It’s no wonder why travelers choose Zanzibar after their Tanzanian safari or trek. White sand beaches, gorgeous weather and a vibrant cultural legacy make this island paradise a must-see. Whether you’re inquisitive, adventurous or looking to relax, Zanzibar has something for everyone.
Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Zanzibar:
1. Stone Town
Once a hub for the vast Indian Ocean trading network, Stone Town today is Zanzibar’s cultural center. Walk through its maze of narrow streets to discover architecture, shops and music blending East African, Indian, Arab and European influences.
You can stand in the shadow of monuments, such as St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Old Fort and the House of Wonders. Many buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, making them fascinating historical sites with a major role in the island’s story.
One notably modern building is the Freddie Mercury Museum, celebrating the rock legend who was born and lived in Stone Town until he was 8 years old.
Throughout Stone Town, you’ll encounter iconic carved wooden doors. Many of the doors you see today date back to the 19th century, making them older than the houses they adorn! One of the most common styles is the Indian style – called a gujarati door – featuring arches, square shutters and large brass studs, a design once used to stop war elephants from battering down Indian palaces. The other is the Arab style, featuring intricate carvings often in Arabic script.
2. The Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church
When slavery was abolished in Zanzibar, the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church was built atop the former market for enslaved people. You can visit a monument dedicated to those enslaved peoples there, as well as a former holding cell.
3. Snorkeling, kayaking and kite surfing
Zanzibar’s sugar-white beaches and balmy weather are the perfect combination for a sun-dazed afternoon in the sand. If you’re looking for something a little more active, opportunities abound in the cobalt waters. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and kite surfing are available, and during any of these, you can see a sea full of vibrant marine life, including butterfly fish, emperor angelfish, dolphins, lionfish, green turtles and manta rays.
You might also see Zanzibar fishermen and sea merchants carving or readying their dhows, centuries-old sailing vessels used to navigate between East Africa and the Arabian peninsula. If you’re interested, it can be arranged for you to take a ride on a dhow and experience the sea like sailors of yore.
4. The House of Wonders
Built in 1883, the Beit al Ajaib (“House of Wonders”) is a 19th century palace and the tallest building in Stone Town. It was originally built for Sultan Barghash bin Said, and was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity and an elevator–thus, a house of wonder.
Courtyards, open galleries, pillared balconies and marble floors comprise this well-preserved monolith. The balconies from the third floor provide stunning views over Stone Town and the rest of the city. And it’s reported that the extra-large main entrance was built so the sultan could ride into his abode on an elephant!
Today, the palace serves as a museum of the island’s Swahili and Zanzibari culture. This, along with the palace’s tall, open rooms, make it well worth the visit.
5. Romantic Relaxation
Where better to spice things up than on the Spice Island? Zanzibar’s island paradise is perfect for romance, whether you’re looking for a honeymoon, a wedding destination or some time with a loved one.
Just ask Kristina, a Thomson staffer who got engaged on safari and followed it up with a Zanzibar getaway.
“Turquoise water, white sand beaches, fresh seafood, delicious fruit cocktails, kayaking – it’s paradise,” Kristina said.
6. The Jozani Forest
Jozani Forest is Zanzibar’s only national park, well-known as the home to the indigenous (and endangered) red colobus monkeys. These mature forests are also home to more than 40 species of birds, as well as bushbabies, duikers, hundreds of butterfly species and more. It’s a great place to continue your wildlife-viewing experiences.
7. Exciting Culture
East African, Indian, Arab and European influences have intertwined and taken root in Zanzibar over centuries, giving the island a vibrant and lively cultural life. You’ll hear taraab music–a 19th century fusion of Swahili, Arab and Indian influence–mixing with modern hip-hop and R&B. Stone Town’s historic carved doors are a signature mark of Zanzibar’s cultural heritage. Its modern artistic communities, religious celebrations and international arts festivals are modern expressions of that same heritage.
8. Gorgeous Weather
Year-round, Zanzibar has the kind of warm, cozy climate you can fall asleep in. Temperatures range between 70-91° Fahrenheit, and warmer temperatures are offset by cool breeze rolling in from the ocean. Combined with an average of seven hours of sunshine and warm waters, the temperature on Zanzibar is everything you would hope for from an island paradise.
9. Local Markets
Fresh (smelly) seafood, spices and other foodstuffs await in the markets of Zanzibar. One such is the Darajani market, the island’s commercial hub, which overflows with spices, fresh fish, meat, vegetables and more. Clothing, shoes, prints and fabrics are also available elsewhere in town, such as on Kanga Street. Though these markets are mainly used by those who live on the island, travelers looking for an immersive cultural and culinary experience can learn a lot about daily Zanzibar life by visiting them.
10. Guided Excursion of Zanzibar’s Spice Farms
Go on a guided excursion into Zanzibar’s historic spice farms to learn how once rare spices like cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla and cloves rose to international prominence, influencing oceanic exploration and world history. If you are interested, you can pick the spices from where they are grown and take them home for your culinary delight.