10 Things To Do in Zanzibar on a Backpacker’s Budget

When people think of Zanzibar – a small island off the East Coast of Africa, they often think of honeymooners, five star resorts and a big hole in their wallets. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that Zanzibar is an Island open to travellers on any budget – even the shoestring backpackers’ budget….

I travelled to Zanzibar last year, and I can safely say that I found my personal slice of paradise on the island; perfect white sand beaches melt into crystal clear azure waters, the culture and history is so abundant it seeps into your bones, and the range of cheap activities is enough to keep even the most active backpacker busy!

Below I have compiled a list of 10 things to do in Zanzibar on a backpacker’s budget – all of the activities below will cost you less than $20.

Karibu Zanzibar

1. Prison Island

Prison Island is only a 20 -30 minute boat trip from Zanzibar. This island is steeped in history; it was once used as a place where slaves were detained and after this period, it was turned into a camp where people with deadly diseases were sent. Nowadays, however, this stunning little island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and a place to see the ruins that once functioned as the prison. Prison Island makes for a fun and cheap day trip from Zanzibar.

Prison Island

2. Beaches

Zanzibar’s eastern beaches are amongst the world’s best. These quiet, beautiful and pristine beaches will not disappoint! The top 5 beaches to visit are as follows:

Beaches

Nungwi: Nungwi is a village located at Zanzibar’s North West tip. It is a popular stop for backpackers though it has no-where near the same floods of tourists as many other backpacker spots, namely South East Asia and therefore enjoys Zanzibar’s trademark tranquillity. Nungwi beach is a beautiful spot and is an excellent choice for swimming due to the tide which doesn’t venture out too far.

Kendwa: This village is located next to Nungwi and is within walking distance. Kendwa has pristine white beaches and azure waters with an excellent selection of bars and restaurants on the waterfront.

Pongwe: A picture perfect beach located south of Kendwa and Nungwi; this is a quiet beach exempt from the backpacking crowd of Nungwi and Kendwa.

Paje: This beach is located on the South East of Zanzibar and also draws the attention of travellers. Paje is a popular beach for water sports.

Matemwe: A stunningly quiet beach which offers a small selection of cafes and guest houses. Palm trees sway in the Zanzibari breeze and local villagers go about their daily lives in this sleepy beachside sanctuary.

3. Stone Town

With stunning white washed buildings and culture galore, Stone Town is the heart of Zanzibar and is thought to be the only functioning ancient town left in East Africa. With its multitude of historic sites, markets and tours, Stone Town will see that every day you spend there is packed with activities! When in Stone Town check out Mercury’s restaurant; this restaurant pays tribute to Freddy Mercury who was born in Zanzibar in 1946. There are interesting relics from the Queen band member scattered throughout the bar.

 Stone Town

4. Slave Market

The slave market is located in Stone Town. This ancient site is a sad, poignant yet interesting place to visit to learn about Zanzibar’s history of the slave trade.

 Slave Market

5. Darajani Market

The Darajani located in Stone Town is famous for its vibrancy, colourfulness and range of vendors. This exciting market is well worth a visit and will give you a great taster into local life.

Darajani Market

6. Snorkelling and diving

Zanzibar is excellent for its diving and snorkelling. There are many different locations on the island where you can take a trip; a recommended snorkel trip is to Pemba Island from Nungwi. You will sail to Pemba on a typical Zanzibari dhow boat which is an experience in itself…

The beautiful little island of Pemba makes quite the picture is you sail close to it. You will snorkel close to the shores of the island; most trips will include lunch and light refreshments.

Snorkelling and Diving

7. Forodhani Gardens

Located in Stone Town, the Forodhani Gardens are situated right on the coast and make for a perfect evening stroll; here, locals prepare tasty local dishes and there is a great atmosphere as locals and backpacker’s alike come to taste the delights of the local cuisine.

Forohani Gardens

8. Palace Museum & House of Wonders

The palace museum is also known as Sultan’s Palace, and is referred to as Beit-el-Sahel and it is one of the most prominent historic buildings in Stone Town and well worth a visit. The Palace Museum is situated in the waterfront; it was built in the 19th century to house the Sultan’s family. After the 1964 revolution the site was used as a Government building and re-named to “The People’s Palace.” Nowadays it serves as a museum and showcases relics of the past Sultan family.

The House of wonders is also a very prominent building in Stone Town and functions as one of the main landmarks. It is a fascinating exhibition of Zanzibari and Swahili culture.

Palace Museum and House of Wonders

9. Spice Tour

Zanzibar is famous for its spice industry, and therefore spice tours are readily available. Don’t miss out on a spice tour when in Zanzibar – it’s a great way of learning more about one of the Island’s major industries.

10. The Old Fort

The Old Fort is Stone Town’s oldest building. This historic building is located on the seafront opposite the Forodhani Gardens. The Old Fort was built in the 17th century and its purpose was to defend the island from attacks from the Portuguese. Today, The Old Fort is a place to see the remains of the former fort, and the courtyard in the centre sells local merchandise and there is also an amphitheatre where events are held most evenings.

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25 Responses to “10 Things To Do in Zanzibar on a Backpacker’s Budget”

  1. Hannah @ Getting Stamped April 12, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Great guest post! We are headed to Africa on our RTW trip and I know Zanzibar is on the radar! These are great tips for those on a TIGHT budget!

  2. Emma Spires April 13, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Glad you found it helpful Hannah! You will love Zanzibar, it’s paradise! Where else are you headed to in Africa?
    Emma

  3. Arti April 18, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    Looks like a beautiful place!! So many things to do! Beautiful captures.

  4. Neil July 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    These are all great suggestions, but did you stay in one place or did you move? Can you recommend any hotels over there?

  5. mato August 26, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    That’s a lovely article. I have been to nearly half of all those and still going strong. Very very beautiful island with beautiful people and the culture.

  6. rumbo October 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    hey emma

    we are four friends on a mid life – wtf are we doing with our lives- lets think we’re in college again- type backpacking trip to Zanzibar

    we intend to spend two nights at the kendwa rocks, and one in stonetown before heading for a safari in masai mara.

    can you give us a heads up on what to take, and how to squeeze the most? will be sadly missing the much talked of ‘full moon’ do .. but c’est la vie.

    • Noreen April 17, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Hi rumbo,

      Have you traced to Zanzibar yet. Am thinking of going this summer. Just wondering whether you thought it was safe. Will be traveling with a friend. We are bothe female so a bit anxious about tracking there.

      Thank you
      Noreen

      • Andrew cyril September 5, 2014 at 5:48 am #

        Hi Guys im from spice island Zanzibar East cost Michamvi kae it’s very small villege surrending THE beach. Im telling you Guys this is real Paradiso place and we have alots of things to do over there, like snorkling, diving, jozani forest, fishing, sunset cruse and so on. Any way, im living in Holland now but every year i go back, my plan now im busy to start backpacker in Mchamvi Zanzibar and i already have 1 bungalow and the second one not yet complete finish. Im going back November to finish my project. I say you are welcome

        • Andrew cyril September 5, 2014 at 6:10 am #

          Im from Zanzibar island it’s real Paradiso, if there is Any one want to go Zanzibar, i say just do it you Will real enjoy the spice island it’s so beautiful beach every where, sunshine the sand it’s so white you need to have sun glass but you don’t need the shoe walk on the beach. I say don’t Miss it just it go Paradiso and have good time. Im going back on November.

        • Milou December 2, 2015 at 9:30 am #

          Hi Andrew,
          Í live in Holland too and planning my trip to Zanzibar. How is your project going? Can I contact you for tips etc?

  7. Ron | Active Planet Travels November 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    Matemwe definitely seems like my kind of place. Swaying palm trees, laid back atmosphere, few travelers and coffee houses seem like my cup of tea! Hopefully the rum is easy to come by there as well! 😉

  8. Karin@yumandmore November 6, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    We spent 4 weeks in Zanzibar in 1994 – 2 years after it had been opened for tourism.
    It was awesome and beautiful.
    We have heard such bad things about it since then especially how expensive it has gotten and that crime had become bad.
    It is good to know that it is not all bad and one can still travel there safely and enoy this amazingly gorgeous island.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Karin

  9. The Roaming Coconuts November 9, 2013 at 5:50 am #

    Great post! When were you there? We’re heading there next year….but during rainy season. Hoping it’s as beautiful as your pictures!

  10. Morgan Nott April 28, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    what are some really good back packers you have been to? looking to book for my NYE

  11. ANDREW November 12, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    Hi Emma!
    really nice post! congrats!:)
    There is just one thing I didn’t catch, Is there any boat service from Zanzibar to Pemba Island? because I just found flight connections between the two islands, and as you may imagine about cost…:)

    Thanks for any information given! I am planning to go there on December!:)

  12. steffi February 5, 2015 at 1:59 am #

    Hey guys. One thing that is still quite new to do on the island but definitely missing in this list is the famous Dongwe Doughnut Surftrip operated by Aquaholics Zanzibar. For 60$ per person you get a full on watersports experience including a 4hr boat ride, snorkeling in Blue Lagoon, experience the underwater wing (Subwing) and 2 hour surf lessons in a very beginner friendly surf spot. Also included are transfer from the Southeast Coast as well as snacks and water on the boat.
    Definitely a unique day out and well worth experiencing, even if you haven’t yet discover the surfer blood running through your veins 😉

  13. Matt February 28, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Dear Backpackers!!

    Miza wa Miza Bwejuu is back!! The best place experience true East Coast Zanzibari lifestyle, is now offering rooms from a discounted $10 per person per night, (Swahili breakfast included). Normally these prices are reserved for the dorm rooms but as there is availability on the en suite twins, doubles, triples and family rooms, free upgrades are possible! We also have an on site local bar and Bantu restaurant! Check us out on TripAdvisor & mizawamiza.com.

    For more info and bookings, please call +255 (0)713969289 or email mizawamizabungalows@gmail.com

    Karibuni sana!

  14. Kayle April 5, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    I have always wanted to backpack travel to Africa for one reason – swim in her beautiful beaches 🙂

  15. Philipp July 27, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    Hey Emma, great stuff.

    Listen, I know it might be weird, but ever since my trip to Greece for a month, with no accomodation, I caught the bug… of a ‘multiple-star hotel’.

    I am so happy just sleeping on the beach, under the stars. Is it doable in Zanzibar?
    Is it safe enough? In Greece in 30 days, we didn-t have any troubles…

    The only one practical, quite vital thing is the sweet-water showers available to rinse off the salty sea-water. Are there those as well?

    If it is safe and there are showers, I can do it:D
    Fellow traveller,
    Phil

  16. Miro December 26, 2015 at 5:06 am #

    Hi, we are travelling with our Land Rover and for 2016 we plan to go from South Africa to Tanzania and see Zanzibar. Can sombody recommed to me some ferry to the island, any experience? And by the way… we still have space in car for the way back to SA.

  17. Nora January 23, 2016 at 5:41 am #

    Hey! I find your “to dos” very nice. However, is it safe to be there alone as a woman?I am planning to go to Zanzibar for 5 days all alone but if its not recommended I would rather choose another destination instead. Thank you very much for your answer: NOra

  18. amr February 9, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    hi every one can i get information about hotel or guest house because i look for stay one month guest house one night max 20$ can i find? thx

  19. gaz March 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Travelling soon to zanzibar, will the markets be open every day during the week.

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