Last Updated on March 19, 2023
Zanzibar is a popular destination that many people doing a safari on mainland Tanzania will tag on to the end of their itinerary for a few days. I went JUST to Zanzibar for 9 nights/10 days. I did a mixture of exploring and relaxing. As a minimum I would suggest at least doing 6 nights. This will give enough time to enjoy a couple of day tours to see the main sights, as well as enjoying the beautiful beaches! Check out this Zanzibar itinerary full of tips and advice!
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🕖Duration: 7 nights (although I travelled for 9 nights)
Day 1: Arrive
Day 2: Paje Beach
Day 3: The Rock Restaurant
Day 4: Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park & Spice Farm Tour
Day 5: Relax – Yoga & massage
Day 6: Stone Town & Prison Island
Day 7: Optional – Stone Town or Paje Beach
Day 8: Depart
📅Month of travel: September/October
Where To Stay In Zanzibar
Paje: Paje By Night (I LOVED my stay and would highly recommend!) or Heart of Zanzibar Bungalows (slightly more budget friendly option, I stayed for 1 night)
Stone Town: Bottoms Up (I was booked to stay here in 2020)
Originally I was booked to go in July 2020…and we all know what happened that year. For that Zanzibar itinerary I had my time split between Stone Town and Paje, 3 nights in Stone Town and 6 nights in Paje.
When I rebooked the trip for 2022, I simplified my itinerary and decided to base myself in Paje for 9 nights and travel around. I didn’t want too many ‘moving parts’ in case there were problems with flights etc. (As it happens, my flight DID get cancelled a few weeks before I was due to fly and I ended up being rebooked on a flight landing a day earlier).
Paje is a perfect location for kitesurfing, if you are looking at learning, it may be that you need 6 days alone just for that. You can do more or less, but many places offer 6-day packages of lessons and equipment rental. With just 1 lesson, you probably won’t even touch the water, as the first lesson is dedicated to kite control!
As mentioned, I stayed for 9 nights, however, I have shorted my itinerary to create what I think a great Zanzibar itinerary would be. Personally, I enjoyed just relaxing in hammocks and enjoying my daily beach walks, but I know this isn’t for everyone!
Depending on where you arrive from, obviously this will vary! I flew from Dubai to Zanzibar with FlyDubai (booked through Emirates starting at London STN) and landed around 3pm. By the time I had got through the airport and took a 1 hour taxi to Paje on the other side of the island, it was 5pm by the time I reached my hotel.
Coming from the UK/Europe, there isn’t a huge time difference, it’s only GMT +3, so at least you don’t have to worry about jet lag. My flight originally departed London at 9.55pm, which meant a 6 hour red eye, followed by a second 5 hour flight down to Zanzibar.
By the time I had got to my accommodation, I dumped my bag, went from a walk along the beach and then back to my room to sleep. I decided to skip dinner as I had a full dinner service on both flights.
If you don’t want to learn how to kite surf, there are still several things to do in Paje. I have a whole guide which you can find here: Paje Beach Zanzibar | A HUGE Guide To Paje Zanzibar.
The tides around the lagoon can be a little crazy, some days the sea literally disappears out of sight, just leaving endless beach! When it is at low tide, a great tour to do is Mwani Zanzibar. At the Paje Seaweed Center you can learn all about how the ‘Mwani Mamas’ harvest seaweed to turn it into skin care products.
If you walk the beach early in the morning, you’ll often see women out in the water, collecting seaweed. They are independent workers, mostly collecting seaweed for export, but the women at Mwani Zanzibar are employees of the company who are trained in production too.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars along Paje Beach where you can relax with a drink and a meal while enjoying the view and watching the kite surfers.
Don’t forget to wander into the village though and check out some of the businesses there. Sativa Cafe is great for vegetarians/vegans and the Mapacha Street Food Court has a selection of food stands selling a variety of different cuisines for reasonable prices.
The Rock Restaurant
You may have seen images of The Rock Restaurant. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a restaurant on the top of a rock. It’s located on the middle of the beach and during high tide it is surrounded by water and access is via a little boat. Word of warning, it’s expensive, the food is OK but you definitely pay a premium of the novelty of it.
Most of the tables are inside, however there is a small seating area outside. As I was by myself I was seating outside, which I was fine with as it meant that I got to enjoy the view. However, the tables in this area are similar to a coffee table height so it’s not the most convenient for eating.
There are four 2 hour ‘sittings’ a day, two during lunch and two in the evening. They do recommend making a reservation in advance (it’s free for small groups) as walk-ins are accepted only if there happens to be space available. Unless you are staying in Pingwe/Michamvi the easiest way to reach it is by taxi. The drivers park up, wait for you to eat and then take you back once you finish.
If you really want to see the restaurant surrounded by water, you’ll have to check to see when the high tides are due. My visit was during low tide, so you just walk across the beach and go up the steps. Compared to Paje Beach which is white and sandy, it’s much more rocky with tide pools and crabs!
Tour: Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park & Spice Farm
When choosing day tours in Zanzibar, most of the time you pay for a driver and they take you around. This gives you some flexibility in what you do and where you go. Many tours can be combined with multiple attraction to make it more of a full day trip. I did a trip to Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park & a Spice Farm.
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park is known for being home to the Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey, a species only found in the wild in Zanzibar. My driver handed me over to a forest guide who took a small group of us around the forest.
I booked the tour before I realised the same monkeys hung out in my hotel garden. I had been used to having just me watching them, to having loads of tourists trying to shove cameras in their faces. We saw the Blue Monkey (also know as the Sykes Monkey) as well which is a species commonly found across parts of Africa.
I mostly hung back and just spoke to the guide. Monkeys are my favourite animal, so I was interested to learn more about them and their existence in Zanzibar.
After watching the monkeys, we did a short hike deeper into the forest. We didn’t see any more monkeys in this area, just a squirrel, trails of ants and a spider, but it was nice to escape the crowds for a little bit!
We then jumped back into the taxi to head across the road to the mangroves. The same guide took us around the boardwalk and explained the eco system of the swamp area. I wasn’t expecting to have this as part of the tour, so that was a nice surprise.
Spice Farm Tour
I went to the Jambo Spice Farm in Dole, just outside of Stone Town. It was around 1 hour from Jozani Forest. The Spice Farm is often combined with Stone Town as they are on the same side of the island. However I had wanted to visit Prison Island while in Stone Town, which is why I did it with the forest instead.
The Spice Farm tour was one of my favourite things that I did in Zanzibar and I would definitely recommend it. I loved learning about the different spices and fruits that are grown on Zanzibar. The tour is very hands on, you get the touch, feel and smell all the different spices and taste different fruits etc. My guide was very knowledgeable and made the tour fun. Yes it was a bit of a tourist trap but I thought it was really interesting.
Lunch was included in the cost of my combined tour and it was really tasty and full of spices (not spicy, just very flavourful!). The meat part was tuna, I ended up skipping it as I’m not a big fish eater but I had more than enough rice and salad to fill me up.
I wrote a full guide about my Spice Farm Tour here.
Yoga & Massage
Almost everyone I met in Zanzibar could speak English, however the official language is Swahili. The main words you’ll come across are:
Jambo – Hello
Asante/Asante sana – Thank you/thank you very much
Hakuna Matata – No worries
Karibu – Welcome
Pole pole – Slowly slowly
So in a place where everything is on ‘island time’ and ‘pole pole’, it’s a perfect excuse to spend some time going slow! This was another day spent in Paje, wandering the beach, relaxing around the pool surrounded by monkeys and having a massage and a yoga class!
I stayed at Paje By Night for the majority of my time in Zanzibar, they had their own yoga studio and ‘spa’. The yoga studio was open to both guests and non guests, however on busy days, guests are given priority.
There were several different classes to choose from. Ashtanga Yoga in the morning is more active and the more relaxing Vinyasa Flow classes are the evenings. For one morning a week, the morning yoga session takes place on the deck at Paje By Night On The Beach, overlooking the beach.
I did the evening class, but I did get up one morning to watch the sunrise, before the beach yoga class, with some other people that were staying at Paje By Night.
Some of us then had massages too! There was a wide variety of different massages to choose from are reasonably priced compared to North American and European prices. I had a 75 minute full body Swedish massage for 45USD. Other options included: 20 minute face massage 15USD, 45 minute sports massage 35USD, 60 minute Java & Balinese 45USD, 75 minute Yoga Thai 55USD.
The masseuse at Paje By Night was great and has worked all over the world!
Tour: Stone Town & Prison Island
My Stone Town (also called Zanzibar City) and Prison Island tour was another one which had some flexibility. Originally I was asked if I wanted to do a day time tour, or leave more around lunch time and catch evening/sunset while in Stone Town instead. I opted for the day tour as I’ve seen loads of sunsets and it wasn’t a huge selling point for me.
The tour cost $110 so it was one of the most expensive things that I did in Zanzibar. This included the taxi to and from Stone Town (just over 1 hour one-way), the boat and entrance to Prison Island plus a tour guide while on the island and around Stone Town.
Looking back I think I should have gone for the evening, so I could have seen the divers and the street food market at which starts in the evening at Forodhani Park. In the day time, I missed out on these things. My tour was quite rushed. It would have been nice to have had a little more time in Stone Town.
In 2020 I had 3 nights booked, I think this would have been perfect so there was at least one full day/evening to explore. As I was travelling alone, I did appreciate having a guide though. In some of the places we visited I was in the minority, there were no other tourists around so I did get some attention.
Stone Town is like one giant maze so it was good just being able to follow someone who knew where they were going!
The first part of my tour was to Prison Island (also called Changuu Island). For a while the island was a holding station for slaves and then it was a Yellow Fever quarantine facility. It now houses a hotel/resort which is being refurbished.
The boat to Prison Island takes 25 minutes. I was in a small ‘private’ dhow with just my guide and the driver. Honestly, I thought I was going to have my own Titanic moment and that it might sink. It was so rough and I got absolutely SOAKED. I did ask my guide if it was always rough, he said yes and especially at high tide (which was only 1 hour away) the boat I was in isn’t ‘man enough’ to make the crossing!
Prison Island Zanzibar
Prison Island is home to a large amount of Aldabra Giant Tortoises that have been living on the island for over 100 years. Aldabra tortoises are the second largest species of tortoise in the world. They believe that the oldest tortoise at the sanctuary is 185+ years old.
The island started off with 4 tortoises which were a gift from the Governor of the Seychelles and they have continued to breed over the years.
The tortoises have a large area where they can roam around, with plenty of shade as well as sunny spots. You are given a few cabbage leaves and can feed them.
Aldabra Giant Tortoises on Prison Island in Zanzibar
As someone that used to volunteer at a large zoo in the UK, I am often on the look out for living conditions etc. I thought the sanctuary was OK until I saw the ‘nursery’ which was a dark little shed with a large amount of tortoises inside. I did ask my guide about it. He said they are in there because if they are kept in the main area, the larger tortoises can accidentally squash them, which is fair enough.
But they are also kept in the shed for 10 years, which just seems crazy however when you consider their life span it is a fraction of time. I just thought it would have been nice if maybe the enclosure was to get an upgrade…
After the sanctuary, my guide took me around the old quarantine facility and then I had a quick swim from the beach. The water around the island is so clear and blue.
Stone Town Tour
Once back on ‘dry land’ my guide dropped me off at the Ocean Grill for lunch. It did seem to be a typical dumping ground for tourists on day tours and the prices reflected that. It did have lovely rooftop views across the beach and water though and the food portion was giant. I had chicken fried rice with a small salad for 20,000Tsh. It’s also a good opportunity to use the toilet too.
Stone Town is the capital of Zanzibar. My guide showed me several historic buildings (Freddie Mercury’s House, House of Wonders, Old Fort, Forodhani Park, Stone Town Market, an Anglican Cathedral etc) and explained the history of the city and Zanzibar. It was very interesting but was a bit of a whistle stop tour!
I would have liked to have spent a bit more time looking around the Stone Town Market. It was very busy and felt like you were being swept along in the crowds! The fruit market looked amazing!
Those that may be vegetarian/vegan, there is a live market too, so you may want to avoid this area. My guide did give me the choice to skip it or see it. I was intrigued as it obviously is their culture but it is a bit grim and I avoided breathing the whole time while walking though.
For those that love architecture and design may appreciate the carved wooden doors around Stone Town. There are two main styles. As a rule of thumb, most Arab style doors are a rectangular shape. Indian doors have a curved arch at the top and some have studs on them. The studs were a design in India to deter elephants. The carvings can often give you an idea as to the type of person who used to live there, such as royalty or someone of status.
Optional: Another day in Stone Town or Paje
Now travel is becoming slightly more reliable again, I think I would have gone back to my original Zanzibar itinerary and spilt my time between Paje and Stone Town. I was booked to stay at Bottoms Up in Stone Town, which offer complimentary breakfast and had a rooftop terrace.
Bottoms Up could arrange tours too. The Spice farm tour, Prison Island and Stone Town guided tours are cheaper when starting in Stone Town, compared to coming from the other side of the island. (Jozani Forest and the Rock restaurant are cheaper from Paje).
With the extra time in Stone Town, I would have made sure to include the evening street food market and spent more time exploring the alleyways and markets. Maybe even visiting the Freddy Mercury Museum.
Another option, for those that may want to go on a snorkelling trip or boat trip, the Safari Blue could be of interest. From speaking to other travellers, the snorkelling on the Safari Blue tour was OK. However everyone said they had seen better in other locations globally (which is why I skipped it as I had been on many snorkelling tours including in Australia and Belize, which have the 2 largest barrier reefs in the world).
Again, the Safari Blue is cheaper from Stone Town.
I was also happy just spending the days in Paje. As I stayed there for 8 nights, I met a great group of travellers and we’d try different places to eat in the village, walk up and down the beach and spend time relaxing. Paje Beach is pretty amazing after all and it looked different nearly every day due to the tides!
My flight left late in the evening, so I did have most of my last day to continue enjoying Zanzibar. If travelling from Paje, the airport shuttle takes around an hour and costs approximately 40USD. If spending a couple of nights in Stone Town, a taxi to the airport takes 15 minutes and costs 10USD.
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