Zanzibar – general info, weather, sports, tides

In general: Zanzibar is an archipelago made up mainly of  “Zanzibar” – the local name is “Unguja” but it is internationally known as Zanzibar – and Pemba Islands, as well as over 50 small islands. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 40 km from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. The island is roughly 85 km long and 39 km wide.

Culture/history: The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the west coast of the island.  Its historic center is Stone Town and it is said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. There are three buildings that I know of that have underground tunnels leading out to the ocean; these were built after the slave trade was prohibited by the British; that way the poor slaves were smuggled at low tide from the boats through the tunnels into these buildings.  Stone Town’s architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture. Stone Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Zanzibar’s main industries are spices, raffia (products made from raphia palm trees), seaweed and of course tourism.  The islands mainly produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper.  For this reason, the islands are also known as the Spice Islands. Please do try to go on a spice tour, the plantations are about 20 km north of Stone Town, it is definitely worth your while.

Language is KiSwahili but English is widely spoken especially in Stone Town, also Arabic and Italian and lately there are quite a few tour guides in town who speak German.

It is lots of fun if you try to speak some words in KiSwahili, greetings for example. You will for sure be rewarded with a bright smile. Most important word is “Jambo” which is a friendly greeting – you just reply also with “Jambo”. Thank you is “ahsante”.  For the English word “cool/okay” you can use “poa”. For more phrases, please check page “To do and not to do”.

As per the last consensus in 2012, approx. 1.3 million people live on Zanzibar island. Population growth annually is just over 3%.

ALL beaches on Zanzibar are PUBLIC beaches, they belong to the people of Zanzibar, by law. That means that a hotel’s property ends a few meters from the beach. You can take long walks on the endless beaches, uninterrupted.

One is not allowed to sleep on a beach at night. Tents on the beaches or anywhere else are not permitted on the island.

Besides the beautiful white sand beaches and delicious food, Zanzibar has quite a lot to offer.  There are quite a few lime stone caves scattered all over Zanzibar and it is believed that in ancient days people lived in these caves. Some of the caves (like Tazari in Nungwi) are believed to have been used as hiding places for slaves in the pre-colonial Zanzibar era of the slave trade. Many of the caves are home to African bats. You can watch them at sunset flying out of the cave entrance.  In Bwejuu at the south east coast is a large cave big enough to hold up to 1000 people.  It is still used as a shrine.  I mention a few of the caves on the pages “discover Zanzibar”.

Seasons/weather:
Summer: December – February with temperatures around 30-35 degC
Rainy season: March till mid June, temperatures around 25-28degC in March, when it rains around 22-25degC – the last two years we had heavy rains and floods especially from mid April till mid June. Therefore most hotels are closed during the rainy season.
Winter:  June – August, around 25 degC, with cold wind blowing especially in June
Spring: September – November, around 28-30 degCh. This is the “mini” rainy season, usually with short lived rains, sometimes though it rains for an entire day. 

In general, the east coast of Zanzibar has better weather than the west coast.

Please be aware that, as anywhere else in the world, weather patterns keep changing here too.

Weather forecast: please check google weather for forecasts, it at least gives you an indication –  there is NO weather station on Zanzibar. The closest one is in Dar es Salaam.

Sport activities include scuba diving, kitesurfing, SUP, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, wind surfing; cycling, volley ball, beach soccer etc. and golf (only at Sea Cliff Resort and Spa, 18 holes – No. 8 of the “30 of the World’s Most Beautiful Golf Courses” https://golfscape.com/blog/30-worlds-most-beautiful-golf-coursesjjj

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.

 

The African Marathon Challenge will take place in Bwejuu and Kiwengwa in September 2019. Please use the links below for details.
grafik

 

18 thoughts on “Zanzibar – general info, weather, sports, tides

  1. Your page is amazing – thank you for sharing your knowledge 🙂

    We are at Zanzibar at the moment and really want to experience the beautiful beaches the island is known for. Unfortunately our hotel do not have beach access although stated when we booked.
    So I hope you can help me: are there any public beaches or alike, where we could go? Seems most beaches “belong” to the big hotels/resorts. So how do we find the white sand, turquoise water and a sun bed? And is it safe for two younger women to just lay on the beach by themselves?
    Thank you in advance!

    Kind regards,
    Sandra

    Like

    • Hello Sandra,
      By law, all beaches on Zanzibar are public. No hotel on the island owns any part of our beaches, their properties end where the “public” beach starts which is usually a stretch of sand bordering the ocean. You didn’t write where on the island you are so I cannot be more specific.
      Beach beds are in general property of the hotel and should be on their property, not on the beach.
      As I wrote on my blog, the best white sand beaches are at the south east coast, which is a tranquil area, as opposed to the white sand beaches in Nungwi and Kendwa, which is a very touristy area since one can swim there in the ocean all day long; at the east, south and west coast you can only swim in the ocean at high tide, as per my blog.
      You can sunbathe in your swimsuits or bikinis anywhere here, it is as safe as it gets, even for two girls.
      Hope this helps.
      Enjoy your holiday on my beautiful island.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

      • Dear Gaby,
        Thank you for your answer.
        We stay on a hotel between Pongwe and Uroa, however there is only a small bay here, where you cannot get in the water due to a lot of seaweed and the tide most of the day.
        We will try one of the beaches you recommend. One final question: how can one access the beach? Everywhere we have seen so far has a hotel (and a gate) blocking the way to the beach (we tried both Pongwe and Kiwengwa).
        Have a lovely day.

        Sandra

        Like

      • High tide changes every day, today it was at 08h00, tomorrow it will be at 09h00 and so on. I suggest that you ask at your hotel for the best access to a beach besides the small bay you mention. You obviously cannot enter a hotel’s gate to get access to a beach if you don’t stay at that hotel, you need to go around the hotel to get to the beach.

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  2. Hi Gaby,
    We are so happy to have found your blog. We are staying for 5 days in Stone Town in early November. We plan on venturing out from there. Can you give us some advice on where to snorkel. We are avid snorkelers and would like to snorkel on our own but would also consider a tour. Also, are mosquitoes a problem on the island? Are there motorbikes for rent? Do you advise using them?

    Like

    • Hi Janice,
      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 anywhere at the coral reefs off the entire east coast at low tide.
      Have a wonderful holiday.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

  3. Gaby, I am planning a holiday in Zanzibar (main island) late January/early February. I have read a great deal about the island. We are extremely keen on snorkelling – a top priority for our holiday. Indeed, we often prefer tiny coves and rocky coasts (with good snorkelling) over the iconic long sandy beach which most the tourist industry gravitates to. Our primary interest is snorkelling freely (not accompanied) direct from the beach without the hassle of lengthy organised tours on boats. We have not yet decided where to stay but the info on your blog has been useful. I see that you (and others) praise the South East coast. But I read somewhere that there are huge quantities of seaweed washed up during the January/February period when we visit. Please say if this is correct and whether it happens along the entire stretch of SE Coast or if there are exceptions. We will almost certainly go to Chumbe island. It sounds super although the day visits seem to be organised for single, fully guided trips and the boat trip takes an hour each way. Our dream would be to be able to visit multiple times and be able to devote ourselves for most of the time snorkelling – unguided. Note, we are experienced and know not to touch. Do you think there is any way to do anything like this? Another thing, given the issue of huge tidal range, I assume this affects Chumbe so the timing of tours is organised around the tides. Have I got that right?

    Like

    • Hi Ray, the coral reefs at the south east coast are about 1 -1.5 km off the beach. The ocean floor is sandy. Unguja (Zanzibar) doesn’t have any tiny coves or rocky coasts. You might want to look at Pemba, the island north of Unguja.
      Chumbe island is privately owned, you need to book either a day tour or stay there, they offer accommodation and you can do plenty of snorkeling during your stay there. For further info re tides etc contact them directly http://www.chumbeisland.com
      The seaweed at the beaches is a natural occurrence and the livelihood of many Zanzibari women. It depends on the tide currents where the seaweed ends up.
      Cheers, Gaby

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  4. Thank you for your blog. It’s really helpful. I would like to go to Zanzibar for ten days at the end of January and renting a car, at least for a part of my vacation. I am thinking to spend some days in Michamvi (that I undertsand it’s not crowded) and some in Kendwa or Nungwi to enjoy the sea here. Do you think it is possible to find some not crowded spots in this area? Thank you in advance

    Like

    • Hi Chiara,
      Michamvi has beautiful and quiet beaches, good choice.
      In Nungwi and Kendwa you will have to walk quite some distance to find a nice quiet beach, if you find one at all. January is high season and as I wrote on my blog, Nungwi and Kendwa are full of tourists because the north coast is not affected by the tides, therefore swimming in the sea is always possible.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

  5. Hi Gaby

    We are planning to visit Zanzibar for a week or two in March. I read that you say the rainy season is from March, is it still a good time of year to come? I was also wondering if you could give any sort of rough indication of a per day spend on food?

    Like

    • Hi Amy,
      Usually the rainy season starts in March. Weather patterns on Zanzibar changed over the years as everywhere else in the world. So your guess is as good as mine as to what the weather will be like in March.
      Your expenses on food depend entirely on where, what and how many meals per day you eat. I cannot possibly give you an indication on how much you’ll spend on food.
      Cheers, Gaby

      Like

  6. thank you thank you thank you for all this great info!
    We will be traveling to Zanzibar for the last leg of our honeymoon in early october and may be beat from transferring to and from so many hotels. our goal is to take the last maybe 3-4 days to just stay in a beach resort but I really want to experience stone town. Was wondering what your recommend: If we stay in the north shore area at a resort, is it ok ( not too far) to drive down to Stone Town for the day or should we just give in and stay a night in stone town?
    thanks so very much again for this amazing blog

    Like

  7. Jambo Gaby!;) Very informative blog, thanks a lot! I’m arriving in Zanzibar next month. I will be staying in Makunduchi (Clove Island – cloveisland.com) and although the place itself is really awesome, I’m hungry for seeing new spots and doing a lot of different things. It will my first time in Zanzibar so your blog is really precious for me:) Thanks once again! Can’t wait to be there.:)

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  8. Hey Gaby!! Thank you so much for the info!! You are so helpful 🙂 First of all, I wanted to write you under the “Health and Medical care topic” but I didnt found the place to post a comment. The thing is that Im travelling with my boyfriend to Zanzibar on 4th october, but after reading the news about Tanzania being accused by the WHO of not sharing information on suspected ebola cases I started to be nervous. Is there really an alarm for ebola like symptoms? it is confirmed? What do you know about this? Is it safe? Thank you!

    Like

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