Zanzibar – A Real Slice of Paradise

“Rising tides lift all boats”

~ John F Kennedy

Another bucket list place struck off our list. One of the most offbeat and underrated destinations in the world, you cannot appreciate Zanzibar enough until you actually visit this island which is located off the Tanzanian coast in East Africa. With clear turquoise waters edging the white powdery beaches for miles and the extreme tides showing the bare beds of the ocean, this pristine paradise with its historic villages and markets needs at least a week to enjoy.

Though an archipelago of 4 major islands and a few islets, you’ll be spending most of your time at the most inhibited island ‘Unguja’ familiarly called Zanzibar.

It was our first trip post covid and while the fear was still around, we decided to relax and have a laid-back trip to Zanzibar, keeping all precautions in mind.

Best Time to Visit

Being an island, the weather is thoroughly pleasant but the dry season, i.e. from June to October and January to February is the best time to visit. From March to May, the island experiences heavy showers and humidity. Some precipitation may occur during January and December when the temperature is also at its peak

We visited Zanzibar in July and the weather was comfortable for all water and land activities.

Visa Process

Zanzibar island is a semi-autonomous region under the country Tanzania, hence, you will need a Tanzanian visa to enter the island. Most countries have a visa on arrival and eVisa. We will still recommend checking the procedure based on your passport at the official website of the Tanzanian government.

For Indian passport holders as well, an e-visa (https://eservices.immigration.go.tz/visa/) or visa on arrival can be obtained. We went with the visa-on-arrival option. It cost us USD 50 per person and the process was smooth.

Transport and Getting Around

Flights

The island is well connected to the world, with flights flying in from all major countries to its Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. We use the flight aggregator https://www.skyscanner.ae/ to search for the best available flights. We flew with FlyDubai and booked directly from the carrier’s website. Booking from the carrier’s website is very convenient to make any changes.

💡Quick tip:

A wild safari trip to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is a great combination and widely opted. You can visit Tanzania and then fly to Zanzibar from Kilimanjaro or Arusha airport.

Local transport

Public transport: The majority of the areas are connected by roads and small people mover buses/ tempos are available which are very crowded and the longest way to reach any point since they stop at multiple points, hence, won’t recommend using the public transport.

Car: Travelling by car is the most feasible and well-opted mode. You can either take a car and a chauffeur along from the airport for the whole trip or like us, use taxis when needed.

We booked our pick-up and drop at the airport from our hotels (which was cheaper than the local taxis outside the airport) and then took excursion tours to various locations from the hotels (again a widely opted option).

Self-drive car rental is not recommended, as certain inner roads are not the best and traffic rules are easy to miss.

Boats: Since an archipelago, the ferry and boat taxi system is prevalent. If you book your excursions to Prison Island, Sand Bank, Bawe Island, etc. you’ll have to use boats. The prices are highly negotiable so you can book directly by going to the beach, where boats are docked.

Safety

The island’s economy relies heavily on tourism and you will generally be treated very well. We felt very much safe during our trip and followed the obvious safety points: not being flashy, keeping valuables locked in the room, spreading spare cash around your bags, giving information on a need-to-know basis, etc. While late strolling is not advised in many countries in the world (including developed ones), we were told it was quite safe in Zanzibar. We would still recommend following the general dos and don’ts mentioned earlier.

You may spot some local men coming up to you to sell a few things (including pictures with them); at times they may also indulge in a friendly chat, as a selling tactic, but after you say no a few times they tend to part ways. The obvious applies – refrain from exchanging unnecessary information.

What to Wear and Pack

Beaches and sunsets are unlimited – do we really need to tell you what to pack for one of the most beautiful island destinations? :P. Well, let’s count in the basics first, put in your swimwear, breezy clothes, tropical prints, flip-flops, sunscreen, hats, and those stunning sunglasses too!

Additionally, take your water shoes (to walk around the beaches during low tides), snorkeling kit, and a mosquito repellent; it is highly advised to remain covered before dawn and after dusk. Sea sickness shouldn’t be a problem but no harm in keeping medicines and water handy.

💡Quick tips:

  1. Keep sunscreens and caps handy
  2. Use reef-safe sunscreens to protect the coral reefs

Accommodation

Zanzibar hosts a variety of properties ranging from 5-star hotels to beach lodges and everything in between. No matter what your budget, you’ll find a perfect hotel in Zanzibar, but it’s the boutique hotels dwelling in those renovated historic buildings that will steal your heart, and hence, we would suggest staying at at least one such hotel during your stay in the island.

The most preferred areas are:

North – Kendwa and Nungwi – stunning beaches and great nightlife
East – Michamvi, Dongwae, and Paje – beautiful boutique hotels and water sports
West – Stone Town – a UNESCO heritage town
South – Away from the hustle and bustle – but a bit rocky and not so inspiring beaches

We stayed at Michamvi Beach during most of our stay and the remaining time in Stone Town. We use https://www.booking.com/ to book our hotels. It is reliable, with trusted reviews, and has most of the required information about a property. Depending on which areas you stay you can book accordingly.

Vegetarian Food

For the first time in our island trips, we did not face the problem of getting vegetarian food. With the great influence of Arabs and Indians, finding vegetarian food was fairly easy. Plus, with rising veganism around the globe, vegan restaurants are also popping up at most of the major locations of the world.

While most of the breakfasts and dinners were at our hotels, lunch was the time we explored local food. We have mentioned a few spots along our itinerary below.

Suggested Itinerary

Day 1 to 4 – Michamvi
Day 5 to 7 – Stone Town

Day 1 – Michamvi

Michamvi is one of the only areas on the east side of the island which has sunset views.

We reached Zanzibar airport around late noon and took our pre-booked taxi to our home for the next three days – Kikoi Boutique Hotel. Since it was a low tide, we decided to stroll and enjoy at hotel beach and later soak in our room’s private pool (sounds fancy, but very affordable in Zanzibar). For all our days in Michamvi, we booked excursions from our hotel. You can negotiate the booking price, and tips can be paid at your convenience – not mandatory, but if you like the service, it is appreciated.

Day 2 – Paje

A kite surfer’s paradise, Paje beach’s wind, and beach game are an A+. The dreamiest blue waters against the colorful kite-surfers showing their skills, this soft sand white beach is much to lay back and enjoy. During low tides, the water gets really shallow that you can see seaweeds, sea urchins, starfishes, etc.

Where to eat

We had our lunch at Sativa Café. A super cool small roadside shack, this I-tal, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly cafe surprised us with the taste and generous quantity. We had lentil curry, hummus with pita, and coconut chai masala.

There were few similar cafes around but they did not have many vegetarian options, so we opted for Sativa and its philosophy of I-tal (organic, locally grown plant food with minimum or no salt).

Day 3 – Pingwe

The extreme tides expose the seabed for miles and you can actually walk on the seabed over the rocks and reach a sandbank, while literally being in the sea. You can also take a boat trip to the isolated sand bank and sunbathe or snorkel. We specifically went to visit one of the most iconic spots on the whole island – The Rock Restaurant and thereafter enjoyed the low tides and seabed.

In the evening, we went to a famous sunset spot near our hotel – Sunset Beach. It hosts Sundown Beach Bar and Restaurant, with also a few parties during sunset. You may also encounter local ladies harvesting seaweed during low tide. Seaweed is one of the major exports from Zanzibar.

Where to eat

The Rock Restaurant is literally a restaurant on a ‘rock’ in the middle of the sea which is also a must-see spot. It is one of the most photographed spots on the island lately. The exciting part is the view from the restaurant changes with the tides, so you may have to go in a boat but come out walking :D. We walked in almost knee-deep water and came out walking on the rocky ocean bed.

We booked our meal-time after seeing the tide forecast, as we wanted to experience both high and low tides. Though not many options for vegetarians, we ordered Zanzibeer (a local beer), beetroot gnocchi in green peas sauce, vegetable curry, and tiramisu (dessert) that were available and were appetizing. The food is on the pricier side, so you may also opt for drinks and enjoy the terrace views.

Day 4 – Mangrove island tour

After a relaxing morning at the hotel, we went for the sunset boat tour to the mangrove island. The mangrove island is also impacted by tides – during high tide, the boats go inside the plantations and at low tide, you can walk along the mangroves. You can see the splendid sunset from your boat while returning, enjoying some fresh coconut water onboard.

Day 5 – Stone Town

We checked out and moved to the more hustling and bustling area of the island, Stone Town. Our stay was at Dhow Palace Hotel, a boutique hotel that was previously a house of rich merchants. The building is like a huge haveli, with rustic interiors and a well-lit-up courtyard.

A two-day trip is quite a time at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stone Town is not about beaches but the sensory experiences it offers – from cobbled streets, colorful markets, and super friendly locals. You can stroll around the rustic lanes and explore the century-old traces of tradesmen and their cultures. We were surprised to see the Indian culture and its influence so vividly on this part of the island. On interacting with a few locals, we came to know Indians have had a strong presence as tradesmen for centuries and many have called Zanzibar their home for generations.

Later, while strolling we also spotted Freddie Mercury’s childhood home.

Day 6 – Stone Town

Prison Island – As the name suggests, Prison Island (Changuu Island) was formerly a jail. Just off the coast of Zanzibar, it is now home to giant tortoises. A short boat ride from Stone Town allows travelers to explore this tiny island on a day trip. The views of the ocean from a few doors of the jail were one of the best views we’ve ever experienced (spot the irony here).

Bawe Island – While you cannot visit this private island, the area around the island is one of the best spots for snorkeling. Jackie went all in while I enjoyed spotting fishes from the boat (imagine the water being so clear). Fishes like jellyfish were easy to spot from the boat. This can be combined with your Prison Island visit.

Darajani Market – You know we love going to local markets to explore the cities and their culture. Zanizbar was no different. The Darajani Market is the main local market where locals shop for their daily needs like vegetables and bread. We shopped Vanilla bean pods with help of one of the local Indian community ladies, who was more than happy to see familiar faces after two years of the pandemic. The inner Darajani market is where you’ll find more alley walkways and touristy shops.

Go Gate spotting – If this wasn’t a thing before, Zanzibar made it! I am from Rajasthan (India), which is also the wooden handicraft hub of the world, so I know my way around these, and the doors around Stone Town were so beautiful and interesting that I couldn’t help but mention them here. Some of these doors are actually centuries old. So do stop by and admire these doors (while also respecting the owners).

Hindu Temple – A lovely Indian Gujrati lady made us more aware of the influence of the Indian community on Zanzibar. We met her on her way to the temple and after visiting the huge Hindu temple, we also got a chance to see her house. We still think of her and it brings smiles to our faces. We visited this big temple along with her and loved our time interacting with a few more locals there.

Where to eat in Stone Town

You will find many restaurants and eateries all along the lanes of Stone Town, serving some really amazing food. We have listed a few below:

Silk Route

An Indian restaurant which was a delight. It serves classic Indian dishes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The restaurant is a three-story building, to sit on the top floor you will have to come early. We had our typical Indian food – Paneer tikka, Dal Makhani, and Tandoori Rotis.

The Fifth

Incredible scenic panoramic views of the ocean and the town from the restaurant of the beautiful Upendo House Hotel, another stunning boutique hotel. It had a decent number of vegetarian options but was on the pricier side. We ordered truffle fries and Avocado on Toast.

Krishna Food House

A 100% vegetarian restaurant with pocket-friendly pricing. Run by an Indian Gujarati family, it served Indian food with a home-like taste. We had masala papad, vegetable curry, and chapati.

The Beach House

A perfect place for a sunset and sundowner. This place gets full super quick, especially during the golden hours, so we suggest booking in advance. We couldn’t find many vegetarian options here so we sipped on drinks and ate a customized topping pizza.

You may also do the following in Zanzibar if it interests you and/or time allows:

  1. Jozani Forest – spot the red Columbus monkeys
  2. Full Moon Party at Kendwa Rock – one of the best parties on the island
  3. Safari Blue – swim, sunbathe, and bbq (mostly seafood)
  4. Spice Farms – tour around the spice cultivation
  5. Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond – swim along and feed turtles
  6. Mnemba Island – Snorkelling spot and home to the most luxurious resort in Zanzibar

Currency and Costs

Tanzanian shillings are common on the island and can be used in hotels and restaurants. However, the US dollar is more commonly used by tourists, including tipping.

1 AED ~ 635 TZ, 1 USD ~ 2,344 TZ, 1 INR ~ 30 TZ — as of August 2022

We recommend carrying USD from your home country. Mostly, USD will be used. You may exchange some limited TZ as well at the airport or in the town.

The costs depend on the type of accommodation and flights. A tentative budget for two persons is given below:

  • Accommodation – bed, and breakfast for 6 nights – 1200 USD
  • Round trip flights – depending on your location. We took FlyDubai. Limited options may be available from India
  • Day trips/ excursions – USD 30 per person per trip on average. No entrance fees to the sights we visited. Everything was included in our excursion cost.
  • Food per meal average – 15 USD. However, meals at The Rock will be expensive.
  • Visas – USD 50 per person

Whether you’re looking to just relax by the beach, discover the history, or explore the island, Zanzibar has so much to offer to every traveler. We spent 6 days on this little paradise and thoroughly enjoyed it so much that we are now comparing the beaches of Zanzibar to every beach destination we have ever been to, including Seychelles!

We would love to hear your opinion or suggestions on our blogs. If you think something is missing, or if you need any more information, write us in the comments below or fill in the contact us page.

Thanks for reading!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Leena Virani says:

    Your description are very good

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you !! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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