Zanzibar is an island off Tanzania in Africa which has plenty to offer, including gorgeous beaches, friendly people and a whole lot of history.
1. Sail away
We booked a trip before arrival (but you’re likely to find options you can possibly barter down just by strolling along the beach). A sunset cruise is a must-do! We boarded our dhow with a couple of captains and guy named Ali who managed to explain everything about the islands of Zanzibar, all why making sure we didn’t capsize. I was very impressed by the sheer strength that goes into erecting the sails (no wondered their bodies were very toned!).
We were a little insecure at first, waiting to see if it was safe to move around but it wasn’t long before we felt the benefits of being out at sea. It was serene and the view was even better when we climbed to the second level of the boat with a few beers and some wine to really feel the wind in our hair.
The sunset was absolutely incredible and despite getting on at another location, they dropped us off right on the shore where our hotel was. Thanks, guys!
2. Dinner on the beach
The Z Hotel has a few different accommodation options around it which offered a change in scenery and new food options when we wanted it but I highly recommend a candlelit dinner on the beach. No, you don’t have to be loved up to enjoy it – my friends and I even invited other people we knew staying in another hotel to join us for the night. They light the beach up by digging holes in the sand and place candles inside, and of course, the menus are lit up with clipped on lights because it really is pitch black otherwise.
After watching how locals come out and fish for their own food for the day each morning in the water right outside our hotel, I was excited to enjoy some seafood. It was, by far, our most expensive meal of the trip at about $50 each with wine, but you’ve got to treat yourself!
PS. Wear flat shoes!
3. Prison Island
It doesn’t sound so glamorous, and it’s not, get ready to step in some tortoise poo, but don’t go home without heading to Prison Island first. The former home of slaves and later a quarantine island, now it houses a hotel and best of all hundreds of tortoises! The oldest was 193 years old and it was amazing to see and feed these huge creatures. There was also a section with tiny babies! A great one for picture purposes. Where else will you be surrounded by them?
Pray the weather is glorious. We happened to go on a very rainy day which made things interesting on the boat ride from Stone Town. It’s such a small boat that you’re likely to feel very wobbly but our guide reassured us that all was okay and they’ve crossed the water in worse weather. Explaining that he once swam 6 hours over to the island just for fun, he promised to save us if anything unexpected happened!
4. Hang at a cool bar
The bar scene is very chilled out, at least in Nungwi where we were staying, but then again it was Eid Al Fitr, the holiday just after Ramadan. However, it still nice to go out during the day and have a few happy hour drinks. The Coco Cabana bar and its friends surrounding provide the ideal spot to enjoy some beverages and lap up the gorgeous scenery (the water is so clear!).
The service generally is rather relaxed buy hey, island life!
5. Stay at a boutique hotel
Our hotel pool didn’t open until 10am but we were still out early to make sure we caught some rays on the beach. The Z Hotel is the perfect accommodation for a relaxing vacation, with a nice quiet pool area on the deck (except for the man calling for people to buy fresh coconuts on the beach below). I don’t know how his voice didn’t give in after doing it all day, every day!
You can dine by the pool or in one of the two other restaurants and a snack shop on site, but there’s a great rooftop bar for watching the stars. If you haven’t had the chance to pop out and buy some souvenirs, there’s a gift shop on site with some cool items, but if you walk into the small alleyway in between the hotel and convenience store, you’ll notice small businesses where you can barter down the price of many of the same things.
The hotel doesn’t deal with cash so if you stay here don’t take all your spending money out, pretty much everything goes on the room. Each room comes with a balcony with a table and chairs, which you’ll appreciate of an evening or when you just want a bit of room service. The beds were not the most comfortable and I wished I had more bedding (yes, it was hot but I’m always cold, especially in highly air-conditioned places). There was also an issue with in-room fridges when we visited so it was a bit annoying to not have cold drinks on hand in the room. Any room service deliveries come with a $5 charge.
Surrounding the hotel, life continued as normal, which was not in the luxury we were living. It felt a bit odd that only a few steps away was a completely different scene.
PS. Roads are very bumpy and some off-track so make sure to get yourself a decent driver.
6. Head into town
Stone Town is the local city center, you have through to get the boat across to Pٍrison Island. With all the stunning beach resorts around, it’s here you’ll get a real feel for what life is like on the island. We used a tour guide who showed us the markets, which sold meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and spices, there were also little shops selling art and things that would make great souvenirs as we wondered the small side streets.
Places loved by tourist include Freddie Mercury’s old apartment black where he grew up (yes, he’s from Zanzibar!) and a hotel rooftop restaurant visited by loads of celebrities, including Bill and Chelsea Clinton, Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg.