We spent just under a week exploring Zanzibar back in 2018. [Yes, I’m that far behind my travel posts!!] It’s a beautiful, tropical island, set off of the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Sorting through my photos has brought back a plethora of fond memories of the laid back Swahili culture, countless dips in the warm, turquoise waters and exciting encounters with animals. ❤
A couple of quick tips:
- Sunrise/sunset – It’s almost equatorial so the sun rises and sets at around 6am / 6pm all through the year. I’d recommend embracing early starts to make the most of daylight hours, especially because not much happens at night, especially outside of Stone Town.
- Tides – Be mindful of the low and high tide times. When the tide is out, the water can be ankle-deep for a kilometre or more so swimming won’t really be possible! There are lots of handy websites like this one so you can keep an eye on timings.
- The people – the people are super warm and welcoming, wherever you go, they’ll greet you with a toothy smile and a “Jambo!” (hello in Swahili). It’s not like London where we go as far as avoiding eye contact with strangers, ha!!
- Religion – The population is almost entirely Muslim. Be mindful and respectful.
We stayed at a little place called Isla Bonita in Matemwe. This hotel had just opened up at the time, so we lucked out with the entire place to ourselves. The staff were friendly and welcoming and overall it just felt like a personal experience.
It’s set right on the beach. And not just any beach – the most powdery white sand beach I’ve ever laid foot on with shimmering water. There’s a little village right next door so in the afternoons, the local kids come out to play – running around, having football matches and just having a good time.
We would wake up to a selection of fresh fruit for breakfast each morning – ugh, what I wouldn’t give for some of the sweet passionfruit right now!
We also had dinner there – I loved the mildly spiced curry, laced with coconut so freaking much that I asked for the recipe. And the team graciously invited me to the kitchen to watch along! I must have been such an odd sight, furiously tapping away on my phone to jot down the instructions in the steaming hot kitchen! I’ll be sure to share it with you soon!
EDIT: Recipe shared here.
If you’re planning to explore the island, I can’t recommend hiring a car enough – it gives you all the flexibility you need and you won’t need to pay extra for organised tours. You’ll need an international driving license (in the UK, you can grab one at the post office for a mere fiver!) and a local one too. I’d recommend ensuring your paperwork lines up and you’ll will want to be extra wary of the police checks.
Every so often you’ll be stopped, asked a number of questions, and they’ll want to see your paperwork lines up. If anything doesn’t, you can expect to pay a bribe to get them off your case!
Stone town is the main city of Zanzibar island. The narrow winding streets reveal new exciting things at each corner and form one big maze!
I’d recommend getting totally lost! It’s beautiful, colourful and you’ll find something new at each little junction: traditional mosques, coral walled shops selling colourful wares, grand colonial townhouses, cute little cafes and so much more.
Oh and don’t forget to pause and appreciate all the beautiful, intricately-carved doors found at every twist and turn!
As someone who is totally and inexplicably in love with food – making a pit stop at the market is top of my holiday to-do list! I definitely walked away with a backpack full of everything from whole black peppercorns (the batch I bought were extra potent – not sure if it’s because they were fresh as they’re grown on the island?) through to vanilla pods (these turned out okay but I’ve yet to find any that match up to the ones I buy from an Iranian shop in Dubai).
I also copped myself a tub of the BEST whipped shea butter. I’m talking super creamy, organic, pure, just incredible, super moisturising stuff. Since then, I no longer want to use anything else on my skin. (Got a top-up on our recent trip to Kenya!)
Sunset on the beach
Stone town is the perfect place to catch the sunsetting by the beach. It’s full of locals: strolling the length of the beach, showing off their backflipping skills and frolicking about in the sea.
These guys are so much fun to watch:
I mean seriously?! I’m in awe.
Slave market museum
The exhibit is mostly just a reading experience but nevertheless, takes you on a journey, teaching you about the role of slavery in East Africa.
You can also visit the underground room, where the slaves would have been held before being taken to the market for auction. It’s dark and dingey with really low ceilings and would have been rammed with people, held in terrible conditions – many died of suffocation and starvation.
Outside there’s a memorial/tribute artwork piece – ‘Memory For the Slaves’ by Clara Sornas.
This national park is a beautiful escape from the midday sun and makes for an ideal half-day excursion. We just rocked up, paid our entrance tickets and were assigned a guide.
He walked us through and told us all about the trees and plants and their medicinal properties.
^ Definitely took me a second to see these guys. If you look closely and you’ll see teeny tiny frogs! They’re so small – like the size of a thumb nail!
The forest is also home to two different kinds of monkey – first up the red colobus monkey. My zoom lens came in handy to capture all of their various antics in the trees!
They were just running around playing, jumping, fighting, oblivious of us walking through their home and snapping pics along the way.
Up close and personal with this little guy!
The other type we saw, the sykes monkeys, were a lot more cautious and less playful around us.
We also got a chance to walk through the mangrove swamps. It’s so crazy, it’s about 10km inland but as the tide rises and falls around the island, so do the water levels here. As you can see the tide was out when we visited but the roots are regularly submerged completely. Apparently, the leaves taste salty too.
And here’s me on the boardwalk:
Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond
There are a couple of different turtle sanctuaries on Zanzibar island. I recommend doing your research. A few of them let you hop in the water and take pics surrounded by turtles, which I’ve seen doing the rounds on Instagram. Personally, I’d steer clear of these ones, the concept makes me very, very uncomfortable.
At this sanctuary, turtles are brought when fishermen accidentally catch them / when eggs are found on the beach. Once a year, they’re all released back into the wild. Turtle populations are slowly on the rise again.
Whilst they’re here in the aquarium, you can visit them and they’re used to educate local children too.
I had so much fun here! They’re so cute.
They also have various initiatives around recycling and repurposing:
❤ Ugh. This is the beach of my dreams.
It’s disgustingly beautiful. I can’t even with how perfect it is. Palm tree-lined, powdery sand, stunning turquoise water and completely empty.
And the water was warrrmmm. Perfection.
I converted a couple of live photos into videos. The sound of the sea is so therapeutic!
This is also the perfect place to see some dolphins. I think the best time to come is early morning but if memory serves correctly, we arrived in the early afternoon.
We caught quite a few glimpses!
Probably best captured in these clips:
Whilst we’re on the topic of beaches, Jambiani was another one of my favourites.
I mean – this was my phone background for the longest time and still is my desktop wallpaper on my laptop.
^ Another live photo converted to video.
We hung out on this beach for quite a while – at one point a herd of cows appeared then also disappeared. Very odd experience!
Prison Island / Changu Island
We took a half-day trip to prison island, you can fairly easily hire a boat to take you across from Stone Town.
It’s a swift journey. Approx 20mins away.
The island was originally set up to be a prison but actually never served this purpose. Instead, ended up becoming an area for quarantine during yellow fever epidemics.
Not sure many prisons are as pretty with views of the sea! You’re free to walk around and explore.
All around the island you’ll see peacocks and peahens just casually walking around and doing their thing.
The island is also home to giant tortoises!
The eldest of which is said to be almost 200 years old!! They grow to be absolutely huge, up to 600kg! The one I’m beside is probably a medium size for context.
Restaurants & Food
If I’m honest, I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the food in Zanzibar. After having a hit/miss time in Egypt (we visited both in one holiday) I was overjoyed. There are lots of culinary influences from India but often served up lighter on the spice levels with a touch of coconut, dreamy!
Located in Stone Town, this place is immensely popular and for good reason too! The fresh fruit juices are perfection (that’s passion fruit and mango in the pics) and the chicken curry might look a bit ugly but was darn good too.
The Rock Restaurant
This was probably one of the best meals we had on the island. Whilst not pricey compared to UK standards, it’s very expensive compared to everywhere else.
Tandoori chicken skewers served up with sweet and sour veg and potatoes and fish Tambi (noodles cooked in a coconutty curry sauce with fresh fish). Chocolate ‘salami’ for dessert with spiced ice cream for dessert.
Right on the beach in Nungwi, the location and vibe were really nice here, but sadly the food was pretty underwhelming and the service was sloooow.
Freddie Mercury’s Bar
Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar and you can see his house if you’re keen too. We stopped by at the restaurant named after him for sunset and dinner.
Masala chips were definitely the best thing we ordered. Perfectly spiced, saucy and so satisfying.
Zanzibar coffee house
Good coffee, decent bakes and a lovely setting. A great place to pause, hang out and refuel.
You find these almost everywhere and I’m so obsessed. I can’t go a day without a coconut on a tropical holiday!
No straws in sign – just pick it up and take a swig!
Then you can eat the delicious pulp with a spoon fashioned out of the coconut lid. =]
And that’s pretty much it! Hope you enjoyed hearing about our East African adventures. =]