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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.