Zanzibar Travel Guide: Where to Go and What to Do

Islands' staffers beg for trips. Occasionally, an island begs for a staffer. In this case, call it a Z thing. Staff photographer Zach Stovall arrived on Zanzibar and felt like he stepped into an Indiana Jones movie. He loves those movies. Maybe that explains why this gallery, originally slated at 10 images, ballooned into an epic adventure. Follow his trip's highlights and plan yours with our Do's and Don'ts Zanzibar travel guide.

Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Stone Town
My first day in Stone Town, and within minutes I was lost in the city’s winding alleyways. I couldn’t even find where I was supposed to meet my guide. He was elusive, just like the movies. He mentioned someplace near Livingstone’s, which turns out, was easy to locate. The restaurant sits on the beach, and was a bustling scene. So much so, I decided to check it out.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Livingston's
I walked through Livingstone's beachfront tables with my tripod in a bag on my shoulder and this guy asked, "Are you a musician?" People always mistake my tripod for a guitar or a gun. I told him I was a photographer, and mentioned I was late to meet my guide. His response: "F*&% him. Have a seat." My arm twists easily. Over beers I learned the guy was the owner of the restaurant and a jazz music addict. He invited me to a performance later that week at Livingstone's with friends that had flown in from around the world. Music is a big deal to Zanzabaris. So are the island's festivals (find a listing of festivals here).Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Livingstones
These boys flip and spin every night in front of Livingstone’s. They’re not affiliated with the restaurant. In fact, they barely paid attention to me. I spent about an hour photographing them leap and somersault into the water. Not once did they ask for money. They were just kids trying to outdo one another on the beach with only a bag of cement and well-tuned motor skills.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Stone Town Streets
Stone Town’s streets are too narrow for cars, so everything moves by scooter, bike or these crude handcarts. It’s a working town, so lots of goods move through the city each day. This is how it’s done. No horses. No mules. Just raw human power. Some handcarts carried fruit, while others had barrels and auto parts. I even saw one carrying chickens. The scooters and hand carts, trading in the street, the colorful robes and fezzes, and the Arabian architecture all together made me wonder if Indy Jones would come crashing through any moment.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | House of Spices
I stumbled across a colorful scene, where I found this server at the House of Spices. I felt lucky to find the place in Stone Town's labyrinth. The Arab building is 200-years old, and part teahouse, restaurant and boutique hotel. All of it fuses the building's Arab roots with bright, contemporary décor. I asked if he knew where I could find the Ark of the Covenant. He looked confused. He was holding out.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Forodhani Gardens
Every night in Stone Town this scene takes place along the waterfront. Tables like this one were spread around the park, and it wasn’t just seafood for sale. Some guys were making pizza, while others sold crepes, sodas and even ice cream. Everything was cooked before my eyes. The free-for-all market felt somewhat touristy, but I saw plenty of locals indulging too.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Mbweni Ruins
This boutique hotel isn't far from Stone Town, and was built on the ruins of a school for freed slave girls. The hotel's spa was housed in part of the ruins that date to 1873, when a Christian mission opened to help fight slavery. Yoga sessions were held in the ornate, open ruins of the chapel, which happened to be just off a plush, white sand beach. I shot this view of it from the upper deck of the hotel's Mangrove Bar.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Zanzibar Bus
Dala dalas originate at the market in Stone Town then fan out across the island. I passed a countless number as I drove north, leaving the bustle of the populous area. They’re basically a makeshift minibus born from many types of vehicles. In this case, it was a Daihatsu delivery truck. The protocol is the women get in, sit down and if there’s room the guys join them. Goods go on top, and then whoever can fit hangs on the back. My guess is these guys had been holding on since leaving town some 45-minutes earlier. And after experiencing Zanzibari driving culture first hand, I’d also bet their knuckles were white.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Essque Zalu Zanzibar
Arriving at this luxury resort came as a surprise. It's an hour drive north of Stone Town through red dust-coated rural tracks ending in modest Nungwi, an African village where I passed local women carrying goods on their heads and kids in their arms, and living a simple daily life as they've done for centuries. Essque Zalu Zanzibar rises from the coastline like a futuristic mirage. Its thatch-roofed villas and suites smacked of modern miracles, and The Jetty bar, an expansive wooden deck strung high over the water, was the perfect place to take in a Zanzibar sunset with dhow sihlouettes against an orange ball of fire.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Zanzibar Beach
Zanzibar is more than one island, but the nation's dhow sailboats line all its coastlines. I jumped at the chance to ride on one with Safari Blue. This tiny island was just a stopping point along their tour. At high tide, it vanishes.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Safari Blue Boat
The dhow motored on the way out, but we sailed on the way back into a setting sun. I could hear the boat’s wooden hull sigh and creak under sail, sounds as old as the dhow itself.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Jozani Forest Reserve
I pulled up just twenty minutes before this forest reserve closed. I figured I'd have to come back another day to shoot its red colubus monkeys. Instead, the gate official pointed back down the road I'd just entered. "They're right there!" Sure enough, these endangered monkeys were there alongside the road, ready for the spotlight.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | The Residence
This opulent new resort on the island's southwest side was hidden at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road. The beach side of this stunning pool had clear acrylic walls, making it like an aquarium to look out (or in). In either direction the view was nice. The Residence's villas – complete with private plunge pools and spaced out down a long stretch of palm-lined white sand beach – were just as spectacular. And the outdoor showers were the perfect place for a scruffy archaeologist to wash off.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Kizimkazi
This scene gave way to one of my trip’s favorite encounters. Wandering through Kizimkazi, I spotted these women along the beach. It seemed as though they were waiting for something …****Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Kizimkazi Wading
As the sun set, fishing boats arrived. Suddenly hoards of men appeared on the beach and began wading out to the boats. In minutes, they were surrounded; a virtual pop-up market. Some men in the crowd stood on their tiptoes, trying to catch a glimpse of a boat’s catch, as hands darted in and out of the fray.
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Kizimkazi Fishing
While the men collected the fish from the boats, the women I’d spotted earlier sorted the fish into buckets back on the beach. I was told they would later distribute the fish to other villages inland. A few of the fish were cooked over fires and eaten right on the spot, but within half an hour, darkness fell, the crowd dispersed and the beach was quiet again.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Jambiani Beach
These three girls – the veils are the giveaway; boys wear robes and fezzes - were curious about my camera. Zanzibari kids know tourists. They know that allowing a photo or two may lead to a tip. But with these girls, as with all kids, curiosity played a bigger role.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Jambiani Beach Bob Marley
I was walking down the beach when Muidy asked me to come over to his friend’s restaurant. At the moment, I was focused on the sand. On my way back, though, his personality and demeanor won me over. Also, his tam (hat) reminded me of Jamaica, which is an island I know like the back of my camera. Sure enough, Bob Marley’s songs were wailing from the speakers, and the beachside vibe was just like that of the more familiar island paradise. It felt like home.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Zanzibar villages
Zanzibar is such a colorful place, and the locals embrace it. Even in humble villages I’d see women in bright, spotless robes. I’m not sure if the different colors convey meaning, but they were definitely a form of expression.Zach Stovall
Zanzibar Travel Guide | Zanzibar Hotels | Best Things to Do in Zanzibar | Zanzibar dhow
No vessel is more iconic to a location than Zanzibar’s dhows. If in doubt, raise your thumb to the screen and cover the dhow with it. Ask yourself: What island is this?Zach Stovall