Things to do in Zanzibar

By Wies 10 September 2018

With its white, palm-lined beaches, Zanzibar is often seen as the idyllic beach getaway, especially after a safari. However, besides its beaches, Zanzibar has a myriad of activities to offer visitors – from tours in Stone Town and the old Spice Plantations to epic day trips on the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and trips to smaller neighbouring islands. Here's our top things to do in Zanzibar:

1. Take part in some watersports

Although many lodges and resorts have their own watersports centres where guests can book snorkelling trips, dive expeditions and sunset cruises, to name but a few, there are also properties that do not have their own centres. Visitors to these lodges should not despair, however, as there are a number of companies on Zanzibar that cater for exactly these lodges and hotels.

2. Spot and swim with dolphins

On Zanzibar, there are two possibilities for swimming with dolphins. The first is through the organised Dolphin Tours that operate out of Kizimkazi – guests can join other groups of people on numerous boats as they head out towards the reef in search of these majestic animals. However, over the last few years there have been more and more reports about unethical practices that happen here, largely due to the boat operators being desperate to give their clients the best possible viewing. As a result, pods of dolphins are often surrounded by jostling boats and it has been reported that from time to time dolphins even get injured as a result of a careless skipper accidentally hitting them with his propeller. With all this happening, it is really not a place we would recommend to do this activity – and thankfully there is a very viable alternative.

Operating since 1996, Safari Blue, besides providing an excellent opportunity to see dolphins, is one of the best day trips you can do on Zanzibar. Starting at around 10:00am, groups depart on traditional dhows for an action-packed day. From departure, guests sail to the shallower of two snorkelling spots, where there is a chance to have a look at what is going on under shimmering waters. Some things to keep an eye out for here are prawns, lobsters and a vast amount of colourful fish. After an hour or so in the water you once again set sail, this time to the deeper of the two spots, where, with a bit of luck, you get to see and perhaps swim with dolphins. Typically these are group trips, but it is also possible to book a private charter.

A morning such as this tends to leave people very hungry, so following a short stopover in a beautiful lagoon guests are taken to a small uninhabited island where they are met with a feast – slipper lobster, prawns, calamari, kingfish, beef skewers and pilau rice are just a few of the things on the mains menu, which is followed by almost every fruit available on Zanzibar for dessert! It is also possible for guests to try their hand at sailing a small dhow, or alternatively just relax in one of the hammocks that line the beach. Following lunch – and of course a siesta – the boats once again set sail and by 5:00pm everyone is back on Zanzibar.

3. Stone Town Tours

As a former stopover port between the Arab and European worlds from the seventeenth century onwards, Stone Town is one of the few African towns that has a very rich, documented history. Besides being a stopover, it was also a major trade port that provided an outlet for trade in particularly ivory and slaves coming from the East African mainland (current-day Tanzania and Kenya). A tour of Stone Town highlights this history, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to see how modern Zanzibaris go about their day-to-day lives. Easily accessible from anywhere on the island, this tour makes for a lovely day trip.

4. Spice Tours

In the early nineteenth century, cloves were introduced to Zanzibar and flourished in the tropical climate and fertile soul on the western regions of the island. Over time other spices such as nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and pepper were also introduced and allowed the Zanzibari economy to thrive. Many of these spice plantations are still operational today and it is possible for visitors to Zanzibar to go on a very interesting tour of these plantations.

Nearly everyone will at some point in their lives have used cloves, nutmeg or pepper while cooking, but very few people will be able to tell you how these spices are grown, making a spice tour on Zanzibar an interesting and educational experience. A spice tour normally takes between two and three hours, after which visitors are served a traditional lunch. This is also an activity that can be easily combined with other excursions on the island, such as trips to Jozani Forest or a half-day Stone Town tour.

5. See the monkeys of Jozani Forest

Jozani Forest is one of the last remaining sanctuaries of the endangered red colobus monkey. Once critically endangered, these beautiful creatures now number close to 2,500 individuals residing in the reserve, which spans some 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres). In the 1960s, Jozani Forest was declared a nature reserve and together with the local communities living in the area, and of course the revenue generated by paying visitors, the conservation effort of the red colobus in Jozani Forest has to date been a resounding success.

The reserve is easily accessible from anywhere on the island, and excursions that normally last around three hours can easily be booked through almost every lodge or hotel on the island. Because of its fairly central location, trips to Jozani can also be combined with other excursions on the island, such as a spice tour or a Stone Town tour.

6. Visit Prison Island

This little island lies just off the coast of Zanzibar and like its big brother has a rich history, having been utilised for a number of purposes. Uninhabited until the 1860s, it was the first Sultan of Zanzibar who gifted it to two Arab men who used it as a prison for rebellious slaves prior to their being sold and shipped abroad. Some years later Zanzibar became a British Protectorate and the British First Minister at the time bought the island from its two owners, intending to build a prison upon it. The prison was completed but was never used as intended.

In 1919, the British governor of the Seychelles sent a gift of four Aldabra giant tortoises to Zanzibar and they were housed on the island. They bred quickly and by the 1950s numbered in their hundreds. However, theft for sale abroad and food led to a rapid decline in their population until the Zanzibar government built a large compound in 1996 to keep these now rare creatures safe.
Today these tortoises once again number in their hundreds and have become the main attraction for visitors to the island. Daily boat transfers depart from Stone Town, which, as with many other activities on Zanzibar, makes a trip to Prison Island an easily arranged excursion, no matter where you stay. 

If you would like more information on exploring beautiful Zanzibar feel free to call us on 020 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]