Zanzibar – weather, sports, tides, where to go etc

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.

Seasons/weather:
Summer: December – February with temperatures around 35 degC
Rainy season: March till early/mid June, around 25-28 degC
Winter:  June – August, around 25 degC
Spring: September – November, around 28-30 degC

The Indian Ocean has about the same temperatures during these months.

The second “mini” rainy season is in October/November, usually with short lived rains, sometimes though it rains for an entire day. Please note that even if it rains, the Indian Ocean remains wonderfully warm. I love swimming in the Ocean while it rains.

Weather forecast: please check google weather for forecasts for the area you will be staying, it is quite accurate.

Beaches: You find here picture perfect postcard beautiful white sand beaches lined with coconut trees. My favourite part of Zanzibar is the south east coast.  It is quiet, tranquil, the locals of the south east coast are extra friendly (genuinely friendly, they smile with their eyes). Here you have approx. 20 km of white sand beaches stretching from Jambiani via Paje and Bwejuu to 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 if not dangerous. If you stay in Paje, rather walk a few minutes till you find a peaceful beach and safe swimming. Luckily we are blessed with a 20km 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.

Especially the east coast of the island is protected by coral reefs that make swimming safe – no sharks or huge waves.
NB: At low tide you cannot swim in the Indian Ocean at the east, south and west coasts. The beaches at these coast lines 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. You can check the time table for low and high tide for Zanzibar on http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/calendar/year/7156.html

At the north coast, you can always swim even at low tide since the beach falls off deeply after a few meters.  Therefore, the north coast is very popular with tourists.  In December and January (high season) the beaches are packed with tourists there and it is quite noisy.  If you are looking for a quiet holiday, this ain’t the place for you.

The west coast is my least favorite part. Especially at the southern end 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.

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.

Besides the beautiful white sand beaches and delicious food, Zanzibar has quite a lot to offer.  There are 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. Most 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 cost 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”.

There are a lot of stories and tales that villagers insist are true.  One of those talks about a phantom ship that appears at night and vanishes in front of the Palm Beach Inn reef off Bwejuu (see Discover Zanzibar south of Stone Town).

Some other info:

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 “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%.

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10 thoughts on “Zanzibar – weather, sports, tides, where to go etc

  1. Thanks for such a great blog! It really helps to prepare the trip. I’d like to ask about the lifestyle of locals – what time does the day start and around what time is lunch and dinner? Does it make sense to bring some stationary for local schools? (will be staying in Jambiani and Matemwe).

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  2. So delighted to have discovered your blog! We are going in September and will spend 4 days in Stone Town, 10 days in Paje and 5 days in Nungwi. It’s been a dream destination for years so we are very excited to discover this beautiful island.

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  3. 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

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    • 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

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      • 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

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      • 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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  4. 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?

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    • 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

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