As exotic as its name suggests, Zanzibar is the perfect ‘escape from it all’ holiday destination. Lazy days of sunbathing, gentle strolls along the beach and swimming in the crystal-clear azure ocean are the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.
The Spice Island of Zanzibar lies off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Somewhat confusingly, Zanzibar is both the name of the main island – Zanzibar Island, or Unguja to the locals – and of the island group which includes Mafia, Pemba and a number of off-lying islands and islets.
The main attractions of Zanzibar Island are its beautiful sandy beaches fringed with coral reefs, world-class diving amidst abundant marine life, and Stone Town, the ancient quarter of the capital which is suffused by Arabic influence and has been designated a World Heritage Site.
Mafia is a perfect island retreat for serious divers, fishing enthusiasts and those seeking simple feet-up relaxation.
Pemba is the least developed of the main islands in terms of tourism, but offers some of the best diving in the archipelago.
The real focus of holidays in Zanzibar is the beaches, and the island features a bedazzling variety, suitable for sunbathing and relaxing, or watersports and diving. Visitors shouldn’t, though, miss out on the opportunity to explore Stone Town, with its extravagant Arab buildings and twisting narrow alleyways.
Made from Zanzibar’s coral stone, this ancient city with its narrow alleys and twisting streets is a trip into the past. Once the centre of the slave trade, Stone Town no longer smells of human flesh but of the fragrant spices that have been the island’s main export since the slave trade was abolished.
Take a spice tour and also visit some of the spice plantations. Visit the Sultan’s Palace and the Beit-el-Ajaib, with its ornate wooden carving, along on the waterfront. See the old slave market, now the site of the Church of Christ Anglican Cathedral.
There are many superb white beaches, warm waters and picturesque villages around Zanzibar, particularly along the northern east coast.
Miles of pristine beaches are dotted with pockets of guesthouses, particularly around Kendwa and the fishing village of Nungwi, renowned for its tradition of boat building, and one of the most popular locations, particularly with a younger crowd.
There is excellent diving and deep-sea fishing off the coast. One of the most beautiful and isolated beaches is at Matemwe. The small offshore island of Mnemba has a fine coral reef for some of the island’s best diving.
Zanzibar is blessed with a tropical climate and a daily average of between 7 and 8 hours of sunshine, making it ideal for holidays throughout the year.
Situated in the tropics, the climate is hot and humid. The sea water is just as warm with an average temperature of 20ºC, and is very calm.
During July – October there is little rain, the average temperature is 25ºC and the humidity is low. There are not so many tourists as in January.
November to March are good months to visit, although the short rains come at this time and it is very hot and humid.
The quiet season is April to June. The long monsoon rains pour down. It does not rain the whole day every day. If you are on a budget trip, then this is the best time in terms of price. It will be warm throughout the whole year.
The Muslim festival of Ramadan is celebrated in December/ January, when Muslims fast during the daytime for an entire month. Some local restaurants, bars and discos are closed during this period. All resort and accommodation entertainment is still open. If you are planning to go to a resort, this is a fantastic time.