Zanzibar is wonderful (particularly in December) with warm days just perfect for lazy days on the white tropical beaches, or an afternoon stroll through Stone Town. I have always likened Stone Town to the Venice of Africa, narrow little mazes in an old city that you can just walk through and immerse yourself in the culture and history. It can get busy over December as so many travellers flock to the island to get some sun and have a tropical escape – that also means high prices and many places already fully booked.
The big question you have to ask yourself about Zanzibar is what sort of beach holiday / experience you are after for Zanzibar?
The north-east coast is where most of the resorts and hotels are as the beaches are the best for swimming (they are not so affected by the tides), but below some more information on the different areas – and the last one listed might be best.
Here are a few ideas on Where to stay in Zanzibar
The heart of Zanzibar, Stone Town, was constructed during the 19th century: a labyrinth of narrow alleys complete with palaces, mosques, and tiny shops. It’s noisy, busy and not very clean – but it has a vibrant, exotic atmosphere that can be enticing. Stay here for a night or two – it’s often convenient for international flights – at one of the beautiful converted merchant’s houses, and look forward to eating out.
Two or three hours drive from Stone Town, the village of Nungwi marks the northern-most tip of Zanzibar. The turquoise-blue ocean surrounds it on three sides; Nungwi has long been a magnet for visitors seeking paradise. Come for some good diving and beaches, and proximity to a lively village where there’s always a lot going on.
Image of Nungwi courtesy of georgeandreou.net
Over the last decade the coastline here has turned it into one of Zanzibar’s busiest beach areas. What was a ramshackle fishing village has become an increasingly busy place as various guesthouses, bars, shops and restaurants appear. A visit to the turtle sanctuary is very worthwhile, and for our traveller who love night-life, we’ve included the immaculate Flame Tree Cottages. It’s a particularly lovely small guest house a short walk from Nungwi’s centre. It’s near enough to take part, but far enough away for you to get a good night’s sleep even when there are still revellers on the beach.
East Coast Zanzibar
The northern part of east coast Zanzibar is lined with long, powder-white beaches which look out towards a long barrier reef, about a kilometre offshore. Inland there’s a coastal strip of coconut palms within which there are small fishing villages and a variety of places to stay. Lodges here generally have more space than those in the Nungwi area, but like the north, the beaches here slope very little. This means that when the tide is out, the water retreats a long way and swimming from the beach is difficult – although paddling to the top of the exposed reef with the right local guide is fascinating.
There’s good diving and snorkelling here, and both Matemwe and Shooting Star have nearby dive centres for easy diving and snorkelling trips.
To the north of this long coast, Matemwe Lodge occupies an isolated spot above a long sandy beach. It’s a reliable choice; with stylish upgraded rooms, plenty of space and it has a very well-established atmosphere. Pongwe Beach is very rustic and very chilled.
Michamvi Peninsula and South-east Zanzibar
South along the east coast of Zanzibar and the beach remains stunning: powder-white sand with a barrier reef, lots of palm trees and a significant tidal range. The villages become a little sleepier and more relaxed as you head south, and Jambiani, in particular, is very relaxed. For an authentic visit to a friendly village, you can’t beat it.
Image of Jambiani courtesy of Trip Advisor
In fact, that area south of the peninsular, around Paje, Bwejuu and Jambiani, used to be the busiest part of Zanzibar’s beach scene – especially for backpackers. But in recent years low budget travellers have moved more to northern Zanzibar, around Nungwi and Kendwa, leaving this south-east stretch relatively quiet. This leaves the south-east as more of a low-key, low-impact beach retreat.
Echo Beach is a small mid-range lodge on a beautiful stretch of beach. It has a laid back atmosphere, stylish rooms, and a dive centre on site.
Fumba Peninsula is south of Stone Town. Like the south-east of Zanzibar, this is a very relaxed and friendly corner of the island which has seen few visitors. It’s probably the most relaxed and friendly corner of the island, but until recently it has really only been used as venue for short few day-trips, to see dolphins from Kizimkazi or the red colobus monkeys in Jozani Forest.
Several years ago, in 2005, a lodge opened up here: Fumba Beach Lodge. Complete with 40 acres of private land, including three lovely sandy coves. Its just 30 minutes’ drive south of Stone Town’s airport and one of the few lodges in the Menai Bay Conservation Area.
Image of Fumba Beach Lodge courtesy of Zanzibar Islands
Another favourite is Unguja (the Swahili word for Zanzibar); it’s a lovely peaceful lodge where you can snorkel from the beach by day, and enjoy the sunsets by night.