My one-week trip to Zanzibar was nearly perfect. It ticked all the boxes: history and culture in Stone Town, relaxation in untouristy Jambiani Beach, and beautiful beaches and diving in Nungwi. It had a little bit of everything.
Zanzibar was so much more than I expected – it was otherworldly. From the snaking, medina-like streets to the celestial blue waters, I often felt like I was either time-traveling or in a beach resort commercial.
As the island is so incredible, I wanted to put together my recommendations for a one-week trip to Zanzibar.
Note that this is not a backpacking itinerary. When I first started planning my trip to Zanzibar, I wanted to stay in hostels for half of the trip and boutique hotels for the rest. Zanzibar doesn't really have hostels, and doesn't lend itself well to backpacking (I would argue East Africa in general doesn't have much of a backpacker scene).
So this itinerary is best for those who want to a true daquiris-by-the-pool vacation, with a side of culture and adventure.
One Week Zanzibar Itinerary
Day 1 – Stone Town
Morning: Arrive in Stone Town. Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site whose winding streets are straight out of Aladdin. My advice for your first few hours? Just stroll. Take photos of the famed Zanzibari doors, enjoy a traditional Zanzibari lunch at 6 Degrees South, pop into a few shops.
A word of warning to ladies traveling to Zanzibar – you may want to dress conservatively while in Stone Town. While Zanzibar as a whole is predominantly Muslim, Stone Town is more conservative than the rest of the island.
I felt better having my shoulders and midriff covered in Stone Town – see the outfit below, which I wore (comfortably) all day.
Afternoon: In the afternoon, arrange a walking tour with your hotel. Most walking tours will take you to sites like the Old Fort and Christ Church Cathedral. Our tour cost $20 each for two hours.
Evening: Have dinner at the magical Tea House Restaurant, located on top of the Emerson on Hurumzi Hotel. Make sure to make reservations in advance! And arrive at 6 p.m. to watch the sun set over Stone Town and to enjoy a few sundowners.
For more information on what to in Stone Town, read my post about what to Eat, See, and Do in Stone Town.
Where to stay in Stone Town: Dhow Palace Hotel
The Dhow Palace Hotel is a quaint historic hotel built in the traditional Zanzibari style. We loved it; it had free breakfast, airport pickup, a pool, and most importantly, air-conditioning.
Day 2 – Stone Town to Jambiani Beach
Arrange a taxi to go to Jambiani Beach – it will cost around $50 for two people.
Note – before you leave Stone Town, take out cash from an ATM. There are no ATMs on Zanzibar outside of Stone Town.
Jambiani Beach is a small village on the Southeastern coast. It's relaxed and laid-back, and less touristy than other parts of the island.
Where to stay in Jambiani: Red Monkey Lodge
Red Monkey Lodge is a small, budget beach lodge in Jambiani Beach. It's not a luxury resort, but it's a great place if you're looking to save money without staying in a hostel.
Rooms at Red Monkey Lodge start at $90 for a double room with AC. For more Jambiani hotels, check out rates here.
Day 3 – Jambiani
There's not a lot to do in Jambiani, but that's kind of the beauty of it. You can take a half-day cooking class at Tangawizi Bistro, learn how to play bao at Coral Rock, or just swim to your heart's content in the beautiful aqua waters.
Basically just relax, drink a few beers, and eat seafood.
Day 4 – Lunch at The Rock Restaurant
You can't go to Zanzibar and not have lunch at The Rock Restaurant! The Rock Restaurant is a tiny restaurant perched on a rock in the Indian Ocean, and it's only a twenty-minute drive from Jambiani.
Make sure to make reservations in advance – it's popular.
Day 5 – Jambiani to Nungwi
Next, head to Nungwi for the island's best beaches – picture miles of white sand and turquoise waters. Nungwi is more touristy than Jambiani but it's for a good reason – the beaches are much better, and it's nearby the island's best dive spots.
Where to stay in Nungwi: Z Hotel
Z Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel with an infinity pool and gorgeous views of the ocean. I absolutely LOVED Z Hotel – it was one of my favorite hotels I've ever stayed at.
Small enough to feel cozy, but big enough to have several restaurants and lots of activities, Z Hotel ticked all the boxes for me. Plus, the interior design is gorgeous.
Rooms at Z Hotel start at $190 for a double room. For more hotels in Nungwi, check out rates here.
Day 6 – Snorkel or Dive Mnemba Atoll
The best snorkeling and diving on Zanzibar is at Mnemba Atoll. Mnemba Atoll is a beautiful reef with strong currents, so it's the perfect place to try drift-diving.
I didn't see any big sea life but I did see ghostly white puffer fish, turquoise parrot fish, grouper, small, white moray eel, unicorn fish battling, and sea stars. While the diving was good, I wouldn't plan a trip to Zanzibar for the diving alone – it wasn't mind-blowing.
But if you like drift diving, you will love Mnemba Atoll – I drifted so far on my dive that I completely lost my group, ha.
Note to all scuba divers – make sure to give yourself more than 24 between your dive and your flight!
Which company to dive with: I enjoyed my experience with Spanish Dancer Divers. Spanish Dancers charges $110 for two dives, and also charges a $30 supplement for Mnemba Atoll. Snorkeling Mnemba costs only $55. It takes about 45 minutes to get from Nungwi to Mnemba Atoll by speed boat.
Day 7 – Airport
Say goodbye to Z Hotel (sob) and head to the airport.
Other Zanzibar ideas:
Paje is a great place to learn how to kiteboard.
If you're looking for a super fancy, romantic resort, everyone seems to love Breezes.
Kendwa Rocks hosts a Full Moon Party every month, so if you like to party, consider planning your trip around that.
When to visit Zanzibar – we visited in March, which marks the start of the rainy season which continues through April and May. However it didn't rain at all during our stay, so I'd highly recommend visiting in March as flights and accommodation were much more inexpensive than during the high season. See more advice on when to visit Zanzibar here.
Citizens from most western countries can get their visas on arrival for $50 on Zanzibar, payable by cash for credit. However it costs $100 for US citizens. Learn more about visa information here.
Travelers to Tanzania must present proof of the yellow fever vaccination at the airport if you are traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever – see countries with risk of yellow fever virus (YFV) transmission here.
The malaria risk on Zanzibar is low, so I didn't take medication. However, some travelers decide to. See the recommended vaccines for Tanzania here.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Zanzibar. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.