In my previous blog you read all about my last trip to Zanzibar paradise, a tropical African island that really amazed me! It's a very interesting, photogenic, yet small island, in the Indian Ocean, about 35 km off the coast of east-central Africa.
Since 1964 Zanzibar has formed the United Republic of Tanzania together with Pemba Island, some other smaller islands and the mainland of Tanzania. Regardless of its modest size of 1,554 km2, it's quite diverse.
I was truly surprised by the lush natural beauty, multitude of indigenous spices, cultural diversity, authentic villages with friendly people and many nice things to do.
Even though we visited the island on a presstrip with Corendon and therefore had less time to explore, our 5 days were well spent with the help of Flash Tours. They showed us all the authentic & photogenic spots and organized several (half) day tours, that I can highly recommend.
Photogenic spots & must do’s on Zanzibar
In this blog I will share a few of the highlights, which will certainly come in handy when you like exploring too!
When visiting Zanzibar it’s possible to rent a car and explore on your own, but I always prefer to do this based on the advice of locals, like our guide Amicci. It's more fun, informative, nice to support the locals, and also very convenient as they know all the best photo spots!
These are my top 9 recommendations for must visits and things to do on Zanzibar, as always with many of my own pics;
1. Stone Town
This Unesco Site is actually part of Zanzibar city, the capital of the island. It forms the historic center and is one of the oldest Swahili towns in East Africa, founded by Arab slave and spice traders in the early 19th century.
Stone Town is now the commercial and cultural center of Zanzibar island, with many historical buildings, unique sites and narrow streets, buzzing with culture.
It has been named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2000, because of its unique historical heritage, culture and environment. This fortunately enabled much-needed renovations of some of the most beautiful houses and sites here.
Exploring the winding streets, colorful city squares and historical buildings of Stone Town is something you should not miss if you truly want to immerse yourself in the spirit and culture of Zanzibar!
It’s a real melting pot and perfect to witness true Swahili culture. We did this by bike, which is fun, but also hot, in the middle of the day, and quite challenging with the sometimes unpaved and narrow streets😊
Stone Town has 20 landmarks, rated Grade I buildings, all within walking distance, very photogenic and worth visiting. Get an impression in this gallery:
The Old Fort, the House of Wonders, the Old Dispensary, the Palace Museum, Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, the Mosque of Malindi Bamnara, the Royal Cemetery, the Hamamni and other Persian baths, among others.
And of course the Freddy Mercury museum, born and raised on Zanzibar, and lived in this house with his family until his teens.
TIP: As the people of Zanzibar are 95% muslim, make sure to respect the local customs and religion. I would advise to bring some long pants/skirts and something to cover your arms/shoulders, especially for your visit to the capital.
2. Dhow Sunset Cruise
From Stone Town you can book several boat tours, we did 2 with a traditional dhow boat. A wooden sailing vessel with 1 or 2 masts, traditionally used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region.
These trading vessels were primarily used to carry heavy items, such as fruit, fresh water, or other heavy merchandise and now we had it all to ourselves!
A sunset cruise with this traditional boat is unique experience and provides magical and photogenic moments, as you can see here:
3. Prison island & Nakupenda sandbank
On the same boat we did a half day tour, with Nakupensa Isles Safari, to 2 very unique islands just off the coast. Our first stop was a bigger island, 20 minutes from Stone Town, also known as Changuu or Kibandiko Island.
It’s generally known as Prison Island, as in 1893 the British Minister of Zanzibar bought the island to use as a prison site for rebellious slaves, before being transported to the Middle East and Europe.
He built a prison here, which eventually only served as a place of quarantine and hospital for people with deadly diseases.
After this the Island was mainly used as a resort with bungalows and the best photo and picnic spots! Prison Island is currently a natural reserve and perfect to spend a day on the beach, with of course a visit to the tortoise sanctuary.
Here you will find a large colony of giant tortoises, some over 150 years old, received as a gift from the British governor of Seychelles in 1919.
From there we sailed on to the Nakupenda Sandbank, which means ‘I love you’ in Swahili. Upon arrival you will see some of the brightest blue waters ever, highly photogenic, and providing a nice snorkeling setting.
Although it’s actually not much more than a sandbank, Nakupenda Island is stunning, with the whitest beaches of Zanzibar!
Also this tour was very well organized by an Italian couple, supplying snorkling gear, fresh local fruits and a great bbq lunch on the beach!
4. Spice Tour
Zanzibar is well-known as Spice Island, so a Spice Tour should not be missed! The island was one of the world’s leading producers of spices in the 19th century.
The Portuguese traders originally introduced spices and herbs to Zanzibar in the 16th century, brought from their colonies in South America and India. Since then different spice trades have shaped the history of Zanzibar, due to its location on the trade route from Arabia to Africa.
Zanzibar has a multitude of valuable spices, such as nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, cloves and big variety of tropical fruits, traded for thousands of years.
You can learn all about the different qualities and also medicinal uses of these spices and fauna on several plantations of the island, as you can see in this gallery:
We did this very interesting tour at the Zito Spice Farm, including musical entertainment and fresh coconuts picked for us straight from the tall palm trees.
TIP: the lunch here, with local dishes prepared from indeginous ingredients and spices, is delicious and highly recommended!
5. Jozani Forest
Zanzibar is very lush, tropical and even has a National Park. Even though the park is only 50 km2 in size, it’s a lovely tranquil place to visit. On the ground you will find coral remainders of the sea it once was. The forest houses many medicinal plants and the height of the trees is impressive.
Jozani forest is also famous for the Red Colobus Monkeys, a rare monkey, indigenous to Zanzibar, which we were lucky to spot!
On the other side of the National Park there’s also a mangrove with a lovely boardwalk leading you over the swamp, providing even more photogenic sights!
Restaurants & foodie hotspots
6. Forodhani food market
Forodhani Gardens is a nice public park by the sea, across from some of the most iconic buildings of Stone Town, such as the Old Fort and the House of Wonders.
Every night these Gardens turn into a busy street food market, which is something to experience! If you arrive early you can see the fishermen wheel in their wooden dhows at the end of the day and the street vendors slowly set up their carts, while the sun sets into the sea.
The seafront is one of the best places to photograph the sunset and witness the locals playing around in the warm waters!
We had dinner at Cape Town Fish Market, a more chic restaurant on stilts, right next to the food market, with great cocktails and sea food. For a real local experience however the food market is also perfect to sample fresh sea food and of course local delicacies, like Zanzibari pizza and different sweets.
TIP: Be aware that it’s forbidden to buy or drink alcohol in the street food market, even if it's offered by the vendors.
Another great dinner spot, located in Paje, on the southeast of the island. This restaurant - lounge is set right on the beach and serves some of the best food we had during this trip!
There are several nice beach bars and restaurants in Paje, but the view and location of Oxygen is stunning with a great atmosphere, as you can see here:
TIP: Make sure to order some cocktails, the shared tapas platter as a starter and lobster as a main, you will not regret it:)
8. Kae Funk Beach Bar
Certainly THE place to go to if you like cocktails, good music and amazing vibes! This trendy Beach Bar has DJ sets, dance- and fire shows being performed daily!
Set on a stunning white beach in Pingwe. Providing a lovely laidback setting with hammocks, plenty of lounge seats and picnic tables, perfect to watch the sun go down in an atmosperic setting with music, bonfires on the beach, drinks and dancing!
9. The Rock
One of the most renowned restaurants of Zanzibar, near the village of Pingwe. Known for its signature afro-infused dishes and sunset views, as it’s set directly on a rock in the sea, as the name suggests. The restaurant almost looks afloat in the Indian ocean.
During low tide it becomes part of the shore, making The Rock accessible on foot. And during high tide it turns into an island, accessible by wooden motorboat.
Although the rates are quite high, due to the restaurant’s popularity and media fame, it’s nice to visit, even if only to see the lovely setting!
TIP and note to self for next time: bring candy or toys for the many local children playing in the tide here.
I hope I was able to bring across the beauty, diversity and highly photogenic spots of Zanzibar well, to inspire your own visit.
It’s quite safe and easy to drive around and certainly worth exploring all the island has to offer by car, bike or boat!
For more details and inspiration about this unique island in Dutch, you can also check Corendon.nl/Zanzibar. Or go to my previous blog for more practical details on how to get to Zanzibar and where to stay.
Love to hear what you think of this African paradise island via the comments below or find me on social media via the buttons at the bottom of this page.