Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, a historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Its winding lanes present minarets, carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide beaches lined with hotels.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.
Chumbe Island Marine Sanctuary
Chumbe offers some of the most pristine and colourful coral reefs in the world, with over 200 species of coral providing a sanctuary for more than 400 species of colourful fish.
Mnemba Island is a single small island located about 3 km off the northeast coast of Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Tanzania, opposite Muyuni Beach. It is roughly triangular in shape, about 500 m in diameter and about 1.5 km in circumference. It is surrounded by an oval reef seven by four kilometres in extent. These reefs have been declared a Marine Conservation area. Mnemba Island and its reef are sometimes called Mnemba Atoll which is incorrect because an atoll is an island that encircles a lagoon, which is not the case for Mnemba Island.
The surrounding waters and area around Mnemba Island are an important breeding ground for Green Turtles while a host of migratory wading birds use the island as a secure roost. The fragile coral reef eco-systems support countless fish species and microorganisms while gigantic Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales and dolphins frequent the deeper waters.
Diving & Snorkeling Sites Around Northern Zanzibar Island and Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area
Diving at Mnemba is a year-round event, with reasonably good conditions to be found on the atoll under almost all weather conditions and visibilities of 20 to 40 metres are the norm.
Kichwani Reef: Kichwani Reef is a deep, clear, drift dive from 20 to 40 meters depending on the divers experience. Many coral species are found such as Mushroom, Honeycombe, Brain and Staghorn Coral to name just a few. Below 30 meters, a vertical wall of reef fish, Trumpet fish and large Napoleon Wrasse are commonly seen; lucky divers can spot Reef sharks, Eagle and Manta Rays.
Wattabomi Site: Wattambomi is an excellent site for snorkels and novice divers. Schools of small reef fish, Regal Angelfish, Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, Semicircle Angelfish, Moorish Idols, Blue Spotted Rays, Lionfish are commonly seen. Take your time looking for Flounders and Soles. These fish lie on their side buried in the sand, and are very well camouflaged. For most of the year, you will be treated to the beautifully patterned Striped Dolphin but the Bottlenose, Spinner and common Dolphins are also seen in the clear waters around Mnemba Atoll. This is an excellent photographic opportunity both above and below the water.
Aquarium Site: The Aquarium’s depth is 20 meters. There is usually a slight current at this site. Patches of sandy bottom occur quite close to the reef with Surgeonfishes, Moorish Idols, Parrotfish, Groupers, large Hawksbill and Green Turtles along with White Tip reef sharks.
West Gardens Site: Lies at a depth of 12 meters, and is a good spot for snorkels and novice divers.
The Big Wall Site: Lies at a depth of 30 meters, which drops to 50 meters. You will descend down to 30 meters drifting along a vertical wall. On your silent drift along this wonderful wall you will be passed by different species of pelagic school’s of Rainbow Runner, Bluefin Trevally and common dolphin fish. Along the edge of the wall, you find some overhangs and small caves often filled with lobsters.