While Zanzibar is known for being flat and sand-strewn, neighbouring Pemba Island is the land of cloves and mangoes and hillocks lush with fruit and spice trees. Traditional dhows lie scattered across most of the coastline and fishing is a large part of Pemba’s culture.
Like many of the islands in the archipelago, Pemba’s culture has been influenced by Arab traders from Oman and the original inhabitants who have lived on the island for centuries. Well-preserved ruins can be found on Pemba such as Qanbalu (a Muslim settlement from as early as the eighth century), while remnants of old voodoo rituals are practiced by the traditional witchdoctors who call the island home.
Pemba has long been known as the ‘Green Island’ thanks to its fertile soil that produces crops such as coconut, bananas, and cassava. The island is surrounded with warm, sub-tropical waters renowned for some of the best diving and snorkelling in the whole archipelago because of its steep drop-offs, undisturbed marine life, and colourful coral reefs. Pemba Island offers a more authentic island experience with a tourism industry not as developed as Zanzibar’s, perfect for those wanting to capture the untapped nature of the archipelago.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting Pemba Island
The easiest way to get to the Zanzibar Archipelago is by plane, flying to Stone Town on the main island of Unguja or to Pemba Island. The majority of flights to Zanzibar depart from Tanzania’s largest city and former capital, Dar es Salaam. The flights are quick and convenient and last only about 15 minutes.
Together with Dar es Salaam, Nairobi in Kenya is also a major travel hub in East Africa, linking many international flight routes from the UK, Europe and the USA. Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi has regular flights to Zanzibar, which take just under two hours.
Another alternative – and a great option if you want to combine a safari experience with a tropical beach holiday – is taking the one-hour daily flights from Kilimanjaro Airport, in Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit Zanzibar.
Based on your experience of choice, time, and cost, our Travel Experts will gladly advise you on the best way to get to Zanzibar or the surrounding islands.
Enjoying a tropical climate, the Zanzibar Archipelago is hot to humid all year round, with two rainy seasons referred to as the “longs rains” and “short rains”. It is a great year-round destination, however, there are some more “desirable” divisions of the year that visitors are more fond of.
March to May – the “long rains”
March, April and May mark the main rainy season. Brewing clouds tend to build in the early afternoon and the storms are usually short and fierce. Very rarely do showers set in for a few consecutive days. The humidity is high and daily temperatures can reach the low-mid 30°C. Despite regular downpours, this time of year can still see some very good days. Expect warm sea waters (28°C), less crowds, as well as clear and crisp mornings.
June to October – the long dry season
June marks the start of Zanzibar’s long dry season, and is often the sunniest, driest month of the year. Winds pick up slightly, progressing into July, which may be a bit “blowy” for beach lounging, but is the ideal time for kitesurfing and other wind sports!
Moving through July to August, the winds slowly subside and surrounding seas drop to temperatures of around 25°C. Not too hot and not too humid August to October is perhaps the most pleasant period on the archipelago with slowly subsiding breezes from the south.
November to December – the “short rains”
November marks the month of the ‘short rains’ in Zanzibar, a brief period of sporadic storms that usually ease off during December. These are much lighter than the main rainy season, however consecutively cloudy days can be expected.
January to February – the short dry season
The short dry season is a period of relatively hot, humid weather which develops steadily from late December through to February. January is one of Zanzibar’s hotter months, with regular daytime highs up to 35°C. Although generally sunny, the start of the new year in Zanzibar can still feature the occasional afternoon thunderstorm which clear up quite quickly.
A UNESCO World Heritage City, the vibrant and ancient Stone Town, was a central point for traders passing through Africa. It has many traditional and architectural treasures to explore, such as The House of Wonders, Arab Fort, and once-opulent palaces. It offers a medley of cultures that have co-existed here through history.
This beautiful forest offers spectacular sightings, such as the rare red colobus monkey and many butterfly and bird species endemic to the area. There's a boardwalk that snakes through the forest to give you the ultimate vantage point of the mangrove trees and local flora. There are also many trails for you to explore.
Renowned for its coral reefs and clear water, you absolutely have to explore Zanzibar's underwater world. You can see many species, and the Menai Bay Conservation Area and Mnemba Island are ideal for snorkelling.
Aldabra Giant Tortoise
This interesting creature is endemic to Seychelles. However, they now also live in Zanzibar as they were gifted to a previous prime minister in 1919.
Zanzibar is well-known for its powdery beaches and clear ocean water. If you want a quieter beach experience, visit Pongwe beach. Busier beaches include the Kendwa and Nungwi beaches.
Like in Tanzania, KiSwahili is the official language, although many still speak English, especially those who frequently deal with tourists. Swahili and KiSwahili are used interchangeably to refer to the local language, although Swahili generally refers to the people and KiSwahili to the language. Most hotel staff and transfer drivers generally speak English and are always eager to provide information. However, locals rarely speak English. When it comes to the KiSwahili language, you say it as you spell it, so it is extremely easy to pick up. For example, here are some phrases to get you started:
Jambo – Hello
Karibu – You're welcome
Sante – Thank you
The currency in the Zanzibar Archipelago is the Tanzanian Shilling. Most tourism services charge US dollars, and they also accept credit cards at most properties. Many vendors do not accept American Express, so it would be better to travel with either Visa or MasterCard. They generally accept traveller’s cheques and cash at hotels and Bureau de Changes. USD is the preferred currency.
If you plan on taking cash, make sure you take large bills (e.g. $50 or $100) as these, for some unknown reason, always get a better rate. Don’t go running to that first Bureau you see at the airport, as these, along with the hotels and resorts, usually have the worst exchange rate. If you are planning to take a taxi into town, pay the fare in USD and go to a bureau in town. There are many all over town. Try to negotiate a better rate – you never know.
Extremely rich in ancient cultures, traditions and religious beliefs, the Zanzibar Archipelago is a very culturally diverse chain of islands. The locals are renowned for being friendly and harmonious people, with great respect for their fellow man (and woman) and, in particular, their elders.
Religious belief is strong in Zanzibar, with Christianity and Islam as the most prominent religions. Most Muslims live in Stone Town, and visitors should be aware of the conservative nature of this destination and behave and dress accordingly. Women should always keep their knees and shoulders covered. T-shirts that cover the shoulders and shorts for women are acceptable (but not too short). Women should wear and carry a wrap to cover legs in the village and towns as revealing clothes can offend, especially in Zanzibar and Muslim areas. On the beach and within the confines of beach hotels, regular swimwear (but no nudity) is acceptable.
Many locals are pretty happy with visitors taking their picture. However, it is courteous to ask permission before photographing people. Not only is it universally polite, but some ethnic groups in Zanzibar believe that the flash of a camera steals a piece of their soul - making an unauthorised photograph a rather daunting experience.
Visas are compulsory for all visitors and are obtainable at the airport when you arrive. However, it is advisable to verify this information independently with the relevant Tanzanian embassy, high commission or consulate before travelling to Zanzibar. It is best to get a visa before arrival to avoid any problems at entry.
As for vaccinations: Yellow fever inoculation certificates are prerequisites to entering Zanzibar if you travel from a country where yellow fever is present.