The fabled spice island of Zanzibar is renowned as the quintessential tropical paradise. Its idyllic palm-fringed beaches are lapped by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Graceful dhows glide past, their white sales billowing in the spice-scented breeze. Powder white beaches offer enticing hammocks, boutique hotels and superb sea-food restaurants. Off-shore lie many coral reefs, the waters full or brightly coloured fish, turtles and dolphins.
The laid-back holiday vibe make a few days in Zanzibar with kids the perfect end to a family safari in Tanzania. Explore spice plantations, cycle through villages or just swing gently in a hammock and enjoy the sea breeze.
Holidaying in Zanzibar with kids – our Top 10 activities
1 – Explore Stone Town and stock up on souvenirs
It might surprise you to discover that Zanzibar’s old quarter, Stone Town, is a shopper’s dream come true. Yes, there are atmospheric cobbled streets to wander. Yes, there’s colonial and traditional architecture in abundance. And yes, you’ll enjoy a myriad of coffee shops and restaurants. But if you haven’t yet stocked up on souvenirs, opportunities being few and far between when on safari, fill your boots, bags and suitcases! Here, there are colourful markets and artisan shops where you can stock up on handicrafts. There are paintings and brightly coloured clothing. There’s artworks, baskets and wooden carved animals and masks. And it’s all very reasonably priced and helps support local communities.
See Zanzibar and Stone Town in our Places to visit in Tanzania for more about the island’s history.
2 – Visit a spice plantation
If you can tear yourselves away from the beach, a visit to a spice plantation is a quintessential Zanzibar with kids experience. You can spend a wonderful few hours wandering around a plantation, learning about the various uses for the different spices. Cloves for tooth ache, lemongrass to repel mosquitoes, cardamom to freshen the breath and so on. Most plantations are owned by local families, and you’ll be able to purchase a selection of spices to bring home.
3 – Go on a snorkelling or diving trip
The bath warm waters around Zanzibar are also crystal clear, offering perfect snorkelling opportunities. This is a veritable underwater paradise, where the colourful coral is home to a whole host of tropical fish and sea life. You’ll be given everything you’ll need, including flippers, masks and snorkels. Particularly popular with families is the option to combine snorkelling with a lunch barbeque on a picture perfect island. This is the ideal addition to any trip to Zanzibar with kids.
4 – Meet a giant tortoise on Prison Island
Changuu Island, 5.6 kilometres northwest of Stone Town, has had a chequered past. Also known as Prison Island, this 800-metre long and 230-metre wide island was once (you guessed it) used as a prison. Today, though, it’s famed for something altogether more wonderful: its giant tortoises. Younger children will love coming face to face with a tortoise that is almost as big as they are. This is a Zanzibar with kids experience they’ll never forget.
5 – Be spoilt for choice with beautiful beaches
As you’d expect from a tropical island, Zanzibar has more than its fair share of stunning beaches. Our favourite has to be Pongwe. This offers an arc of white, palm-fringed sand which looks like it leapt from a holiday brochure. What makes it particularly child-friendly is that its waters are protected by an off-shore reef. This means the waters are calm, ideal for both swimming and snorkelling. Another favourite include Matemwe. This is quiet and family-friendly but with a few bars and restaurants for refreshments. Kiwengwa is particularly good for younger children, with shallow water and lots of shells. See our Tanzania safari with Zanzibar beach itinerary for families.
6 – Spot dolphins on a traditional dhow
The waters of Menai Bay are peppered with the billowing sails of traditional sailing boats. Knowns as dhows, these were once used solely for trade but are now a tourist must-do. Hop on board and your family will spot dolphins, go snorkelling and enjoy a seafood buffet. After lunch, you’ll sail to Kwale island. Here you can take a canoe through the mangroves, navigating giant baobab trees before sailing back for sunset.
7 – Live like a King or Queen
Whether you want 5 star pampering or an off-grid eco-retreat, Zanzibar and its surrounding islands have nailed inspirational accommodation. There are uber-luxurious 5-star hotels complete with infinity pools, private butlers and acres of white linen. But there are also character-filled, locally run guesthouses where the bougainvillea blooms and the gardens are heady with frangipani fragrance. We have a few favourites, including Gold Zanzibar and Flame Tree Cottages to give you an idea of what’s on offer.
8 – Visit The Rock Restaurant
Is this the coolest restaurant in East Africa? We think so, which is why we’ve made a visit to The Rock a must-do Zanzibar with kids (you’ll thank us). Located just offshore on the southeast coast of the island, this ‘floating’ restaurant can be accessed by foot at low tide or by boat. Sitting on this rocky outcrop, you’ll enjoy a meal (mid-range, not wallet-busting) that’s every bit as amazing as the views. Make ours the sea-food platter.
9 – Spot red colobus monkeys in Jozani Forest
If you’re all ‘beached out’, make a beeline for Jozani Forest. This is home to the red colobus monkey, a species endemic to Zanzibar. Here, amongst the mangrove forest, live a population of around 6,000. You’ll spot them in the canopy, leaping from branch to branch, and along the wooden boardwalks through the forest. Your guide will also point out lizards, snakes and colourful birds amongst the tropical vegetation. A great addition to a holiday in Zanzibar with kids.
10 – Go seaweed farming with local women
Every morning, at low tide, you’ll see women wading out with sticks in their hands, baskets balanced on their heads. Watch for longer, and you’ll see them planting seaweed for harvest in six weeks’ time, and gathering the latest crop.
Seaweed farming is big business in Zanzibar. It’s used in everything from toothpaste to ice-cream and provides a steady income to local women. We can arrange a special family outing to accompany these amazing women and learn how to plant and harvest seaweed for yourself.
Zanzibar with kids next step
If you’d like to know more about Zanzibar with kids, or want to know what you can experience on a Tanzania safari before or after visiting the island, take a look at our Tanzania with Kids Top Ten blog. Alternatively, call us on 01728 752 751 – it’s a destination we can’t help but wax lyrical about!
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel [email protected].