What are the best things to do in Zanzibar and how to spend a few relaxing days on this beautiful island? After an exhausting but super exciting self-drive safari in the north of Tanzania, we went to the paradise island of Zanzibar off East Africa’s coast for a few days. From Dar es Salaam we took a ferry across and flew back by plane. You can read about the sights we discovered on Zanzibar in our report.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
How to get to Zanzibar Island
After spending a whole week on a safari in our Landrover on the dusty tracks of northern Tanzania, we wanted to treat ourselves to a few days of relaxation in Zanzibar – as probably most other vacationers do. Since the direct flights from Arusha (where we dropped off our Landrover) to Zanzibar were quite expensive (almost 200 €), we decided to take a cheaper but also longer route.
How to get to the Zanzibar archipelago from Arusha
We flew from Arusha (Kilimanjaro Airport – JRO), which is about 1h outside of Arusha, to Dar es Salaam. There we slept in a cheap hotel near the harbor (cab costs from the airport to the city: about 20€). At the hotel we had already reserved tickets for the ferry to Zanzibar. We had read that you have to pay the tickets 24h before on site. If you arrive, as we did, only the evening before, this is of course impossible.
By Ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar Island
The next morning we took a cab again for a few dollars to the ferry port. There our pre-booked ferry tickets (30$) should be ready at the counter. Of course, this was not the case, so we had to choose between the expensive (50$) and the very expensive tickets (60$). After some discussion with the not-so-nice lady behind the counter, we were persuaded and wanted to spend the $50 per person.
Of course, they were then no longer available and only the very expensive ones for $60 were available. We had briefly considered not to go along with this rip-off and to go later in the day, but that would have reduced our little time, which we have anyway only on Zanzibar, even further. So we paid $60 and boarded our VIP cabin, which was also really very comfortable.
Tips for the Ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar
There are 2 ferry providers from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar. With one of them (Zanzibar Quest) you can also book the tickets online, but the reviews on the net are off the charts. And since we did not want to spend our vacation at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, we chose the provider that you can book online (Azam Marine), but do not pay.
The tickets you have to pay 12h before on the spot. You can also book the tickets on the spot, but if you don’t want to wait several hours for the next available seat (the ferry leaves at 07:00, 09:30, 12:30 and 15:30) then booking and paying for the tickets in advance is highly recommended.
On the spot, as far as we know, there are 2 counters to buy tickets (one inside the terminal and one outside) and unfortunately you can only pay in cash (but mixed dollars and shillings). You can find the ferry terminal of Dar es Salaam here on Google Maps.
Hotel Recommendation in Zanzibar
This small hotel on the beautiful beach of Jambiani was the perfect choice for us. The super delicious breakfast was served on the terrace, from where you have a breathtaking view of the turquoise blue sea. The hotel also includes a bar with a very good restaurant, where we enjoyed the sunset in the evening.Blue Reef Fishing Lodge at Booking.com*
Are Cabs really that expensive on Zanzibar Island?
Arrived in Zanzibar we had to queue in the long immigration line. Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania, but is somehow also an autonomous island, so at least you get another stamp in your passport. In advance we had read a lot about the expensive cab prices. A cab ride to the opposite side of the island should cost 60$. On site, we were also directly addressed by some drivers.
These had called us directly a cheaper price. And after some negotiating we were driven for only 20$ to our hotel at Jambiani Beach. The drive takes almost an hour. But this was really a bargain price. For the return trip 5 days later directly to the airport we had then a price of 35$ dollars, which is still okay for the almost one-hour drive.
For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned here, there is of course also a bus that goes to the other side of the island and is of course much cheaper. However, we were somewhat deterred by travel times up to 3 hours and have therefore opted for the slightly more expensive cab ride.
The Best Things to do in Zanzibar Island
Already from Germany we had rented a nice beach hut at the Blue Reef Fishing Lodge*. This is located in the south of Jambiani Beach, which is in turn located in the south of the island. Since there are quite a few beaches, and then also the east coast and the west coast of the island to choose from, we also had to think first… Which beach of Zanzibar is actually the best?
Most hotels and resorts are on the west coast. There the beach falls very, very flat into the sea. This means that at low tide you have to walk 500-600 meters over the mudflats to get into the water. And on the way to the sea you have to avoid the sea grass farms and numerous sea urchins. Good swimming shoes are highly recommended. Or you can just stay on the beach and wait for the tide.
On Jambiani, due to the strong wind, there are a lot of kitesurfers. So it is also possible to take a kitesurfing course. But this course was a bit too expensive for us with more than 300 USD. And so we were content with a boat tour and a walk to the reef edge as an excursion on the beach.
Snorkeling Trip in Jambiani
This excursion only cost us $25, so it was a lot cheaper. If you want to book a boat tour you just have to walk on the beach. There you will often be approached and can negotiate time, price and scope of the excursion.
We liked the boat tour on a traditional dhow very much. During the boat trip you can watch again and again the colorful shining starfish in the crystal clear water. The boat stops after some time at a place for snorkeling, where you can look closely at the underwater world. Unfortunately there was not much to see in the sea in front of Jambiani.
For snorkeling or even diving trips, the north of Zanzibar or the islands of Mafia or Mnemba are therefore much better suited. After the snorkeling tour there was an excursion along the reef edge. Here a lot is explained about the underwater world and you can discover more new things.
If you decide to go on this excursion, it is best to wear long clothes. During the 3-4 hour trip you are continuously exposed to the blazing sun… we had a proper sunburn the next 2 days.
Real Life behind the Hotel Facilities
Sunburn was also the first reason we went to the small village just behind the hotel promenade. We urgently needed after sun lotion. The stores are very small and have only a small selection of drinks, food and cosmetics. If you need more you have to go to the next bigger town. Here you will also be confronted with the real life behind the tourism.
The contrast between fancy hotels and absolute poverty could not be bigger. Especially for the children we always gave them something to eat, drink and or some money. The children also met us again and again on the beach and had a lot of fun especially with our drone.
Things to do in Zanzibar: Jozani Forest
Another Zanzibar sightseeing excursion we did from our hotel was to Jozani Forest in the middle of the island. From our hotel, we took a cab for $10 and had it drop us off just outside the park. Most drivers want to collect money directly for the entrance fee. This can be avoided, however, if one can be dropped off quite a bit before the park and walk in the Jozani.
On the one hand we just joined a tour group and on the other hand we walked partly alone through the forest. On the side with the huts and toilets you can walk through the jungle and look at the plants and trees. You actually have to pay admission, but there are no real controls.
On the opposite side there is another jungle and along the road watch the colobus monkeys of Jozani Forest. Since the monkeys are used to people you can get relatively close to the monkeys. Most people who take a guided tour drive from the national park to the mangrove forest. However, the route can also be mastered within 20-25 minutes well on foot.
Through the mangrove forest leads a wooden walkway, which you can comfortably walk along within 15 minutes and watch the crabs with their big red claws. For the organization of your stay in Zanzibar it is important to know that the only ATM is in Stonetown. So pack enough money. In some hotels it is also possible to withdraw money at the hotel and have it charged to your credit card. It is best to clarify this before your arrival.
Our conclusion about the best things to do in Zanzibar
We found Jambiani in Zanzibar to be very cool, but not overwhelming. The atmosphere was very relaxed and for 2-3 days of chillaxing you will be fine here. If you have more time on Zanzibar, you should move on to the next beach every few.
If you’ve already been to Zanzibar, leave us a comment with your favorite beach or your favorite things to do in Zanzibar!!!!