Dhows off Zanzibar, Tanzania

Guide to Zanzibar's beaches

Zanzibar's main island, Unjuga (also known simply as Zanzibar) is about 55 miles long by 25 miles wide. Much of its coastline has wonderful beaches, but they're all different.

Dhows off Zanzibar, Tanzania

© IPavlov,Shutterstock

Guide to Zanzibar's best beaches plus other Indian Ocean alternatives in Tanzania

The spice island (or rather archipelago) of Zanzibar is just off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar's main and largest island is about 55 miles long and 25 miles wide. It is blessed with some incredibly beautiful beaches where you can enjoy a simple Zanzibar beach holiday or perhaps some time on the beach before or after a safari.

It takes under 2 hours to drive from Stone Town, the historic part of the island's capital, to Nungwi at the northern tip. From many places, you can easily explore Stone Town on a day trip but we mostly recommend adding at least one night in Stone Town. Zanzibar is roughly 12 hours from Europe. There are some direct international flights, but otherwise, you’ll fly to Dar es Salaam on the Tanzania mainland, then get a light plane across to the island. This takes about 20 minutes.

Eastern Zanzibar beaches
In general, the eastern beaches are lovely but the tides go out a long way making swimming difficult in many places at low tide. Some of the beaches in the east (especially more southerly) can often be strewn with seaweed. If there is a small amount, good lodges tend to clear it up each day, but it can’t always be avoided (especially around December to February). Chwaka Bay is fringed by mangroves and this adversely affects the water and sand quality in the immediate region.

Northern & northwest Zanzibar beaches
These are the least tidal so often the best choice if you want to be able to swim in the sea all day. However, because of this, these are some of the busiest areas, especially around Nungwi. The north-eastern beaches are still affected by tides.

Southwest Zanzibar beaches
Beaches in the southwest tend to be more coral cliff than sandy beach, but there are some sandy coves. Swimming, snorkelling and diving are good here, although the best snorkelling and diving is near Mnemba Atoll on the east of the island.


Alternatives to heading for Zanzibar include chilling out on other, smaller Indian Ocean islands off Tanzania, such as Mafia or Pemba, or exploring the mainland coast, also known as the Swahili Coast. Tanzania is a wonderful choice for a beach holiday.


Pongwe was difficult to fault on any issue! Just about the best beach holiday experience we have ever had.

Christine MacDougall - Travel Consultant

Born and bred in Africa, Chris travels to explore and drink in nature in the wild. Chris is diligent, caring and a bit bonkers.

Call:  01473 890499


Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar, Tanzania © ATodorovic,Shutterstock

The best beaches on Zanzibar plus other Indian Ocean islands and Tanzania's mainland coast

The diving at Mafia far exceeded my expectation in terms not just of what I saw but also in terms of the care and attention to safety and confidence of a pretty much novice diver like me.


On Pemba it was so relaxed, but we went kayaking, did some amazing snorkelling and had a fantastic experience on dolphin safari with them all swimming and jumping in front of the boat. There were also the most amazing sunsets.

S. Barnett

Weather and Tides

SUN/RAIN: Zanzibar welcomes visitors all year round, however, the more rainy months of April and May are much less popular, so many of the hotels close at this time. The ‘short’ rains generally come in November/early December are usually less of an issue, though, and they are rarely bad enough to spoil holidays. As always, though, the weather is unpredictable!

WINDS: The archipelago is affected by what is known as the ‘trade winds’. The Kaskazi (blowing roughly south) starts in about October and lasts until about the end of February, with January tending to be its strongest time. The Kusi (blowing roughly south to north) is the stronger of the two winds, arriving in about April, peaking in about June, then tailing off around September.

SEAWEED: Seaweed is farmed in Zanzibar, bringing a good livelihood to many people. Seaweed on the beach is therefore something you might need to expect and accept, though better hotels try hard to keep their beaches clear.

TIDES: You should always bear in mind that most of the beaches are affected by the tides. You could find that the sea is a long distance away for much of the day, and even when close it is quite shallow in some places. We recommend choosing a hotel with a pool if you’re a keen swimmer.

GENERAL TANZANIA CLIMATE: For more details about when to visit Tanzania, see our 'When to go to Tanzania' guide.

I found Zanzibar absolutely wonderful! The ferry ride over, the Asmini Palace Hotel in Kiponda, the architecture with influences from India (wooden doors), the Old Fort during the Zanzibar Film Festival, the variety of restaurants, the Forodhani Garden in the daytime and also after dark, the narrow alleyways, the different religious structures: mosques, Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, remnants of the Omani Empire and the Portuguese, British and German colonial periods.

Nungwe Beach on Zanzibar, Tanzania
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