A necklace of tropical islands beaded along the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar has long been a popular spot to wind down after a safari holiday on mainland Tanzania. But there's much more to this laid-back coral archipelago – anchored by Unguja, informally known as Zanzibar Island – than palm-fringed beaches and sunset cocktails. Awarded World Heritage status in 2000, the spice-scented alleys of Stone Town are a delight to lose yourself in, while the scuba diving around Mnemba Atoll, the endemic wildlife of Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park and the castaway vibe of Zanzibar's smaller islands tempt excursions further afield.
While Zanzibar is a year-round destination, most travellers visit during the drier months from June to February. With a new international airport scheduled to open next year, however, now is the time to experience the islands before the real crowds arrive.
In recent years, there's also been a concerted effort to restore Stone Town's heritage structures, with dilapidated palaces given new life as cultural institutions, and crumbling mansions reborn as gourmet restaurants, hip cafés, and charming boutique hotels. Improvements to Unguja's roads have also cut travel time from Stone Town to the eastern beaches from four hours down to around one, making this once remote corner of the island more accessible than ever.
Home to Zanzibar's own species of red colobus monkeys, Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park can be visited as a day trip from Stone Town. Snorkelling and scuba diving trips to Mnemba Atoll, off the island's northeast coast, are most easily arranged from the resorts on Zanzibar's beautiful but touristy northern beaches, and from the more secluded eastern beaches, home to one of the island's top eco-luxe escapes, Matemwe Lodge. Still a major spice producer to this day, many of Zanzibar's spice farms are open for tours.
More conservative and less developed than the main island, Pemba, Zanzibar's second-largest isle, offers a more rustic travel experience beyond the gates of its top hotels.
Arguably Stone Town's best rooftop restaurant, Emerson on Hurumzi serves a decadent, Persian-inspired feast backed by live Taarab music on its cushion-strewn rooftop from Tuesday to Sunday. For great coffee, follow your nose to Puzzle Coffee or Zanzibar Coffee House, which also serves hearty breakfasts.
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