My love affair with the pristine clear water, fresh seafood and gorgeous African people of Zanzibar first started in the Winter of 2016, when I took my first solo trip. I didn’t know a quick 5 day get away would turn into a life long love of this beautiful country. There’s something about the peace I feel when I go to Zanzibar that keeps me coming back to explore more.
Here is my visual love letter to Zanzibar
Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Its architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture. The city dons a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. For this reason, the town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
The heart of Stone Town mostly consists of a maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. Since most streets are too narrow for cars, the town is crowded with bicycles and motorbikes. The seafront has wider streets and larger, more regularly placed buildingst From neat, sustainable fashion boutiques to the loud, chaotic market on Creek Street,
Things to know when traveling to Tanzania
When buying anything in the market always haggle and negotiate, never accept the first price given to you.
The local currency is Tanzanian Shilling. As with most African cities, always carry cash, USD and Euro are widely accepted as well as the local currency.
Zanzibar is safe for solo travel as a woman but I personally wouldn’t wonder the streets at night alone. Its very easy to get lost. My guide Khalifa took me around at night and I felt extremely safe with him. Travel with common sense and precautions.
Since this is a predominantly muslim country women may want to keep their shoulders and legs covered. Like traveling to any country you want to be respectful of the cultural norms and practices. You do not want to draw unwanted attention to yourself
The perfect time to visit Zanzibar is in the months June- October or December to February. The weather is best during those months with minimal rain. I visited in both December and March and love both times.
The main language in Zanzibar is Swahili, however, English is the second language and widely spoken.
What to do
You can visit the former slave market and learn about it's very sobering history. A beautiful Anglican church was built on the spot where some of Zanzibar's cruelest history played out. As a reminder, the cathedral is dedicated to exposing the horrors of the slave trade and people trafficking. This is a very important landmark that should be visited by all who want to understand the history of the island and look beyond the legacy of the rich merchants and gorgeous architecture.
One of my favorite things to do in Stone Town is to Explore the alleyways and shop. Admire the gorgeous architecture and culture while you shop till you drop. It’s great to have a guided walking tour of Stone Town or explore alone, either way you will truly enjoy the hustle and bustle of Stone Town. Stone Town has plenty to offer to the shopaholic, look out for brightly colored kanga and kikois (traditional wrap-around clothing), silver and tanzanite jewelry, handmade leather bags, sandals and shoes, a endless range of woven baskets, wooden carvings, throws, wall hangings, rugs, antiques and ornaments of all shapes and sizes. Theres plenty of keep sake souvenirs to bring home.
Black Henna is a must
But make sure to do a patch test BEFORE getting black henna as some people can be highly allergic
Jump in the middle of the Indian Ocean and swim or take A day trip to Chumbe Island and Prison Island. Prison Island is known for being home to over a hundred gigantic tortoises that you can interact closely with, while Chumbe Island is a small private island known for its ecological innovation and exceptional coral reefs.
My personal heaven is swimming in the Indian Ocean
“Water clings to my wrist. it has been my fragrance since birth” -Salt Poems
Spice Tour-Located on Spice Island, the Spice Tour is one of the most popular excursions in Zanzibar and another one of my favorite things to do. Zanzibar was one of the world’s leading producers of spices such as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. The tour takes you to on organic farm with a wide variety of plants around the year. You don’t just get to see all these lovely spices but you also touch, smell and taste.
Where to stay
Emerson Spice and Emerson Humurzi ($150-$275 a night) These sister hotels are one of the popular places to stay and obviously the perfect aesthetic to get the best instagram/blog photos. Both hotels are centered in the heart of Stone Town and only a 5 min walk from each other, the hotels were founded by the late Emerson Skeens, who converted and restored traditional Zanzibari merchant's homes into each boutique hotel. Both hotels were designed with every single detail in mind from the color washed walls, the locally produced soaps and towels, to the refreshing local hibiscus juice you receive at check in. You can choose from a variety of rooms that are filled with rich textiles, vibrant colors and antique furniture, every single room is a work of art in their own unique way.
Park Hyatt- ($300 a night)- Sitting majestically on the beachfront in the heart of Stone Town, the town’s key attractions are easily accessible by foot including Forodhani Gardens, the Old Fort, the Old Dispensary, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Palace Museum, and the House of Wonders- Park Hyatt website
Al Minar- (Staring at $70 a night)- Is my first love and the first place I stayed on my solo trip to Zanzibar in 2016, Al Minar is extremely cheap, clean and the staff are amazing! During my stay I enjoyed lounging in the spacious rooms on the antique furniture, while listening to winter rains. Right in the center of Stone Town, I was able to explore the alley ways and Forodhani Gardens within mins. Definitely one of the places you get the best value for your money!
Mizingani Seafront (Starting at $95 a night) -is located on the Forodhani water front next to the Sultan Palace Museum and Ferry Terminal, a restored royal palace this hotel has extremely spacious rooms, a gorgeous pool and one of the best views in Stone town. Enjoy complimentary breakfast on the balcony while enjoying the view of the waterfront and Indian ocean.
Where to eat
Forodhani Gardens ($1-$10 per a person)- One of the best ways to really experience the Stone Town food and culture. Try all the local delicacies and dishes from a wide array of market vendors. You can try everything from Zanzibari pizza (must try) to a fresh sugar cane juice. There are several vendors to choose from, so be sure to walk around the whole market and look around. Like with most countries follow the food rule of eat where the locals are or at stalls with a long line to get the freshest food and avoid food poisoning (the meat and seafood are not always fresh). While you enjoy your food, sit down and people watch or cat watch, whatever floats your boat
Zanzibar Pizza is a must try-$1-$5
Lobster and cheese is my personal favorite
Rooftop Tea House Restaurant at Emerson Spice or Emerson on Hurumzi ($35-$40 per a person.) Both Restaurants offer a Seafood Based, Set Five Course ‘Taste Safari’ Degustation Menu prepared daily by a Zanzibari Chefs. The Tea House at Emerson Spice has a smaller, more intimate, Rooftop Tea House, while The Tea House at Emerson on Hurumzi has Swahili Style seating on thick Persian Rugs with low tables. For both restaurants, I highly recommend you call ahead and make reservations because they are very popular and fill up quickly. Dinner typically is served promptly at 7pm, but make sure you get there at around 6pm to watch the sunset with a cocktail and make the most of the experience.
The Silk Route (Starting at $7 for main course) Indian cuisine is also highly recommended.
As always ask the locals or your guide for food recommendations
Not only is Zanzibar known for Stone Town but it’s known for its gorgeous beaches. Situated on the North coast of the Island, Nungwi has pristine clear water and stunning white sands for miles on end. The perfect place to have your lazy days I highly recommend visiting Nungwi or any of Zanzibar’s gorgeous beaches for at least a couple of days.
What to do
Don’t miss out on a day trip to Baraka Natural Aquarium to swim with rescued and rehabilitated turtles that are accidentally caught up in fishermen's nets..
Take a boat ride or go snorkeling both can be arranged by your hotel or tour guide.
Where to Stay
Baladin Zanzibar beach hotel & restaurant- is a boutique hotel resort which is surrounded by turquoise tropical waters, palm trees and a white sandy shoreline. The hotel is located in Pingwe on the South Eastern part of the island. The resort has 8 spacious two-storey bungalows each with a traditional makuti palmed roof. On the top level there is a four-poster double bed with a fan and a window with a view out to the tropical sea. On the ground floor there are 2 single beds and an open-air bathroom where you can enjoy the freedom of a tropical open-air shower with the comfort of some privacy. Each bungalow also has its own terrace with a view to the sea. Although this hotel isn’t situated on the most gorgeous beach in Zanzibar i truly enjoyed my stay here and felt extremely refreshed and relax laying out on the hotel swings everyday.
What to eat
Another one of Zanzibar’s most famous attractions is The Rock Restaurant (Staring at $19 for a plate) this restaurant on Michanwi Pingwe beach is a cozy little house built on a rock in the Indian Ocean. Depending on the tide, you can either walk right up to this restaurant or take a boat. I recommend you call ahead and make a reservation just to make sure there is space.
My favorite place to eat in Zanzibar is Mahli Beach Bar, once i discovered this cute bar on Paje beach I couldn’t stop going there! The fish cakes are to die for and extremely cheap!
One of the best photographers in Zanzibar is Daron Banderia. I highly recommend him if you’re looking for a great photographer who edits well!
My favorite tour guide for Zanzibar is Khalifa Silma of Cool Africa Tours. I was recommended Khalifa through a colleague and he turned out to be one of my favorite tour guides to date. He’s very knowledgeable, but has extremely cheap prices and is willing to bargain with you for a good deal! He is a local up and coming guide that is trying to build his clientele and establish himself as one the most used tour guide in Zanzibar!