1. Wonder Around Stone Town
In Swahili, the main language spoken in Zanzibar, Stone Town is called Mji Mkongwe, which means ‘Old Town’ in English. True to its name Mji Mkongwe is the oldest part of Zanzibar city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is a tourist hot spot has a lot of history and is rich in European, Arab, Persian and Indian cultures and I recommend to spend some time there to wander around, aimlessly if possible, to take in its lovely atmosphere. Then, you can consider visiting some of its attractions!
This is one of the coolest things to do in Zanzibar.
2. Visit the Historical Landmarks in Stone Town
The Palace Museum
This 19th century building used to be the home of Zanzibar Sultan and his family. That’s why it is also called the Sultan’s palace. After the position of the Sultan was disestablished in1964 the site become a government office for some years. Today it is a museum that exhibits relics from past Sultan families.
The House of Wonders
Built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash, this was the first building back then to have running water and electricity – something that had never been seen before in East Africa. It is Zanzibar’s tallest building with impressive architecture. Unfortunately, due to years of neglect, the building found at the old town’s seafront, on Mizingani Road has been closed for renovation. I still recommend you admire it from the outside.
The House of Wonders has been included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to attract attention to its state of despair.
The Arab Fort
Built in the 17th century this building boasts impressive architecture and interesting history. Part of its history is that it was built on top of an old church, then it became a prison in the 19th century, and a ladies’ tennis club at some point.
The Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church
This church was built in 1873. The church was built on a site where slaves were whipped and has a world-famous slave memorial monument on its grounds.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The church is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a $5 USD admission fee.
Visit the Old Slave Market
One of the things to do in Zanzibar to learn about its past is exploring the Old Slave Market. This is actually a museum, set in the area where the market used to take place and which the British forced to close when they ruled the island in the 19th century.
3. Enjoy the Local Cuisine at Forodhani Gardens
It goes without saying that trying local food is one of the things to do in Zanzibar. Forodhani Gardens is a night time food market where you can sample Swahili and Zanzibari cuisine. If you love seafood this market – which opens late in the afternoon – is one of the best places to visit Zanzibar. Apart from seafood other food to try at Forodhani Gardens include:
This is a rice dish made with different spices served with meat or fish curry. It one of Zanzibar’s most famous meals, and tastes delicious. You could also try Pilau rice. To make it, instead of cooking the rice, spices, and meat separately the chef cooks them all in one pot.
This tastes or looks nothing like the pizza you may know. To make, a ball of dough is rolled it into a circular shape. Ingredients of your choice are then added. They can include beef or chicken, onions, peppers, mayo, and vegetables. An egg and cheese are then added on top and everything is fried on a hot pan surface for a few minutes.
These are local meat skewers, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can try one made from octopus instead of the usual beef or chicken.
This is made of french fries which are fried together with eggs. Think of it as a french fries omelet. I know, it is weird. But I promise you it is good.
If you’re looking for a snack opt for mandazi – fried dough. You can enjoy a mandazi with some Zanzibar tea which is usually made with an amazing blend of spices.
4. Go Shopping at Darajani Bazaar
Shopping at Darajani Bazaar is one of the things to do in Zanzibar. This is the biggest trading centre in Stone Town. Here you can buy anything from food, jewellery, clothes, art, wood carvings, perfumes, etc. It is the perfect market to buy something to take back home that will remind you of Stone Town once your holiday is over.
TIP: Be sure to haggle the prices of any item you have your eyes set on or you’ll pay more than you should.
5. Explore Spice Island
Spice trade is big in on the island, and going on a spice tour is among the things to do in Zanzibar to appreciate more of its culture, history and food. It will help you learn more about the different spices Zanzibar grows and sells. You may love some of the spices and buy some to take back home.
These are some excellent spice tours of Zanzibar:
6. Visit Prison Island
As I have already pointed out, Zanzibar has a dark past involving slave trade, and you can learn about this trade by visiting Prison Island. This really is one of the most interesting things to do in Zanzibar. The island is a 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town.
In the past, this was also where people with deadly diseases were sent to die. So, you can also learn more about which disease years ago were considered deadly and could have seen you sent to this island if you contracted them.
Once you’re done learning about the island’s not so good past, you can go admire the endangered giant Aldabra tortoise species found on the island. These tortoises are huge and some are over 100 years old.
You can book your Prison Island tour here.
7. Soak Up the Sun at Nungwi Beach
You cannot go to Zanzibar and not spend time on the beach – it’s one of the top things to do in Zanzibar. One of the best beaches in Zanzibar to relax while sunbathing and swimming in the Indian Ocean is Nungwi Beach. This beach is located in Nungwi village which is found in Zanzibar’s North West region. The beach is popular among tourists but you’ll rarely find it overcrowded like other beaches on the island. As the waters are nice, shallow and transparent, this is a great place to go snorkelling.
8. Go Scuba Diving
Speaking of marine life, with warm, clear water is it only obvious that one of the best things to do in Zanzibar is diving. Make sure to go at least once! The best place to go diving is Mnemba Island Atoll.
9. Dine at the Rock Zanzibar
For scenic views of the island, you should enjoy a meal at this world-famous restaurant which is literally located on top of a rock in the Indian Ocean. From it you can see Zanzibar’s main sights, and taste the best seafood Zanzibar has to offer.
TIP: This restaurant is often very busy, so you should consider making a reservation to ensure you get a table when you choose to go there. You can also go on a tour here, which includes a drink at the restaurant, which will make it easier as it includes transport and the reservation. Click here to see more details.
10. Explore Jozani Forest
Another of the things to do in Zanzibar is exploring Jozani Forest. This pristine rainforest located in the eastern part of the island covers close to 2000 hectares and it is Zanzibar’s only remaining indigenous forest with over 100 species of trees. It is the only place in the world you can still see the endangered red colobus monkey.
Other animals you can see at Jozani Forest include bush babies, Sykes monkeys, Ader’s duiker, over 40 bird species and 50 butterfly species. There are several nature trails in the forest you can explore to get to see these animals up close.
11. Go to the Seaweed Center
Have you ever had a seaweed smoothie? I’m guessing maybe not because seaweeds are not widely consumed in many parts of the world. This is one of the things to do in Zanzibar, where you can sample a seaweed smoothie and see if you like it at the Seaweed Center located in Paje.
The center is a local enterprise where women in Zanzibar use the abundant seaweed found on the island to make products such as organic soaps, scrubs, essential oils, smoothies, and juices.
You can support these women by buying their seaweed products which are known to have health benefits such as reducing heart disease risk and helping in weight loss.
12. Go Kitesurfing in Paje
One of the most fun things to do in Zanzibar is kitesurfing. The best place to do kitesurfing is in Paje Island, which is located south-east of Zanzibar. Kite surfing is very popular in Paje because of its reliable winds, and don’t worry if you have never done it before. There are many kitesurfing trainers around who are waiting for the opportunity to show you the ropes of kitesurfing. With their expertise and your enthusiasm to learn a new skill you should be a kitesurfing pro in no time.
13. Travel in a Dala Dala
If you’re travelling to Zanzibar from a developed country you’re used to an organized and safe bus transport system. In Zanzibar, the public transport system may shock you. To move around locals share minibuses common known as dala dala. These minibuses are often overloaded with people, some are clearly not roadworthy and the ride can be bumpy.
They’re, however, the cheapest way to move around Zanzibar. From Darajani Market in Stone Town, you can catch a dala dala that will get you anywhere on the island. Riding in a dala dala will be an experience to remember and one of the most unique things to do in Zanzibar.
14. Spend Some Time in Jambiani
Jambiani is a lovely fishing village right by a gorgeous white sand beach. It’s the kind of place where you can chill and enjoy the incredibly relaxed vibe. This is where I chose to base myself during my first trip to Zanzibar and I had such a great time. I also explored some of the restaurants in Jambiani, enjoying mountains of fresh seafood at very affordable prices.
15. Sail the Indian Ocean
One of the things you should really not miss while in Zanzibar is going on a blue safari tour. On this tour, you’ll sail the ocean waters on a dhow, a wooden boat with a canvas sail. From Stone Town, the dhow will take you to Menai Bay to see dolphins. You will also visit an isolated sandbank where you’ll have a seafood lunch before returning to shore as the sunsets.
Original blog post by The World in my Pocket