Tanzania - Road Trip in Zanzibar

I heard that among the nicest places for scuba diving in Africa is supposed to be in Zanzibar and Mafia Island, the two small Tanzanian islands off the coast of Dar Es Salam. In addition to this was the fact that with Covid travel restrictions are still in place and keeps the masses away from the small island. With only 10% tourists compared to pre covid occupations, Tanzania and Zanzibar seem to be a good time for visiting.

Aside from the question if Tanzania is a good country to visit now. I wondered what are the reasons why so many people go visiting the small island Zanzibar. Ok, swimming and relaxing and stuff might be revealing for all of us in some way but then, what else is there. 

What to do in Zanzibar?

Even when not spending whole vacations with too many days there, there are many different beaches to visit all over Zanzibar and all of them look completely different. I didn't expect much of the Tanzanian Island and I tried to avoid looking at images on the internet or TV, mainly for keeping my expectations low and not be "frustrated" when it might not be like this in reality.

However, I was surprised by how nice it actually is to drive with the rental car from beach to beach. So more about this later.

Day 1 - Arriving in Zanzibar

Via a stopover in Kilimanjaro, the plane continued to Zanzibar. The airport in Zanzibar is very small and before entering the building Covid test result was checked. Now even after 1.5 years after the pandemic started, everything still seemed very improvised.

The rental car guy was already waiting and the handover was one of the simplest and most uncomplicated ever.

4wd necessary?

Accordingly, the external condition of the 4wd jeep came also with "uncomplicated dents and scratches" everywhere, but everything worked fine. The cost for such a fully functional 4wd was only $90 for three days. The rental company even arranged for my Zanzibar driver's license before I arrived ($10), which is mandatory to drive in Zanzibar.

I didn't think that 4wd has any use, but the roads are in very bad condition when not being on the main road. Therefore it could be totally necessary, especially when it rains.

Self-Drive to Nungwi, north of Zanzibar

The drive from Zanzibar airport to Nungwi, the most famous and probably most touristy place in the north of Zanzibar took about 1.5 hours. I chose this place as my first stop because this seemed to be the area with most dive shops.

Even though the main road is well maintained and it was still daylight, it requires quite a bit of attention as there are many small places where people just jump out onto the road. 

Driving in the dark can be very tedious as there are no street lights and the other drivers are driving without rules. Accidents here are commonplace.

I arrived in Nungwi before sunset. 

The roads in Nungwi are miserable gravel paths or sandy roads over sticks and sharp stones with many potholes. I would not have expected such a touristic place.

Day 2 - Scuba Diving

There are many reefs around Zanzibar. Many of them are found in the north of the island.

They say Mnemba is the most beautiful area to dive because it has the most fish. Since I only did two dives in Zanzibar, I didn't really want to spend the extra hour on the boat to get to Mnemba and decided to go to the reefs near Nungwi.

The weather today was cloudy, which are bad circumstance for scuba diving due to bad visibility. In addition to this, there was rain at night, which makes it even worse. Nevertheless, the Lulu-dive guide tried to find the best spots.

There are half a dozen dive centers in Nungwi. I wrote to several and they all offered the same price for two dives - $100 including the equipment. Thats is quite a fair, reasonable price. 

However, only a few dive operators have enough guests at the time and do not go out diving if there are too few people.

Lulu Dive Center was recommended to me and they even went out with just me as the only diver. 

With a crew of 3 people (boat driver, assistant, and dive guide). Lulu Dive Center is located like some other dive centers as well, in the northwest of Nungwi. And it's clean and very well equipped, even with a shower for washing afterward. 

At 8:30 I had to be there and after a short check of the diving certification (very good that they actually do check it - unlike many other places) and trying on the equipment with a 5-millimeter wetsuit, we went to the boat - a large traditionally made Tanzanian wooden boat.

The first dive was 20 minutes boat ride away. 

Visibility was quite ok under the fact that it was raining the night.

The second dive was after about an hour's break on the surface while staying on the boat. We continued to another reef about 15 minutes drive from the previous spot. 

The visibility on the second dive was slightly worse with tons of plankton, but it was still a nice dive with many different creatures. The dive guide definitely tried everything making it a pleasant dive. And even the visibility wasn't that good because of the rain, it was still much better than many other spots on other dive locations around the world.

The whole scuba diving morning lasted from 8:30am until 12:30pm. 

Back at the shore, because of the low tide it is necessary to climb in shallow water along the reef towards the beach. The guide and assistant however carry all the equipment and I just had to follow the two and watch out not stamping on sea- urchins or other painful stuff under the surface.

Afternoon visit Nungwi and Kendwa

In the afternoon I visited the area of Nungwi. 

Also the resident area of Nungwi is interesting to see, with all the stone houses and people doing their daily business.

Kendwa Beach

Kendwa is a bit south of Nungwi but is even more touristic than Nungwi.

Has more resorts and beaches are covered with restaurants and souvenir shops.

Day 3 - Driving south along the east coast

With an early start in the morning, I headed south along the eastern coast of Zanzibar. Around Zanzibar, there is an immense variety of different beaches and actually, each one looks different than the other. So the beach hopping in Zanzibar indeed makes sense.

The first beach I stopped at was Pwani Mchangani. Here I also went to the Covid test.

The second place was around "Kiwengwa".

The third place was around "Marumbi"

The fourth place was at "Chwaka".

The fifth place was at "Unguja Ukuu Kaepwani". Good to have a break and coffee with a view onto the sea.

All over the beaches in Zanzibar, it was similar to this. They were busy preparing the catch of the day. The cats under the table were waiting eagerly for their desserts.


On the way back to Stonetown I stopped at one of the many brick factories all over Zanzibar. However, maybe the word "factory" would be exaggerated when considering international standards. There is one who shovels sand into the mixer, one who operates the mixer. And then one who pours the mass into the pattern and one who then shapes the brick and carries it away. Efficient and honest work.

With the last liter of gasoline, I reached Stonetown. It's not that there are no gas stations in Zanzibar, but since I can park the car at the hotel to have it picked up by the rental car company, I didn't want to leave too much remaining gas in it. Had to go then in fact still short with Petflasche to the 100-meter distant gas station to get some gasoline.

Day 4 - Sunday - Visiting Stonetown

That a Sunday is not the best day to visit Stonetown I realized after the first steps. The alleys in it were all very empty. Where there are closed doors now, there are open doors with markets under normal weekdays. Accordingly, it was quiet that morning.

As time went by, many doors opened and it became busier, but still quiet considering the many closed doors.

Walking outside Stonetown

My own walking tour went along the eastern edge of Stonetown towards the south and along the boulevard back to the center. 

The center of Stonetown

There is no plan on how best to visit Stonetown, even the locals have limited knowledge and would, as they say, get lost. Everybody does unless you live there and grew up there. Google maps helps in fact also nothing, because the GPS signal is very poor to non-existent because of the high buildings and narrow streets.

The Boulevard and Harbor area

What I did not like in Stonetown, especially on the promenade, are the far too many touts. You can not walk 10 meters without something penetrating to be offered for sale. They run along, partly block the way and make the walk through the area just tedious. It is annoying and makes it difficult to enjoy the area.

Important buildings to see in Stonetown

There are a few buildings, let's say very old buildings which have some importance and are therefore the most famous buildings visited by tourists.

The Old Fort

It's right at the promenade and doesn't charge any entrance fee.

The Old Distillery


The Swahili House with a good view on Stonetown

Probably one of the best views over Stonetown is from the Swahili House. They have a rooftop restaurant and coffee.

The waterfront in the evening

The Waterfront is very busy in the evening. At 18:00 all the takeaway stalls open and all Stonetown inhabitants come to the waterfront. Tourists and locals, everybody lingers on the promenade.


Day 5 - Back to Mainland Tanzania

The ferry from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salam departs 4 times per day and the first is around 7am with 1.5 hours ride to Dar. I heard ist the best time in the morning as the water is most calm in the morning. 

The ferry is bigger than I thought and is separated into three classes with different comfort levels. I went to business class as ist just 5 USD more than standard (40 instead of 35 USD) but has more comfortable seats. However, little did I know that I will not spend much time on the comfortable seat.

I should have taken Anti sea sick medicine

After 20 minutes the water became more choppy and I realized this will become worse.

Unfortunately, it was too late for many passengers and many flinched towards the toilet to say hello again to their breakfast. Well, I was among them as I didn't take the pill against seasickness because I thought its no problem with this calm water. Staff was busy, most of them having a grin on their face and they seemed to have fun distributing puke bags and cleaning up the puke from the ferry floor. 

The planned duration of the ride was, as mentioned, 1.5 hours, but we ended up driving for 2 hours.

At the port of Dar Es Salam, the unloading of people went smooth and within 10 minutes the ferry was empty. I first went to some coffee shop before going to the hotel.

I will only spend one day in Dar Es Salam and tomorrow morning I will continue to Comoros.

What to see in Dar Es Salam?

Compared to many other African capitals, Dar Es Salam is covered with tall office towers, and it's relatively clean and modern. It has a bit similar to Nairobi in Kenya. However, there weren’t as many restaurants or coffee shops as one could there would be for this type of city.

I walked through Karaikoo Market. It's a huge market and very busy, but in a clean area within the city.

After lunch, I went back to the city center along the street with the “Clock Tower”.

Further down this main road, there was the “St. Joseph Cathedral” and the “Azania-Front-Cathedral”. Also, there is the “Askari Monument”. All three things are within the city center between the large buildings.

If I had more time or knew better where to go, I would have gone further north to Oster Bay where the beach is. Then from Oster Bay it's just a short ride to Masaki district with many restaurants and waterfronts. There it's nice to walk and watch the sea.


Day 6 - Tuesday - Departure to Comoros

The trip from the center to the Airport is solely 15 minutes, at least when there is no construction work.

But for the next couple of years, they are building a bridge right outside the center on the only road to the airport. This causes huge traffic jams and so the ride with the taxi lasted 50 minutes because of this.

Luckily the Air Tanzania plane departed on time to Moroni, capital of Comoros, country #140.

No comments