Zanzibar, along with nearby Pemba Island lies just off the coast of Tanzania and is a heady mix of tropical island life and historic Swahili culture that has beckoned travellers for centuries. During our years of living and working in Tanzania, we often took time out here, and have wound our way through Zanzibar's crumbling streets and padded along the miles of soft white beaches working out how to make the most of this fabulous island.
In a nutshell, the first basic choice you'll need to make on Zanzibar is between beach and heritage - and you can, luckily, do both. Zanzibar's Stone Town is the vibrant, cultural heart of Zanzibar, the ancient capital of the sultans and site of the main trading port. As it has been a major hub for traders, explorers, and invaders for centuries, it boasts most of the historic buildings. As the island's only proper town, it is still very much alive and bustles with activity. Many visitors choose to stay a couple of nights here to really get the vibe of the place.
There are also a number of beaches near Stone Town, either a little way north or south of the town,or on small islands that lie a short distance from the harbour in the Zanzibar channel. These places offer a great way to get a bit of everything, with private hotels that allow an easy trip to Stone Town at any time of the day, and peace and quiet for some blissing out at the beach. Serious beach fanatics will head for the east coast of Zanzibar, which is lined with long white stretches of fabulous sands, the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean and a good variety of beach hotels. Though development has been fast and dramatic along this coastline in recent years, many of the beaches are still pratically empty of tourists, and traditional coastal village life continues unabated.
Some of the most lovely beaches are to be found on the north coast of Zanzibar,which because the island ends here in a sharp point, encompasses some eastern and western coastline. Here the sea is textbook turquoise, the beaches smaller, often more exclusive, and, most importantly for underwater adventurers, yields a wide and wonderful choice of snorkelling and dive sites within easy reach of all the hotels. As Zanzibar is a small island - 53 miles long by, at its widest point, 23 miles wide - these beaches are far flung enough to feel well castaway, yet they are still less than two hours' drive from the airport and Stone Town. The largest island beyond the main island of Zanzibar (or Unguja) itself, is Pemba Island,which lies 25 miles north north east. A little smaller than Zanzibar, and much, much less developed , it has superbly beautiful seas, world renowned diving and real tropical tranquillity, and is one of the most stunning islands on the whole African coast.