The north coast (Nungwi and Kendwa) has the most popular beaches on Zanzibar because swimming in the ocean is possible all day. (The east and south coasts are affected by the tides: at low tide swimming in the ocean is not possible because the ocean recedes back to the coral reef.) These beaches are crowded, especially in high season, and noisy at night due to parties happening all over the place. If you want it more quiet choose the east side of Nungwi, close to the sandbank. Kendwa is a bit more laid back than Nungwi but still with lots of action.
Especially the east coast of the island is protected by coral reefs that make swimming safe – no sharks or huge waves. At low tide you cannot swim in the Indian Ocean at the east and south coasts. The beaches are very flat, hence the ocean recedes at low tide out to the coral reef, which is anything between 1 and 1.5 km offshore. You can walk out towards the coral reef at low tide. Watch out for the black sea urchins, spiky things that you don’t want to step into. They are clearly visible so watch your step and wear special shoes. Also don’t pick up cone shells – see page To do and not to do.
Rather book a hotel with a pool if you want to swim all day. To check the times of high and low tide during your visit please check http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/calendar/year/7156.html
Matemwe is opposite the Mnemba Atoll, you can take a boat there for diving and snorkelling. Some divers told me Mnemba Atoll is almost as beautiful as the Barrier Reef. Matemwe has a beautiful white sand beach that Zanzibar is famous for.
Kiwengwa is called “little Italy” because of its popularity with Italians. Mostly all inclusive resorts. It also has a beautiful white sand beach.
Pongwe and Uroa are quiet places with sandy beaches interrupted by rocky terrain. Quite remote, mostly with all inclusive hotels. There are hardly any restaurants or bars in that area. Access to the beach can be difficult if you didn’t book a hotel at the beach.
My favourite beaches are at the SOUTH EAST COAST of Zanzibar. You can walk on an almost 20 km stretch of white sand beaches lined with coconut trees from Jambiani via Paje, Bwejuu, Dongwe, Pingwe to Michamvi.
Jambiani offers white sand beaches with some rocky patches in between. It is quite popular. You have a good choice of restaurants and bars. If you plan to travel by dala dala: only a few dala dalas drive to Jambiani, most of them go to Paje and then drive north to Bwejuu, Dongwe and Michamvi.
Paje is the main village at the south east coast; it is very popular with kitesurfers. Be aware that the beaches are crowded with kites during kite season and swimming in the ocean is almost impossible during that time, if not dangerous. If you stay in Paje during kite season just walk a few minutes till you find a peaceful beach and safe swimming. Luckily we are blessed with an almost 20 km stretch of beach, there is a perfect place for everyone. Kitesurf seasons are from mid December till end of February and from mid/end May till October. Paje offers a big selection of bars and restaurants.
If you want peace and quiet on a seemingly endless stretch of white sand beach look at Bwejuu. Here you find quaint guesthouses and small resorts right at the beach. My favourite beach is at the north end of Bwejuu: Even in high season I hardly see anyone when I walk on the beach. You have an option of several restaurants and bars along the beach.
Further north is Dongwe which offers all inclusive resorts, also with beautiful white sand beaches. Here you find the Blue Lagoon, excellent for snorkelling even at low tide.
Pingwe/Michamwi beach is quiet and laid back. At Pingwe beach you find the famous Rock Restaurant. Because of the shape of the Michamvi peninsula you can watch gorgeous sunsets from there, although it is at the east coast. Not to be missed should you be in the area.
The WEST COAST is my least favorite part. Especially at the southern end (Kizimkazi) it is very rocky and there are only small patches of sand. Also, the sand at most of the west coast is coarse yellow, not the amazing white sand Zanzibar is famous for.
Snorkeling: The best snorkeling is at Chumbe Island Coral Park with its fully protected coral reef sanctuary (www.chumbeisland.com). You can book a day trip or even stay there a night or two.
Also, the Safari Blue tour (www.safariblue.net) is highly recommended. You will be out on a boat all day, snorkeling, dolphins might choose to swim with you, BBQ lunch on a sandbank etc. Make sure you book with them, there are many cheap copies around, you will be disappointed.
Snorkeling at the Mnemba Attoll off Matemwe at the the north east coast is recommend if you don’t mind to snorkel-dive since the corals are a few meters down.
At the south east coast where you find the best white sand beaches lined with coconut trees, best snorkeling is at the Blue Lagoon off the coast of Dongwe.
Otherwise you can snorkel at the coral reefs off the entire east coast of the island at low tide.