Zanzibar Island Overview

It is without doubt that the number one beach location in East Africa is Zanzibar Island, an absolutely wonderful island of tropical white-sand beaches, lush plantations, an incredible history and a fascinating culture.

The island’s history goes back many centuries. Its heyday came in the early 19th century when the Sultan of Muscat moved his court to Zanzibar. Spice cultivation was developed (particularly the clove tree), and the slave trade was at its height – Zanzibar became the most important town in East Africa.

The islands became part of the historical record of the wider world when Arab traders discovered them and used them as a base for voyages between Arabia, India, and Africa.

Zanzibar capital City is Stone Town a place of winding lanes, circular towers, carved wooden doors, raised terraces and beautiful mosques. Named for its many multi-story stone buildings, these structures are actually constructed with coral and mortar, not stone. Of the 1,700 stone buildings, 1,100 have been classified as having architectural significance. There are 23 landmark buildings, two cathedrals, over 50 Mosques, 157 balconies, verandas and loggias and more than 200 carved doors. Zanzibar, Stone Town has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Important architectural features are the Livingstone house, the Guliani Bridge, and the House of Wonders.

Fauna include the African pig, civet cat, forest duiker, lemur, leopard (a variety peculiar to Zanzibar), mongoose, two species of monkey, and pygmy antelope. Numerous species of bats and snakes exist.


In 1964 these islands joined with Tanganyika on the mainland to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Zanzibar (Unguja) island, the largest in the archipelago, covers 637 square miles (1,651 square km), while Pemba, the next largest, covers 350 square miles (906 square km).

The Zanzibar Island is low-lying with small ridges along its central north–south axis. Masingini, the highest point of the central ridge system, is 390 feet (119 m) above sea level.

The island’s higher ground is slightly rolling, giving birth to several small rivers and streams. Believed to have once been covered by dense evergreen forest, what remains are small patches of indigenous forest and isolated large trees. Coconut palms, thicket vegetation and grass are abundant.

A tropical, humid climate leads to an annual average rainfall of 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm), which is consistent and well-distributed throughout the islands. Northeast trade winds blow from December to March and southeast trade winds from May to October. Periods of long rains occur from March to May, while short rains fall October through December.