Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 20 miles off the coast of the mainland. It consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island referred to as Zanzibar) and Pemba Island. The capital is Zanzibar City. Its historic center is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
I stayed in Stone Town at Stonetown View Inn. If you wish to stay in a hostel, Lost and Found is the popular hostel that most volunteers stay at in Stone Town. Another popular area to stay is on the East coast at Jambiani Beach. Although this is a more picturesque beach, I preferred to stay in Stone Town because there were more accessible restaurants, markets, and nightlife. I took 2 day trips to the East Coast for very cheap so I think I made the right decision. Stone Town is also close to the airport making it nice on your arrival and departure days.
Stone Town in Swahili means “Old Town” and is the old part of Zanzibar City. The newer portion of the city is known as Ng’ambo, Swahili for “the other side”. Stone Town is located on the western coast of Unguja.
Day 1 : Stone Town
On my first day in Zanzibar, I explored Stone Town by walking along the waterfront, strolling on the beach, and exploring the main market. Darajani Market has everything- from spices, fresh fish, meat and chickens to shoes, household goods, and electronics. It is all set out in a series of covered halls and overflows into the surrounding streets. If you’re buying food, come in the morning when everything is fresh, although it’s much busier then.
After the main market, I explored more of the town by walking through the maze of streets filled with various souvenir shops. Be sure to bargain!!
I also took a visit to the Old Fort (free of charge). The Old Fort overlooks Forodhani Gardens and the ocean. It was built by Omani Arabs when they seized the island from the Portuguese in 1698, and over the centuries it’s had various uses, from a prison to a tennis club. There is a line of souvenir shops and a nice cafe/bar here.
I walked past the Old Dispensary historical building. It is located on the seafront, halfway between the Palace Museum and the harbor. It served as a dispensary in the first half of the 20th century. It now has a small museum about the history of Zanzibar.
One thing that I did not get around to doing in Stone Town was visiting Sultan’s Place. I did, however walk by it. It is a 3-story building located on the seafront. The palace was built in the late 19th century to serve was a residence for the Sultan’s family. After the Zanzibar Revolution, in 1964 it was formally renamed to People’s Palace and used as a government seat. In 1994, it became a museum about the Zanzibari royal family and history.
For dinner, I ate at the local street market in Forodhani Park where several food vendors prepare food along the waterfront. Each evening as the sun sets, Forodhani Gardens transforms into an open-air food market.
You can eat while you watch the locals dive into the water during high tide.
Another restaurant option that you can consider is the Floating Restaurant.
I also went to Tatu night club to dance and have a drink. Tatu means three in Swahili and this place has three floors: a well-stocked bar on the 1st floor, a pub-style restaurant on the 2nd floor, and a rooftop cocktail lounge on the 3rd floor where you can soak up the ocean views and dance the night away.
Day 2: Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach
The next day, I took a private tour of Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach. I got contact information from reading reviews on Trip Advisor. You can contact Ali on WhatsApp at +255 773 518 781 or Mohamed on at +255 777 576 383. At first Ali wanted to charge me $120, but I told him that it was mentioned on Trip Advisor for $50 so he agreed to that cost. You seriously have to bargain with EVERYONE in Tanzania. They want your business and know that other companies are doing it for next-to-nothing so are willing to go pretty low. The $50 included hotel pick-up, entrance fee to Prison Island, the boat ride, snorkel gear, and a delicious seafood lunch.
Changuu Island, also known as Prison Island, lies about 30 minutes by boat from Stone Town. The island was formerly owned by an Arab and saw use for confinement of slaves. It also became a quarantine station for yellow fever epidemics. Prisoners were never actually held here though. The island was bought by General Lloyd Mathews and his goal was to make it into a jail. The jail was built in 1893 and is still there today and hence the name “Prison Island”.
In 1919, the British governor of Seychelles sent a gift in the form of four Aldabra giant tortoises to Changuu. Presently the species is considered vulnerable and has been placed on the IUCN Red List. There is a dedicated foundation on the island which looks after the tortoises’ welfare. The oldest tortoise at the sanctuary is 192 years old. The average weight of the tortoises is 200kg.
While on the island you will be able to observe and feed the tortoises, swim, sunbathe, and snorkel. After two hours walking around and taking some time to relax, I got back in the boat where the two co-captains/guides took me to Nakupenda Beach.
Nakupenda in Swahili means “I love you” and is the name of an amazing sandbank located just off of Stone Town. After another 30-minute boat ride, I took a walk in the sand and went snorkeling as the guys cooked lunch. For lunch, they cooked lobster, squid, octopus, fish, and French fries. Water and soda was also provided.
A lot of the guys on the beach will offer to take you to Prison Island for around $7-$10, but if you want more of a day trip with two islands, then I definitely recommend doing both in the same day.
For dinner, I ate at Mercury’s Restaurant along Stone Town’s sea front. Named after the band leader of Queen, this seafood restaurant is a great spot on the beach to watch the sun go down. Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar in 1946. His father worked for the British colonial service and the family lived in various locations in Stone Town. The food and wine at the restaurant were great and the service and price was just as good. I didn’t go on the night that they had a live band but they were playing some good music.
Day 3: Jambiani Beach and The Rock Restaurant
The following day, I went to relax at Jambiani Beach. If you love beautiful beaches, exciting water activities, and nice restaurants, Jambiani is the place to go. The distance from Stone Town is 55 km and takes about 1.5 hours. Jambiani is an old fishing village on the southeast coast of Zanzibar. It is still really authentic with only a few small lodges and guesthouses. Jambiani has a laid back vibe with friendly local people who often interact with tourists.
The beach is 7km long and in contrary to some of the beaches in Zanzibar, this peach has powdery white sand. The barrier reef lies a few kilometers out, with a beautiful crystal turquoise lagoon in between. The lagoon is perfect for wading, snorkeling, or kite-surfing. At high tide, you should enjoy a nice swim in the Indian Ocean and at low-tide, you can take a nice stroll on the beach.
After my day on the beach, I had dinner at The Rock restaurant, where I had made reservations a couple days prior. Avoid disappointment by making a reservation in advance. In its unique position in/on the waters of the Indian Ocean, The Rock has become one of the icons of Zanzibar. It was opened in 2010 and was originally a very basic structure having been used as a local fisherman’s post.
Located in front of Michamvi Pingwe beach, it has sometimes been referred to as the floating restaurant. The restaurant specializes in seafood and local cuisines. An open-air terrace offers a nice evening under the African stars at night.
The restaurant is reached off the beach on foot at low tide or by a complimentary boat at high tide. It was a neat experience with delicious food!
If you want a good taxi driver, contact Muhammad on WhatsApp at +255 777 576 383. I paid $45 total for him to take me to Jambiani Beach. He waited in the car and then took me to The Rock. He waited in the car again and then took me back to Stonetown. Usually the price is $30 one way. I used him again the next day and he drove me around and waited for me again from morning until evening for only $45. Try not to go through your hotel because they get a commission. It is better to get a taxi yourself.
Day 4: Jozani Forest and Kuza Cave
On my final day, I went to Jozani Forest, which is in the south of Zanzibar island in between Stone Town and Jambiani Beach. The forest is home to the Red Colobus Monkeys. The mangrove boardwalk take you above the swamp, where you can see crabs scuttling across the mud.
A tour of Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park costs $12USD. The mandatory tour guide will tell you about the monkeys, plants, and other animals of the forest as you watch the monkeys eat, play, and jump from the treetops. The tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with this tour. You can see the monkeys from the road and we didn’t walk around in the forest for too long. If you have limited time, I would skip this.
After Jozani, I headed back toward Jambiani to eat lunch at a restaurant before going to explore Kuza Cave. This ancient limestone cave has crystal clear turquoise fresh water in which you can swim in.
Here you can swim in the cave. You can also book an extended tour of the cave online that explains the archaeology and geological formation of the cave.
I realized too late that they have dinner and drum shows here a couple times a week so I recommend looking this up in advance on their website. Luckily for me, the guys were practicing for their show later that night and I got to join in.
After the cave, I headed to the airport to catch my flight back to Arusha. The cost of the flight was $200 roundtrip with non-stop flights from Kilimanjaro. You can also book out of Arusha airport. I flew with Air Tanzania and found the tickets on Skyscanner.
If you have more time or are interested in something different, try checking out a trip to Pemba Island, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, taking a spice tour, going out to the Mnemba Atoll, standup paddle boarding through mangroves in Chwaka Bay, or attending a full moon party at Kendwa Rocks.
If you have any questions or comments, please post below 🙂