East Coast Zanzibar: in detail
East Coast Zanzibar beach holidays: the full story
The east coast of Zanzibar is lined with long stretches of picturesque powder-white beaches, which look out towards a barrier reef, about a kilometre offshore. Behind the beaches, small fishing villages and a variety of lodges and beach hotels are scattered among the coconut palms. The east coast has some of Zanzibar’s best beaches, and the area is a major attraction for visitors.
Lodges here generally have more space than those in the Nungwi area and are dotted along the palm-fringed coast. The beaches along the east coast have a very shallow gradient, and as a result the tide goes out a long way, making it difficult to swim directly from the beach. To compensate for this almost all the beach lodges have lovely swimming pools, allowing guests to swim throughout the day. During periods of low tide, the shallow coral reef becomes exposed, and exploring this area with a good local guide is fascinating – although keep an eye out for the spiny sea urchins.
This area of the island provides some excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities, and the coral reefs around the east coast are home to an abundance of life. Over 700 species of fish have been recorded around Zanzibar’s coral reefs, and larger pelagic species such as bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles can sometimes be seen. The Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area, located approximately 2km off the north-east coast, is considered to offer some of the best snorkelling and diving in this region, and this is popular spot for divers with a range of abilities. Mnemba Island itself is a breeding ground for green turtles: females lay their eggs on the pristine beaches and the hatchlings emerge around 55 days later.
The northernmost east coast settlement of Matemwe is a typical Swahili fishing village, and wooden dhows and ngalawa fishing boats are often seen along the coastline. This section of the east coast tends to be less visited by tourists and offers some great places to stay. Due to its proximity to Mnemba Island, it makes a good choice for keen divers and snorkelers, although it is getting increasingly popular, and you can expect to be joined by several other dive boats.
Heading south, you come to a number of small villages, including Pwani Mchangani, Kiwengwa and Pongwe. Besides tourism, these areas are reliant on subsistence fishing and seaweed farming, and if you take a stroll along the beach you are likely to see local women and children harvesting seaweed in the shallows before laying it out to dry on the beach. Local communities are quite traditional, and conservative attitudes dominate.
Where to stay in East Coast Zanzibar
Our suggestions for beach lodges in East Coast Zanzibar