To me this is another one of those locations that almost everyone knows about, but no one ever travels to - and I have no idea why not. I truly feel like I knew the name of this place when I was a kid (probably from Tenacious D. Thanks Jack Black!), well before I was even able to use the internet to look it up let alone visit it. Well let me tell you something: if you have never looked this place up… DO IT IMMEDIATELY! Oh and in advance, you are welcome.
Zanzibar is set just off the coast of Tanzania, floating in the most gorgeous sea of bright blue, transparent waters that I have ever seen in my entire life. People drool over the Caribbean but for real, this takes the cake. Drop that USVI cruise you just booked and consider doing some real travel instead because this will open your eyes to something you probably didn’t realize existed. The island is just the right size as well, big enough to have reasons to explore and small enough that you can easily tackle the island in its entirety without spending more than a week or two on location.
Flights are going to take you into Stone Town, a bustling little spot with the highest population of any of the other towns/cities on the island. Here you can find beautiful hotels, restaurants, busy streets, vendors of just about anything and also the island’s ATM’s. We highly recommend that you stock up on cash in Stone Town so that you can avoid an unnecessary trip back after you have made it to your beach destination elsewhere on the island. If we can be honest, we didn’t like Stone Town at all. Some people swear by it, say they love the food and there is a lot to do but we didn’t see it. Maybe we didn’t spend enough time there and we missed out on the good spots but after a day there we were peeling out of the city in our rental car, ready to get to the opposite coast line. Oh, by the way, definitely get a rental car… taxis on the island are ridiculously expensive.
You have a few options here as far as we are concerned. You get to choose between, Jambiani in the southeast, Matemwe in the northeast and Nungwi at the far nothern tip. These were our absolute favorites from the three weeks that we spent on the island. We actually started in the north, staying in Matemwe for a week, before we went to the south. Nungwi is the only place where we never actually stayed, but we made a few day trips up there and absolutely loved it. There are some smaller islands around Zanzibar as well, ones that have super private villas and such to cater to celebrities and other extremely rich people (we didn’t go there).
Let’s start with Matemwe first. This is a quiet, simple little beach town with not much to offer in terms of activities but the beach is pristine and the local restaurants are incredible - and cheap! We loved the little homestay lifestyle here and we often found ourselves completely alone on the beach, totally able to relax, workout, take naps, and snorkel without anyone else passing by us.
Nungwi, the next recommendation, its about a 45 or so minute drive from Matemwe. This part of the island is absolutely gorgeous, even more so than Matemwe. The water up here is what we mentioned before. It literally looks like blue gatorade. In Nungwi you will find more fancy hotels and resort style lodging, restaurants that overlook the beach and little stores that sell local goods. This spot is definitely the most beautiful place on Zanzibar in our opinion, but the trade off is that you are never alone here. There are alway people walking by on the beach and there are lots of local ‘beach boys’ trying to sell you something.
Finally, our favorite of the three: Jambiani. This is where we found far more of the backpacker community. This is where the younger crowd goes to enjoy the sand and surf which directly results in a higher amount of activities. People were windsurfing everyday, hosting deejays at their hostels/hotels, and having pool parties for whatever reason they could find. We ended up staying here for two weeks, living in the village in a tiny little room, because we were just having too much fun at all the other beach front hotels. They all have open doors to people walking along the beach, provided you either order a drink or get something to eat. We scored our little village spot for 16 USD a night and then we spent every day basking by the pools of gorgeous hotels, some costing hundreds of dollars a night. How could you possibly want to leave?
We definitely recommend checking out the lodging options along Jambiani’s beach front and making that your primary place to stay when you visit. We accidentally did the route that we would recommend and we certainly stick by it: start in the north for a bit and then end in Jambiani for the remainder of the time you have there. One word you need to know before you go: Jambo... it means 'hello'!
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