Experience the white sandy paradise of Zanzibar, an archipelago located off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Comprising of the main island Unguja, Pemba, and many small islands, Zanzibar is known for producing spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper in particular) and raffia.

The archipelago’s historic centre of Stone Town is a wonderful labyrinth of narrow alleyways deserving of exploration with its World Heritage Site status; but taxis are always waiting to take you up north and out east to the gems of Zanzibar – the pristine beaches and crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. Here are our picks of the best beaches on the main island of Unguja, which is also informally referred to as Zanzibar:

Paje (East Coast)

zanzibar best beaches - Paje beach - Masai man and kitesurfers in the background

Paje Beach – Masai man and kitesurfers in the background

Many small lodges, hotels and resorts line the East coast but the best and most popular are certainly found in Paje. There might be a few backpackers, but it’s generally a quieter beach compared to those in the North.

The one major difference between Paje and many of the beaches around Zanzibar is the tide. At low tide, you might have to walk up to an hour to reach water deep enough to swim. In contrast, the ocean comes right up to the hotels at high tide. Regardless of where the water is when you visit, Paje is absolutely beautiful; to walk so far out in search of a swimming spot is a unique feeling in itself.

It’s very much a chilled out scene in Paje both during the day and into the evening. That being said, you can usually find a party of some sort if you walk amongst the resorts.

Where to stay: Paje by Night and Ndame Beach Lodge have excellent rooms and a very funky bar/restaurant area.

Nungwi (North Beaches)

zanzibar best beaches - Nungwi Zanzibar

Nungwi Beach, photo by René Mayorga

In the far north, Nungwi is another popular beach with a wide range of accommodation that vary from five-star luxury to backpacker basic. Naturally, this makes Nungwi a favorite for young people or frugal travelers, but there’s enough to make the beach worth a visit, regardless of preference in terms of comfort level.

Three main stretches of white sandy beach line the shores of Nungwi with hotels, restaurants or boardwalks separating them. Though the stretches of sand are relatively short, it’s perfect for swimming since the ocean bed drops down in the north, meaning that Nungwi is largely unaffected by the tides.

Where to stay: Amaan Bungalows and Langi Langi Beach Bungalows are the best, while Paradise Bungalows are the most cost effective.

Kendwa (North Beaches)

zanzibar best beaches - Local women walking down Kendwa beach Zanzibar Africa

Local women walking down Kendwa beach

Just a short way down the coast from Nungwi, is a smaller and quieter resort area called Kendwa. There are less options in terms of food and not much happening when it comes to nightlife, but this is the ultimate place for R&R at reasonable prices.

However, it’s not completely void of action. There’s always a competitively fun game of volleyball during the day, at least one of the bars will have a special event in the evenings, and there’s also a full moon party held once a month in Kendwa Rocks Hotel.

The beach itself is longer and wider than Nungwi, and there are far more idyllic places along this stretch to relax, such as the many beach loungers, comfortable seating areas, and lazy hammocks right next to the beach. As with Nungwi, the tide is also very favorable for swimming throughout the day and you would be hard pushed to find a whiter stretch of sand on Zanzibar with so much space in between.

Where to stay: Sunset Kendwa is more value for money and Kendwa Rocks boasts of a lively bar out front.

Mchanga Beach (Near Pwani Mchangani)

Also on the East Coast, Mchanga Beach is one more white sandy beach that seems like heaven on earth. Away from the party crowd, this is for folks who want to escape life in the fast lane for a bit. Waters are still crystal blue, and you’ll probably won’t have to share it with many people.

Where to stay: Mchanga Beach Lodge is reasonably priced. Alongside a fresh water pool, there’s a a restaurant, bar, and shop, so you don’t need to leave the resort, unless you want to.

Pongwe Beach

zanzibar best beaches - Pongwe Beach Hotel

Pongwe Beach Hotel

The crystal blue waters of this private beach attached to Pongwe Beach Hotel are mesmerizing and the reef which reaches out for more than a kilometre, which is pretty much perfect for swimming.  The hotel is also host to a fantastic local restaurant which overlooks the beach and the amazing infinity pool.

There are options to take trips in dhow boats along with options to go fishing, diving or even sunset cruises but overall, Pongwe Beach is a quiet resort and has an ultra relaxing atmosphere which makes is the perfect getaway for families.

Where to stay: With only 16 ocean view cottages, the price tag on Pongwe Beach Hotel might be higher than other resorts on this list but the stunning resort affords more luxury and seclusion in a sheltered bay on the East Coast.

Interested in other parts of Africa? See our tips on Cape Town and wineries to visit in Stellenbosch! 

Top Image: Son of Groucho