Earlier this month, I celebrated my 30th birthday on the beautiful island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. I knew for my 30th I wanted to have a relaxing beachside getaway on the continent of Africa. So going to Zanzibar was a no-brainer. It’s been on my radar for quite some time now after seeing the stunning photos of their vibrant blue, green beaches, and butter-soft white sand. Needless to say, this trip was everything I imagined it to be, and more. I was able to re-charge, indulge in their delicious cuisine, learn more about our history, and spend some time with the amazing people on their island.
This magical place truly embodied their signature phrase, “Hakuna Matata” (yes, they really say it), and I had no worries the entire trip. It was the perfect introduction to this next chapter of my life, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I hope that you too can experience the beauty that is Zanzibar, and when you do–here’s a guide to help you along the way.
How to Get There
I will say, getting to Zanzibar was a journey. We decided to save a *little* coin and chose a flight with a short layover in Dubai. I actually don’t even think we saw many options for direct flights, and if we did they were insanely expensive. We chose to fly with Emirates (one of the world’s best airlines) and our round-trip flights were $898 each, which actually isn’t terrible given the distance–I was expecting to pay over $1,000.
We flew from Newark to Dubai, which was about 13-hours. Had a quick 2-hour layover, then flew 5-hours to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. Given that we endured over 24-hours worth of travel, we decided to spend the night and a half-day in Dar Es Salaam before heading over to the island of Zanzibar. To not only rest a little, but also explore their big city. In the event that we go back, I’d definitely stay there a few extra days to do a little more exploring.
The next day we took a small charter plane with Flightlink from Dar Es Salaam onto the island of Zanzibar. It was only $100 each round-trip, for a 20-minute flight, which we didn’t think was too bad given the Ferry ride was a similar price, but would take 2-hours. However, what we didn’t realize until we got there was that choosing to fly ended up being about the same amount of time, if you factor in getting to the airport, check-in, and then wait time. It wasn’t terrible, but lesson learned!
Where to Stay
Where you stay on the island really depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. We wanted a mix of relaxation and also cultural immersion. So, we spent the first half of the trip in Kiwenga at an Airbnb literally on the beach, and the second half at a hotel in Stone Town, the island’s city.
Our Airbnb was perfect–if you’ve read my other travel guides, you know my boyfriend David and I love unique yet chic accommodations. This beachfront villa was the type of place we’ve always dreamed of. Sand in the back yard, at high-tide the water literally came all the way up to the gate, we had a private chef, driver, and the host was extremely attentive. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, I’d advise staying there as well.
There isn’t a ton of nightlife in that area but along the beach, we were close to a few other restaurants, and down the hill from the town. So, we didn’t feel *too* secluded. If you’re looking for a beach town but with a little more “action” at night we’d suggest staying in the Nungwi area. There were younger people there, groups, lots of bars and things going on when we decided to visit that area.
If you want real seclusion, try finding somewhere to stay on the farthermost part of the island in either Paje, Pingwe, Jambiani etc..
For less beach time, a little more hustle and bustle and nightlife, stay in Stone Town.
Money, Money, Money
Given that this was my birthday, we did spend a little more than normal on accommodations–especially the Airbnb. But once we got there, everything was a lot cheaper. The official currency is the Tanzanian Shilling or TZS. A pretty decent amount of places do take USD, but it was also very useful to have Shillings on hand. In total, we brought with us $3,000 USD. We only converted $1,000 to TZS and kept the rest of USD just in case. We only spent in total about $2,000–so we were very happy to have $1,000 left over after the trip.
We spent most of our money on excursions, tours, and taxis. Food and drinks were very inexpensive and dinner for both of us most night’s ended up being what was equivalent to about $40 USD. And the food portions were large, so it was definitely a steal!
Overall, I’d say getting to Zanzibar is what’s most expensive so try paying for flights and accommodations as early as possible to cut back on costs. And once you get there, depending on what types of excursions you plan on doing you really wouldn’t spend too much.
Ya’ll know I’m a foodie–I absolutely love trying new cuisine. The Swahili-style food was delicious and they don’t call it spice island for nothing! The flavors were to die for and the seafood was so fresh. I don’t think I’ve ever had such large prawns before in my life. Even thinking about it has my mouth-watering. Here are some restaurants/dining options we absolutely loved and went to or heard were great:
- Vanora Zanzibar – This is a 2-hour private sunset dinner cruise in Stone Town. We did this the night of my actual birthday and it was breathtaking. An amazing 3-course meal with wine and beautiful views. I highly recommend it!
- The Rock – Very cool restaurant located quite literally on a rock in the water. Once you arrive you take a small boat to get to the entrance. It is in Pingwe.
- Emerson Rooftop Tea House: Chic, romantic, reservation-only option for dinner and includes 3-courses for $35USD per person, in Stone Town.
- Lukmaan Restaurant: Lukmaan restaurant is one of the most well known local standards for tasty Zanzibari food and casual dining, in Stone Town.
- Forodhani Gardens: A street food fest that begins every evening, beginning at about 5 pm. All sorts of meat and seafood are displayed on skewers, pre-cooked, and when you order it, they will be quickly heated over charcoal. *The seafood here is not always the freshest so we decided to stick to the meat only
- Jungle Kite Base – Casual restaurant for lunch in Kiwengwa
- Saruche Restaurant – Romantic seafood restaurant in Nungwi
- Fisherman’s Seafood & Grille – Chic seafood restaurant in Nungwi
- Zanzibar Sunrise at Bandas Restaurant – restaurant in Matemwe
- The Island – Pongwe Lodge Restaurant – slightly pricey but good for lunch
- Le Macis – The most popular restaurant in Nungwi
- Langi Langi Beach Bungalows Cafe – romantic restaurant in Nungwi with a great view
- Baraka Beach Restaurant – a restaurant with seats on the sand in Nungwi
Things to Do
I love a vacation with some balance. So, although we did a few tours, we made sure to also spend a lot of time relaxing on the beach. Here are some great options to include when you’re not lounging in the sun:
- Safari Blue Snorkeling Tour
- Cheetah’s Rock Tour
- Zanzibar Cooking Class
- Spice Tour *We ended up going with a great knowledgeable guide we met at the Palace Museum, but you can also use that link to book with another company.
- Visit The Old Fort
- Visit the House of Wonders
- Visit the Palace Museum
- Anglican Cathedral and Former Slave Market Site **a must if you’re interested in learning about the slave trade in Zanzibar.
- Visit the St. Josephs Cathedral
- Explore the Darajani Market
Nightlife to Try
To be honest, this was probably the least “turn-up” trip I’ve ever taken. We didn’t go out to bars too often, but there are definitely options in case you want to. If you’re looking to be in close proximity to more bars and nightlife, I’d advise staying in Nungwi or Stone Town.
- Rooftops Bar – Bar in Nungwi good for Happy Hour
- Mangi’s Bar – In Nungwi
- Cholo’s Bar – In Nungwi
- Tatu Bar – In Stone Town, lots of locals here which was fun
- Beach House Zanzibar – In Stone Town
- Sunset Bar at The Africa House Hotel – In Stone Town *service is slow but it’s extremely popular, just OK in our opinion.
Things to Keep in Mind
- “Zanzibar” is not the official name of the island. When people refer to Zanzibar it is technically all of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Zanzibar Island is real name is “Unguja.”
- Zanzibar is sometimes referred to as “The Spice Island” for its abundance of cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. The East African island was used as a spice plantation in the 18th century, and those roots still live.
- Most Zanzibaris consider themselves Zanzibari rather than Tanzanian, and their territory has its own leader and governing bodies.
- Stone Town was declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2000
- My least favorite part of the trip were the people constantly trying to sell us things on the beach. So, be prepared for this. You’ll get stopped continuously and asked if you’d like a tour “for a good price” or to purchase some souvenirs. It also happened a lot in Stone Town but mainly people asking us to come into their shops or for taxi’s etc. So, be prepared for this and bring your patience, ha!
- People stare, but they don’t mean any harm–greet them with a smile and simple “Jambo!” which means hello.
- Have cash on you, USD and preferably Tanzanian Shillings there is an exchange office at the airport, but not many more outside of that. There are only ATMs in Stone Town.
- Jambo – General greeting similar to “hello”
- Asante – Thank you
- Hakuna matata – Okay or No problem
- Karibu – Welcome
- Pole pole – Take it easy
- Mambo – How’s it going
- Salama Aleikum – Peace be with you
- Dalla dalla – Mini bus
- Nzuri – Good
- Ndiyo – Yes
- Hapana – No
- Sawa – Alright
- Bei Gani – How much does it cost?