Zanzibar and Pemba Islands: A Guide to Exploring Tanzania’s Exotic Paradise

Zanzibar and Pemba Islands are the jewels of the Indian Ocean, located off the coast of Tanzania. These islands are a combination of turquoise waters, sandy beaches, rich history, and a unique cultural blend. The archipelago comprises two main islands, Zanzibar and Pemba, and several smaller ones. Zanzibar is the more popular of the two, known for its bustling markets, spice tours, and idyllic beaches. Pemba, on the other hand, offers a quieter and more secluded experience, perfect for those seeking a tranquil retreat.

History and Culture

Zanzibar has a rich history, shaped by its location at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean trade routes. Arab traders first arrived on the island in the 8th century, followed by Persians, Portuguese, and British colonizers. This diverse history has left its mark on Zanzibar’s culture, evident in its architecture, cuisine, and language. The island is famous for its spice trade, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves being among the most popular exports. Visitors can take a spice tour to learn about the island’s spice history and sample some of the exotic spices.

Beaches and Water Sports

Zanzibar’s beaches are its biggest draw, with stretches of white sand and crystal-clear waters. The most popular beaches are located on the north and east coasts, including Nungwi, Kendwa, and Paje. These beaches offer a range of water sports, such as snorkeling, diving, and kite surfing. The island’s coral reefs are home to a diverse range of marine life, including dolphins, turtles, and colorful fish.

Stone Town

Stone Town is the historic heart of Zanzibar, located on the west coast of the island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its narrow alleys, grand houses, and ornate doorways. Visitors can take a walking tour of Stone Town to learn about its history and culture. The town is also home to several museums, such as the Zanzibar Museum of History and Culture and the House of Wonders.

Jozani Forest

The Jozani Forest is a must-visit for nature lovers. Located in the center of Zanzibar, the forest is home to the endemic Zanzibar red colobus monkey, as well as other wildlife such as bush pigs and duikers. Visitors can take a guided tour of the forest to learn about the flora and fauna of the region.

Pemba Island

Pemba Island is the lesser-known of the two islands, but it offers a unique and unspoiled experience. The island is renowned for its diving sites, with coral reefs, caves, and drop-offs to explore. Visitors can also take a boat tour of the island’s mangrove forests, where they can spot marine life such as sea turtles and dolphins.

Chake Chake

Chake Chake is the main town on Pemba Island, located on the northwestern coast. It is a bustling market town, famous for its woven baskets, pottery, and wooden carvings. Visitors can also explore the town’s historic buildings, such as the Chake Chake Old Fort and the Pujini Ruins.

Misali Island

Misali Island is a small island located off the coast of Pemba. It is a marine conservation area, renowned for its pristine coral reefs and marine life. Visitors can take a boat tour of the island, where they can snorkel and dive in crystal-clear waters.

Food and Drink

Zanzibar is famous for its exotic cuisine, which is a fusion of African, Indian, and Arabic influences. The island’s spice trade is reflected in its cuisine, with dishes such as biryani, pilau, and curry being popular among locals and visitors alike. Seafood is also a specialty on the island, with grilled fish and prawns being among the most popular dishes. Visitors can sample the local cuisine at the many food markets and restaurants located throughout the island.


Zanzibar and Pemba offer a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts to budget guesthouses, visitors can find the perfect accommodation to suit their needs. Many of the resorts are located on the beaches, offering stunning ocean views and easy access to water sports and other activities.

Getting There and Around

Zanzibar and Pemba can be reached by air or sea. Several airlines operate daily flights to Zanzibar from major cities in East Africa, as well as from international destinations such as Dubai and Istanbul. Ferries also operate between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, as well as between Zanzibar and Pemba.

Once on the islands, visitors can get around by taxi, dala-dala (local minivans), or by hiring a car. However, many of the attractions are located within walking distance of each other, making walking a popular and convenient option.

Best Time to Visit

Zanzibar and Pemba can be visited year-round, but the best time to visit is from June to October, during the dry season. The weather is warm and sunny, with little to no rainfall. The peak season is from December to February when the weather is also favorable, but prices are higher and the islands are more crowded.

Zanzibar and Pemba Islands are tropical paradises, offering a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re looking for a beach vacation, a cultural experience, or an adventure in the great outdoors, these islands have something to offer. From the historic Stone Town to the idyllic beaches and coral reefs, Zanzibar and Pemba are sure to captivate and enchant visitors from around the world.


  1. Is Zanzibar safe for tourists?

Zanzibar is generally safe for tourists, but it is important to take the usual precautions such as not walking alone at night and being aware of your surroundings.

  1. What currency is used in Zanzibar?

The currency used in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian shilling (TZS), but US dollars and euros are also widely accepted.

  1. Do I need a visa to visit Zanzibar?

Visitors to Zanzibar require a valid passport and a tourist visa, which can be obtained on arrival at the airport or port.

  1. What is the language spoken in Zanzibar?

The official language of Zanzibar is Swahili, but English is also widely spoken.

  1. Can I go scuba diving in Zanzibar?

Yes, Zanzibar is a popular destination for scuba diving, with several diving sites located around the islands.

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