Zanzibar is a perfect getaway for those looking to relax, sip on a cocktail while staring at the breathtaking blue waters, enjoy a massage by the beach, sail into the ocean and catch the sunset or simply dance away the night. The African culture beautifully seeps into the buzzing tourist destination that has more visitors than locals and the resorts by the beach are usually full, owing to the gorgeous tropical weather all year round.
Although the island is now a part of Tanzania, you will experience a mixed presence of the African (Swahili) and Omani (Islamic) culture, which is because Zanzibar was once a colony of Oman. Apart from the tourists, and once outside the resort area, the locals are quite conservative and down to earth. The economic development is limited to the areas of Stone Town, Nungwi and Kendwa which is where the maximum tourist activity can be found.
If you are visiting Zanzibar, here are 10 things I would recommend you to definitely experience:
#1 Nungwi's beaches & nightlife
This is the no.1 place to visit on this island. The beaches in Nungwi are incomparable to any other on the island, with gorgeously sparkling turquoise waters and white sands. Bursting with hotels, bars, clubs and restaurants all along the coast, the beaches are public and can be accessed even if you're not living in any of the resorts in Nungwi. Beware of the hawkers selling accessories and souvenirs, they will hound you till you agree to buy something from them. Just ignore or politely tell them you're not interested. The locals are very friendly and love to chat up with tourists.
Nungwi is also where the nightclubs are and all night parties take place. One of the nicer hotels to stay in, with an all-inclusive package that includes meals as well as selected alcoholic beverages, is Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort. It has a few amazing infinity pools, the rooms are spacious with gorgeous views of the sea and the spa on the cliff overlooking the beach is absolutely wonderful!
I would recommend staying in this area not only for the best sea views and beaches but also for the most lively vibe.
#2 Walking the narrow streets of Stonetown
A predominantly Arab culture can be seen existing in this part of the island. Stonetown gets its name from the old buildings here which were built in the 19th century. The winding alleyways are full of handicraft shops, mosques, cafes, restaurants and houses. If you have enough time and an interest in knowing more about the history and culture of Zanzibar and particularly Stone Town, through its architecture, you can take a walking tour of the area. However, we preferred to just take a walk around on our own, walk in the narrow lanes and explore the bustling town all by ourselves before settling for a few cocktails, while enjoying the sunset, at The Terrace Restaurant.
#3 Cocktails & lunch at The Rock Restaurant
Although this restaurant is a bit far from both Stone Town and Nungwi (45-min and 1.5-hour drive respectively), it is one of the most iconic places to visit in Zanzibar. The restaurant is built on a huge rock which, during high tide, can only be reached by boat. The terrace of the restaurant has superb sea views. A bit pricey, the food is actually quite good and the views are totally worth the price.
Make your reservations in advance. If you're driving to it, keep a buffer of 30 minutes as the road approaching the area where the restaurant is a bit unpaved and requires some time to get there. If you're not driving, you can ask the restaurant management to arrange for a pick and drop taxi for you.
#4 Dance away at Kendwa's full moon parties
This party takes place during the full moon (Saturday after the full moon) at the Kendwa Rocks Hotel, which is only a 10-minute drive from Nungwi. For those staying at the hotel, the party is free of charge else there is a minimal entry cost. If you choose to stay at Nungwi, you can get taxis easily to Kendwa. Alternatively, you can also walk along the beach from Nungwi to Kendwa. However, this is only possible if the tide is low else the beach in Kendwa gets cut off from Nungwi. Check the calendar for the next full moon party when you plan your travel.
#5 Buy a souvenir from Nungwi Masaai Village Market
This adorable street market in the Nungwi village is so vibrant with the clothes, accessories, paintings and lovely little trinkets which make perfect souvenirs. Hardly a 10-minute walk from Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort, off the beach, the locals here are very friendly and happy to strike a good bargain.
#6 Meet the locals
So friendly, so colourful and happy to get a picture with you, the Masaai people are a pleasure to talk to! You will bump into many of them selling small souvenirs and trinkets while walking on the Nungwi beach. Do not hesitate to say hi and get a picture clicked with them!
#7 Catch the beautiful sunset
Nungwi has some of the most beautiful sunsets on the island. You may choose to enjoy it from the beach, the infinity pool of your hotel or take a sunset cruise but you must catch one while you're there!
#8 Rent a jeep
Some people like to relax in their resorts while others like to explore the island. Just about 3 hours from the northmost to the southmost tip of the island, it is worth taking out a day and checking out what life is like outside of the luxurious resort area. As the roads are not all well-developed, it is best to hire a jeep to be able to traverse some rough terrain. Beaches on the east of the island such as Kiwengwa and Pongwe are worth a visit if time allows.
#9 Romantic dine at a pier restaurant
I absolutely loved the stunning seafood restaurant and bar, Sea Breeze at Diamonds La Gemma dell' Est. Situated in the middle of the stunning blue waters, this place is best for a romantic evening out in Nungwi. If you're staying at the hotel (which is all-inclusive), this restaurant is not included in the package but is à la carte. As an outsider, if you're not staying at the hotel, you would have to make a special request for a reservation.
#10 Try the fresh catch-of-the-day
Needless to say, the island has some great seafood! You must try the crabmeat soup in a coconut - absolutely delish! I tried the one from Beyt Al Salaam restaurant in Stone Town and it was so yum.