Unguja or Zanzibar island

Unguja Zanzibar boat sea
A fishing boat sets out to sea in Unguja, Zanzibar

Zanzibar – or Unguja is part of the Zanzibar archipelago which also includes Pemba Island and Mafia Island – also called the Spice Islands. Zanzibar is roughly 60 km long and 40-50 km wide.  The population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim but there are a few Christians living on the island as well. Zanzibar is probably best known for its pristine white coral sand beaches and clear turqoise water. There are coral reefs protecting the east coast against the big waves from the Indian Ocean and within the reef, swimming is quite safe as there are basically no sharks or other big predators. Though of course there are smaller poisonous fish and other creatures.

Tidal fluctuations

Depending on the moon’s distance to earth – there is usually between 2-3 meter difference between high tide and low tide. At low tide the water level is so low it is hard to swim near the beach. But between low tide and high tide it’s about perfect and the waves are rarely too big. At high tide the waves become a bit bigger though still manageable for some decent swimming activities. This cycle between high- and low tides takes place 2 times in 24 hours and it is shifted by approximately 30 min. every day. That means that the perfect time for swimming is subject to be influenced according to when your beach holiday is taking place. For example for one week low tide will take place around noon and early afternoon, where in another week high tide will be at noon and early afternoon.


People have lived in Zanzibar for 20,000 years. With time the islands became a base for traders voyaging between the African Great lakes , the Somali Peninsula, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. In 1499 Vasco Da Gama visits and this marked the beginning of European influence. In 1503, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire. Zanzibar offered a defensible and protected harbor, so although the archipelago had few products of value, it was a very attractive location in the Indian Ocean trade. After the Portuguese, Omanis and Yemenis settled in what became Zanzibar City or Stone Town. From here they could conveniently travel and trade with towns on the Swahili Coast. They established garrisons on the islands and built the first mosques in the African Great Lakes Region.

In 1698 Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman, which developed an economy of trade and cash crops with a ruling Arab elite and a Bantu general population. Gradually control of Zanzibar came into the hands of the British Empire and in 1890, Zanzibar became a British Protectorate. The islands gained independence from Britain in December 1963. A month later, the Zanzibar Revolution in which several thousand Arabs and Indians were killed and thousands more expelled and expropriated, led to the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. Zanzibar today remains a semi-autonomous region under Tanzania.

Unguja Zanzibar jogging
A man jogging on the beach just outside Stone Town in Unguja, Zanzibar


Masai warrior Zanzibar beach
A Masai askari or warrior working for one of the hotels in Zanzibar, takes a break on the beach

The climate is tropical, hot all year round, with two rainy seasons: one more intense, known as the “long rains” season, from March to May, with the peak in April, and the other less intense, known as the “short rains” season, between mid-October and December.

Temperatures are high throughout the year. The warmest period is from October to March, during which the maximum temperature hovers around 31/33 degrees Celsius (88/91 °F) and the humidity is high, although the breeze tempers a little the heat when you are in close proximity to the beach and the ocean.

The sea in Zanzibar is always warm enough for swimming: the water temperature ranges from 25 °C (77 °F) in August to 29 °C (84 °F) between December and April.

Best time to visit Zanzibar

The best months to enjoy the sun and the sea of Zanzibar are July, August and September. In Zanzibar, the rains cease or drastically decrease already in June, so on this island, you can also go in June, while on the more northern island of Pemba, it still rains a bit in this month. If you want, you can also choose the months of January and February, between the two rainy seasons, though this period is hot and sultry.

A woman doing yoga on the beach in Paje Zanzibar
A woman doing yoga on the beach while the sun is rising in Paje Zanzibar
zanzibar in the clear and turqouise sea Indian Ocean
Two people swimming in zanzibar in a dream-like clear and turqouise Indian Ocean