Get Familiar With Zanzibar Beaches
If planning a break on Zanzibar for the first time, the biggest dilemma occurs which beach on Zanzibar to choose. Should you stay North or rather choose (North / South) East coast of Zanzibar? What are the differences between Zanzibar beaches?
In last six years I spent so many months on Zanzibar and visited all the main beaches along the Zanzibar coast and one thing is for sure: all beaches on Zanzibar have palms, white sand and turquoise ocean.
Zanzibar or Unguja Island is the most popular island in Zanzibar Archipelago which includes numerous islands, among others Pemba Island, Mafia Island and Latham Island.
Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean, just 25 km off the coast of mainland Tanzania. Easily accessible, either by a mere 20 minutes flight from Dar es Salaam airport or a little less than three hour ferry to Zanzibar leaving from Dar ferry terminal. Once in Stone Town, most of the beaches are on average an hour and half of drive away.
Beaches on North of Zanzibar – Almost no Low Tide
Nungwi and Kendwa are the most popular beaches on Zanzibar and that is for a good reason. Unlike the rest of the island, the top island location is blessed by not having to deal with high and low tides. Perfect place if you are looking to swim around the clock without have to walk far out to sea to chase the ocean mile away.
Both, Nungwi and Kendwa are also known for party atmosphere, yet it’s not to be compared with typical party beach destinations elsewhere in the world. The biggest parties are going on on full moon time on Kendwa beach. Those nights can be sleepless nights for travellers that want to sleep rather than party.
There are a number of bars and clubs, beach boys on the beach, but the entire atmosphere remains chilled out and low key relaxed Zanzibari style.
However, Nungwi has two sides, the main busy side dotted with many hotels, very busy beach, and lively in the day and night, while being on the opposite quiet side of Nungwi is the opposite. Here you will find an empty beach for your self without noise, crowds or beach boys. This side is haven for travellers seeking more peace, solitude and privacy and my favourite place on the North of Zanzibar.
Due to popularity of both locations, dont expect hassle free time on the beach. Which I personally find it the biggest downside of this area. Your beach relaxation will be interrupted regularly by so called beach boys (papasi in Kiswahili), selling just anything from weed, souvenirs, fruits and sex while local women usually offer massage and henna painting.
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Getting to Nungwi Beach From Stone Town on Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Nungwi beach is about 58 km / 36 miles out of Stone Town
- Public transport from Stone Town to Nungwi beach: take dalla dalla nr. 116 from dalla dalla station in Darajani. Dalla dalla stops in Nungwi village, if headed to main Nungwi side, you will have to walk around 10 to 15 minutes to get to your Nungwi hotel. For Ras Nungwi and Sazani beach head to opposite direction down the road takes about 30 minutes of walking.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Nungwi beach: 45 USD and up.
Kendwa is located just few miles before the Nungwi Village. It is slightly more laid back than Nungwi while still lively enough to enjoy the beach life at its best. You can find all: laid back bars and restaurants along the beach, beach volleyball for some fun in the sand, diving centers and some parties in the evening time.
Getting to Kendwa Beach from Stone Town on Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Kendwa beach is about 56 km / 35 miles out of Stone Town
- Public transport from Stone Town to Kendwa beach: take dalla dalla nr. 116 from dalla dalla station in Darajani. Then you need to ask the conductor to stop at the junction to Kendwa Rocks and then you will have to walk about 15 minutes to the village.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Kendwa: 45 USD and up.
Beaches on East Coast of Zanzibar
All of East coast of Zanzibar is tide dependant and a little more windy than the opposite side of the island. If you are into wind sports like kite surfing and kitesurfing, East Coast of Zanzibar is the right place to choose for your holiday stay on Zanzibar. Majority of properties on Zanzibar beaches can be found on Airbnb!
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North East Coast Zanzibar Beaches
North East Coast Beaches of Zanzibar are considered Zanzibar s top location, mainly with up market luxury resorts and hotels. Tidal difference here is still lesser than on the southern side. On the sandy stretches of beach seaweed is common seasonal annoyance, don’t expect tidily combed beaches without seaweed like in the North. However seaweed presents oftentimes the main income source for locals in this area.
Matemwe beach offers fine white sands and remains reasonably unspoiled although there are still occasional sellers and touts. In low tide time swimming is impossible and the beach turns into desert full of coral flats., therefore is good to book a hotel with pool in this part of Zanzibar. Matemwe village is great starting point for diving trips to archipelago’s best reefs – Mnemba island , less than a mile offshore.
Getting to Matemwe Beach From Stone Town
- Distance from Stone Town: Matemwe is approximately 50 km / 30 miles north east of Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town to Matemwe village: daladala number 118 runs there daily from the city’s Creek Road. This long and uncomfortable journey might no be for everyone however. The daladala will drop you at the junction before the village where the tarmac ends. Head north from the junction and spread out along the beach for 2 km are the various hotels of Matemwe.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Matemwe beach: 45 USD and up
Pongwe is idyllic place. But not for those with itchy feet! Pongwe is quite remote, which makes it great place to relax and unwind without touts on the beach. If walking on the beach, most likely you will be the only one. If planning to do trips around Zanzibar from Pongwe, keep in mind its not the best location. All snorkelling and dive trips take at least an hour in a car each way.
Meal wise there are not many bars or restaurants around, so you will be dependent on hotel when it comes to food. All in all, depending on the angle, for those looking for privacy, intimacy Pongwe is perfect beach. Solo travellers might feel in minority in Pongwe as guests are mainly couples and romantic honeymooners.
Getting to Pongwe Beach From Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Pongwe beach is 46 km / 29 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town to Pongwe: Take dalla dalla number 209 but note this route is not operating on daily basis. Also do not mix Pongwe with Mwera Pongwe –
an entirely different place. Easier to take a taxi!
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Pongwe beach: 40 USD and up
If you are all inclusive type of traveller, then book hotel or resort in Kiwengwa. Majority of big hotel establishments are all inclusive, and the village is extremely popular among Italian guests. My last visit in Kiwengwa felt like I was somewhere in Italy not on Zanzibar and even local kids automatically greet you with ciao bella. This tells a lot about Kiwengwa that is turning into Italian village.
If still want to spend your vacation on Zanzibar in Kiwengwa and don’t want to stay in big resort, there are some smaller lodges and bungalows as well as private Airbnb type houses to rent. All in all, due to all inclusive options, Kiwengwa beach is great for families with kids.
Swimming in Kiwengwa at low-tide is not possible but majority of resorts have large pools. Beach boys touting goods and service are present on the beach but less annoying and irritating and they are not as persistent as the ones in Stone Town.
Getting to Kiwengwa Beach from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Kiwengwa beach is 46 km / 29 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town to Kiwengwa: Kiwengwa is frequently served by the number 117 daladala. The journey is not particularly comfortable as daladalas never are.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Kiwengwa beach: 45 USD and up
South East Zanzibar Beaches
Hotels on this side are spread between various beaches and neighbour different beach villages, all with their own individual atmospheres and appeals. These are Jambiani, Pingwe, Bwejuu, Paje, Dongwe and the Michamvi Peninsula.
Furthest South there is Jambiani. Definitely the liveliest option in the area with good range of restaurants and bars on the beach. Jambiani is also beach where locals mix with tourists. While sitting in the bar or lying on the beach you can observe Zanzibari fishermen and seaweed farmers at work as well as local kids playing football.
Good snorkelling spots are near as well as the option to hire a bicycle and explore further down the coast. Low tide time is not possible for swimming unless you dare to swim a mile away from the beach.
Getting to Jambiani Beach from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Jambiani beach is 56 km / 35 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town: Take dalla dalla number 309
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Jambiani beach: 45 USD and up
Another lively stretch of beach with abundance of beach bars with laid back vibes. Most of the lodges and bungalows are beachfront or second row. Paje, along with Jambiani and Dongwe is prime location for kite surfing specially during December till February and between May to October.
While one can easily walk miles along the beach stretch, it is sometimes a bit harder to sunbathe directly on the beach, specially near kiting centers that occupy some parts of the beach for putting together kites.
Same might happen in the water, there is an area which is used by kite surfers and swimmers should stay away to avoid accidents in the water. taking this into account, Paje beach is great for both- lazy bums and active kiting addicts. Low tide is not the time for swimming, but is great for walking among low water pools across the beach.
If you need access to swimming 24/7 book hotel with pool.
Bwejju, Pingwe and Dongwe Beach
Bwejuu has a lovely beach for most of the year but in Christmas time the beach could be heavily covered with seaweed. If staying in Bwejju there is not many bars or restaurants available except for existing bungalows and hotel bars.
Bwejju is very quiet, remote and for more social life in the evenings you will have to hire a taxi and go to Paje or Jambiani. Those addicted to internet might experience no signal on mobile network as well as some electricity cuts regularly happen almost on daily basis.
If in more expensive hotels, this is not a problem, but in low budget lodges there is Hakuna Matata atmosphere where everything stops for the time without electricity. No cooked meals if they cook on electric stoves, no ice, no wifi.
Bwejju in couple last years has some problems with local gangs robbing beach walkers and breaking into houses in the village. Make sure you dont walk at night alone and leave valuables on a safe place. If you are more on the independent side and renting private house on Airbnb or from locals, make sure landlord provides you with night guard.
I hate writing this, as location is really beautiful, but this comes from my personal experience. While I rented private new house in Bwejuu, local gang was breaking into house it in the middle of the night. Nobody will tell you about things like that until it actually happens. Those in hotels and resorts are safe as all have security guards 24/7.
South of Bwejuu, just on the Michamvi Peninsula, are Dongwe and Pingwe. Michamwi village is great for sunset trip on a clear day, while Dongwe is starting point to cheaper snorkling in lagoon nearby.
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Getting to Jambiani Beach from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Bwejju beach is 56 km / 35 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town: Take dalla dalla number 324 or 340 – are not recommended as they take well over an hour or seldom more and are horribly uncomfortable.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Bwejju: 45 USD and up
Getting to Dongwe / Pingwe from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Dongwe beach is 57 km / 36 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town: Reaching Pingwe and Dongwe is not so easy.Take taxi.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Dongwe: 45 USD and up
Michamvi Peninsula – Ras Michamwi Beach
Michamwi beach is sparsely populated and quiet. You will find only few resorts here which makes it perfect for those who need to literally escape the civilization and want indulge in the ocean.
Like anywhere on East side of Zanzibar, keep in mind swimming is not possible at low tide and the beaches come with seaweed. If staying in Bwejju or Jambiani, Paje, hire a taxi and go for romantic sunset views. Its stunning! On the way you can stop at famous Rock restaurant too!
Getting to Ras Michamwi from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Michamwi beach is 66 km / 45 miles for Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town: Reaching Ras Michamwi by public transport is not easy.Take taxi.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Ras Michamwi : 50 USD and up
South Zanzibar Beaches
The further south you go on Zanzibar, the more populated it becomes. And with people comes culture – head to Southern Zanzibar for cultural and spice tours along with more opportunities to engage with the locals.
Kizimkazi beach is popular for dolphin spotting tours rather than beach destination in true sense. If you are into cultural experience in Kizimkazi you can visit the oldest mosque (Dimbani mosque dating from 1107 AD) in East Africa and tourists are allowed to enter.
There are a number of lodges and restaurants and bars in Kizimkazi as it is popular among day trippers Swimming on Kizimkazi? Kizimkazi along with Mtendeni and Mkunguni have the highest tides on Zanzibar. During high tide there is no beach while during the low tide ocean is far away.
Getting to Kizimkazi Beach from Stone Town by Public Transport
- Distance from Stone Town: Kizimkazi beach is 60 km / 38 miles from Stone Town.
- Public transport from Stone Town: Take dalla dalla nr 326, again, very uncomfortable ride.
- Taxi fare from Stone Town to Kizimkazi: 45 USD and up
Beaches Near Stone Town
Those who are stuck in Stone Town and do not wish to take a day trip to Zanzibar beaches, there are few places within and near Stone Town to dip in the sea.
If in Center of Stone Town, best place do dip in the ocean is on the beach in front of Serena hotel, further into ferry direction water is dirty, bay is full of parked boats as well city sewage pipes are installed into the sea in that area. There is no security so its good to have only towels and basics for swimming. You can leave your belongings in bar nearby.
If you are fan of pools, then the best pool that can be found in Stone Town is just a mile or two out of Shangani. Zanzibar beach resort is overlooking the local beach, having the biggest pool in Stone Town. Beach here is not friendly for swimming, but pool is superb. Place is oftentimes empty, so is great escape from hectic Stone town. An entrance fee for guests is 7000 TSH.
A mile further there is Mbweni beach resort with private beach. Guests are welcome for additional entrance fee. Many expats choose this place for a couple of hours time on the beach. Beach has not that beautiful white sand as coastal areas on the rest of the island and there are mangrove.
About two miles further from Mbweni, on the side road to airport there is Chukwani neighbourhood. A popular residential area among expats. Look for Island beach Getaway Zanzibar resort, they accept daily guests without charge, have a private beach area with nice ocean views.
Beach is rocky with mangrove on one side of the bay, good to have swimming shoes but otherwise cleaner water than at Mbweni ruins resort. There is also a small pool but maintenance appeared non consistent.
All these resorts are on the same direction along the road to Stone Town airport. All places above have good food.
Dalla Dalla Transport on Zanzibar
Getting around the Zanzibar island with dalla dalla is not that simple and even less comfortable as one might imagine. Although dirt cheap, the average ride with dalla dalla takes about two hours or more if you are unfortunate to sit on the one that breaks down.
In addition, dalla dallas have no schedule – on the main station in Stone Town the vehicle leaves the station once the dalla dalla is beyond full. This can take hours and expand travel time to several hours. There is no space for luggage, people are stuffed like sardines.
Many dalla dallas have wooden benches which get really uncomfortable when the car drives trough bumps on the road. Avoid possible scams: do not pay in advance to anyone on station. Pay for dalla dalla when you are on the move and conductor comes to you for money. Have change in 500 or 1000 TSH. Also using dalla dalla in the night is dangerous affair, highly not advisable.
Also great reads about Zanzibar: