Zanzibar is rightly renowned as a tropical paradise complete with pristine beaches, warm ocean waters, and exceptionally rich marine biodiversity.
This makes the Zanzibar archipelago perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Knowing the best beaches for swimming and snorkeling is key to experiencing the best the ocean offers on your Zanzibar holiday.
In this article, we share 6 of the best beaches in Zanzibar for snorkeling and swimming along with tips for getting the most out of your beach trip.
The exotic island of Zanzibar attracts tourists from around the world with its stunning coastline and warm island welcome.
It is gaining ground as one of the world’s best destinations for watersports, snorkeling, diving, and marine conservation.
If you’re looking for the holiday of a lifetime, Zanzibar will exceed your expectations.
This amazing archipelago of islands off the East African coast, also known as the Spice Islands consists of four main islands and a constellation of sparse or uninhabited islands.
The largest island, Unguja Island, is what most people think of as Zanzibar. It is a tourist hub with resort amenities and amazing beaches, some of which we share below.
The ingredients of a perfect beach in Zanzibar
Zanzibar’s beaches frequently top lists of the world’s best beaches.
You’ll understand why when you see the amazing coastline for yourself.
Here’s what makes Zanzibar’s beaches exceptional.
Crystalline white sands
The bright white sands of Zanzibar’s beaches are rich in the mineral quartz.
This not only makes the sand white but also harder and denser, with beautiful dunes that do not shift.
Extremely low tides
Zanzibar’s tides are semidiurnal (twice per day) with the sea heading up to 2 kilometers out at its lowest point.
As a plus point: you can walk to the reefs, but a downside is that you may have to wait hours for that satisfying swim.
The amazingly clear turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean will have you returning to Zanzibar again and again!
These waters appear much cleaner and clearer because the sand is quartz, shell, and coral-rich and dense than yellow sand.
It is not so easily agitated, creating the murkiness that you may experience in other locations.
This makes Zanzibar perfect for snorkeling as you’ll have great visibility if the sea is not turbulent.
3 best beaches in Zanzibar for snorkeling
Are you wondering if Zanzibar is good for snorkeling?
As an Indian Ocean archipelago with some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs, you couldn’t get better snorkeling.
Snorkeling is the best way to experience the amazing marine biodiversity and a big part of Zanzibar’s Blue Economy drive.
When done sustainably, it has a minimal environmental impact, so here’s where you can enjoy the very best of Zanzibar’s snorkeling:
1. Nungwi Beach
Nungwi Beach is at the northernmost tip of Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island.
It is one of the island’s most popular beaches and a routine recommendation for keen snorkelers.
This historic location, overlooked by Nungwi tower, is a working beach where fishermen have built, fished, and traded from their dhow boats for centuries.
It boasts idyllic white sands, colorful shells, and transparent azure waters that are perfect for snorkeling and diving.
Its stunning beauty has transformed Nungwi into a thriving tourist resort. Though you can’t snorkel off the beach, you can take a boat trip to Nungwi’s offshore reefs and the reefs of the Mnemba Atoll and Kendwa which are quieter.
Nungwi reef offers rich marine biodiversity with warm clear waters and amazing species like the:
- Blue sea star
- Comet star
- sea horses
- leaf fish
- scorpion fish
- and the Indian Ocean cushion starfish
After snorkeling, there is plenty to do in Nungwi with the Turtle Sanctuary, watersports, seafood restaurants, and lively football games with the locals nearby.
It’s important to remember that Nungwi beach is a working beach, with fishermen, hawkers, and beach boys.
It can and does get busy quickly, and it is well worth traveling there with a reputable guide.
2. Mnemba Island
Mnemba Island is a private island just off the northeastern coast of Unguja, which is famous for its exquisite shallow coral reef marine reserve.
If you’re serious about snorkeling in Zanzibar you cannot leave these islands without a trip to explore its beautiful underwater ecosystem, filled with skunk anemonefish, surgeonfish, red-knobbed starfish, and Moorish idols darting among the iridescent corals.
The best way to get to Mnemba island is with one of the abundant boat charters on Nungwi beach.
The journey over to the island should be under an hour and you can take a full-day tour that includes lunch for about $60.
Because Mnemba Island is a privately owned resort island, you won’t be able to land on the beach.
Your guide will show you how to safely enter the water at the reef to explore shallow waters under 100 meters from the beach.
One of the best spots to snorkel at Mnemba is its north coast where there is a reef that is over 1 kilometer long.
The corals are in great condition and visibility is good throughout the day. Expect a consistent depth of between 6 and 16 feet (2 to 4 meters). This spot can get busy so be careful of other boats and snorkelers.
3. Chumbe Island Coral Park
Chumbe Island is a private island and nature reserve located off the western coast of Unguja.
Like Mnemba Island, this island boasts some fantastic coral reefs and an island setting that has become renowned for its conservation and ecological innovation.
Diving, boating, and fishing have been banned off the coast of this uninhabited island since the early 1990s, but the fringing reef is open to guided snorkeling tours because of its relatively low environmental impact.
Take a one-hour trip to enjoy some of the best snorkeling in Zanzibar. Experienced guides from the island are the best option for accessing the reef safely and in accordance with the UNEP/Green fins code of conduct.
The snorkeling here is amazing because of Chumbe Islands’ remarkable biodiversity, with 200 coral species, and more than 90% of the coral diversity of East Africa in one location!
Looking for an affordable place to stay at Chumbe Island Coral Park? Choose your place at booking.com
The underwater display includes over 400 tropical fish species, including:
- Bluespotted stingrays
- and lobsters
In addition, you may have the delight of a gorgeous Hawksbill turtle swimming by.
The Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd. (CHICOP) takes snorkeling seriously, investing hundreds of painstaking hours to record the diverse species that can be found on the reef.
There are also downloadable photo guides available so you can see some of the species that you can expect to see during your trip.
3 best beaches in Zanzibar for swimming
The refreshing crystal ocean waters that surround Zanzibar were made for swimming, so take every opportunity to immerse yourself throughout your trip.
Zanzibar’s best swimming beaches are some of the most easygoing, meaning you can enjoy a relaxing day on the shore while the tides gently change.
Take care when swimming because of urchins, submerged fish traps, and sharp coral. Beaches often don’t have a lifeguard so avoid taking risks.
Here are three of Zanzibar’s perfect beaches for a swim.
1. Kiwengwa Beach
Kiwengwa Beach on Zanzibar’s northeastern coast is perfect for a day out with excellent swimming.
You’ll be delighted with pristine white sandbanks of firm white sand that you can walk across almost to the reefs when the tide is low.
Due to the numerous sandbanks, urchins, coral, and rocks, you should only attempt swimming when the tide is high.
It is also advisable to wear swim shoes to protect your feet. At Kiwengwa, the tide can go out a significant distance and there are high and low tide seasons.
Beyond the beach, Kiwengwa is the “Little Italy” of Zanzibar. This area of the island is beloved by Italians and has many resorts and hotels that are run by them.
The area is well developed with resort security patrolling the beach and local beach boys may be hawking items.
2. Michamwi Beach
Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Zanzibar is the secluded and breathtaking Michamwi Beach.
You’ll love the gorgeous peninsula scenery complete with coconut palms that sweep down Unguja’s spectacular shoreline.
This is one of the best beaches for escaping the people traffic of the more popular spots and enjoying a refreshing swim in its warm ocean waters at high tide.
Its partially sheltered location means that the waves are never strong meaning that swimmers of all abilities can swim confidently.
At Michamwi – The tide heads out a very long way and you’ll be able to head over to the exposed reefs of Chwaka Bay. If you take a guide, they can show you some amazing finds like exotic starfish species, giant clams, and picturesque shoals of tiny fish in the shallow water.
After a swim, you can still hang out here and enjoy beach activities like kite-surfing, and paddleboarding.
Refreshments are never far away with makuti-thatched bars nearby.
3. Paje Beach
Paje beach is another east coast hotspot that swimmers will enjoy.
The clear, warm turquoise water and clean white sands will always out-compete even the most luxurious resort pools.
It has deeper water which makes swimming easier and safer. However, the ocean heads as much as 1 kilometer out at high tide.
When you’re waiting around for the tide to come in, why not try your hand at kitesurfing?
It certainly is windy enough down on the shoreline. The winds mean that you won’t find many sunbathers on the beach.
The locals are laid-back, and you may even see a cow or two taking a stroll across the ivory sands.
Women from the nearby village collect seaweed to make an unusual soap that is sold by a cooperative.
You can also head over to the local hotels and restaurants for a meal, but the beachfront seating may get a little windy.
Overall, Paje Beach is well worth jumping in a dala dala and escaping the more popular northern resorts.
Last-minute tips for swimming and snorkeling in Zanzibar
Here are some quick and simple last-minute tips for your swimming or snorkeling adventure in Zanzibar:
- Check local tide times: you don’t want to hit the beach, ready for a swim, only to find that the sea is more than a mile out. Bathing is best when the tide is right in as you could be injured attempting to swim in shallow water.
- Lifeguards are thin on the ground: If you aren’t a strong swimmer, think carefully before taking on the Indian Ocean. Outside of the major resorts, lifeguards aren’t available on the beaches, so it is safest to avoid taking risks.
- Don’t go alone, let someone know where you are: Zanzibar is just like anywhere else in the world with a sprinkling of bad people and crime. Avoid traveling alone, especially if you are female, and avoid deserted places.
- Be as modest as possible: Zanzibar isn’t Rio de Janeiro or Miami. It is a conservative Muslim country, so respect the local culture and keep yourself modestly clothed when you’re not swimming.
- Beware of sunburn: It’s easy to forget, but decent waterproof sunscreen and a commonsense approach to the water should help you avoid snorkeler’s back.
- Cover your feet: The seabed in Zanzibar can be hazardous, with sea urchins, sharp coral, and rocks that can injure you if you walk or swim barefoot.
As you can see, Zanzibar has some amazing swimming and snorkeling spots that will bring you up close and personal with some of its unique marine wildlife.
You may even find a pod of dolphins joining you on your swim!
But don’t let the water dominate your holiday. These amazing Zanzibar beaches are just a small part of the rich beauty of these islands.
Take a trip into the island’s interior, meet and buy from the locals and view some of the amazing island wildlife including the Bushy-tailed mongoose, Eastern golden weaver, and sweet Blue duiker.
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