Northern Zanzibar: in detail
Northern Zanzibar beach holidays: the full story
Around two hours drive from Stone Town, Zanzibar’s northernmost village of Nungwi has traditionally been the centre of the island’s dhow-building industry. However, over the last decade the coastline here has turned it into one of Zanzibar's busiest beach areas. What was a ramshackle fishing village has become an increasingly busy place as various guesthouses, bars, shops and restaurants appear. The setting and the beaches are beautiful, but the number of people in Nungwi town, the noise and the constant stream of uncontrolled development have stripped the area of its charm and exclusivity.
One of the attractions for visitors to northern Zanzibar is the large number of shops, bars and restaurants, many of which are only a short walk from the hotels. The area attracts a youthful, international crowd, and a vibrant nightlife has bloomed in Nungwi. Another draw of the far north coast is that the beach shelves more steeply than along the east coast, and particularly at the properties on the north-west coast, low tides interrupt sea swimming for much shorter periods. If you’re looking for somewhere with a buzzy atmosphere, good access to local amenities, and plenty of sea-swimming, then northern Zanzibar is the best choice.
Besides relaxing on the beach there is a wide range of activities on offer here. Snorkelling and diving are popular excursions and over the years several reputable dive schools have been established, many of them located in the larger hotels. Snorkelling and diving trips head out to the reefs off the north coast, or even venture out and go south to Mnemba Island, which has some of the best dive sites on Zanzibar. Kite surfing and other water sports are also increasingly popular up here, with a number of water sports centres established.
Nungwi is the location of Zanzibar’s only turtle sanctuary. Green and hawksbill turtles have traditionally been caught around Zanzibar’s coasts both for their meat and their shells (the beautiful material known as ‘tortoiseshell’). Many years of over-hunting have resulted in a drastic decline in the numbers of these magnificent sea creatures, and they are currently on the endangered list. In an effort to combat their decline, the Mnarani Natural Aquarium was set up – a charitable organisation dedicated to turtle rehabilitation, research and conservation. The site encloses a large, natural, tide pool where sea turtles that have been caught in fishing nets can be rehabilitated, while local hatchlings are protected in smaller pools until they’re large enough to be returned to the ocean. The aquarium welcomes visitors for a small fee, and a local guide shows you around the pools and describes their ongoing conservation initiatives.
Where to stay in Northern Zanzibar
Our suggestions for beach lodges in Northern Zanzibar