Zanzibar Island mostly known as the Spice Island, is the main island in the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, located 25–50 kilometers (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic center is Stone Town, which is an old trade center, with mosques and winding lanes.
Zanzibar was once, for the Arabic and sub-continent traders, the gateway to Africa. With its capital and main airport located on Unguja, travel to the archipelago generally begins and finishes in Zanzibar City, which in its Mji Mkongwe (Stone Town) possesses a World Heritage Site unlike anywhere else in the world. The 1883 House of Wonders is a former sultan’s palace with a clock tower. The Old Fort now houses a cultural center and a stone amphitheater. Underground aqueducts fed hot water to the late-19th-century.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world with white-sand beaches with palms swaying lazily in the sea breeze, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.