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Fresh-caught fish. Juicy local fruits. The bluest waters. Perfect kitesurfing winds. If this sounds like the makings of your perfect vacation, then add Zanzibar to your itinerary.
To be honest, Zanzibar wasn’t initially on the top of my travel bucket list. It is super far from the US, and it always sounded expensive. The only reason we planned a trip was because I have some family on the island and we were already visiting Africa (although realistically traveling from Namibia to Zanzibar took just about as long as it would have if we were flying from the US).
But after two weeks in Zanzibar, on Jambiani Beach to be precise, I absolutely fell in love. Between the beautiful beach days, and year-round almost perfect weather, the friendliest locals, and the yummiest fresh dishes, there isn’t much not to like about Zanzibar.
So let’s dive into planning a perfect holiday vacation in Zanzibar. But first, here are some popular tours on the island:
Things to know before visiting Zanzibar
- The island is predominantly Muslim. It’s important to be mindful and respectful of the local religion and customs.
- The local language in Zanzibar is Swahili, which is spoken across Tanzania, as well as in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Malawi. Locals will strongly enourage you to learn some Swahili, so I recommend learning a few basic words and phrases before you arrive.
- The island is really big with terrible roads, plan your itinerary accordingly.
- Alcohol is not sold at regular markets, only at the liquor store.
- There is no ATM in Jambiani beach. You will either need to go to Paje or visit the Masai shop where they will exchange your dollars or euros for a good rate.
- The Masai Shop is the best place to go for anything you need – cold water, snacks, money exchange, taxis.
Basic phrases in Zanzibar Swahili
- Jambo! – Hello!
- Mambo – What’s up?
- Poa – Cool (response to ‘mambo’)
- Hakuna matata – No problem
- Karibu (sana) – You’re (very) welcome
- Usiku mwema – Good night
- Hakuna matata – No problem
- Hapana – No
How to get to Jambiani Beach, Zanzibar
Before we get into the nitty gritty details on getting to Jambiani Beach, it is first important to understand how to get to Zanzibar itself, since it is an island!
There are two main ways that you can get from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar: by flight or by ferry.
If you are not a local, the prices for both the ferry and the flight from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar island are actually just about the same, around $35 USD each way. So it really comes down to travel preference.
Getting to Zanzibar by plane
We took a plane to Zanzibar and the ferry back. As someone who gets motion sickness, I personally think the flying is a much more comfortable and enjoyable way to make the journey between mainland and island.
There are a number of airlines that operate between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. These include Precision Air, AuricAir, and Coastal Aviation. If you typically book using Google Flights, just know that you will need to click into the airline websites for exact pricing details.
If you are flying into Tanzania from another country and will already be at the airport, then flying to Zanzibar is definitely the easiest, and most comfortable option. I think our flight took less than 30 minutes.
Getting between mainland and Zanzibar is super easy and budget-friendly by ferry. You should buy your tickets at least 1-2 days in advance to guarantee a seat.
Note, if you typically get sick on boats then you’ll want to take something beforehand. The ferry terminal in Dar can be super hectic, so I recommend coordinating your car pick up from the ferry port ahead of time.
Getting around Jambiani
Even though Jambiani Beach is only a small part of the island, it is still quite big. However, for the most part you can get around on food. It is usually fastest to walk along the beach itself, but this will depend on the time of day because of the tide.
If you want to go somewhere a bit further, you can either rent a bike or order a taxi. Either have your hotel order you a car or you can walk over the the main Massai shop and ask them to order one for you.
If you are going from Jambiani to Paje, you shouldn’t pay more than 15K – $6 USD (most locals and expats only pay 10K – $4 USD). Later at night you might need to settle for 20K – $8 USD. Don’t be afraid to haggle!
Where to stay on Zanzibar
The island of Zanzibar is actually quite large! In fact, between the distance and the poor roads, it takes many hours to drive across the entire island. For this reason, you’ll want to choose your base or bases clearly.
When we arrived on Zanzibar we planned to only spend a few nights on Jambiani Beach, and then spend the next couple of weeks moving around the island. But we actually ended up spending 14 nights in Jambiani, followed by just a single night in Stonetown and then a final night in Dar es Salaam before our flight out.
Since we visited Zanzibar while traveling full-time, we did so on a pretty tight budget. For a basic, beachfront accomodation we booked this Airbnb.
Here are some other great options:
- The Loop Beach Resort
- New Teddy’s on the Beach
- Villa Malaika
- Bamboo Zanzibar
- Passion Boutique Hotel Zanzibar
- Kupaga Villas Boutique Hotel
We love slow traveling and developing a routine, so staying in Jambiani was perfect for us. However, if you’re looking to explore a bit more then here are a few other areas to stay:
Paje: the hip area just next door to Jambiani. You’ll find lots of boutique hotels and guesthouses. Very touristy area.
Nungwi: Fanciest area to stay in Zanzibar. Lots of nice hotels and tourists.
Stonetown: the main city in Zanzibar. I recommend spending at least a night here to enjoy the city after dark.
Best restaurants in Zanzibar
Let’s talk about where to eat in Zanzibar, because food is always my favorite topic for any destination. I didn’t really know what to expect for the cuisine in Zanzibar, but we were really blown away by all of the delicious, fresh seafood.
There are a few staples that you should expect to eat in Zanzibar: fresh fruits, fresh fish, and lots of curries. You can expect a lot of delicious, fresh fruit smoothies. I think we ordered either a fresh juice or smoothie with just about every meal.
There are a lot of influences in the food from India, Turkey, and a number of other Arabic countries. This means that not only will you find lots of curries, but also chapati, samosas, and spiced rice dishes. If you like your food to be spicy, ask for some fresh ‘pili pili’ on the side, local hot chili peppers.
But let’s dive into my favorite restaurants in Zanzibar, and what to order at each.
Panyopa was a quick fan favorite for us, partially because it was directly next to our house. But also because the food is absolutely delicious. The restaurant is super simple, serving local seafood dishes with an oceanfront view.
The chef and staff are super lovely, but service is very slow. It is not unusual to wait up to an hour for your meal, so I recommend bringing a book or deck of cards while you wait.
What to order: mango juice, fish samosas, Swahili style fish curry
Our first meal at Chez Hassan is one that I think I’ll be talking about for the next five years. To be specific it was the Poisson Cru with a side of fresh, hot chapati and olive oil. All I can say is go to Zanzibar, go to Chez Hassan, and order just that.
They also do a number of seafood curries. They technically sell wine and beer, but they were sold out everytime we went, so maybe bring your own or enjoy a fresh smoothie instead.
In true Zanzibar style, expect the wait for your food to be long.
What to order: you already know, Poisson Cru with a side of fresh, hot chapati and olive oil
Right along the main road of Jambiani Beach “town” you’ll find this gem. We visited a few times during our stay in Zanzibar for our favorites, specifically their avocado mango tuna salad. Yum! It’s technically considered a starter but its packed with grilled tuna so it is definitely enough for a light meal in my opinion.
You can’t really go wrong with anything on their menu though! Service also tends to be a bit faster than other local spots.
What to order: avocado mango tuna salad and maharage (typical dish with coconut sauce, rice, spinach, and beans)
It’s rare that I recommend a restaurant at a boutique hotel but I still dream about ceviche from their lovely restaurant. The hotel is centrally located in Jambiani, located on the beach right next to Lucky Kite.
Prices are a bit high by local standards, but well worth it for the standard of quality. They have a beautiful area to hang out and chill for a few hours. When we were taking daily kitesurfing lessons at Lucky Kite, we treated ourselves to a delicious late lunch of ceviche each day.
What to order: fresh fish ceviche or tuna carpaccio, both served with toasted bread and fresh ‘pilipili’ (local hot chili peppers)
Jiwe’s Swahili Kitchen
If you’re looking for typical Swahili dishes in a super cozy and welcoming atmosphere then Jiwe’s Swahili Kitchen is for you. Traditional dishes include Mchuzi wa Nazi, Ndizi tamu and and traditional Zanzibar Pulao (rice with spices).
This is the type of spot you’ll want to keep coming back to during your time on Zanzibar.
Kimte Beach Guesthouse & Restaurant
A great spot right on the beach for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks – you name it! Kimte was our go-to spot for a few drinks in the evening (a Campari spritz for me, of course). The food here is also really good, with a large variety of options available.
What to order: tuna tartare, guacamole toast
Mr Kahawa Cafe
Located in Jambiani’s neighbor town, Paje, Mr Kahawa Cafe is a great healthy cafe if you’re looking for something a bit less local. Hearty salads and bowls, baked goods, and non-dairy milk is the scene at Mr Kahawa.
It is also a great place to hang out and get some work done with strong wifi and a beachfront view.
Buying groceries in Zanzibar
If you’re staying in Jambiani, do not expect any sort of supermarket. But if you’re looking for the basics such as fruits, veggies, rice, milk, snacks, you’ll have no problem finding what you need. If you don’t see what you need, just ask! They can often get items from Stonetown for you.
In Jambiani, here are the markets that I recommend shopping at:
- Masai’s Mini Market
- Mr MZEE groceries
If you’re looking for more specialty items, then your best bet is to head to Paje, or of course you can always shop in Stonetown.
Things to do in Zanzibar
To be completely honest, despite spending over two weeks in Zanzibar, we didn’t really do all that much sightseeing.
1. Learn to kitesurf
One of the most popular things to do on Zanzibar is to learn how to kitesurf (or simply go kitesurfing if you already know how). With shallow, warm waters and consistently strong winds, it is on the top kitesurfing spots in the world.
Completely new to the sport? Stop by Lucky Kite for a 9 hour beginner course that guarantees to get you up on the board by the end of the 3 day course.
It was my first time and I absolutely loved it – such a fun way to stay active and challenge myself while traveling.
Note: there are lots of kite companies available but I highly recommend Lucky Kite. This is partially bias because they are family, but the instructors are really fantastic.
2. Take a boat trip on a local Dhow boat
One of the best ways to enjoy Zanzibar is from the water. This can be done on a super casual Dhow boat or as a full day boat trip, stopping at an island for lunch and snorkelling.
Here is a high-rated tour to check out for a Safari Blue, or you can book locally once you arrive.
3. Visit the local caves
Popular caves in Zanzibar include:
- Kuza Cave
- Maalum Cave
We visited Maalum Cave, which is located in Paje just up the road from Jambiani Beach. Entry costs 40,000 Tsh ($17 USD) for a 90 minute slot. This also includes a towel, goggles, lockers and swim shoes.
Overall it was a fun experience but the cave pools were a bit smaller than I was expecting. Maalum really reminded be of all of the beautiful cenotes near Tulum, Mexico.
4. Enjoy the beaches – Jambiani beach and Paje beach
The beautiful beaches and bright blue waters are probably one of the main reasons that you booked a trip to Zanzibar in the first place. What I love about Jambiani Beach, especially compared to other beaches in Zanzibar, is that there are way less people trying to sell you things. You can actually enjoy a day on the beach without being hassled every other minute.
The tides shift dramatically throughout the day, so at times the water is super far out (as far as a mile offshore). You’ll want to plan your swims according to the water cycle.
5. Try the local cuisine – seafood curries and fresh fish
As I’ve said many times in this article already, the food in Jambiani Beach is really fantastic. Especially if you love seafood like us!
Here are a few of the best restaurants to check out:
- Chez Hassan
6. Spend a day in Stonetown
If you’re basing yourself in Jambiani Beach for your vacation in Zanzibar, I still highly recommend spending a full day (and evening overnighting) in Stonetown. You can also choose to visit at the end of your trip, on your way back to Dar, like we did.
Here are a few things that I recommend doing:
- Enjoy a rooftop dinner at the Emerson hotel
- Visit the Old Fort
- Stop by Jaws Corner and hang out with the locals
- Try haggling at the local market
If it is in your budget, a night at the Emerson hotel is a beautiful stay.
8. Learn about the local spices with a spice tour
Another really fun thing to do on Zanzibar, as a day trip from Jambiani Beach, is to sign up for a spice tour. If you are already planning to visit Stonetown, then you can do this on your way there, since it is in the middle of the island about 1.5 hours from Jambiani.
We booked our tour through messaging the number available for Abeid Spice Farm. They also helped us to coordinate our transfer both from Jambiani Beach and to Stonetown.
🏘️ Book your accommodation
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