10 Interesting Facts about the Islands of Zanzibar

Zanzibar Beach Tours and Holidays

Interesting Facts about the Islands of Zanzibar

Have you ever wondered why the Islands of Zanzibar pique immense interest in the minds of vacationers? The Islands of Zanzibar are widely known for their breathtaking white sandy beaches and enchanting tropical climate.

Tourists worldwide tour the Zanzibar archipelago to sample its unique marine resources and immerse themselves in the local culture. The islands are collectively termed the Spice Islands due to their exotic spices.

Archipelagos in Africa

An archipelago is a cluster of islands often found close to a large water body such as a lake, sea, or ocean. Common archipelagos in Africa include Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, Sao Tome and Principe, Cape Verde, Bazaruto in Mozambique, Lamu in Kenya, and Seychelles.

Geographically, Zanzibar is an archipelago within the Indian Ocean, off the coastline of Tanzania. It has four main islands: Unguja, Pemba, Mafia, and Latham. These four islands are also surrounded by smaller islands that humans inhabit.

Islands off the coast of Tanzania are said to be 51 in total. However, the most explored islands are Unguja, Mafia, and Pemba. Latham Island is an approved wildlife conservation area and often attracts marine biologists.

The Islands of Zanzibar
Islands in Zanzibar: Image by World Atlas


What makes the Islands of Zanzibar extremely famous in Africa?

Historical significance in ancient trade

Zanzibar Islands are closely associated with mainland Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa. The archipelago is located 40 km from mainland Tanzania.

While most people refer to Unguja Island as Zanzibar, it is important to note that the islands off the coast of mainland Tanzania form the Zanzibar archipelago. Its significance stems from ancient cultural and historical events connecting Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Persians, Arabs, Indians, and Asians often traded on the Zanzibar Islands. The islands are commonly referred to as the Spice Islands due to the intensive farming of spices such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. These spices formed a critical part of multiple cuisines in Africa and beyond.

Spice Farm in the Islands of Zanzibar
Jambo Spice Farm in Zanzibar: Image courtesy of Tripadvisor
Spice tour in Jambo Spice Farm

Geographical advantage

Being at the heart of East Africa, in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the Zanzibar archipelago is a strategically placed tourism destination. If you have ever desired to have a multi-faceted destination in East Africa, you may enjoy the thrills of the Zanzibar Islands.

Not only will you sample water-based sports, but you will also view some of the most exotic marine wildlife species. Most of these islands’ sandy and powdery beaches make it one of Africa’s most visited archipelagos. This archipelago is semi-autonomous and enjoys the economic benefits of tourism to its islands.

The Islands of Zanzibar- Topography, Culture, Socioeconomic Status

The archipelago comprises four large islands; Unguja, Mafia, Pemba, and Latham. They are separated from the larger Tanzania by the Mafia Channel, Pemba Channel, and the Zanzibar Channel. Unguja, Pemba, and Mafia Islands are inhabited by significant human and wildlife populations, while Latham Island has no human habitation.

Smaller islands include Chumbe, Mnemba, Prison, Bawe, Misali, Chapwani, Uzi, Tumbatu, Vundwe, and Fundo. Out of these islands, Unguja is the largest in size and population.

The Swahili-speaking inhabitants are friendly and accommodating. They cherish guests and value good communication and dress etiquette.

They mainly practice Islam and Christianity. It is important to dress with some decency and address the residents courteously, especially when walking in the main town streets. This way, you will have smooth interactions and unforgettable adventures.

Unguja Island (Zanzibar)

Unguja Island covers an area of 1666 square kilometers and has a population of about 900,000 people. Tumbatu and Uzi are islets having human habitation and are found around Unguja Island. Unguja is divided into Zanzibar North, West, South/Central regions. The Zanzibar Channel is the main separating feature between Unguja and mainland Tanzania. Stone Town is a popular administrative town in Unguja with rich history and unique architectural designs.

Pemba Island

Pemba spans an area of 988 square kilometers and is the second-largest among all Zanzibar’s islands. It is found off Tanzania’s east coast. Pemba is locally termed the Green Island. The 407,000 inhabitants rely on tourism, farming, and fishing for economic survival. Smaller islands can be spotted around Pemba. They include Funzi, Kashani, Vikunguni, Fundo, Jombe and Njao.

Mafia Island

Mafia Island is the third-largest island in the Zanzibar archipelago. It is also known as Choke Shamba and falls under the jurisdiction of mainland Tanzania. Mafia is 49 kilometers in length and 17 kilometers in width. The island has about 50,000 people living and working in agriculture, fishing, and tourism.

Latham Island

Latham is also known as Fungu Kizimkazi or Fungu Mbaraka. It is located 66 kilometers east of Dar es Salam and 60 kilometers southeast of Unguja Island. Latham has an area of 3 hectares and is mainly made of coral reefs.

Despite being uninhabited by humans, Latham Island plays a significant role in sustaining marine biodiversity. Deep waters surround this flat coral island. It is a crucial breeding ground for turtles and exotic bird species.

Birds like the brown noddy, masked booby, sooty tern, and the greater crested tern can be easily spotted on this island. Currently, Latham Island is an accredited Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.

While most of the islands within the Zanzibar archipelago fall under the Zanzibar jurisdiction, the political battles surrounding the ownership of Latham Island have predisposed the island to the management of Mainland Tanzania.

Places to Visit in the Islands of Zanzibar

Stone Town: Image sourced from Tripadvisor – 10 Interesting Facts about the Islands of Zanzibar

  • Stone Town in Unguja Island. This town has mind-boggling winding streets characteristic of ancient Arab architecture. Stone town is an accredited World Heritage Site. You can visit the Old Fort and Sultan Palace/House of Wonders.
  • Pemba is ideal for diving, deep-sea fishing, and romantic getaways due to its remote nature.
  • Visit the Marine Conservation Area around Mnemba Island. Here you can enjoy scuba diving, viewing marine wildlife, and private island exploration. Mnemba Island is private and off-limits to non-authorized visitors.
  • Kilindoni is the major town in Mafia Island and is a prime tourist destination.
  • Menai Bay, Latham Island, and Mnemba Atoll have shallow reefs that allow snorkeling and diving.
  • The Rock Hotel Zanzibar in Unguja.
  • Take a boardwalk in Jozani Forest within the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park.
  • Beach exploration in Pongwe, Kendwa and Nungwi beaches.
  • Participate in snorkeling, angling, and deep fishing ventures along the shallow fringing reef on Latham Island. Common fish species along this reef include yellowfin tuna, wahoo, sailfish, marlin, Dorado, giant trevally, sharks, Dogtooth Tuna, Broadbill swordfish, and short bill spearfish. You can find shark species such as tiger, mako, Zambezi, silvertip, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, and black and white tip sharks. Occasionally, your fishing expedition may yield views of the rainbow runner fish, jobfish, big eye Trevally, Bonito, Skipjack, the Barracuda, and KawaKawa.

Transport and popular places to stay in Zanzibar

There are direct flights from Dar es Salaam to Stone Town in Unguja and Pemba Islands. You can also use ferry services to the islands.

Popular places to stay in Zanzibar include:

  • The Residence Zanzibar
  • Filao Beach Zanzibar
  • Pearl Beach Resort and Spa
  • Golden Tulip Zanzibar Resort
  • Paradise Beach Resort
  • Reef & Beach Resort
  • Uroa Bay Beach Resort
  • Mnemba Island Lodge
  • Kilindi Resort and Spa
  • Baraza Resort and Spar Zanzibar
  • Matemwe Retreat
  • Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort
  • Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas and Spa.
The Islands of Zanzibar
The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar: Image by The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar – 10 Interesting Facts about the Islands of Zanzibar
Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort 10 Interesting Facts about the Islands of Zanzibar

The most picturesque island that should be top of your travel bucket list

The Islands of Zanzibar are widely known for their breathtaking white sandy beaches and enchanting tropical climate that attract tourists worldwide. The islands are best to visit during the dry season from June to October.

The rainy seasons are from March to June and September to November. The climate is generally fair, favoring tourism all year round.

Suppose you enjoy romantic getaways and a buzz of adventurous activities such as windsurfing, angling, dhow sailing, bird watching, and snorkeling; we are here to give you the best vacation experience in the Islands of Zanzibar.