Tanzania’s beaches are heavenly places to relax and you will always see something exciting especially those on its islands, are spectacular, accessible, and often relatively inexpensive to visit. There’s a real choice of activities that cam make your holiday astonishing.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous part of Tanzania East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of numerous small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
Zanzibar’s main industries are spices, raffia, and tourism In particular, the islands produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. For this reason, the islands, together with Tanzania’s Mafia Island, are sometimes called the Spice Islands (a term also associated with the Maluku Islands in Indonesia). Zanzibar is the home of the endemic Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey, the Zanzibar Servaline Genet, and the (possibly extinct) Zanzibar Leopard
Places to visit:
The heart of Zanzibar Town, Stone Town, is a labyrinth of narrow alleys complete with palaces, mosques, and tiny shops. Come here for a night or two to stay in a small hotel or converted merchant’s house – and soak up the atmosphere.
East Coast Zanzibar
The east coast of Zanzibar is lined with long, powder-white beaches; it’s very sow and relaxed. We’ve included here the best small resorts; all quite different! Or travel offshore to the magical Mnemba Island – for the ultimate private island getaway!
Two or three hours’ drive from Stone Town, Nungwi has long been a magnet for visitors seeking their slice of paradise. Come for good diving and beaches, and a lively village atmosphere; there’s a lot going on here!
Zanzibar’s southeast, the Michamvi Peninsula is very similar to the ‘East Coast’ – small lodges, and the odd larger hotel, on long, stunning, powder-white beaches and palm trees.
South of Stone Town, the Fumba Peninsula is one of the most relaxed and friendly corners of the island – and its very quiet, with few visitors. There are two beautiful lodges here – and offshore is an award-winning eco-resort on Chumbe Island
It is less visited than Zanzibar and therefore offers less touristy experiences
Pemba Island is separated from Unguja Island and the African continent by deep channels and has a correspondingly restricted fauna, reflecting its comparative isolation from the mainland. The island is home to the Pemba flying fox.
There are no large wild animals in Zanzibar, and forest areas such as Jozani are inhabited by monkeys, bush-pigs and small antelopes. Civets – and rumor has it, the elusive Zanzibar leopard! Various species of mongoose can also be found on the island. There is a wide variety of birdlife, and a large number of butterflies in rural areas. The coral reefs that surround the East Coast are rich in marine diversity, and make Zanzibar an ideal location for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Kilwa – meaning ‘Place of Fish’ – is the collective name given to three different areas on the Tanzanian coast: Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko. Visitors come here to explore UNESCO-listed ruins that tell the story of centuries of coastal history.
Kilwa isn’t located on the usual tourist route, so the quality of accommodation isn’t as high, and apart from visiting the ruins there isn’t a great deal to do. However, travellers who want to learn a little more about the colourful history of this area will find it an adventurous addition to an off-beat itinerary.
Kilwa Kisiwani is an abandoned city filled with crumbling mosques, remnants of once glorious palaces, and ancient tombs. Said to be one of the most important-surviving relicts of the Islamic-influenced Swahili maritime trade, it’s quite rightly the main attraction for visitors to the area. The island can be reached by a short boat ride, and explored with a private guide for around US$50, including the entrance fee (which the guide will buy on your behalf from the Department of Antiquities). The trip takes at least half a day, or a full day if you want to combine it with Songo Mnara
According to local historians, the island was settled in the 11th century by Ali bin Al-Hasan of Persia, who ruled over the island for 40 years. The dynasty he founded was credited with having established Kilwa as a significant trade centre. Over the next two centuries, various successors ruled and were overthrown, but they built impressive coral-stone houses and lavish mosques – the remains of which can still be seen today.
When the Portuguese took over the coastline in 1505 they assumed control of Kilwa Kisiwani. They murdered the majority of the residents and replaced the Arab palaces with forts. Today, a small number of local fishermen live on the island, but for the most part it is deserted.
Kilwa Kivinje – a small town on the mainland – was once the southern centre of the slave trade with up to 20,000 slaves passing through annually and, consequently, it was very wealthy. Outlawed in 1873, the slave trade is still thought to have continued in Kilwa Kivinje until 1880. Afterwards, the Germans took over the town and used it as an administrative centre, but following the end of World War II the town gradually lost importance and today it is a small port. Travellers can visit the big fort with a cannon leftover from World War I, an old German market hall, as well as an attractive beach where you can watch the local fishermen. Very few people visit the area, so it provides an authentic insight into Tanzanian life.
The most modern of the three ‘Kilwas’, Kilwa Masoko is where most people base themselves to visit the ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani. There is little of historical interest here, but Jimbizi Beach – where Kimbilio Hotel is situated – is pleasant enough for a day or two.
Although not part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, the neighbouring Mafia Archipelago deserves to be better-known – even if we are often glad that it isn’t! Come for a handful of great-value tiny beach lodges, and great snorkelling and diving. They’re not glitzy or glamorous – but they’re good!
Mafia Island is one of the five sleepy, tropical islands which are clustered together in the Indian Ocean, known as the Mafia Archipelago. They are a 35-minute flight from Dar es Salaam and, compared with Zanzibar, they are relatively little known – yet if you are seeking an undisturbed beach holiday, they are well worth considering.
On arriving at Mafia’s tiny airport (a grass runway, a windsock and a hut) it is clear that the pace of life is slow here. Sandy roads lead through the one-street capital of Kilindoni, then friendly farming and fishing villages. At the coast you’ll find mangrove forests, a few short stretches of golden beach and a brilliant turquoise sea. Sleepy dhows float between the islands.
All five islands of the archipelago – Mafia, Jibondo, Juani, Chole and Bwejuu – have lush vegetation and wildlife, with coconut palms, baobabs, cashew, mango and papaya trees in the interior. These are home to bushbabies, wild pigs, blue duikers, genets, vervet monkeys and Pteropus fruit bats (flying foxes). On the coast, mangrove forests and tidal flats attract endless sea birds.
Mafia Island Marine Park
It is the ocean here that is the great attraction. In 1995, the Mafia Island Marine Park was formed to protect the archipelago’s reefs. Within Chole Bay, the shallow reefs are perfect for snorkelling or learning to dive. Outside the bay, its entrance is guarded by a long coral wall, attracting more experienced divers. Here are more than 50 genera of coral, including giant table corals, huge stands of blue-tipped stag horn corals, and over 400 species of fish.
This is one of Tanzania’s best areas for diving. You’ll always see something exciting, from rainbow-coloured clownfish to octopus, rays and the odd gigantic grouper or large potato cod. Sharks and dolphins are found in the deeper waters, and at night turtles crawl onto remote beaches to nest. (Note that due to local winds and currents, dive sites outside the bay are often only safely accessible from about mid-September to the end of February.)