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The Zanzibar archipelago off the coast of Tanzania was once the world's single largest cloves producer, earning it the nickname "Spice Islands". Today, its main island, Zanzibar (also known as Unguja), is where white-sand beaches meet the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean. It's a heady combination of Arabian fortress architecture, African handicrafts and pristine natural landscapes. The ideal spot to rejuvenate following a safari on the mainland, it's also a destination in itself for travellers and backpackers looking for a beach break with a dash of history.
Baackpackers Hostels in Zanzibar range from thatched-roof, African-style bungalows to large dormitory rooms with sand floors. Day beds, hammocks and swings are scattered around expansive common grounds. Some Zanzibar hostels have open-air pools - ideal for cooling off - and bars serving tropical cocktails. Watch the sunset from a Zanzibar hostel with a rooftop terrace that offers sweeping views over Stone Town – the oldest part of the capital, Zanzibar City. For a truly memorable experience, book a stay at Zanzibar’s first floating house, which is moored just offshore from Stone Town.
Stone Town is a UNESCO-listed labyrinth of winding alleyways and crumbling 19th-century buildings, which feature ornately carved and brass-studded doors. Many of these buildings have been converted into seafront bars, ideal for watching pink-hued sunsets. Jambiani on the eastern coast comprises several fishing villages, while Michamvi Kae is home to lush mangroves. Matemwe in the far north of the island is quieter, with peaceful beaches fringed by palm trees.
As the heart of Zanzibar, Stone Town is the natural starting point for exploring the island. Follow the spicy aromas through the narrow archways to sights like the 17th-century Old Fort and the Hamamni Persian Baths. Once the sun goes down, the night market at Forodhani Gardens comes alive with numerous street food stalls serving up grilled seafood on skewers. Tour an organic farm to see why the Zanzibar archipelago is known as the Spice Islands, or visit Prison Island (Changuu Island) for an insight into the area’s slave trading past.
Dala-dalas (small converted lorries) are the easiest and cheapest way to navigate the island. To get around Zanzibar City, bikes and scooters are available for hire from a number of tour companies. Flights connect Arusha and Dar es Salaam on mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar Airport, which is about a 15-minute taxi ride from Stone Town. Boats from Zanzibar Ferry Terminal will get you to Dar es Salaam in as little as 90 minutes.