A trip to Zanzibar…that exotic, mysterious land.
Never did I think I would make it to this island off the coast of mainland Tanzania but somehow, like most of my travels, it just happened.
After bouncing around Kenya and Tanzania for a while, it was time to take it easy and catch up on work, and Zanzibar seemed like a logical, and nearby, option. All we hoped for was a relatively quiet beach in a tropical setting, close to a local village, and where accommodation wasn’t too expensive.
And it didn’t take long to find our ideal setup. For two whole nights at least.
The place we chose to stay at is the Promised Land Lodge, located on the very southern tip of Zanzibar. Beautiful setting on the wild coast, large jungle bungalows on a cliff overlooking the shining water, great local food, hammocks, a beach bar, a nice swimming pool and the village of Kizimkazi only 20 minutes walk away.
For $50 per night, with breakfast included, we were truly giddy over this gem of a find.
So, after two nights there, we packed up and left.
This is the downside of working online. The location of this lodge proved to be one of the last spots on Zanzibar without 3G internet coverage, so our SIM cards and data packages were useless. The internet provided at the lodge, as expected, didn’t work too well either. As a result, it was quite difficult for us to get our work done and we had no choice but to leave.
Off we went, quite bummed, in search of another option.
You can then imagine our surprise when, amazingly, with very little research and a lot of luck, we found another accommodation setup that rivaled, or at least matched, what Promised Land had offered.
Suddenly, our trip to Zanzibar took us to the village of Jambiani, on the southeast coast, where we happily threw down our bags at the welcoming and idyllic Mango Beach House.
We stayed here for eleven nights. And it was absolutely perfect.
Here’s how our stay went down…
If you’re looking for a quiet white sand beach with a laid-back vibe, local village life, perfect sunrises, warm ocean water, a good scattering of places to eat and that feeling of being in paradise, Jambiani is the place to go. I’ll admit that we didn’t really explore too many other parts of Zanzibar but once we found this ideal corner, we were more than happy to stay put.
What a crazy, beautiful beach! I have never, in all my travels, seen the ocean act as weirdly as it did in Zanzibar. In Jambiani at least, the tide would be one kilometer out when low and then, in what seemed like a remarkably fast period of time, the tide would suddenly be high, very high, covering almost all of the beach. And the colors changed all day long, with such an impressive array of blues and greens sparkling away. It was strange, mesmerizing and spectacular all at the same time.
When the tide was high, this beach was great for swimming. The only downside, at least in March, is that the water temperature was basically ‘hot’.
Go swimming in the morning though, before 9am, and in the evening, around 6pm, and it will be cooler at those times, offering a refreshing way to start and end your day!
There are probably 20 or so accommodation options to choose from along the three kilometers of Jambiani beachfront, ranging from inexpensive, basic rooms in a simple house (around $25 USD per night) to nicer guesthouses with tropical settings and more comfortable rooms (around $50 – $60 per night) and all the way up to fancier bungalows and hotels for $90 – $200 USD per night.
We must have checked out 15 of these places in our search for accommodation. In the end, though, as soon as we stepped through the gate of the Mango Beach House, we knew it was the place for us.
The local owner, Kiddo, was super kind, the rooms were spacious, colorful, airy, well-decorated and with a clear view of the ocean, the grounds were filled with palm trees and flowers, there were swinging beds, lounge chairs and raised platforms to hang out on and there was a cozy open-air cafe and restaurant.
Here’s a quick video tour I created:
The place was spotless, the entire team of four staff were extremely helpful and there were only four rooms, making it feel almost like a private retreat.
At around $50 USD per night (for 2 people), with breakfast included and a common kitchen to use, it was by far the best deal that we found in Jambiani. If I ever take another trip to Zanzibar, this is exactly where I would stay again.
At the Mango Beach House, like at most small accommodation on Zanzibar, if you let the staff know ahead of time that you want dinner, the in-house chef will cook you up some dishes. From fresh seafood to vegetable curries to grilled chicken, salads and more, for about $8 USD per person, we had an excellent evening feast several times.
On other nights, and for most lunches, we would venture out into the village or along the beach where we found:
Local restaurants ($5 – $7 USD per person)
– Stone Culture was our favorite, right next to Mango Beach Guesthouse…we came here 4 or 5 times for inexpensive, tasty local dishes cooked by the friendly owner/chef
– Pishi Restaurant in the center of the village was another decent, cheap option
Other hotel restaurants ($7 – $10 per person)
– The food at the Mamamapambo Boutique Hotel was wonderful, and great value, especially for lunch…try the masala iced tea and you’ll end up coming back every day (located next door to Mango Beach Guesthouse)
Western food ($5 – $10 per person)
– Bahari Pizza is an Italian owned place with a perfect spot on the beach, great pizzas, excellent service and plenty of other quality dishes
– Mr. Kahawa in Paje (the next village up the beach, about 5 kms from Jambiani) serves fresh and delicious sandwiches, salads, wraps, fruit juices, coffees and pastries in a funky, minimalist beach cafe setting
Those are all the places where we ate. Not a ton of options, but definitely enough for a two week stay!
Jambiani is small and quiet, with about 1500 people spread out along a three kilometer stretch of beach. It’s a collection of sandy ‘roads’ and narrow sandy paths that weave between very simple homes and huts, some small shops and fruit stands and several mosques. The people are generally friendly, especially the younger generation who seem to have had more contact with foreigners. The locals working in the guesthouses and restaurants are really friendly and you can easily have a conversation with any of them. They are more than happy to discuss local life and answer any questions.
The village, like most of Zanzibar, is conservative and all local females have their arms and legs covered while outside. Most females, including young girls, also have their hair covered. Nobody seemed to mind travelers wearing more western clothing but you’ll definitely stand out and receive plenty of stares if you don’t dress somewhat conservatively while walking around the village. You don’t need to put on pants and a long sleeve shirt but wrapping a sarong around yourself while in the village seemed to be the method of choice.
On the beach itself, things were more relaxed and swimsuits were much more acceptable. Nobody appeared to mind beach clothing being worn at the beach.
We would go for a walk through the village once or twice per day more or less, usually to pop into a small store to buy water, snacks or bananas and to grab a local dinner. There isn’t much to do in the village apart from that but interacting with the kids, shopkeepers and others in the streets was always good fun while out and about.
Paje – The next village up the beach, here you’ll find a wider stretch of white sand, a smaller village, a lot of kitesurfing schools and a lot more foreigners. We preferred Jambiani but I did enjoy the 1 hour walk along the beach up to Paje every now and then for a change of scenery. You can also take a taxi for around 10000 TSH ($3 USD).
Jozani Forest – About 15 minutes by car away from Jambiani, this forest/national park is one of the last places in the world where you can encounter the red colobus monkeys.
You can always rent a car for around $30 USD per day to drive to other parts of the island. There are plenty of more beaches and villages out there than Jambiani so a couple of day trips would be a great option for those looking to explore during their trip to Zanzibar. Other popular areas are Nungwi (way up on the northern tip of Zanzibar), Matemwe (northeast coast), Pongwe (east coast) and Bweeju (about 11 kilometers north of Jambiani).
Internet – If you need internet like we do (to work every day!), the connections offered at most accommodation will be very poor at best. However, if you buy a SIM card in Zanzibar City (the capital and main entry point of Zanzibar), you can get solid 3G connection if you’re staying in an actual village on the island, such as Jambiani. We found Airtel offered the most reliable service on the island and was quite inexpensive (3 GB for around $8 USD).
Taxi costs – Getting from Zanzibar City/Stone Town to Jambiani or Kizimkazi or pretty much any of the main beach areas on the north, east or southern coast should cost between $25 – $40 USD. A taxi from the airport to the center of Stone Town should cost around $8 – $12 USD. There are also local trucks/vans that have set routes around the island. Often very crowded and much slower than a taxi, they are indeed cheap, allowing you to travel a good distance for just a dollar or two. If you do plan to visit many parts of the island during your trip to Zanzibar, you might want to look at renting a car instead of using taxis as it will save you a good amount of money.
Tours and activities – If you’re looking to be more active than just sitting on the beach, there’s a long list of possible activities on Zanzibar, including snorkeling, diving, surfing, kitesurfing, dolphin trips, fishing, visiting outer islands, spice tours and more. Plenty of people will approach you on the beaches offering such tours. Keep in mind that these people are just middlemen and usually not connected in any way to the company that actually offers the activity. It’s worth talking to the staff at your hotel or guesthouse as they should have direct contacts with reliable tour operators, boatmen, drivers, etc and it avoids huge markups. It’s also perfectly acceptable to negotiate the price for any tour/activity.
Money – The main currency is the Tanzanian shilling but many prices are quoted in USD or Euros as well. Keep in mind that the only ATMs on the island are in Zanzibar City/Stone Town so it’s best to take out local currency there before you head off to your beach location. Otherwise, you’ll need to travel 45+ minutes back to Zanzibar City every time you need money and that can cost $60 USD roundtrip by taxi. Money exchange options are also limited on the beaches (Jambiani didn’t have any!) so if you don’t have enough local currency, you’ll have to pay in USD or Euros. Some restaurants and accommodation will accept visa credit cards but do add on a 3%-5% bank fee.
Stone Town – We also stayed in Stone Town, which is the old section of Zanzibar City, the capital of Zanzibar. And it’s definitely worth visiting. We spent one night there when we first arrived on Zanzibar and two nights at the end. You can spend an entire day getting lost in the winding maze of lanes, eating lunch at the excellent Lukmaan Restaurant, visiting the educational former slave market, spending time inside the House of Wonders (aka the best worst museum in the world), wandering through the colorful main market and enjoying a refreshing drink on the beach at sunset. It’s a cool place to hang out for a couple of days.
In Stone Town we stayed at the incredibly friendly and comfortable Zenji Hotel and at the more centrally-located Tausi Palace. Both were excellent budget options and I’d simply choose whichever one has the best rate on any particular dates.
Overall Costs of a Trip to Zanzibar
On a tight budget, your trip to Zanzibar could cost you as little as $25 USD per day if you stay in a hostel or simple room/hut and eat at the most local of restaurants and food stalls.
For $50 USD per day, you can stay in a quality beachfront guesthouse or beach hut (such as Mango Beach House, when split between two people) and throw in an extra activity/excursion every few days.
At $70 USD per day, along with your beachfront room, you could also eat some more expensive meals/dishes and hire a car to really explore the island.
Zanzibar is one of those destinations that can fit into any budget!
Getting to Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania is quite easy. There are several ferries per day to/from Dar es Salaam with the company Azam Marine. The journey takes around 2 hours and costs approximately $35 USD per person.
Before you book the ferry though, be sure to check out Precision Air, one of Tanzania’s local airlines. They offer Zanzibar – Dar es Salaam flights for as low as $40 USD per person. That’s what we paid for the 15 minute flight and it came with gorgeous views of the island and the Tanzanian capital en route!
Any questions about Zanzibar? Any additional advice from those who have already been to this island?