A week in Zanzibar offers everything you could possibly want – palm-fringed beaches, powdery white sand, historical villages and towns, colourful markets, and. This offbeat island, just off the east coast of Africa, is ideal for travellers who enjoy going off the beaten path. Here’s a low-down on everything you need to plan an ideal week-long holiday in Zanzibar
Why Choose Zanzibar?
After spending 2 weeks in Zanzibar, we would say Zanzibar is ideal for 3 kinds of travellers
- Those who want to experience the gorgeous panoramas of places like Seychelles or Maldives, but on a budget. Unlike those 2 countries, Zanzibar has several all inclusive resorts that are quite budget friendly
- Those who love acquainting themselves with the rich culture and complex history of a new country but also want scenic panoramas and gorgeous beaches.
- Those who want a luxurious yet unique honeymoon destination or romantic getaway. There is no shortage of uber-luxurious resorts and hotels in Zanzibar. This ensures honeymooners have access to the best of amenities while exploring the little villages, spice plantations, and remote beaches of Zanzibar
Know before you go
- You need to furnish yellow fever vaccination certificates upon reaching Zanzibar, so make sure you have them on you upon reaching the country
- Tanzania offers Visa On Arrival to citizens of most countries including India, UK, and USA for a fee of USD50. You will be asked to fill a short form upon arrival, following which the visa is granted. It was a pretty seamless process for us and we were not asked for any supporting documentation.
Best time to visit Zanzibar
June to October is the best season to visit Zanzibar as the weather is cool yet dry. However December to February is a great period too. The weather is hotter but it is dry and crowds are lesser. We visited Zanzibar during November and while some afternoons got too hot, we enjoyed the overall experience.
Getting In To Zanzibar
A lot of tourists who are already on mainland Tanzania take the direct ferry from Dar es Salaam (3 hours) or a short flights (15 minutes).
But if you are flying directly to Zanzibar, you will find the island itself is pretty well connected to most countries. We were in India before this trip, so we flew from New Delhi to Zanzibar with Ethiopian Airlines (roughly GBP 500 per person for return flights) because of a convenient connection. However the plane was messy, the food bad, and the service well, non-existent! We’d recommend choosing another airline if you can find one that offers convenient connections to Zanzibar from your port of departure.
Transfers within Zanzibar
It is best to have a taxi, which will take you from the airport to your hotel, booked before you land in Zanzibar! You can compare the prices offered by your hotel with a local taxi provider. Usually private transfers cost anywhere between USD 10 (Airport – Stone Town) and USD 50 (Airport – Chwaka Bay).
We booked all our transfers with Lukman after reading good reviews about him on Tripadvisor. It is best to contact him over Whatsapp at +255 776 416 155. We got his number from Tripadvisor – he was prompt in responding and punctual when it came to pick ups and drop offs. The prices he charged were competitive, so no complaints there. Would recommend him if you’re visiting Zanzibar. Say hello to him from us 🙂
Budgeting for your holiday in Zanzibar
You budget will depend vastly upon the kind of accommodation you choose. It is possible to book nice hotels or AirBnBs (you get around USD 30 off for your first booking using this link) starting at USD30 but if you’re there to spend a special occasion or a honeymoon, then there are some expensive but stunning luxury hotels too.
In addition to the cost of flights and hotel bookings, expect to spend about USD 70 per person per day (on transfers, occasional activities, and 2 meals per day) when you budget for your trip. Of course this indicative cost can increase or decrease depending on variables such as how much you intend to move around on the island, whether you enjoy fine dining or street food, or whether you are a heavy drinker on holiday.
One week Itinerary for a holiday in Zanzibar
When you are crafting your itinerary for a week long holiday in Zanzibar, we would suggest spending 2-3 days of the week in historic Stone Town and 4-5 days of the week in a beach-side hotel.
Staying in Stone Town
We’d highly recommend combining your stay at a beach-side hotel with a short stay in the historical and cultural capital – Stone Town, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most tourists visit Stone Town on a day trip but we recommend spending at least 2-3 days absorbing it’s sights and sounds. There are plenty of hotels in the area. We suggest choosing a boutique hotel in the old town for a real experience. But do beware of the following factors:
- Due to historic buildings and risk, there are no electric kettles in the rooms
- You can expect lots of stairs and winding pathways as these are old buildings, so not disabled friendly
- There can be a lot of mayhem in the town, so expect to hear the sounds of Stone Town early in the morning
If none of these things bother you, then we would highly recommend a unique stay in Stone Town. It is an unparalleled feeling to be in the midst of so much history, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the market. There is no better option than Emerson on Hurumzi – this gem is a refurbished historic building with the most scenic terrace restaurant in Stone Town. Rooms are colourful and full of character. Try opting for a room with a private terrace but you could literally pick any room and you’ll fall in love. Their home-cooked breakfast is hearty and delicious but the Zanzibari feast ($35 per person, including a 4 course meal and entertainment) at their famous rooftop teahouse and restaurant is unparalleled – book a place and arrive before sunset. Watch the sun set over Stone Town and dig into scrumptious fare as local singers regale you with their tunes.
Staying at the beach
When it comes to choosing beach side properties, there is no dearth of options in Zanzibar. If you like partying, then choose a beach-facing hotel or guesthouse in the villages of Nungwi or Kendwa. If you’re on a budget and you like really quiet places, then Resort Filao Beach is a good option. The hotel is affordable and scenic and the staff is lovely. However there is absolutely nothing to do in the area and there are no shops or restaurants. This means you are confined to the premises of the hotel – great if you’re after some privacy but not for you if you’ want to explore the island. The only walking excursion here is a visit to Chwaka village and its fish market.
Mnemba Lodge – A Luxurious Haven
If you’re on your honeymoon or celebrating a truly special occasion (like us- we were there for our tenth anniversary!), then we’d recommend an exquisite private island getaway at AndBeyond Mnemba Island. Here barefoot luxury reigns supreme. Open-air villas are enveloped by trees and white sands. Both the colour of the water and beach sand at Mnemba Island are right out of a picture postcard – it’s easy to spend hours just relaxing by the beach, sipping on cocktails.
Each villa comes with its own private butler, so you can have said cocktails and all your meals wherever you want – by the beach, in your villa, lying down in a canopy in the middle of nowhere, or even on a float in the middle of the ocean. Everything from local delicacies and freshly-caught fish to continental salads and main courses is on offer. We loved their desserts, especially their chocolate fondant. Just writing about it makes me want to go back for more
A stay here isn’t without its cons – open-air villas can get a tad hot during peak summer months, despite the fans. They are also not apt for light sleepers – there are plenty of doves on the island, which make for impeccable photographs but can be disturbing for light sleepers. For this reason we’d deem it ideal for adventurous luxury travellers. Other than that, AndBeyond Mnemba is the perfect island getaway in Zanzibar – an ideal way to relish an indulgent beach break with your partner in paradise.
Mnemba Atoll is ideal for water sports, especially snorkelling and diving. But we would also urge you to try their dhow boat cruise in the evening – watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean as you sip on sundowners and feel the wind in your hair.
Things to do in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a unique destination in the sense that there aren’t too many landmarks you would want to ‘see’. Instead some of the richest things here can be experienced just by staying in the middle of the action and wandering in the by lanes or by a beach. Having said that, here are ten things to do and experiences we would definitely recommend in Zanzibar
- Watersports – diving, snorkelling, boating – you can take your pick! Mnemba Atoll has some of the clearest waters for water sports
- Walk to the fishing villages in Chwaka bay (if you’re staying in the area) and interact with the locals
- Sample street food at Forodhani Market – try the Zanzibari pizza, samosas, and freshly-squeezed fruit juices or if you don’t have a strong tummy, just soak in the atmosphere
- Acquaint yourself with local spices and local fare at Darajani Market in Stone Town
- Book a meal at the scenic restaurant The Rock. To be honest, the location is gorgeous but the food at The Rock could be better for the price. For this reason, we’d suggest dropping by for a drink or starters.
- Walk around Stone Town exploring historic gems such as the Old Fort and shopping for souvenirs. Walk along the port at sunset
- Party the night away at the full moon party at Kendwa Rocks
- Make friends with giant turtles at Canguu (Prison Island) on a day trip
- Enrol yourself in an experiential activity such as a cooking class, a village walk, or a school visit
- Admire the sunset from a dhow cruise – did you know dhow boats have been used by merchants coming to Zanzibar since the Spice Route days? Even today, goods are transported from Tanzania’s mainland to Zanzibar on dhows each day. If you’re holidaying on the island, you MUST hop on an old-school dhow boat and sail on calm waters as the sun sets around you
That’s it. Everything you need to know about planning a week long holiday to Zanzibar. If you have any other questions, please leave them down below 🙂