Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Jambo!! You will hear this a million times during your trip. The warm smiles and the welcoming nature of people in Zanzibar is an entire VIBE. Visit and find out for yourself.
If you read about our Maldives trip, you already know it was one hell of a relaxing vacation (not how we are used to traveling). I had people asking me on IG if the two trips were similar - yes & no. Though both have beaches aplenty, there are differences. I also planned for Zanzibar to be far more active than our Maldivian escape. Keep reading for my final verdict on the two trips.
I am not big on island getaways.. at least until the weird year that was 2020. Not only did I do touristy island trips within 15 days of each other, I actually enjoyed it. Who woulda thunk it, eh?
Here is my guide for planning a five day trip to the small island off the coast of Tanzania.
There are still measures in place as I write this. Here is a summary of requirements for residents of Dubai to fly to Zanzibar (and Tanzania):
1. A Negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to flying out of UAE. Note that Tanzania does not require you to have a negative test to enter but the UAE does. Check your countries requirement prior to booking.
2. A Negative PCR Test taken 96 hours prior to flying out of Tanzania/Zanzibar.
The test costs $80. The process to get tested there is slightly complicated since the information provided is confusing. The testing can be done at Global Hospital or North Valley Hospital in the morning. However, we were advised by a local person to head straight from the airport to the Migombani testing centre in Stone Town. The center is located at previously CPS building opposite Military Camp & NMB Atm. This is effective from 21st December, 2020.
Testing Tip: If you are staying a good resort please be sure to get in touch with them before you travel to see how they can help you simplify this testing process. The locals know best. The test results take 72 hours to turn around - so leave enough time between. You will pay extra but it will spare you the headache of running around like a headless chicken.
What you will need for testing:
Copy of the passport (note that testing cannot be done on Sunday but you can still pick up your report on a Sunday)
You will have to have the original stamped certificate in hand to depart the country - no print outs or scanned copies accepted.
3. Note that masks are not mandatory at the Zanzibar airport BUT always wear them when outside in crowds.
Flights and Visa
I flew direct with Fly Dubai. The flight was 5 hours and 45 minutes.
Visa is on arrival for most nationalities. It costs $50 per person. No other documents needed. Best if you have cash. Note that you CAN also apply submit your visa application online before you travel.
Safety and hygiene - a word of caution!
The Tanzanian government have stopped reporting cases to WHO. They seemed to not care that there was a raging pandemic in the rest of the world.. life here goes on as usual with gathering, no masks. I would like to stress that this is NOT a judgement of any kind. You choose the place you travel to. Please do your research ahead of time instead of arriving in a country and being appalled by callous behavior. I knew from constantly following travel forums on tripadvisor that majority of the COVID rules were not place in Zanzibar. If you are uncomfortable about people not wearing a mask, you can request politely but the choice is theirs. Bottom line - YOU follow every precaution to keep yourself safe.
Best time to visit
June to October is best due to the slightly cooler weather. December to February works as well since it will be dry but I definitely felt the afternoon heat hit me hard.
Language and People
Everyone is helpful and pretty fluent in English.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is always recommended. USD accepted at all resorts.
How to get around in Zanzibar - COVID edition
I prefer to hire a local guide/driver in Africa for multiple reasons - 1. you get to support a local and his company 2. it is safer to have a local with you on the road traveling across the country 3. they know the best places and history!
After much deliberation (though much of it was done in four days), I finally went with Ally from Zanzi Taxi. The car was a comfortable SUV in great condition, stocked with water, which you will need a lot of. Felt completely safe with him - he was perfectly dressed, neat, professional and extremely punctual. The cost depends on what you choose to do during your trip.
Safety for Traveling Solo or as a woman
I went with a friend.. but there were times when I went alone and did the activities I had signed up for. Having stayed at two luxury properties, I felt safe. There was some catcalling in Stone Town but walk fast and with purpose. Follow your gut and exercise common sense. Don't wander alone at night. You will be fine in Zanzibar.
Where I stayed - Stone Town and Kendwa
In Stone Town, I chose to stay at the UNESCO heritage building that is now a gorgeous Park Hyatt. This hotel is perfectly located hotel since it is only a 10 minute walk to the ferry station in case you are arriving from Dar Es Salaam. The beach, though extremely crowded, is fantastic as well.
There are many places you can stay at in Zanzibar - ranging from $80 to $800 a night. I chose to stay at Kendwa, at the elegant, sophisticated and eco-chic Zuri Zanzibar.
Other places I considered - The Residence, Melia and Tulia. They are all on different beaches but Zuri is in Kendwa/Nungwi, one of the better beaches on the island.
The good news? Zanzibar is not as expensive as Maldives.
I generally found food to be cheap outside of the resort, especially the street food (if you are up for that kind of experimenting). I stuck to eating at the resort mainly due to the pandemic. There are plenty of great restaurants in and around Park Hyatt - some less than 2 minutes away with a fabulous view of the beach.
The hotels you choose will be the most expensive part of your trip. For five days in two five star properties, it would cost $1600 per person (note that this is peak season pricing) but you get the gist.
A big reason to stay in a good (if not great) place in Africa is the availability of edible vegetarian food. I have been to Africa before on shoestring budget, while the trip was everything I had dreamt of, the food was a bummer.
Lesson learnt - the choice and veggie-friendly options for food at Park Hyatt and Zuri were outstanding. If you opt for the half board option at Zuri like I did, you will be eligible for breakfast and dinner. The lunch would be about $30 per person for a soft drink and a main; you get fresh bread with every meal.
What to pack
Contrasting playful colors - they help if you are looking to create stunning content for the gram. The colors pop against the clear blue seas and white sands. Pack light breezy beach clothes and a hat.
Day 1 - Jozani Forest and stay at Park Hyatt
After a quick immigration, Ally was already outside the airport. First stop was for the PCR test. Took about an hour to get this sorted. Time to head to Park Hyatt to drop off the bags.
After breakfast, a quick one hour drive takes us towards to the Jozani Forest - famed for being a haven for red colobos monkeys on the island. The dense forest is located on the eastern region of the island, now preserved by the local government.
This tour is not a safari so please don't mistake it for one. That being said, the monkeys are sneaky.. there will be some of coordination between the guides. It doesn't take very long to spot the little guys up on trees. They are wild animals and it is recommended you stand atleast 5ft away from them (please be mindful if you a flu or cold as you could pass this on to them!). They carry on with their business in a relaxed manner as if you weren't around. If you are lucky, you can also spot some bushbaby.
Pro Planning Tip: if you have an extra day or time to kill, think about including this forest on your way to the Paje beach.
The guide was wonderful. He had so much information about the place and monkeys. For instance, what makes the colobus monkeys unique is that they only have four fingers. Also, unlike other species of monkeys, they don't jump from tree to tree using their tails. Their tails don't have muscles which means they use their hands. Cool huh?
The forest isn't very big but you will need a guide to help you find the monkeys. On your tour you will likely cover the forest and the mangroves nearby. A boardwalk with swamp on either side.
This place alone warrants a visit to the Jozani area. I will forever be in awe of nature and it's tranquility. Needless to say, the mangroves play a very important role in the ecological balance for this island with medicinal plants and ecosystems in place to protect the island from flash floods.
Drove back to the room at about 3 in the afternoon.
Park Hyatt is a quintessential stop to discover the bustling winding streets of the cultural center of Zanzibar. The hotel itself has all the old world charm plus the luxury you would come to expect from a Park Hyatt. The bath tub and shower were too comfortable for words. All equipped with high quality, locally sourced skin and hair products.
They also have the best views in stone town. Who wouldn't want to wake up here every day?
It feels less like a hotel from outside but the rooms are elegantly decked with beautiful hints of classic Omani architecture. Park Hyatt Zanzibar is a fine example of merging contemporary designs with old world culture.
As with most of Zanzibar, I found it to be a blend of Indian, Oman and few European influences.
The sunset was lovely but nothing like the isolated heavenly feeling I experienced in Maldives.
Skipped dinner and hit the bed early after a long day.
Day 2 - dolphin watching, shifting to Kendwa beach for stay at Zuri
The morning started off with a walk to the beach to catch the sunrise.
That was followed by a dip in the fabulous infinity pool. The pool is surrounded by a glass wall of sorts, that makes it seem like the pool is jutting out into the beach.. it's like you are floating right into the Indian ocean.
Don't forget the exquisitely adorned library/lounge area.
Post breakfast, all set for a fun-filled activity to Kizimkazi. It was time to watch the dolphins. The roads are covered with dense forests on either side, so very different for what I usually see in sandy dry Dubai.
You will head out to the ocean on a private boat (along with 20 other boats).
I would have preferred to head out to the sea earlier since by afternoon the water is too warm and the dolphins deep diver under to escape the heat.
Nevertheless, if you head there by 9-ish, you will still get to witness these magical creatures putting up a show.
Things to note:
1. While you can snorkel here, a boat tour to watch them serves the purpose just as well. The tides tend to be rough at certain times of the month so be mindful of this if you decide to go swimming.
2. This is NOT a full day activity. If you want to spend more time in the ocean, you are better off adding an additional day and doing the Safari Blue at Mnemba or Fumba Islands.
3. Ally set all the tours up, it was all private. Be sure to check with your tour agent about this when you pay.
The beach itself was a stunner that cloudy morning.
I particularly loved the reflections here. African postcard moment.
By 12, we set off towards Kendwa (a good 90 minutes away), reaching the resort at 12 30. Leave some time for check in and with all the new safety measures in place. No complaints though since the reception area is incredibly picturesque with swings and a library. Zuri takes it's pandemic safety seriously - I loved that. You have to wear a mask in all common areas except the beach. Wear a mask. Hakuna Matata!
Checked in to the room.. look at that balcony. I will circle back to the story on the resort later.
The rest of the afternoon was spent having a late lunch and exploring the property. The highlight of my stay in the property was the free spice tour. Once again, the guide was full of incredible information. His enthusiasm was infectious. We got to play a little guessing game too - so much fun. Know what this spice is?
The sprawling acres of green goodness is just a quick 10 minute from the villa. From almond to wild cardamom to ylang ylang flowers, they have it all. Ocean winds often kick up scents from the nearby garden and it is a green oasis. A great place to learn about all the incredible spices on the island - mostly a fusion of flavors used in African, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. It is a riot on your senses.. you get to smell cinnamon that is actually clove. Mind == blown!
Not into spices? The lush garden is perfect for a stroll or just to lounge around in these colorful nooks. Oh to be outside in nature. Don't miss the cutest swing!
Last stop for the day.. the beach.. a cloudy evening awaits..
but no shortage of chill vibes.
That's a wrap of day two!
Day 3 - relaxing at Zuri and swimming with turtles
Up early to enjoy the incredible morning in the room.. there is something about waking up amidst greenery that puts you in a good mood!
Flowers blooming, birds chirping, trees swinging... off I went to spend the morning at the beach.
Spent a few hours clicking pictures on my tripod. I get so excited creating content..
Early mornings are my favorite time to be at the beach.
The water is just the right temperature, there are hardly any people.. plus if you are lucky enough to experience low tide, no better time to snorkel.
I particularly liked having these cabanas and lounges to myself.
Post a hearty breakfast, I went to the Baraka Natural Aquarium, a natural pond which is a sanctuary for turtles. The aquarium costs $10 to enter. This is in Nungwi, ask your resort to set up the drive.
The small pond serves as a temporary home for these creatures accidentally injured when they get caught in fishing nets.. this gives them a chance to recuperate before being released back into the ocean again. To my utter surprise I had the place to myself at 9. BLISS.
The turtles are playful and get very close. You feel almost ticklish as they brush up close to you.. but it’s just for a few minutes. Before long you start to get the hang of swimming around in the murky waters alongside these gentle animals. Running your fingers along their smooth shells as you feed the hungry little ones is a pinch-me-now kinda feeling. I was not nibbled at or bitten. Maybe I was lucky? Either way, this was one of two highlights of my trip to the island.
Things to keep in mind - the turtles will be hungry but they don't mind being touched (trust me, you will know if they have a problem). Be kind and gentle. Try not to stomp on them. Turtles DO tend to bite or nibble - the choice to dive in with them is yours to make.
With the busy morning out of the way, I had the rest of the day to lounge around and take in the outstanding elements on the property - the main reason I chose it. There are plenty of equally good 5* resorts in Zanzibar but my heart was set on choosing this afro-modern resort. I was not disappointed. You will find natural local materials used in every corner. There are also artifacts made by local craftsmen.
There is abundance of social awareness. Zuri is best experienced while staying in a garden-like landscape.. complete with thatched roofs, surrounded by mini-rainforests and crawling wildlife. I also didn’t find any single-use plastic (except the bottles, which resorts worldwide now have to use by law due to the pandemic).
This is a property that is both ecologically sensitive. Special mention to the yoga deck. The set up with the water and lush garden was zen perfection. Zuri means beautiful in Swahili and it aptly summarizes the experience to be had over here.
A few hours chilling in the room and it was already time for sunset.. time flies when you are having fun.
Though these sunsets were not nearly as charming as the ones in Maldives, I think my favorite part was the dhows setting sailing at a distance. They make for an outstanding frame.
Dinner was a four course vegetarian meal - the highlights were the amuse bouche and dessert. That is a wrap of day three!
Day 4 - chilling at the resort and swimming with horses
Took the morning to explore few more mazing areas inside Zuri - like this pool overlooking the beach. It does tend to get crowded by 10.. early in the morning, you can have it all to yourself.
I have never been big on fancy hotels because we hardly spent any time indoors on trips. Last December I had two slow-ish getaways giving me ample time to soak in the atmosphere at the resorts. I love places with personal touches. While the little five stars next to the name definitely help during a pandemic that is not what makes a resort special. It is about the story, sustainability agenda, and graceful staff. This is something you can get that for 10 or 1000 bucks a night. This was the view at sunrise. Worth waking up for this.
Back to the beach again. The miles of soft white sand leading to the turquoise blue clear Indian Ocean is a sight you cannot get enough of. The sand in Zanzibar, unlike Maldives, felt more smooth. I could easily walk barefoot..
What I liked about it - each morning, the waves and morning light would be different.
Enjoy the palm tree, swinging hammock cabana life..
Later in the afternoon, I was about to venture off to have the second most exhilarating experience - swimming with these fabulous creatures in the untamed sea. I’ve learnt to be wary of any sort of tourism where animals are involved, and definitely thought a million times about paying to meet Bob - that is his name, a stunning 6 year old rescue.. but I do realize it is often a balance. Part of the money goes into the upkeep and rehabilitation of the animals. The activity costs $50 for 60 minutes on the Nungwi beach.
I did my research to make sure the adopted horses are treated compassionately and the interactions are sensitive. I chose not to climb on Bob until we got to the beach. I walked alongside, hoping he would trust me. When he took his time and chose to roll around in the sand instead, I remember being very nervous. What had I done to make him cautious? This is something I wanted to make certain, no animal should be forced to engage in an activity. After 10 minutes, he was excited about the waves but I was still weary about climbing on; tbh I was overwhelmed by this (powerful) little guy.
I held on lightly so as to not cause his back any harm (fell off a fair few times in the process). I was on edge, making sure he was comfortable in the high tides, I kept speaking softly. My confidence was bolstered when he didn’t waver for a minute, swimming bravely with me by his side. At the end of it, he had endeared to me.. we even did a little head bump. Moments forever etched in my heart.
I cannot tell you what a meaningful experience this was, free of saddles, bonding with this magnificent animal. It was about being respectful and treating him as an equal. I simply let Bob lead the way. I only followed - not the other way around!
Back to the resort at 4 for a super late lunch.. and then beach for the last sunset.
This was by far the prettiest evening. Fitting finale to wrap up the phenomenal stay at Zuri.
Day 5 - exploring prison island to visit the turtles and historic stone town
Last day, woke up late for a heavy breakfast.. saying goodbye to this hotel was harder than I thought it would be.
Around midday, Ally was ready for us. Back for the last leg - Stone Town.
First stop, a 45 minute boat ride to the prison island - where you will find tortoise rumored to be as old as 157!
The island tends to be particularly crowded, but the experience is a fun one.. you can feed the giant tortoise or watch a penguin strut around in all its glory.
The only way to do a trip around Stone Town is with a guide. He will tell you all about the Arab, European and Indian influences on Zanzibar. Walk around the tiny streets and soak in the energy of the fun-loving people.
Of course, the ornate doors are the main highlight of this bustling area.
Don't miss the house of Freddie Mercury, Darjani Bazaar and grab fresh coconut water while you are at it!
2020 brought with it a sense of profound humility - the thrill of being able to travel at all. Partly pent-up eagerness and partly, a sense of needing to take life by the horns before it’s too late took me to Africa for only the second time ever. Retreating to the safety & seclusion of an island yet again seemed too wonderful to pass up. I had all of five days to plan this trip - that is a record of sorts for an insane planner like me. It can be done!
One of the most common questions I get asked - how do you decide between Maldives and Zanzibar? First of all, if that is the toughest decision you have to make - congrats, you have much to be thankful for. Both of them have pristine beaches and wide stretches of white sand to play on. The difference is the vibe. A trip to Maldives involves a whole lot of R&R but in Zanzibar, there is more to do than lay around on the beach. I would say it all comes down to what you are looking for in a trip. If you are looking for an insanely relaxing trip in grand resorts with outstanding coral reefs and ethereal sunsets - there is no better place than Maldives. If you want a trip that is not as expensive but still has a beach and is filled with history, mystery & adventure, then go for Zanzibar. It is a more affordable destination that can be combined with a safari in Serengeti. (I cannot comment on Seychelles and Mauritius since I haven't been there)
I share this with less nostalgia and more with gratitude for the experiences afforded to me in the last month. Moments like these have me recommitting my energy to discovering the most incredible wildlife experiences in Africa this year.
No matter when you go, prepare yourself to fall in love with Zanzibar. Pristine white sand beaches. Clear turquoise blue ocea