highlights and main attractions of zanzibar and coast

The perfect way to unwind after an action-packed safari of the Serengeti, Ngorogoro or Tanzania’s other awe-inspiring wildlife sanctuaries, the tropical and sun-soaked ‘Spice Island’ of Zanzibar was once East Africa’s commercial epicentre and last remaining vestige of the African slave trade. Today, it offers a fascinating combination of Arabic style, hallmarks of ancient civilisations and Africa’s finest white-sand beaches and vibrant pristine reefs, and its burgeoning popularity has fortunately done little to diminish its authentic and unspoilt nature. So kick off the safari dust and enjoy the pristine Swahili coastline and marine life of East Africa’s idyllic beach destination.

An archipelago comprised of two large islands and numerous smaller ones located between 25 and 50 kilometres from mainland Tanzania, the largest island of Unguja is unofficially known as Zanzibar.   

The population of Zanzibar is culturally diverse, with some of the mixed African, Arabic and Indian population dating back to 1st Century AD and today welcomes a growing number of tourists with a sense of laidback hospitality and friendliness.

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where is zanzibar?

zanzibar

The centre of the capital Zanzibar City is Stonetown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of meandering, labyrinthine cobbled streets and spice markets. There are buildings that date back to 19th Century, steeped in history, such as the Arab Fort, House of Wonders and various ruinous Sultans’ Palaces.  Once the central trading area for gold, ivory and indeed the slave trade, it is a great place to absorb the atmospheric Old Town and its local flavour.

Toward the Eastern and Northern Swahili coastlines lay Zanzibar’s finest beach retreats. Facing out to Mnemba Island, Matemwe is a stylish and peaceful resort away from crowds. Matemwe Lodge and Matemwe Retreat both offer small room numbers in intimate, luxurious settings. An idyliic place to visit from Matemwe is the small, Robinson Crusoe-esque island of Mnemba, where it is possible to see green turtles nesting. Diving and snorkelling in Zanzibar comes highly recommended for some of the most pristine reefs in Africa and great visibility, and Matemwe is a great base for diving adventures.

pemba island

Pemba Island is the ‘other’ main island of Zanibar and is situated northeast of Unguja. Covered in clove trees, it is far less visited and developed, and is relatively unexplored. Taking a dhow cruise along the coastline will offer true off-the-beaten track exploration and Pemba also has some unique offshore diving opportunities with wall dives, big marine life and clear water diving experiences.  Manta rays, hawksbill, barracudas and green turtles all add to vast technicolour marine life you are likely to see. 

Mafia Island archipelago, further south, is also a popular dive spot during the Whale Shark migration between November and January.

On the mainland, Ras Kutani offers a perfect beach alternative to the islands. Located 25 kilometres south of Dar es Salaam it is a great option for combining Tanzania’s southern circuit including Selous Game Reserve and lies on a crescent of white sand beach that is lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. 

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