Zanzibar has a lot to offer, from incredible food, pristine beaches, culture, and history, to name a few. While the prospect of a vacation to this exotic Indian Ocean Island is alluring, identifying the ideal time to visit can be challenging.
As a visitor, you want to ensure your interests and expectations align with what’s offered at any given time. We’ll show you the best time to visit Zanzibar for foodies, beach bums, and history buffs so that you can make the most of your stay.
Plus, caution you of the worst times to visit if you’re looking for peace and relaxation. Keep reading to find out more!
Why You Should Visit Zanzibar
A 20-minute flight from Dar es Salaam — that’s how long it takes to get to one of the most magical, exotic, and picturesque islands in the world. Zanzibar, an Indian Ocean Island off Tanzania, is a tropical paradise with idyllic beaches, turquoise water, and balmy breezes.
If you’re looking for a Maldives experience on half the budget, this is the place. But past its famous beaches, this semi-autonomous archipelago is rich in history and culture.
You’ll see the influences of Arabic, Persian, African, and European cab in old architecture, local cuisine, music (taarab), and dance. Exploring the streets and alleys of Stone Town, the historic center of Zanzibar City, will take you back centuries ago.
Stroll along the narrow passageways filled with colonial-style buildings or head to the spice market for a whiff of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. And don’t miss the Old Fort, once used as a prison for enslaved people who Oman shipped as indentured laborers.
If the crowds and heat become too much, escape to the Jozani Forest Reserve, home to endangered red colobus monkeys. It’s also known for its forest trails, where you can spot various bird species and other fascinating creatures.
On your way out, stop by the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre to catch a glimpse of these beautiful winged wonders.
Generally, Zanzibar has something for everyone, from beachgoers to thrill seekers and history nerds to animal lovers. The only thing that remains is figuring out the best time to visit.
Overall Best Time to Visit Zanzibar
The archipelago’s dry season, which runs from June through October, is the best time to visit Zanzibar. During this time of the year, the weather is warm and sunny, with clear skies and low humidity, making it perfect for outdoor activities.
It also coincides with Tanzania’s peak tourism season, which includes the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park. June in Zanzibar marks the start of the long dry season and the end of the island’s wettest season.
The skies are typically clear, and daytime temperatures reach around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). If you want to enjoy water sports during your trip, this is the ideal time as the sea water is relatively calm.
July, the dry season has already set in, with the sun hanging a little longer in the sky. The island also sees many tourists coming to escape the European winter. Prices for accommodations, flights, and car rentals may soar during this period, but it’s still the ideal time to visit Zanzibar.
August and September follow the same trend- high temperatures, sunshine, and beautiful blue seas. The summer season is still at its peak, with hotels registering full occupancy rates.
October marks the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy months in Zanzibar. You may experience a temperature drop and light rain intermittently throughout the day. However, don’t let this deter you from visiting Zanzibar this month.
Cheapest Time to Visit Zanzibar
If you’re on a budget and want to visit Zanzibar, March through May and November are the cheapest times. It’s the off-peak season on the island as most tourists seek other warmer destinations.
During these months, expect reduced hotel rates, flights, rental car costs, excursion fees, and food prices. You’ll also find fewer crowds of tourists at popular sites like Stone Town.
March marks the start of the long rainy season that lasts until May. It’s the wettest time of year in Zanzibar, so pack your rain gear. On the plus side, humidity is lower, so it won’t feel as hot outside.
Locals are also less preoccupied with tourist activities, allowing you to engage, interact and see more of what Zanzibar offers. Take advantage of the lower prices at local markets to purchase souvenirs such as handmade crafts, spices, textiles, or jewelry.
November, like March through May, is another excellent time to save money and explore Zanzibar. It signals the onset of what the locals call “short rains.” During this period, hotel, flight, and car rental rates hit their lowest point, allowing you to stretch your budget.
Least Busy Time to Visit Zanzibar
The least busy time to make a trip to Zanzibar is from March through May. This may be the best time if you’re looking for peace, tranquility, and relaxation on your vacation.
The island receives very few tourists during these months due to the long rainy season. It also coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, which usually falls in the same period (March to April).
Most major attractions, such as Stone Town’s old city, have few visitors and are calm and easy to navigate. Plus, the jubilant moods accompanying this festivity add to an unparalleled experience. Expect shorter lines at attraction sites, uncrowded beaches, and lower prices for accommodations.
With fewer visitors, you can explore independently and get closer and personal with local culture. Many attraction sites will also offer discounts to help promote tourism during the slow season.
However, expect only a few hotels and restaurants to operate as most take advantage of the low tourist traffic to do significant renovations and train staff.
Some smaller airlines may also have reduced flights, so plan by booking your tickets in advance. Also, outdoor activities might not be available due to unpredictable weather conditions.
Worst Time to Visit Zanzibar
Due to heavy rain and stormy weather, March through May are the worst months to visit Zanzibar. During this period, you’ll experience more downpours and less sunshine than at other times of the year.
Because the island is still underdeveloped, anticipate the roads to be slippery and unusable. You may even experience occasional power outages in most facilities.
Most social amenities such as shops, eateries, and restaurants will close due to the low demand during these months.
Expect few local guides for hire as most take time off with their families and friends. There are also few products on offer from local vendors and stores, making shopping difficult.
Tourist activities and tours that would typically be a highlight during other seasons, such as snorkeling or fishing trips, can’t operate during this time. Boats have difficulty navigating the choppy waters, which may result in canceled excursions.
Beaches also become inaccessible due to high waves and potential flooding. Due to Zanzibar’s poor sewage system, waterborne illnesses like typhoid and bilharzia are more prevalent.
As a visitor, this puts you at risk of contracting these diseases if you’re not careful about your surroundings. While the island has pleasant temperatures year-round, ranging from 82°F to 93°F, it’s best to avoid this particular season.
Things to Consider While Visiting Zanzibar
Now that we’ve identified the ideal time to visit Zanzibar let’s explore what else you need to know before you go:
- The people value greetings. Zanzibar’s native language is Swahili. Stop by a local market and say Jambo (hello) or Asante Sana (thank you). The locals will rejoice by your efforts and will respond positively.
- Dress decently in public places. The island is predominately Muslim. Visitors should dress modestly, especially when visiting mosques or other holy sites.
- Make time for a cup of tea. Known as “chai” in Zanzibar, the locals offer this spiced beverage all day long at various points. It’s a great way to interact with the locals and get insight into their culture.
- Remember Sunglasses and Sunscreen. Don’t forget these two necessities, even if it seems overkill when living under palm trees. The island receives plenty of sunshine year-round.
- Zanzibar’s leisurely pace. Everything here moves slightly slower. The word for it in Swahili is “pole pole,” which translates to “slowly, slowly.” Your fruit juice may take 40 minutes, but it’ll be well worth the wait.
- Avoid tap water. Unlike in some countries where they treat tap water and it’s safe to drink, there’s no such infrastructure in many parts of Zanzibar. Stick to bottled water from reputable sources.
- Keep an eye out for street vendors. Vendors typically sell snacks, drinks, souvenirs, and more. Expect bargaining, but don’t pay the asking price right away.
- Have cash. Although most restaurants and motels take credit cards, not all retail establishments do. Bring cash or withdraw money at an ATM beforehand if you want to buy something from a street vendor.
- Don’t fear venturing out at night. The dimly lit alleys of Stone Town may seem creepy after dark. But don’t let that deter you from sampling the dozen food stalls that line the streets.
- Book ahead of time. During peak season, hotel, airline, and car rental fees can soar due to increased demand. To avoid paying inflated prices, book early and look for offers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s look at some of the FAQs about visiting Zanzibar:
Do I need a visa to fly to Zanzibar?
Except for East African nationals, all foreign visitors entering Zanzibar must obtain a visa. In most countries, you can apply for one in advance online. Make sure to fulfill all the requirements, such as getting vaccinated for yellow fever, among other things, before frying into the island.
What is the best part of Zanzibar to stay in?
Zanzibar has prestigious and opulent resorts and hotels that provide a sense of exclusivity. If budget isn’t a concern, the northeast coast has some of the best beaches and accommodations. However, Stone Town offers affordable options for those on a tight budget but is still comfortable and hospitable.
Do you need anti-malaria tablets for Zanzibar?
Malaria is a prevalent illness in many parts of Tanzania, including Zanzibar. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers take malaria pills several days before, during, and after their trip. Also, consult your doctor on the right anti-malarial drug to avoid side effects or interactions with your current medications.
What currency does Zanzibar have?
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and thus uses the Tanzania shilling (TZS) as its currency. TZS consists of coins and banknotes of various denominations.
You’re advised to exchange your money as soon as you process your VISA at Zanzibar Airport. Check for the latest exchange rates before flying to the island.
How many days do you need to visit Zanzibar?
It all depends on your hobbies, money, and desired type of vacation. A minimum of 7 days offers you ample time to explore Zanzibar fully. Furthermore, most tour operators run their packages for at least a week, giving you the most bang for your buck.
Is Zanzibar good for swimming?
With its turquoise sea, sandy beaches, and vast coastline, Zanzibar is one of the best places to swim. The island lies six degrees south of the equator.
This provides favorable swimming weather year-round with an average temperature of between 85°F and 90°F. Some of its famous swimming beaches include Pongwe, Kiwengwa, and Jambiani.
Which airlines fly to Zanzibar?
Most airlines will fly into Dar es Salaam, with a handful flying directly onto Zanzibar. Kenya Airways, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Precision Air, Air France, and SAUDIA are among the top airlines.
Which airport is closest to Zanzibar?
Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Zanzibar’s sole airport, is 5 kilometers south of Stone Town. Formerly known as Zanzibar International Airport and Kisauni Airport, the airport mainly serves East Africa with a few international connections.
Do people in Zanzibar speak English?
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is Tanzania and Zanzibar’s official and national language. But as a former British colony, English and other European languages are often spoken in Zanzibar, especially in attraction areas and the capital city. It doesn’t hurt to learn some basic local words or phrases before you visit.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Zanzibar?
The overall best time to visit Zanzibar is June through October (archipelago dry season). The warm weather allows you to enjoy all your favorite outdoor activities.
For more budget-friendly options, March through May and November are great times as they fall in the long and short rainy seasons. However, if you’re looking for the least busy period, March through May is your best bet.
It falls in the long rainy season, therefore less crowd. The worst time to visit the island is during the long rainy season from March through May. Now that you’re up to date on the various periods to visit Zanzibar, start planning your trip!