Zanzibar; romantic, exotic archipelago, redolent of Arabian nights and Indian Ocean indolence. Only 15 minutes flight from the mainland, the wonderfully sleepy island of Zanzibar is one of East Africa's finest beach destinations, surrounded by coral reefs with idyllic beaches lined by huge sweeping palm trees. Zanzibar beaches are the obvious addition to a safari on mainland Tanzania.
Though many visitors spend a night or two in Stone Town, the charismatic island capital, the real attraction of is its glorious coral sand beaches, and the fantastic snorkelling and diving. Tourism has eclipsed spice trading as the main form of income, but islands retain their rustic African charm despite the developments of the last decade. Zanzibar is a land apart, entirely charismatic and well worth a visit.
Zanzibar: the geography
Zanzibar is much larger than one might expect; driving from north to south takes at least two hours. Stone Town and the airport are located on the west coast, and transfers to/ from any beach lodge take about an hour. The best areas for a Zanzibar beach holiday are to the east and north of the island, where the coastline has miles and miles of seemingly endless beaches, and a wealth of accommodation options. The beaches to the west, (where Stone Town is located), and to the south of Zanzibar are generally less good.
Zanzibar Beaches: where to stay - top end
We are thrilled to have tried and tested the new finessed beach-chic style White Sand Villas
in south eastern Zanzibar, filling a gap in the market for top end accommodation of this kind, it suits our dream perfectly! Its sumptuously vast villas provide clean, simple and yet brilliantly appointed respite, privately swathed in fab sandy gardens.
In the same price bracket but in a different, luxuriant arabic style, the sister hotels Baraza and The Palms are also amongst the finest hotels on the island. Baraza has 36 bungalows each with a private plunge pool; this is our favourite hotel for families wanting the best the island can offer. The Palms next door has only six rooms and offers a more intimate experience that fits very well with couples wanting to keep to themselves. Any of these would be perfect for a luxury Zanzibar holiday or a Zanzibar honeymoon.
La Residence in the southwest of the island is a top-end resort with exceptionally high standards of accommodation and service (and a hefty price tag!). The quality of the beach here is our only issue, but we cannot deny the attention to detail - every wish is catered for here. Also at the top end of the market but on a smaller scale is Kilindi, an elaborately designed and very private hotel with amazing rooms, though the beach is not as good as it should be.
There are no qualms about the beach on Mnemba Island, off Zanzibar's northeast tip. Mnemba provides the very best beach accommodation on Zanzibar, on a tiny private island with the finest beach in the whole of Africa, with only ten rustic-style rooms. Needless to say, Mnemba costs an absolute fortune, but it is truly exceptional. On balance, after much debate among our consultants and clients familiar with the world's top beach hotels, we feel that Mnemba justifies its price tag.
Zanzibar Holidays: where to stay - mid-range
Up a notch or two in the $250 - $350 pppn bracket, general standards of accommodation and service are very high, and hotels often have facilities such as dive centres and tennis courts etc. One of our favourites in this category is Ras Nungwi
on the northern tip. With all the facilities of a large resort but only 28 rooms, Nungwi consistently delivers great service and fantastic value for money. It also has the best dive centre on the island!
is another old favourite in the office, but this one seems to split opinion amongst travellers... The beach here is poor in comparison to elsewhere, but this is a good bet for those seeking quiet seclusion. The largest resort-style hotel in this category that we use is Breezes Beach Club
, a great-value resort with finely tuned operations and rooms that suit families as well as those on a Tanzania honeymoon
. This is one of the best resorts on the island.
Zanzibar Holidays: where to stay - bottom end
The most economical hotels that we use for a Zanzibar holiday are Shooting Star, Sunshine Hotel
and Echo Beach
. All are well established, good value small hotels that have good beaches and personal service. Shooting Star is the oldest of the bunch and with its location on the top of a cliff it has the best views on Zanzibar. The rooms are spacious and the food and service very good for the price. Mchanga is a similar style lodge with the same owners, located further north from Shooting Star. With only 10 rooms it’s much smaller and has a cosier feel. The pick of the bunch however is Echo Beach, further south on Zanzibar's southerly-east beach. Echo Beach offers charming accommodation, fantastic food cooked by the owner Andrew and a beautifully relaxed approach to service, making Echo our favourite lodge in this price bracket.
While we try and make our website as comprehensive as possible, if you would like some more background information on Zanzibar, or Tanzania in general, we do still recommend the Cadogan Guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar
, written by our director Annabel. The most recent edition was published in 2005, so some of it is slightly dated - but generally it’s as comprehensive as they come, with great history research.