Beyond Tanzania's African Safaris: Discover Zanzibar's Sandy White Beaches!

Beyond Tanzania’s African Safaris: Discover Zanzibar’s Sandy White Beaches!

A hidden jewel on this exotic part of the globe beckons.
wide shot of an african safari

Image credit: Rustic Pathways

When you think of Africa, vivid images of the arid savannah depicted in your favourite childhood movie The Lion King flash through your head. But, what if we told you that that isn’t Africa in its entirety, and there is more to the world’s hottest continent, of which sprawling drylands and deserts make up more than 60% of its land? Tucked away off the northeastern coast of mainland Tanzania is the island of Zanzibar. Boasting white beaches and crystalline blue waters, Zanzibar will make you have second thoughts about your understanding of Africa.

To get a taste of the melting pot of cultures, cerulean waters and pristine white beaches of this island paradise, it is easy-breezy and feasible — simply book a connecting flight to Zanzibar International Airport or hop on board a ferry which operates daily from Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. 

Don’t forget to come equipped with a visa. Fret not, you can simply obtain a Tanzanian eVisa, permitting the holder to visit all parts of Tanzania, including Zanzibar. The process is relatively fuss-free! Not sure if you need to apply for a visa? Check here.

The stuff nature documentaries are made of

wildebeest and elephants migrating

Image credit: Hu Chen (top) & Matheww Cramblett (bottom)

Before we get into Zanzibar, you’re not wrong in thinking of Africa as a destination full of wildlife experiences, and Tanzania is home to a slew of eminent game reserves. 

Nothing can surpass witnessing the annual Great Wildebeest Migration from the Serengeti National Park (itself the focus and namesake of a 6-episode series by BBC Earth) in Tanzania to the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. Watch as one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth unfold before your eyes, with over 2,000,000 wildebeest and other plains game species traversing the flatland while crossing perilous rivers and inevitably meeting predators head-on in a true battle for survival — all in search of better grazing areas. 

zebras on the grass plains of tanzania

Image credit: African Safari Hub

If your safari bucket list includes ticking off close encounters, then Ngorongoro Conservation Area will keep you on your toes. The biodiverse volcanic crater is home to a staggering 30,000 mammals. Glancing around vigilantly, you will be enraptured by the sights of zebra, hippopotamus, cheetah, hyena, and large gatherings of flamingos around the crater’s lakes that appear pink at first look. Be on the lookout for lions prowling surreptitiously. It is even possible to spot the full lineup of Africa’s “Big Five” (lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo and elephant) in a single expedition!

an aerial shot of mount kilimanjaro

Image credit: Takashi Muramatsu

That isn’t all! You should seek to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, dubbed “Everyman’s Everest” as it does not require technical climbing skills despite being the fourth highest summit in the world. The prospect of standing atop Uhuru Peak taking in a sweeping and breathtaking view of Tanzania will make the trek up worthwhile.

After an exhilarating safari adventure and trekking the tallest mountain in Africa, what could be the cherry on top of your African sojourn?

A welcome respite at the end of a rewarding safari and trek

wide shot of a beach in zanzibar

Image credit: Humphrey Muleba

A 37-kilometre hop from mainland Tanzania lies Zanzibar; a semi-autonomous archipelago encompassing a cluster of islands that sits along the coast of East Africa. Unguja (the main island, also informally called Zanzibar) and Pemba make up the two largest islands. It is an unmissable Tanzanian destination that boasts an eclectic amalgamation of historical, cultural and eco-beach experiences that will add a rich flavour to your holiday. 

Interestingly, Zanzibar is often viewed as a disparate country from the mainland, even after its merger with Tanzania in 1964. The people inhabiting the island, colloquially known as Zanzibari, have their own government, their own unique ways of life and are predominantly Muslim (over 60% of Tanzanians are Christians).

Despite these differences, Zanzibar shares the same visa policy as the rest of Tanzania, so you can visit the two vastly different destinations with just one visa! To find out if you need a visa, check here — you can even apply for a eVisa!

Relax on an idyllic shore or sail on tropical seas

You would never conjure images of unending grains of crystallised white sand and pristine blue waters sparkling under the sun’s radiance in Africa, but Zanzibar is an island paradise in its own right. With a plethora of beaches surrounding the archipelago, it beckons to be explored.

a beach hut in zanzibar

Image credit: 4758892 (Needpix)

On your seaside vacation in Zanzibar, the only marker of time will be the sun above as you inhale the briny scent of the sea melded with the distinct fragrance of spices flourishing on the island. The lapping waves of the Indian Ocean will tempt you to take a dip in the azure blue waters. The beach huts lie ahead for you to bask in the tropical sunlight after an invigorating swim. 

For a little slice of heaven, the beaches of Bwejuu and Nungwi are the best bet. 

Remote even by Zanzibar’s standards, Bwejuu Beach at the southeastern point of Zanzibar offers just that elusive hideaway you will yearn for. The 12-mile stretch of sandbank is relatively untouched by industry, and the stunning turquoise waters make it the ideal spot to soothe your senses away from the herd.

Located on the northernmost tip of Zanzibar island, Nungwi Beach made the list of ‘Top 25 Beaches in the World’ in 2018 by TripAdvisor. It is the best spot to watch the hot African sun recede from view. You can hop on a traditional dhow sailboat to witness the spectacular sunset and get a buzz out of the lively atmosphere hereafter at the many entertainment spots dotting the pristine beach.

More than just a beach island, it’s a marine haven

diving off the coasts of zanzibar

Image credit: ggungpa0

Zanzibar’s pleasant equatorial waters entice a plethora of marine life that habituate both the reef and the deeper pelagic waters and this makes its underwater realm simply breathtaking. What awaits you under the cadence of the ocean waves is a variegated trove of mystery and wonder. The most colourful coral reefs, parrotfish, octopus, nudibranch, green turtles and many more will greet you up close and personal.

humpback whale sighting

Image credit: Flickker photos

From July to September each year, humpback whales and whale sharks are known to make their migration into the warm waters of Zanzibar, and you might be lucky enough to spot these majestic creatures during an enthralling diving session. Whether you are a novice or an experienced diver, there are various dive sites in Zanzibar that will be suitable for your exploration.

mnemba atoll

Image credit: Local Guides Connect

The Mnemba Atoll, a preserved oceanic area off northeastern Zanzibar near Matemwe, teems with wildlife and is considered to be one of the best regions for diving in all of Zanzibar. It boasts ideal visibility conditions for you to discover the captivating underwater world. You can even spot bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat during your boat ride to the diving spot. 

A heritage experience not to be found anywhere else in the world

Lose yourself in centuries of history as you wend your way around the famed purlieus of Stone Town which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

a building in stone town

Image credit: Richard Motel

Every nook and cranny of the winding alley bears testament to its rich and storied history. Its African, Arabian, European and Indian influences are still palpable. A Persian bathhouse and coralline-walled houses with elaborately carved doors and minarets are just some examples of a mesmerising mix of different architectural styles. The residues of the past, both fragile and precious, have been preserved at this ancient town of Zanzibar, providing insights into its cultures of origin.

You can get your hands on a multitude of wares and fares at this mecca for shoppers and bargain hunters. From delicately carved artefacts to freshly caught seafood and traditional Swahili dresses to precious stones, you will be spoilt for choice.

mercury bar

Image credit: Tripadvisor

Arguably the greatest frontman of rock music history was born right here in Tanzania. Named after international rock star Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of Queen, Mercury Bar captures the flamboyant pneuma of the legendary icon, and it is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself wandering the charming streets of Stone Town.

Where time comes to a standstill

an ocean view from zanzibar

Image credit: Simon Migaj

If life in the slow lane appeals to you, you can take a break from the rat race on this laidback island. In Zanzibar, life moves pole pole – meaning slowly in Swahili. Literally!

Tanzanians utilise the Swahili system of telling time, in which the first hour of the day is saa moja (asubuhi), corresponding with 7am. The first hour of the night, at 7pm, is saa moja (usiku) indicating the first hour of the night. It might help to think in terms of daybreak and sundown!

While it may sound confusing for you initially, you will cherish getting on your day at a leisurely pace. The desire for instant gratification will ebb away as you watch in delight locals enjoying being present in whatever they are doing, instead of rushing to get through everything. Their easy-going turn of mind will rub off on you. Grab a tangawizi (ginger) chai and warm up to the amiable denizens who are always up for a chat.

Hidden gem that’s friendly on the wallet

zanzibari resort

Image credit: Piqsels

With so much that Zanzibar has to offer, you will be glad to know that it is one of those destinations that can fit into any budget. You get to enjoy resplendent beaches, world-class diving, an amalgamation of cultures and heritages, tasty cuisines, and congenial locals without having to break the bank. 

grilled skewers street food

Image credit: Zanzibar Beaches

Your trip to Zanzibar could set you back as little as US$25 per day if you forgo the frills of ostentatious accommodations and put up at a hostel or a simple hut, and satiate your appetite at local restaurants and food stalls. The ‘live like a local’ travel ethos won’t disappoint you, as you are likely to experience more hospitable services while you are at it.

Ideal getaway and complement to mainland Tanzania

When it comes to safaris, Tanzania really does have it all. On the flipside, Zanzibar is the home of resplendent beaches, balmy weather & warm tropical waters. What do you get when you incorporate the two into a single itinerary? A perfect juxtapose!

From the abundance of wildlife in the Serengeti to glistening turquoise waters on the spice island of Zanzibar, you will have a rewarding and rejuvenating experience that will leave an indelible impression on your mind. 

What are you waiting for? Banish the mental image you have of Africa and make your way to Zanzibar, a tropical paradise like no other!

Brought to you by Tanzania Visas.

About Author

Ifah Sakinah
Ifah Sakinah

Sakinah has a discerning palate and an innate desire to satisfy her inner curiosity. While she hasn't been everywhere, it's definitely on her list.