Tanzania's islands offer the perfect, secluded beach getaway. Often combined with a Tanzania safari, the islands and coast are a great place to unwind for a few days.
Whether purely for a beach getaway or as a combination with a Tanzania safari in the Northern Parks, Selous, Ruaha and other parks, this area of East Africa is truly stunning.
The most well known island in the region is Unguja (more commonly known as Zanzibar), which is the largest island in the Zanzibar archipelago, which consists of over 50 islands. We then have the more remote and quiet , home to a fantastic marine park; Pemba Island, with its more traditional feel, relaxed nature and a fantastic experience to immerse yourself in island life, and then several superb smaller islands and off the beaten track places on the Tanzania Coast.
We would point out however that choosing where to stay is a fine art as each island and area may well suit one person, but maybe not the next. If you would like to go further than just the main island of Unguja, or look to experience another island or area in combination with Unguja, we emphatically recommend doing so.We can advise on where we feel would be best for you by getting to know you and your interests.
Islands & Coasts FAQs
What makes Zanzibar Island so special?
Zanzibar Island or Unguja as it is referred to is world-renowned for its idyllic beaches, warm tropical waters and fantastic balmy weather. This archipelago is also famous for its crystal clear waters, colourful coral reefs and rich marine diversity making it the perfect playground for snorkelling and scuba diving. It also has some of the best diving spots in the world. But it is also the people of Zanzibar that make it so special with their friendly and welcoming nature always greating with 'Hakuna matata' (which translates 'there are no troubles' in Swahili).
How expensive is Zanzibar?
As far as beach holidays go it is mid-range and can start off from around $400 - $600 per person per night sharing. There are a number of activities and full board included in most packages, but things like scuba diving and other island excursions may be an additional cost. There are some great hotels in Stonetown to start off with at great prices and then the resorts on other parts of the island vary in price depending on the degree of luxury needed.
When is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
The best time to visit the Zanzibar archipelago is during the dry season from June to September. It is, however, worthwhile travelling at most times of the year as the temperatures are mostly between 28°C (82°F) and 34°C (93°F). The only thing to remember is that November to March there are quite a number of daily showers which could hamper those lazy days in the sun.
Can a safari be easily combined with a beach holiday in Zanzibar?
This is an additional reason Zanzibar, Pemba Island and Mafia Island are so attractive to safari-goers, as it is very well positioned and within a short flight's distance from Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda or the Congo. Many visitors just love to end off their exciting safaris with a few days soaking up the rays of this tropical paradise. It is really a great way to relax and unwind before heading back home.
What are some of the best hotels and resorts in Zanzibar?
There are many hotels and resorts to choose from on the main island of Zanzibar (Unguja) and these all vary from mid-range to luxury and even exclusive. Most hotels in Stonetown are comfortable, clean and enjoyable to stay in and a place like Matemwe Retreat on the eastern side of Unguja comes with your own private butler and chef and the luxury villa is so big you may never want to step foot outside of it. Two of our favourite lodges are The Manta Resort on the northern tip of Pemba Island and Fundu Lagoon on the southern part of Pemba. The floating room at the Manta is well known and our hidden gem is Fundu Lagoon for that Robinson Crusoe feel. Both have exceptional snorkelling and scuba diving spots.
The coastline of Tanzania may not be the first area that springs to mind when looking for a beach option to add onto safari. However, there are several places along this beautiful 'Swahili Coast' that are well worth considering if you are the type who likes to be away from it all and have long open stretches of beach and islands pretty much to yourself. Often these areas will also give you the chance to immerse yourself in local culture and see how people go about their daily lives away from the influence of larger tourist areas.
On the Tanzania Coast for those looking for the perfect 3-4 night beach escape look no further than the truly off the beaten track island retreat of Fanjove Private Island.
Lying to the south of Unguja, Mafia Island is home to just over 40,000 people and its population mainly relies on subsistence agriculture, fishing and the main market on the island. Tourism is not advanced at all here and the main reason for tourists to visit Mafia is for top quality scuba diving, game fishing and pure relaxation away from it all.
In 1995 the WWF helped to set up Tanzania's first Marine Park with the aim of protecting the area whilst improving the socio-economic well-being of the local communities through the sustainable, participatory and equitable utilization and protection of their natural resources.
Mafia itself consists of one large island and several smaller islands including Chole Island, only 2 square kilometres and with a population of around 1,500 people. If visiting Mafia we recommend the quirky and unique Chole Mjini Lodge on the island.
Lying around 50kms north of Unguja and 50kms east of mainland Tanzania with a population of around 400,000 Pemba is a real gem of an island for those looking to get away from the crowds. For us visiting Pemba is really about giving yourself the chance to immerse yourself in island life.
The majority of Pemba is dominated by small-scale farming as the island is more fertile and hillier than Unguja. It is well known for its clove trees, with this being one of Zanzibar's largest exports, and the island is home to around 3.5 million clove trees. Locals also grow rice, bananas, cassava and much more on the island. Pemba is also home to some of the very best diving anywhere with untouched coral and abundant marine life. This is a major draw for visitors, along with those interested in game fishing and pure relaxation away from larger tourist areas.
On Pemba Island, we recommend the fun and exciting MantaResort , or the Robinson Crusoe feel of Fundu Lagoon.
Unguja is the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago and the largest of the three islands, including Mafia and Pemba, often called 'The Spice Islands.' Home to around 1.3 million people the islands main industry are spices, raffia and tourism. Visiting the island will not only mean relaxing on its beautiful beaches, but also it is well worth visiting the spice plantations, the Jozani Forest (home to the endemic Red Colobus Monkey, one of Africa's rarest primates with only around 1,500 left), and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the capital Stone Town.
A Zanzibar holiday will mean beautiful beaches, white sand and palm trees. The sea is ideal for swimming when the tide is right and there are great reefs for snorkelling and diving, especially around the Mnemba Atoll in the North-East and Menai Bay area in the South-West. With so many hotels popping up on the island over the last 10-15 years, we only recommend accommodation we know deliver in terms of experience and service.
In the North, traditionally busier with more resorts and larger hotels, you do need to be careful on where you pick and we only recommend Essque Zalu, Kilindi and then slightly further down the North-East coast Matemwe Lodge, Matemwe Retreat and Matemwe House, and of course the top island retreat of Mnemba.
On the Eastern coast, which is full of long beaches, much more relaxed, and home to many water-sports, we recommend Breezes, Baraza, Palms, Zawadi, Pongwe and Zanzibar White Sands.
Then further south, in the South-West area, which is much more remote, with smaller beaches and coves, and with a laid-back feel, we recommend The Residence.
When on Zanzibar we do feel a night or two in Stone Town is well worth considering. With its rich culture, a mixture of African and Arabic, its narrow alleys, colourful and varied shops, fascinating spice and slaving history and vibrant atmosphere, it would be a shame to miss out on visiting the capital. We recommend Zanzibar Serena Inn and Zanzibar Palace here.