Zanzibar is one of those islands that is difficult to describe in a few words. It is a mix of colors and flavors; it is a place where Asia, Africa and Europe blend together to create a place that seems to contain the essence of everything. Zanzibar was (respectively) the destination of our honeymoon, of our second honeymoon and of our son’s first trip abroad.
One thing that you should be aware of is that your first impression can be one of shock and that you may think that maybe the destination was have ill-chosen. If this is the case, relax: within a couple of hours you’ll have adjusted to it and your mind will start to reason like a local. Stress does not exist; everything is very pole-pole, which means slowly-slowly in Swahili. We all really ought to take this “approach” home!
Zanzibar Island, practical info
Zanzibar Island is pretty small and roads link all the corners of the island. From the airport to the farthest point, it is only about 2 hours by car. Several currencies are accepted on the island, in particular US dollars; my advice, however, is to change some money into the local currency, the Tanzanian shilling (1 US$=1.200 TSH or else 1 EUR=1.700 TSH). Before entering the island, at the airport, you need to buy a visitor’s visa, which costs 50 US dollars (infants and kids included).
Zanzibar’s climate is tropical and mostly warm throughout the year, with two rain seasons: the main rainy season, or the “long rains”, spans from March to May, with its peak in April (avoid this month, if possible). The other rainy period is that of the “short rains”, between mid-October and December. We went in September and February, both months are perfect for a seaside vacation.
How to choose the right accommodation
Let’s talk about accommodation. Like every tourist destination, Zanzibar offers different choices: from big resorts offering an all-inclusive package, to the small boutique hotels located on the coast. We prefer boutique hotels, for two reasons: they cost less and the quality they offer is high. You can rent rooms starting from 100 US dollars per night, and the beaches and food are top notch, better than 5 stars hotels. I have nothing about big resorts, they offer a somewhat distorted reality of Zanzibar. The Maasai people that you will meet on the beach will all speak Italian, the food won’t be authentic, and getting in touch with locals is (in our opinion) harder and very little “genuine”.
Cost, as I said, is a big advantage. The best option is to fly Neos (sharing the chartered plane with those who will sleep in resorts) from Milano to Zanzibar. It is a direct flight and it leaves from Milan at night (therefore perfect for families). The outbound flight is no problem, then, and lasts about 8 hours. The return flight is not as convenient, as it travels during the day (you land in the afternoon in Milan) so it could be a lot more stressful for you if your kids are very small – moreover it lands briefly in Mombasa (Kenya), too. Our solution was to fly TuiFly from Brussels, as both flight (in and outbound) are red-eye.
Flights should cost about 600 euros per person (kids under 2 years pay about 50 euros). If you are fond of kitesurfing (like my husband) ask about the cost for sports equipment (Neos charges 200 euros each way!!). Tuifly is a lot cheaper (40 euros only).
Each boutique hotel will organize a transfer from the airport. This should cost between 30 and 50 US dollars (at most).
We stayed in a small Boutique hotel opened by Italian friends of ours in 2017, on the coast near Paje (accidentally one of the nicest beaches of the island). The Milele Beach Resort offers 5 double rooms, 2 beach villas and a suite, which is perfect for 2 adults and 2 children. You can choose the B&B formula or half board. As the building is right on the coast, it takes a few steps to walk from your bedroom, to the swimming pool, to the sea.
Liam, our son, was 1 year and a half when we took him to Zanzibar, and he spent most of his time having fun in the swimming pool, in the sea, on the beach and even on the odd day trip.
The best day trips in Zanzibar
Talking about day trips: we recommend Prison Island, where you can see 150-year-old giant turtles, as well as enjoying the most perfect sea. The Spice Tour and Jambiani forest with its monkeys are perfect for kids aged 4 or 5 years old, and above. If you are into snorkeling, the best spot is off Mnemba island, which you can reach by boat.
Food: you should be adventurous and try everything. In our 45 days on Zanzibar (in three different trips), we never ate something we did not like. Thumbs up for the chefs, who managed to surprise us all the time.
Beach wise we recommend heading to Paje, where you can take kitesurf classes if you wish. These are also suitable to kids aged 7-8 years old.
When you are tired of beaches, the main city – Stone Town – is well worth a visit. Its market is extremely colorful… and if you hire a guide, you can visit all the charming and hidden corners of the city. If you wish, you can combine your visit to Stone Town with a visit to Prison Island.
One final possibility is that of spending one week in Zanzibar, relaxing on the beach, and a week in Kenya, doing a safari.
– Written by Claudia –