Beautiful Zanzibar. Aren’t the photos below what come to mind when you think of Paradise? The white beaches, blue waters and green fauna of Zanzibar are what makes this archipelago travel fantasy fodder. It’s a popular honeymoon destination, but who wants to smooch in a hotel room when you could backpack the hell outta this lot…? Here’s my pick of the best, cheap things to do in Zanzibar.
It’s not exactly the cheapest place to fly to – there aren’t any Ryanair flights to Zanzibar. But once you’ve reached the island, you’ll find there are quite a lot of cheap and affordable things to do in Zanzibar thanks to its wonderful natural beauty. Some are even free!
But beyond the perfect (and I mean perfect) beaches, there’s other things to see on this beautiful island off the coast of Tanzania. Its mix of cultures, consisting of Arabs, Persians, Indians, Portuguese, and the British, wildlife, UNESCO World Heritage Site and range of activities are just some incredible ways to get to know Zanzibar – and have an unforgettable holiday at the same time.
From exploring the winding streets of Stone Town to browsing local markets, or simply lazing around on one of the many stunning beaches, the possibilities for budget-friendly activities in Zanzibar are plentiful.So if you’re looking to make the most of your trip, but need to save on money, here are my favourite cheap things to do in Zanzibar.
The 13 most affordable things to do in Zanzibar
If you’re on a budget but still want to see what Zanzibar has to offer, here’s some the best things you can do at low cost.
1. Zanzibar beaches
That must be what you came here for right? There are 503 miles of picture perfect coastline with white sands and beautiful palm trees. You can enjoy a splash about in the waters, or you could go deeper and swim with dolphins on the Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour. There are also some huge fish to be had in Zanzibar’s waters and Uroa Village is the best place to do it.
2. Spice it up
Zanzibar is well known as the ‘Spice Island’. Herbs and spices prosper in the rich and fertile ground and you can take a tour around the plantations. You’ll get to see how the spices are used in Ayurveda medicine and in cooking and sample some saps, spices and exotic fruits too. Zanzibar is also one of the rare places in the world where saffron is produced.
3. See monkeys in the wild
Chumbe Island Coral Park is a green paradise atop fossilised coral. Visit for the day and you’ll learn all about how the aims for preservation and education in the area are carried out. The peaceful sanctuary is the perfect place to snap some monkeys, butterflies, reptiles and birds for the folks back home.
If there just aren’t enough monkeys for you, visit the Jozani Forest and the Red Colobus monkeys will be swinging from the trees in their hundreds. Entry is $8 and you’ll also get to see the Mangrove Forest too.
4. Hang out in Stone Town
Zanzibar’s vibrant capital Stone Town is filled with quirky labyrinthine alleys. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so there are many beautiful important buildings here, including The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort. There’s also a huge market here with huge amounts of native fruit and interesting produce you’ve probably never seen before – a great place for some souvenirs.
5. Scuba dive in Kendwa
Not only has Kendwa in the east got a white beach and warm sea, it’s also the best place in Zanzibar for scuba diving. There are lots of beach bars and restaurants here serving a range of food and if you’re around for a Full Moon, this is where the party’s at. Before you leave for home try and haggle a go in one of the locals’ carved wooden boats – known as a dhow.
6. Visit the Slave Market
Of course it’s the Old Slave Market silly. You can see the holding chambers and check out where the poor souls used to live in dungeon-like conditions. Entry costs $3, which makes it one of the best cheap things to do in Zanzibar.
7. Drink cocktails
Zanzibar is a Muslim country, but there are still bars when you know where to look. Make sure you enjoy the ginger beer – tangawizi – and visit the Africa House Sunset Bar at sunset for a cocktail overlooking the ocean. Get there early to guarantee a seat. There are also many bars along the beaches who will be very happy to serve you good local beers and cocktails.
8. Go kiteboarding
Paje, the small village on the east coast, is well known for its top kiteboarding weather conditions. Head over to the Zanzibar Kitesurfing School where you can get a three-hour lesson for €110 with all the instruction you’ll need to get you started.
9. Eat at Forodhani Gardens
Cheap, local food is the order of the day at this food and arts market. From crab claws to locally made sugar cane juice to crazy treats for your beloved at home you’ll get in here, but make sure to bargain them down – it’s the way they do business. It’s a night market so the twilight surroundings are hard to beat.
Every evening you can try a variety of local delicacies like Zanzibari pizza, a local type of pizza filled with meat, egg, and vegetables; urojo, a tangy soup of mango, tamarind, and lime; or grilled seafood skewers fresh from the ocean.
10. Enjoy a sunset dinner
236 Hurumzi is one of the more expensive restaurants on the island, but you’re your delicious meal will be enjoyed on the rooftop – go at sunset to experience the call to prayer with Zanzibar’s skyline laid out in front of you. Eat dinner on the wharf and you’ll get a fresh, locally sourced feast for just a few dollars. Scoff it to the sweet melodies of local music.
You could also try The Dhow Restaurant – a handcrafted boat anchored anchored opposite the old Sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, and Forodhani Gardens. I’d go for the grilled lobster. Did you know Freddie Mercury was born here? There’s a restaurant named after him on the beachfront, but by all accounts it’s not actually that good.
In Stone Town try the Sunset Bar to watch the sun set with some tasty food and a cocktail in a coconut. Look below and the kids are sure to be fascinated by the evening Capoeira club that meets there to practice. The Zanzibar Café is good too, especially for smoothies.
In Nungwi try the house curries at Langi Langi, delicious and great value. Or visit the beachside Nungwi Bar and Restaurant to watch the sun go down as you eat. If you ask nicely they’ll also set up a campfire to keep you warm.
11. Visit Prison Island
Also known as Changuu Island, Prison Island is a 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town. Despite its name, it was never used as a prison. It was originally intended to confine rebellious slaves but ended up serving as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases.
Today, the island is famous for its colony of Aldabra giant tortoises, some of which are over 100 years old. You can find a boat ride from around $35, and then it’s $4 to enter the island. It’s not super cheap, but considering you get serene beaches, historic buildings and sites and the chance to interact with giant tortoises all in one – it’s going down on my list as one of the cheap things to do in Zanzibar for its value for money.
12. See a free performance or screening at the Old Fort
If you go to Stone Town, then you’ll most likely come across the Old Fort situated on the seafront, adjacent to the House of Wonders. It was built in the late 17th century to defend the island from the Portuguese. It now stands as a pillar of Zanzibar’s interesting history, but also as a cultural centre.
Here, you can watch or go to lots of different performances. There’s local festivals such as the annual Zanzibar International Film Festival and other film screenings, theatre, dance performances and more throughout the year. You can also do some shopping for local arts and crafts or relax at the café.
13. Get lost in the stalls of the Darajani Bazaar
Darajani Bazaar is the main market in Stone Town and is full of colour, spices and crafts. It really is a treat for all senses!
Here you can pick up everything from handmade jewellery, local produce and clothes. Haggling is part of the shopping experience, so don’t be shy to negotiate the price. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, simply absorbing the energy and atmosphere of this bustling market offers a real taste of local life in Zanzibar.
Getting around Zanzibar on a budget
The dala dalas are an interesting experience if you’re feeling adventurous. The unique buses are a convenient and cheap way to get around the island, but be warned, they get busy! You’ll put your luggage in the roof and bob in to get cosy. It’s a great cultural experience and perfect if you really want to see how the locals live, although maybe not the right option for anyone who likes their space.
Otherwise taxis are cheap. It costs around $40 to get from one side of the island to the other and the taxis are everywhere you can always bargain them down at the start of the journey, but as always, agree on a price before you set off.
If you’re travelling locally be sure to check at your accommodation to see if they have any bikes – as soon as you get out of Stone Town there’s quite a bit of space to move around so make the most of it.
Safety in Zanzibar
Like anywhere, you need to keep your wits about you. Zanizbar is a poor country, but it’s also a very friendly one and sometimes visitors can find it difficult to trust the friendly, open nature of the locals. 100,000+ tourists a year visit for the white sand and tranquil waters and so of course in the numbers game there are victims of crime, but not an overly mentionable amount.
Things to do in Zanzibar on a budget
Often regarded as a luxury destination, the reality is that Zanzibar is not exclusively for those with deep pockets. It might not be cheap to fly to, and accommodation is generally the most budget-friendly, however when it comes to things to do in Zanzibar, this is where you can save.
The island offers a range of activities and experiences that can cater to travellers looking for free or cheap things to do. Whether that’s simply roaming the streets and markets, or paying a small fee to enjoy one-off experiences.
And of course, the beaches. If you’re not a beach-lover…what are you doing in Zanzibar? It’s arguably one of the best places for beaches in the world, so while you’re there it’s worth soaking them up – plus they’re usually free. If you want more advice on travelling for free, check out my blog on how I afford to travel full of tips.
TOP TIP: You can get to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam very easily by ferry. The service leaves four times a day and costs around $35-40, you can travel first class for just $5 more. Beware of touts around the port and make sure you get your ticket from a valid vendor. It is possible to do the return journey in one day, if you like.
SHOW RESPECT: As always when you travel make sure you respect the local traditions, both men and women should cover their legs and arms whenever possible and don’t go snogging down the alleys, or in the restaurants for that matter. If it’s Ramadan take extra care when eating and drinking, and talking about eating and drinking too.
Quicklist of cheap things to do in Zanzibar
- Zanzibar beaches
- Spice it up
- See monkeys in the wild
- Hang out in Stone Town
- Scuba dive in Kendwa
- Visit the Slave Market
- Drink cocktails
- Go kiteboarding
- Eat at Forodhani Gardens
- Enjoy a sunset dinner
- Visit Prison Island
- See a free performance at the Old Fort
- Get lost in the stalls of Darajani Bazaar
Can you do Zanzibar on a budget?
Zanzibar isn’t as cheap as other destinations but by eating local food, using public transport, and choosing free or low-cost activities, such as exploring Stone Town or visiting local markets, you can help keep costs down. With careful planning, you can definitely explore Zanzibar on a budget.
Is Zanzibar cheaper than Maldives?
Generally, Zanzibar tends to be cheaper than the Maldives, especially when it comes to accommodations and food. While the Maldives is largely composed of high-end, luxury resorts, Zanzibar has a wide range of accommodation options to suit tighter budgets. Additionally, food, especially local cuisine, can be quite affordable in Zanzibar. However, costs can vary based on your personal travel style and the time of year.
What time of year is cheapest to visit Zanzibar?
The cheapest times to visit Zanzibar are during the off-peak seasons, typically the rainy seasons from mid-March to late May and November to early December. During these times, fewer tourists visit and as a result, airfares and hotel rates are often lower. Keep in mind that while you may save money, the weather can be unpredictable, which may impact your plans, especially beach activities.
What is the cheapest way to get around Zanzibar?
The most affordable way to get around Zanzibar is by using local transportation. The most common form is the “dala-dala,” a local bus service that operates on various routes across the island. Dala-dalas are typically crowded but offer a real taste of local life and are much cheaper than taxis or renting a car. Alternatively, in places like Stone Town, the area is compact enough just to walk around. Renting a bicycle can also be a cost-effective and enjoyable way to get around.