Tanzania's extensive Indian Ocean coastline offers travelers the opportunity to choose from many tropical beach destinations in both mainland Tanzania and the islands of Zanzibar.
Although the most obvious attractions are the idyllic white sand beaches and world-class scuba diving, Tanzania's most historic towns and museums are also located on the coast. The coastal culture is distinct from the Arusha and Kilimanjaro cultures, and we highly recommend a visit to Swahili settlements like Stone Town.
Tanzania's most famous coastal destination is Zanzibar's main island of Unguja, which has numerous resorts and hotels both on the beach and in Stone Town , the island's fascinating, must-see capital. The pages below detail our top four recommendations for coastal visits. While Zanzibar's Unguja is the most developed island for tourism, visitors wishing to escape the crowds should consider visiting Mafia, Pemba or South Beach. Duma Explorer arranges beach hotels, flights and ground transportation.
Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, is one of Africa's best-known destinations. The islands of Zanzibar are surrounded by transparent, blue-green waters, and are bordered by miles of white-sand beaches. A spot of paradise in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar offers everything from world-class diving to rich local culture.
Zanzibar is primarily made up of the two main islands, Unguja and Pemba, and is surrounded by several other small islands. This page is about the main island Unguja, which will now be referred to as Zanzibar.
Interesting destinations and excursions:
A World Heritage Site, Stone Town is the capital of Zanzibar and center of Swahili culture. There are Swahili cultural events throughout the year including a film festival and music festival in July and February. Swahili culture is evident throughout the town, in the streets, historical buildings and museums. A center for shopping, eating and accommodation, Stone Town is always lively and can be visited year-round.
Zanzibar, once the world’s largest producer of cloves, continues to produce many spices as well as coconut products. A spice tour includes a visit to a local spice farm that grows cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, cumin and lemon grass. Tours last about two hours and can be combined with other day trips – it’s also possible to stop on the way to a beach hotel.
Unguja's only indigenous forest, Jozani is home to the endemic Kirk's red colobus monkey. As the monkeys have adapted to humans, it is possible to see them at close range. There are several nature trails that wind through Jozani, exploring mangrove forests and evergreen thickets. The forest can be visited in combination with another tour or en route to a beach hotel.
There are many other day trips available on Zanzibar, including snorkeling and diving excursions, dolphin tours and island visits.
The Mafia Archipelago consists of one large island and several smaller ones. Although Mafia is one of the spice islands, it was never part of semi-autonomous Zanzibar – including Unguja and Pemba Islands – and is instead governed by mainland Tanzania. As Mafia Island did not have a single paved road as of 2011, the island is recommended for travelers wanting to avoid Unguja’s crowds. We recommend a stay of at least four nights as it is more difficult to get from Arusha to Mafia due to the stopovers in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. There are two flights a day to and from Mafia and a visit can be combined with a safari or Kilimanjaro climb.
Activities in Mafia:
Diving with the whale sharks is exhilarating! Testimonial from Stacy Readal: “I hopped in and out of the boat several times to follow different individuals. We finally found a whale shark that was riding the current and thus easy to follow. I swam above the whale shark for about 10 minutes and dove down several times to get a closer look at its mouth and body. The whale shark was about 1 meter under the surface and easy to see even though the water was cloudy". The whale shark is the largest living fish species and the largest individual recorded had a length of 12.65 meters. The whale shark feeds mainly on plankton. It is found near Mafia as there is a plentiful source of food from the Rufiji River that empties into the Indian Ocean on mainland Tanzania to the east. This activity is recommended for strong swimmers only as the water can be choppy and the boat often ventures far from the swimmers.
There are walking trails through the mangrove forests on either side of Pole Pole Lodge leading to Mafia Island Lodge and Kinasi.
Testimonial from Stacy Readal: “I took a boat ride and went snorkeling offshore in the marine reserve. The corals were quite pristine and the snorkeling was the best I had seen since snorkeling off Chumbe Island off the coast of Unguja.”
There are excellent diving opportunities around Mafia Island, which is a protected marine reserve.
The most northern island in the Pemba archipelago, Pemba offers pristine white sand beaches and amazing diving experiences with lush coral reefs and many kinds of fish. Although Pemba has several world-class attractions, few tourists visit.
Misali Island, one of Pemba's offshore islands, is a favorite among visitors to Pemba. An ecotourism project, the Misali Island Marine Conservation Area uses tourism proceeds to protect the marine ecosystem and support the local communities that depend on the ocean's resources for their livelihoods. Misali attractions include pristine beaches, coral formations, mangrove forests, snorkeling, mysterious caves and several nature trails. The nature trails cover the entire island and provide visitors with information on the ecology and history of the island. When visiting Misali, be sure to check out the caves, where juju doctors and traditional healers performed their magic. On the boat ride to and from Misali, dolphins often jump in the waters around the boat.
Pemba's diving is among the best in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of species of fish and coral thrive in the warm tropical waters. Divers can explore the shallow reefs close to the shore or plunge off the vertical coral cliffs that border the coastal reefs. Visibility is about forty meters, and looking over the 800-meter underwater cliffs is exhilarating. In deeper waters, expect to see barracuda, manta and eagle rays, giant groupers, wahoo, jacks, tuna and garden eel. In shallow water, you'll see colorful starfish, mollusks, crustaceans and many other species of reef fish. Water temperatures range from 25 to 28 Celsius.
Vumawimbi Beach is possibly the most picturesque beach in Tanzania. Stretching for two kilometers, the wide white sand beach is fringed by tropical forest on one side and the clear turquoise water of the Indian Ocean on the other. Vumawimbi has not yet been developed for tourism, making a visit an intimate experience unlike any other in Tanzania.
Ngezi Forest is Pemba's last stand of old forest and now has reserve protection. A walk along the nature trails provide opportunities to see unique and endangered species of mammals, primates, insects and plants such as the Pemba flying fox, Pemba vervet monkey, Pemba blue duiker and Kirk's colobus monkey.
Spice plantation tours can be arranged to Pemba's clove and spice plantations. Although the spice tour industry is not as developed as in Zanzibar, Pemba actually produces the majority of spices exported from Tanzania. During a spice tour, expect to see cloves, lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper and vanilla. After the spice tour, visit the essential oil distillery to see how spices are made into oil.
Approximate Travel Times to Pemba (by air):
From Zanzibar: 30 minutes / From Tanga: 25 minutes / From Arusha: 1.5 hours
A small Swahili town in the center of a virtually undiscovered stretch of coast in Tanga Region. The main attraction is the coastline to the north and south of the town. There are also several attractions in and around Pangani that can be explored on day trips. Many of Pangani's visitors are expatriates living in Northern Tanzania and wealthy Tanzanians. For now, Pangani is the perfect beach destination for travelers seeking to escape the crowded resorts and aggressive street vendors in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. The beaches in Pangani, though nice, are not as pristine as the beaches on the islands or in South Beach.
Activities in and around Pangani include:
Pangani River, once an important transport channel for slaves and ivory, is now seldom used as a means of transportation from Tanzania's interior to the coast. Boat trips can be arranged up the river to observe the abundant birdlife and riverine ecosystem.
Maziwe Island is a sand island located 10km offshore from Pangani. The island and surrounding coral reef is a nature reserve, while snorkeling and diving trips can be arranged to the island.
Dhow (traditional boat) trips can be arranged from hotels to visit offshore coral reefs. Some of the reefs have been recently placed under protection so it’s possible to see colorful fish and live corals.
All-day visits are available from lodges to various offshore sandbars. Organize a picnic lunch through your hotel or bring your own. The sandbars offer beautiful views of the coast and are often surrounded by reefs that are great for snorkeling.
Amani Nature Reserve
Amani, once a botanical garden, is located in the Usambara Mountains approximately 50 kilometers northwest of Pangani. A visit to Amani offers a chance to hike through beautiful montane forests viewing forest animals, flowers and plants. Amani is part of the Eastern Arc mountain range that stretches from southern Kenya to southern Tanzania. The range has been listed by Conservation International as one of the world's twenty hotspots of biodiversity and there have been many efforts in recent years to protect the range’s forests. The Usambara Mountains are possibly the most diverse mountains in the Eastern Arc Range and Amani is a must see for those interested in botany. There are hundreds of endemic plant species and several reptiles, amphibians and birds unique to the Usambaras.
Approximate Travel Times to Pangani (by air):
From Arusha: 6 hours / From Moshi: 5 hours / From Dar: 4 hours / From Lushoto: 3 hours