Following my post about 5 places in Tanzania to see before you die I received quite some emails asking for more detailed information on Zanzibar, so here I go to satisfy the few that read my stuff but with less love for wild animals than for pristine beaches 😳.
So, the famous Zanzibar archipelago is a tropical paradise situated on the Indian Ocean, just 22 miles east of Tanzania‘s mainland. The archipelago has two main islands (Unguja and Pemba) and Unguja is the one commonly known as the Spice Island of Zanzibar. Here is where paradise starts…
You’ll arrive there by ferry or by plane in Zanzibar town. Find one of the many rooftop bars with a view in Stonetown and read my post to then decide where you want to go in the next few days 🤩…
That gorgeous island is known worldwide and gradually became one of the most popular destinations in Africa. It is truly full of wonders so, you’ll find below my choice of the dozen places not to miss (out of many)… and a little map to orientate you.
1- Stone Town
As you’re there already, let’s start with Zanzibar City. The town has two main parts, Stone Town (named for the coral stone used to build the houses) and Ng’ambo (meaning “The Other Side”). Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage and the part of the city where tourists will usually stay.
The old town is as great as it is messy and is honestly a bit in bad shape. Take the time however to walk around the narrow streets and discover the true charm of the place as well as beautiful ancient wooden doors.
You’ll find dozens of them when walking around the ancient town.
This is a busy city so, obviously, the Indian Ocean beachfront is not the most iconic of the island, but it is still great to walk nearby “gun emplacement”.
You’ll see fishermen and other locals at work in the morning there.
Make the tough effort to find a comfortable rooftop bar/restaurant in order to enjoy the sunset over the city and the Indian ocean. Yes, I know, I’m asking for tough tasks, sorry 😎 …
2- Pingwe beach
Pingwe beach. Is quite famous for “the Rock” bar and restaurant, conveniently positioned on the ocean in front of the sunrise.
Get there for morning twilight on a day where the tide is moving up roughly at the “right “time for amazing travel photography opportunities.
Photographers and travel lovers will find in Pingwe great opportunities for many images and memories!
3- Jozani forest
Jozani National Park is made of 6,000 hectares of virgin forest and is famous for the rare and beautiful red colobus monkey. That species is endemic to Zanzibar.
The visit (with a park guide) brings you to different areas to see the cute red monkeys as well as the blue monkeys (or diademed monkeys) that share the forest.
You’ll explore as well a mangrove forest during that tour. Just outside Jozani, you may want to stop at the small butterfly center, to admire some of those beautiful creatures.
This is a nice spot of you want to try to do a few butterflies portraits
4- Paje and Mbuyni beach
Page is a great and lively spot on the beautiful east coast of the island. You’ll find lots of hotels, bars, and places for relaxing and/or parties 😎.
That beach is gorgeous and is, as well, famous for Kite surfing, both for locals and tourists.
The combination of cool kite surfs, turquoise waters and colorful boats is a paradise for photographers and beach spirit lovers!
Of course, if you’re not a kite surf expert, you’ll be left with bars or parties or lying or lying on the beach options (or a combination of those 3). Tough place 😊
5- Dongwe beach pier
Dongwe beach is not far ( +/- 15 minutes drive) north of Paje and is a nice beach as well. It is a great spot for sunrise photography with its famous pier.
The palm trees forest beside the pier offers cool photography opportunities (and welcome shade during the day).
6- Kiwengwa beach
Halfway up north on the east coast, Kigengwa beach is another great spot and place to stay, offering as well great “do nothing” options in very generous working conditions (read bars, restaurants, etc)
it is as close as it can get from paradise (and yes, colors are wonderful, even in b&w)…
There is a lot of Maasai selling stuff on the beach. Some are “real” Masai some are ‘fake” ones (Dixit the locals) but who cares?. Some are at least for sure great beach soccer players!
A good opportunity to engage with locals folks (or Tanzania mainland folks) and have fun shooting with them …
7- Matemwe beach
Matemwe village and beach are further north up versus Kitwanga and this is really a must-see spot!
This is in my opinion the most beautiful beach in Zanzibar (at least of the many I saw).
A cool place to explore and spend some time on …
The entire coastline between Metemwe et Kiwanga is really gorgeous and not yet too developed…
8- Nungwi beach
Nungwi area at the north tip of the island is a very popular and lively spot. It has as well some great beaches and landscapes.
It is a great spot for photographers or nature lovers as you can enjoy both sunrise and sunset great opportunities within a few hundred meters walk.
I need to disclose however that Nungwi is really busy and overbuild with many (great) hotels etc. so beaches are not all that pristine among the coastline 😢. Still a great place but…
9- Mangi’s beach
Very close to Nungwi beach is Mangi’s beach, facing west with great rooftop options for sunset lovers…
You’ll not be alone there obviously but this is a very cool and fun place -and the beach is much nicer than Nungwi beach in my view (including from the rooftop bar 🍹).
10- Kendwa beach
Another great place on the west coast, a bit south of Nungwi, is Kwendwa beach. Make the effort to wait for the sunset in one of the Hammocks there (Yes, I know it is a tough task again, but worth it, believe me)
Sunset over the boats there is pretty cool…
N.B.: I was told this is a great place to go for large parties in some evenings but of course I can’t confirm that from experience 👀
11- Mnarani beach
On the west coast, south of Nungwi starts an area with (unfortunately) hotels that did not survive the covid crisis (still an ongoing) and, south of those, an amazing area of pristine beaches not yet developed.
To start to explore, get somehow to Mnarani beach. By the way, sunrise is great as well there.
You’ll find and can’t miss a beautiful hotel with a bar and restaurant at the end of a long pier
That bar may be a great place to sit and have a philosophical debate about the overdevelopment of the coastline while enjoying the luxury that comes with it. Yes, life is full of contradictions 🤪.
12- Sazani Beach and more deserted beaches
From the spot above, start, by foot, the exploration going south, walking on the beach below the coral reefs.
This can only be done at low tide, if not you’ll find yourself swimming with 20+ kg of expensive photo material, which is a bit stressful as I experienced it 😱. Anyway, you then reach an area where, for miles, you’ll have for yourself amazing, deserted gorgeous beaches.
This is probably one of the last untouched areas of the island (up o now) and a beautiful “hike” with a view.
A few miles down the road is the Ras Nungwi sandbank but I missed that photography shot as we were not there at the lowest tide time, despite waiting on the beach (with a tough forced nap 😉) for a while. Next time perhaps.
So this is it for my little top 12. I need to confess that I haven’t seen the mangroves in the south end of the island so this is obviously not an exhaustive list. I hope this engages you to visit the beautiful Spice Island of Zanzibar!.