17 Top Things to do in Zanzibar (Africa)

africa, things, top, travel, zanzibar - 13 minutes to read


There are a plethora of places to visit and things to do in Zanzibar. The East African island packs a whole lot of punch for things to do and experience. It’s safe to say that excitement and relaxation can be had on every corner of Zanzibar.

We arrived with no knowledge of the island but set off to explore Jozani Forest, Paje Beach, and even a cruise on the local boat, a dhow. With almost a month on the island, we were able to cover most of the hot spots. Looking for where to start once you arrive in Stone Town? Here are the top places to visit in Zanzibar. 

Taking a dip in this water is honestly one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.

Where is Zanzibar Located?

Zanzibar is an island in the Indian Ocean, a two-hour (15 miles) ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam, a major city in Tanzania.

Zanzibar is not a country but is considered a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Politically it is part of Tanzania. Zanzibar is also isn’t just one island but is the largest of the Zanzibar Archipelago, which consists of several islands. The four main islands are Unguja Island (which is Zanzibar), Pemba Island, Latham Island, and Mafia Island.

Best Things to do in Zanzibar

1. Jozani Forest

Jozani Forest is one of the most popular places to visit in Zanzibar. The forest is the last sanctuary in the world to see the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. The forest is located in the Eastern part of the island and is one of the lushest places on Zanzibar. It’s a staunch reminder of what we have done to our environment over the centuries.

It’s easy to get lost and find the monkeys in the Jozani forest. Many nature trails lead through beautiful forests, and the red colobus monkeys are not shy. After your visit to Jozani, be sure to cross the street and visit the Mangrove forest.

I would recommend getting to Jozani forest before 9 am as busloads of tour groups arrive after that, and people bombard the monkeys.

2. Seaweed Center

If you’re wondering what to do in Zanzibar that is not beach hopping or wandering around Stone Town, a visit to the seaweed center is a must. We decided to visit the Seaweed Center right in Paje after reading this great post from our friends at Hey Dip Your Toes In.

The Seaweed Center (now called Mwani Zanzibar) is a women’s initiative that employs local women to make products from the abundance of seaweed around the island. Guest can take a full tour to see the daily tasks of the seaweed farmers, or they can relax at the shop with a glass of seaweed fruit juice!

3. House of Wonders

When wondering what to do in Zanzibar, a visit to Stone Town is essential. Or the “Palace of Wonders” is the tallest building in Stone Town and a main Zanzibar point of interest. It’s right next to the Old Fort and is a sight to see while in Stone Town. It is also the spot for the first elevator in all of East Africa. History buffs can learn about the history of Stone Town here and view old exhibits and rooms.

The name comes from the house’s modern amenities first in Stone Town, such as plumbing and electricity. However, it now has none of those wonders as it is under renovation, and at the time of writing, entering is not permitted.

4. Paje Beach

If there is a backpacker spot on Zanzibar, it’s Paje beach. The beach has hip cafes, burger joints, kite surfing companies, bars, and hostels, making it one of the great places to visit in Zanzibar. We spent a few days relaxing in the inviting turquoise waters, which is the perfect thing to do for those looking for free things to do in Zanzibar.

For those looking to have an active holiday in Zanzibar, the most popular thing to do in Paje is kite surf. There are an endless amount of schools and rental shops all dying to take you out on the water and show you the ropes of kitesurfing.  

If you’re not a beginner, Paje has just the right amount of wind to spend the entire Zanzibar holiday improving your kitesurfing skills. It’s often considered one of the best places in the world to go kite surfing, and it’s easy to understand why when you feel the wind and see the gorgeous water.

5. Spice Tour

Zanzibar is often referred to as “Spice Island” for its centuries of clove, nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon production and is one of the top five things to do in Zanzibar. Most of these spice tours depart from Stone Town and take you to a large spice farm to see, touch, and taste the many flavors of Zanzibar.

I would recommend bringing decent walking shoes as it may be muddy. Make sure to bring extra cash if you want to buy some spices and tea to take home. Don’t come full as there is a full tasting at the end of the tour.

6. Safari Blue Cruise

After having a memorable time sailing on a dhow in Mozambique, we decided not to miss it in Zanzibar. So we set up with the guys at Colors of Zanzibar for a fun day out at sea. We departed early morning from the fishing town of Fumba. The team specializes in individual tours, so we enjoyed having the entire dhow to ourselves.

We made our way to a little sandbank off the coast of Zanzibar, which was about three hours away from being swallowed by high tide. On this island, visitors can get the best views of the blue ocean while snorkeling and enjoying the cool morning air with fresh fruit.

Afterward, there are options to keep snorkeling or see a hidden lagoon before enjoying a seafood buffet lunch on Kwale Island. It is here that there are massive baobabs, small shops, and more beach paradise. Don’t expect the snorkeling to be great, though. Unfortunately, the safari blue cruise’s area has become so massively commercial that the reef has been ruined. A sad sight to see and a bit of a disappointment for the marine enthusiast.

7. Prison Island

Prison Island is one of those great places of interest in Zanzibar. Take a boat just 5 km away from Stone Town to reach the iconic Prison Island, or Changuu Island to be technical. Built in the late 1800s, this prison served as an island for slaves, violent prisoners, and quarantined.

The main joy of visiting prison island is seeing the nearby tortoise sanctuary. There are some of the giant Aldabross tortoises that also call the Seychelles home. Make sure to bring sunblock for the boat transfers and snorkeling.

Have Dinner at The Tea House Restaurant

Honestly, having a meal at this establishment is one of those must-do things in Zanzibar. Anyone wanting a night out in Stone Town should visit the Tea House Restaurant at Emerson on Hurumzi. The restaurant is located on top of the boutique hotel in the middle of the kasbah. And it has one of the best views of Stone Town, making it my favorite thing to do in Zanzibar.

They get quite popular for sundowners and dinner, so we would recommend making a reservation beforehand. We spent an entire evening here drinking spicy cocktails, listening to live Zanzibari music, and chowing down on delicious Persian-inspired cuisine before retiring to our gorgeous room.

Visit The Rock

The Rock restaurant is pretty synonymous with Zanzibar and is usually mentioned in every Zanzibar guide. The restaurant is located in Pongwe (the southeast part of the island) and is accessible by motorbike or taxi cab from Paje. We made the memorable trip out to The Rock to get some lovely photos of the iconic spot. If you visit during high tide, a free boat taxi will deliver you to the rock (unless you feel like swimming).

We wanted to get food and drinks, but be warned that the prices are sky-high for Zanzibar. I suppose it’s the price you pay to have dinner on the Indian Ocean. We didn’t have reservations and weren’t given excellent service because of this, so I would highly suggest calling ahead if you plan to go. Even if you don’t have a meal here, just coming to see the unique building is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.

11. Coffee at the Zanzibar Coffee House

This Zanzibar Cafe is located right next to Emerson Spice in the heart of Stone Town and is one of those Zanzibar points of interest you have to see. We had lunch and breakfast here a few times, but nothing was ever as memorable as when we sat there and documented Zanzibari life.

The Zanzibar Coffee house roasts its own coffee and serves up anything from cafe lattes to delicious vegetable chapati wraps. Once you walk into the cafe, it feels as if you are transported back in time to a coffee house in the old Arabic world. Even if you don’t like coffee, this is a must-visit. Make sure to visit Upendo right across the street for any shopping you may want to do.

Upendo employs all local women through education and teaches them how to sew beautiful clothes. We found ourselves here a few times for unique clothing and jewelry for both men and women at an affordable price.

12. Catch Park Hyatt Zanzibar Happy Hour

For great cocktails in Stone Town, head to the Park Hyatt Zanzibar. There is a half-price happy hour every day starting at 18:00 and includes all drinks. So if you’re craving a New York cocktail off the coast of Africa, the Park Hyatt is calling your name. We even got our bourbon fix, making us two happy travelers.

13. Wander Through Stone Town

At The Secret Garden Zanzibar at Emerson Spice

One of the best things to do in Zanzibar is wander the streets of Stone Town. There are many unique places to see in Stone Town, including beautiful boutique shops and plenty of fabulous restaurants. Venture around the Forodhani Gardens and the Old Fort! You can easily walk around Stone Town yourself, but it’s best to book a walking tour with Colors of Zanzibar to learn more about what you see.

14. Go Shopping at Darajani Market

The Darajani Market (or Bazaar) is the main bazaar in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It’s the most popular place to come and get spices, dates, bread, fruits, and almost anything you could need. Beyond getting some souvenirs, it’s a fantastic place to soak in the culture.

15. Watch Locals Do Acrobats and Capoeira at Sunset

About to head onto the public beach for sunset.

On pleasant evenings at sunset, many young local boys will head to the Stone Town public beach to enjoy the last light of the day with some acrobatics and capoeira. What is capoeira? This is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. It’s pretty fun to watch from any of the nearby restaurants or on the beach.

It’s far from the nicest beach in Zanzibar, but if you are in Stone Town for sunset, this is one of the best things to do in Zanzibar. Look out for the large crowds – these tend to form around some of the most talented boys!

16. Learn About the Slave Trade

Zanzibar is best known for its white sandy beaches and bright blue water, but it has a darker past than many realize.

Zanzibar was the Africa Great Lakes’ main slave-trading port. It’s said that as many as 50,000 slaves passed through here in the 19th century. These slaves were sold at the slave markets until the late 1800s. This area of Stone Town is one of the last places to host open slave markets. It’s worth visiting a former slave market site in Stone Town to learn more; you can book guided slave trade tours here.

17. Enjoy the Many Beaches

Make sure to get out of the city and explore as many Zanzibar beaches as you can. There’s a beautiful one around every corner. My personal favorites are Nungwi Beach and Pongwe Beach, but there are so many others to explore. Of course, if you are staying at an oceanside Zanzibar resort or hotel, you’ll likely want to chill at their beach for at least one of your days too! So choose a great hotel with the ideal location!

Where to Stay on Zanzibar

Kilindi Zanzibar

The most exclusive of all the resorts on Zanzibar is, without a doubt Kilindi Zanzibar. The resort is near Kendwa on the Northwestern part of the island and is one of the top Zanzibar hotels on the beach. Its large grounds give plenty of privacy to its 15 villas that pop up from a lush hillside.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The Park Hyatt Zanzibar is an exquisite hotel delivered in a way only capable of a Park Hyatt and is easily one of the top 10 hotels in Zanzibar. 

Essque Zalu Zanzibar

Essque Zalu is one of the best beach resorts in Zanzibar. This Zanzibar hotel is not for the faint of heart, at Essque Zalu bigger is better.

When is the Best Time To visit Zanzibar?

June to September is officially the dry season meaning your chance of a sunny day is exceptionally high. In general, this is the busiest time to visit Zanzibar and prices for accommodation will be at their highest. Zanzibar is near the equator so the weather doesn’t sway too drastically, and you are almost guaranteed some sunshine on your vacation.

That being said April and May is the rainy season, and you can expect long downpours. Flooding is typical during these months and because of this many hotels will shut their door. You’ll likely still have sunny weather, but I would expect to get wet during these months.

When is the Best Time to Visit Zanzibar?

How to Get to Zanzibar

Not many US air carriers fly directly to Zanzibar. However there are flight connections from major hubs in the Middle East such as Muscat, Doha, Dubai, or Qatar. You’ll also be able to find flight connections through select European hubs like Amsterdam and London. From Africa Johannesburg and of course, Dar Es Salaam have the best connections.

If you are in Dar Es Salaam you can take the ferry from the port to Stone Town. Azam Marine runs daily ferries between the mainland and island and costs $35 one way.

Whether you’re coming from the Serengeti or jumping into the rest of East Africa, a trip to Zanzibar should be on your radar. There are so many things to do in Zanzibar that visitors never risk getting bored!

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