas are laid out in a horseshoe shape overlooking the main pool, onward bar area, and beach. The rooms are enormous, designed in traditional dark woods and bronze – and each has its own plunge pool on the front porch. A perfect romantic getaway.

KonoKono is a slick little resort located up near the Michamvi peninsula, which means that although technically you’re still on the south east-coast you get some beautiful sunsets! The resort has 24 villas, but the property occupies 5 hectares of land so it doesn’t feel too ‘busy’. Another bonus is that the area is relatively quiet, so the beach – one of the finest on the island – remains all but deserted! The villa rooms are all open plan, with a mix of traditional and modern features. The restaurant sits under an enormous thatched roof, and has views out over the pool and ocean.

Matemwe Retreat is a small collection of private two-storey villas located on the north-east coast of the island. This place is perfect for travellers seeking some real downtime. Each villa has a large bedroom and a stunning bathroom with a sunken bathtub overlooking the ocean – and both spaces open up onto your own private plunge pool and terrace. You also have your own butler too! One thing to think about here is that there really isn’t an awful lot of beach, the closest being about 10 minutes’ walk past Matemwe Lodge, the retreat’s sister property. Scuba diving is particularly good around this area, as you’re a stone’s throw from Mnemba Atoll, a protected marine reserve with a no fish zone!

Sunshine Marine Lodge is an excellent option for those on a budget who are hoping to spend some downtime in a lodge with a very chilled-out beach vibe. The rooms are simple yet very spacious, and are built under makuti thatch roofs to take advantage of the continuous ocean breeze. The property’s remote location on a cliff edge makes for lovely views, but it does mean that you don’t have direct access to the beach. That said, the closest beach is only a short walk away. A great option for keen scuba divers, as Sunshine Marine has its very own dive centre and runs daily trips to Mnemba Atoll.


White Sands is a luxury boutique collection of one- and two-bedroom villas, as well as a five-bedroom presidential villa. It’s located on the south-east coast in the middle of vibey Paje village. This is a super location for those who like to have a few things going on nearby, and overall it’s a great property for clients seeking a luxury experience.


Kisiwa on the Beach is a slick hotel, offering great value in Paje. A lot of the more ’budget-friendly’ properties that we deal with are a little farther off the beaten track as such, so this is a great option for those wanting a little more to do in the surrounding areas.


Xanadu Villas & Retreat is a quirky and luxurious property located in Bweju (just a bit farther up the coast than Paje). Here, you’ll find stunning private villas nestled around a tropical garden and pool. Small and intimate, the property suits anyone from families to honeymooners. The service is very friendly and down to earth, and the live-in owners have a really relaxed approach. A cool and vibey place to stay.

2. Zanzibar’s north coast

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The north coast of Zanzibar boasts the largest number of hotels and lodges, so it can get rather busy in parts – especially in Nungwi. However, this is the only beach location on the island that’s unaffected by the tides, so it’s a popular region for many. We do have to be very careful about the properties we sell here, as we want to make sure we deliver the best standards – as a result, we feel able to sell only a couple of properties with total confidence. But the north really is a great area for travellers seeking a vibier beach location.

The village of Nungwi has become Zanzibar’s beach hub of sorts – with more and more hotels and other properties popping up all the time, the area does get exceptionally busy. Nevertheless, the beaches around here are gorgeous and unaffected by the tides. The area isn’t as ‘wild’ as the east and south coast, and where palm tree forests once flanked the pearly white sands you can now expect to see an array of restaurants and bars, beach stalls, and watersports centres. If keeping super-busy exploring the area and enjoying the night life appeals to you, this area may well be worth considering. Kendwa, another north coast village, certainly isn’t as busy as Nungwi, but as it too boasts beautiful beaches unaffected by tides, we think it’s only a matter of time until this area also starts getting pretty congested. At the moment, although it’s only the next village down, Kendwa is much more peaceful than Nungwi and feels a lot less hectic.

Our favourite places to stay on Zanzibar’s north coast

Essque Zalu is just 5 minutes outside Nungwi village, and is one of the bigger resorts in the area. With an enormous pool, a couple of different restaurants (including a delicious ice cream bar), an activity centre offering scuba diving, jet-skiing, and parasailing, and a kids club, there is enough here to keep you busy. There’s not really a huge amount of beach, but there is a pier, which means you can swim out at high tide. A great option for families who want everything at their fingertips.

Zuri Bungalows is the new kid on the block as such, and is one of the most exciting new properties to hit Zanzibar for a long time. It’s located on one of the most picturesque stretches of beach, and although this area can get busy the operators have cordoned off a private area. Room categories range from bungalows to villas on the beach (read, affordable to hugely expensive), but regardless of the room category you will be blown away by the funky design, landscaped gardens, and great service. A modern and edgy property that’s injected quite a trendy breath of fresh air.


Kilindi is a beautifully designed boutique hotel. The suites are breathtaking, with bedrooms and bathrooms opening up at the front to allow for amazing views over the ocean and your private plunge pool! Something to take into consideration is that the beach does become rather narrow at high tide. The design throughout the hotel is very much beach chic, making this a super-stylish property on a quiet corner of Kendwa.

3. Mnemba Island

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The ultimate in barefoot luxury! &Beyond Mnemba Island is a private island, located within the Mnemba Atoll, a protected marine reserve on the north-east of the archipelago. The property is quite simple in design, but the quality is exceptional, creating an incredible rustic beach paradise. The beach is stunning, definitely one of the finest in Africa if not the world! If watersports is your thing then get ready for the island’s best snorkelling and scuba diving, as here your chances of spotting white-tipped reef sharks, turtles, and dolphins are better than in any other area in Zanzibar. However, with all of the brilliance that this place has to offer, it does come with a price tag to match, so you do have to be prepared to pay for it.

4. Zanzibar’s south coast

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This is a really quiet and peaceful corner of the island, with only a couple of properties that we would realistically consider. I think this is an important time to mention, that although this area is known for its ‘dolphin tours’, we urge you not to do them. They are unethical and run in such a way that we cannot recommend them on safety grounds either.

Our favourite places to stay on Zanzibar’s south coast


The Residence has historically been dubbed one of the most luxurious properties on the island, but today there are better contenders for this title. This lodge is chic in design, perhaps a little dated now, but overall a good option for when availability is becoming a problem.

Unguja Lodge is one of the only properties on Zanzibar that actively embraces the environment in which it is located, as opposed to clearing it to make space for more rooms. It also has its own dive centre, complete with secret diving locations known only to the lodge’s dive leaders! Located just 10 minutes from Kizimkazi village, the area is quiet, very laidback, and perfect for travellers seeking a rustic and down-to-earth beach stay.

5. Stone Town

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We love Stone Town! It’s full of Zanzibar’s fascinating history and culture, as well as lovely little restaurants and bars – and for anyone interested in such things, it’s a great addition to your stay on the island. The area to focus on is the old town, a maze of alleyways begging to be explored! It does get busy here, so you can expect to come across some street touts trying to get lucky by selling you knock-off sunglasses and Tanzanian football shirts – it’s all good fun, but don’t be fooled into buying day trips from these guys! Any activities you fancy doing while in town should ideally be booked through your hotel, or by us! A one- or two-night stay in town is pretty standard, with any more than that usually proving a bit much. While here, you have the opportunity to visit the old slave market, browse through the local antique shops, enjoy cocktails in rooftop bars, and sample some local cuisine at the different restaurants or even the night market!

Our favourite places to stay in Stone Town

Zanzibar Serena Hotel has a fantastic location just seconds’ walk from lovely shops, restaurants, and bars. Until recently it was the only property with a beachfront location. Please note that Stone Town is a predominantly Muslim destination and so cultural sensitivities do have to be taken into consideration, so while you may be on the beach we wouldn’t recommend swimming in the sea or soaking up the sun on the sand in swimwear – the hotel does have a great pool, though, so all is not lost! It also has a very traditional Arabic design, with lots of dark carved woods and traditional Swahili-style beds. A great-value option with a perfect location.

The Park Hyatt is the newest and by far the most high-end property in town. Right next door to The Serena, it has a superb location. There are a few different room categories, all of them super-spacious and very luxurious too. The hotel also has a couple of different stylish bars and a brilliant restaurant, serving up genuinely the best food I’ve eaten on the island. The outside space makes this place for me – a long balcony overlooks the beach, and watching the sun set here is the perfect way to relax away from the hustle and bustle… cocktail in hand, of course. The property’s excellent service is also worth a special mention. Staying at the most luxurious hotel in Stone Town does come with quite the price tag, though.


Zanzibar Palace Hotel is tucked away, away from it all, on the edge of the old town. It’s still within very easy walking distance of all the great things to do and see (and eat and drink) in town, but it occupies a peaceful spot on the cusp of the wonderful alleyways (which are definitely worth exploring). Featuring Indian, English, and Arabic influences, the design epitomises Zanzibari culture.

Emerson Spice resides at the heart of the old town, a fantastic location for getting lost in the meandering alleyways and wandering around the wonderful selection of local shops, market stalls, and curio stores. Super-traditional in design with enormous Zanzibari beds, stained-glass windows, and gorgeous high ceilings, the place has a magical ambience. The absolute selling point is the rooftop restaurant. Renowned around the island as one of the best, this serves a five-course fresh (and locally sourced) seafood tasting menu – but with only 12 tables available, booking is key here.

And there you have it – the YZ ultimate guide to where to stay on Zanzibar. If you have any questions or you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of accommodation available, please don’t hesitate to contact our Tanzania experts here. They’ll be happy to help talk you through which property is best suited to you.