Zanzibar Guide | Islands of Zanzibar

Sailing at Ras Nungwi. Zanzibar
Zanzibar Island is the most commonly used name for the main island, however it is actually known as Unguja locally. Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands, the biggest being Unguja and just north of it is Pemba; they lie off the Tanzanian mainland coast like jewels in the Indian Ocean.

Lesser known are the many other islands and islets around and in between Unguja and Pemba, making up a veritable smorgasbord of interesting day trips and dive and fishing spots. To the south of Unguja is Mafia Island, which is not part of Zanzibar, but nonetheless included here as it is very close to Zanzibar.

Islands close to Zanzibar Island / Unguja:

Prison Island

Those visiting Stone Town on Zanzibar Island / Unguja can day trip to this island, which is also known as Changuu. In the past the island was a quarantine station and a detention centre during the slavery era, it has now emerged into an excellent snorkelling spot, it has a beach and restaurant. There is also a large population of giant tortoises which were a gift from the Seychelles during the 18th century.

Bawe Island

This island is also accessible from Stone Town on Zanzibar Island / Unguja but is less busy than other day trip spots. It has a nice beach and offers great snorkelling.

Chapwani Island

Close to Bawu Island and Stone Town, Chapwani is also known as Grave Island due to a small cemetery for British sailors located there, it's a quiet and relaxing spot.

Chumbe Island

This island is a Forest Reserve and has a lighthouse which was built in 1904. The reefs around the island have been a Marine National Park since the early 1990's. It has an unusual inhabitant - the rare giant coconut crab which can make its way up palm trees and feast on young coconuts.

Mnemba Island

This private island, also known as the Mnemba Atoll, has an excellent reef around it and provides wonderful snorkelling and diving areas. It is located about 3km (1.8 miles) off the north-east coast of Zanzibar Island / Unguja. Most water sports centres on the east coast of the mainland offer trips to Mnemba.

Pemba Island

This is the sister to Zanzibar Island / Unguja. Pemba is quite different; it has very hilly and fertile terrain and offers an authentic Swahili experience. For many years this remote destination has been waiting in the wings, it is now receiving a small and growing number of foreign visitors, making it a delightful and crowd free area with beautiful beaches (some say the best in this archipelago), lush natural forests and of course outstanding dive sites.

See our Pemba Island Travel Guide for more info in Pemba.

Misali Island

Just off the west coast of Pemba near Chake Chake is Misali. It is a small island with a visitor centre, fabulous beaches and great diving and snorkelling off shore, the island and its reef is a marine conservation area. This idyllic place also has super walking trails through forests which cover most of the island.

Shamiani Island

Shamiani is also known as Kiweni Island, it is located just east of Mkoani, and has a reef on one side and a drop-off diving on the other. This beautiful and isolated island is just the place to relax and take a break from activities although there is good diving and snorkelling available. To get to Shamiani, visitors will need to arrange to get from Chake Chake to Kengeja and then sail across to the island.

Mafia Island

This island is part of mainland Tanzania, but it is not far from the Zanzibar archipelago. Mafia, located close to the Rufiji Delta, is a short air flight from Zanzibar. The island has been a popular stopover for 2 thousand years and is now one of the largest marine parks in East Africa where a great range of corals and fish can be seen.

Chole Bay, the original harbour is a protected deep water anchorage. There is fantastic snorkelling, swimming and sailing available in the clear waters of the bay, in and around the islands, sandbanks and beaches. An unbroken reef runs from the top of the island to the bottom.

Mafia Island has changed very little over the years; inhabitants go about their day almost isolated from the rest of the world. The people are friendly and proud of their heritage.

Activities and areas of interest on Mafia Island include:

  • Diving
  • Sailing
  • Walking
  • Bird-watching
  • Fishing
  • Cultural village visits
  • Archaeological site visits
  • Coastal forests
  • Coconut plantations
  • Traditional boat-building yards
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