The African water spirits blessed Tanzania with more than 1424km (885 miles) of coastline, dusted with white powder sands, kissed by the African sun and lapped by azure waves. So a post-safari beach trip is definitely on the cards.
Many visitors head for the untamed African bush around Arusha in the north for a Serengeti safari, and recuperate afterward with a few relaxing days on the Indian Ocean coast. But adventurers can find delicate coral reefs, schools of colorful fish, gamboling dolphins and primeval-looking giant tortoises at a plethora of beach spots in Tanzania.
Perhaps your visit to Tanzania won’t start with a wildlife spotting safari, but with an idyllic beach retreat along Tanzania’s east coast, in the archipelago that includes the spice island of Zanzibar. Here the sands are dotted with atmospheric villages surrounded by thick jungle foliage, rubbing up against luxurious beach resorts and historic townships, and the ocean holds a very different kind of wildlife adventure.
Here's a guide to the best beaches in Tanzania.
Nungwi Beach has something for everyone
Best for white sand and creature comforts
Unguja, the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago, plays host to famous Nungwi Beach, an hour’s drive north from Zanzibar town. This is the place to come for white sand, blue water and well-developed tourist infrastructure – it's the kind of beach that will appeal to all kinds of travelers.
Beach traders set up at dawn to sell their wares on the sand, as the sun sends its pink and purple rays over the sparkling sea. Spend the day snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing or parasailing, or simply lounge all day on the sand, saving the activity till sunset with a cruise on a hand-carved wooden dhow (traditional sailboat).
If you get tired of beach days, hire a local guide to take you on a spice tour. Look for a trip that includes a cooking lesson – there's nothing quite like collecting your own cassava leaves for a coconut milk-based Zanzibar stew.
If you'd rather let someone else do the cooking, restaurants dot every inch of this stretch of coastline, beckoning to hungry travelers with arrays of freshly-caught seafood. They also serve up delicious cocktails (both with and without alcohol) that capture the tropical mood of the island.
Seek out Kendwa Beach for quiet luxury
Best for exclusive escapes and beach parties
If the crowds at Nungwi undermine the idyll, take a short trip south to Kendwa Beach. Away from the crowds and cacophony, its gently lilting waters are hypnotically beautiful. No one is rushing to beat the next dive boat to the reefs, or racing jet skis around the bay.
Instead, amongst the waving palm trees and fancy resorts, you can let everything come to you. A freshly-opened, thirst-quenching coconut? You got it. A rousing performance of traditional dances by Masaai tribesmen? You got it. A sunset cruise with sundowners? You got it.
The calm, however, is broken every once in a while by wild celebrations. The Kendwa Full Moon Party, started in 1996 by Kendwa Rocks Beach Hotel, is a festival of fire dancers, traditional dancing, live bands and excellent party food. If you’re a solo traveler, it's a great place to find some people to party with.
Families flock to Kiwengwa Beach for low tide beachcombing
Best for families
Low tide on Zanzibar's Kiwengwa Beach is family time. The shallow waters are perfect for safe swimming and kids can seek sea urchins and starfish in the exposed pools. In between sessions of taking it easy on the white sand under pastel-colored umbrellas, you can dig in the sand, play beach volleyball or walk out to the sandbar to view the exposed top of the reef.
Kiwengwa Beach is also a great base for exploring the rest of Zanzibar. Tours of Stone Town, the historic original township on Zanzibar, are entertaining and educational, while expeditions on quad bikes will have you flying along dirt roads through the island’s forested interior.
Paje Beach is perfect for fishing and culture
Best for local life
Long walks on Paje Beach are almost mandatory. The uncommercial side of Zanzibar, this beach escape in the south of the island has a shoreline dotted with palms, whose fronds provide some welcome shade from the intense sun. Out at sea, the water is virgin blue, unblemished to the horizon, where it seems to melt into the sky.
Paje has a local feel. Zanzibari women in colorful headscarves walk this beach daily en route to local seaweed farms that harvest therapeutic seaweeds for export to Asia. Other locals herd cattle inshore from the sand – the mood is active, but relaxed. The Kiswahili word jambo – used as an informal "hello" – is a popular greeting when meeting local people, although you can also use the phrase as-salamu alaykum (the Arabic phrase for “peace be with you”).
The swimming is good at high tide and there's excellent snorkeling, diving, fishing and kite-surfing offshore. Clownfish and blue tang (the real-life Nemo and Dory) are commonly seen offshore. Head to the fishing villages of Bwejuu or Michamvi to book deep-sea fishing trips with experts. You can also book land-based tours of the Jozani Forest and Kuza Cave, a surreal jungle sinkhole with perfect blue waters.
Find quiet and calm on Ushongo Beach
Best for unspoiled charm
Only rarely on Tanzania’s beaches can you fully escape from the world, but that's the experience on Ushongo Beach, fronting a traditional fishing village on the northern coast of the Tanzanian mainland. Enjoy warm days in the shadow of palm trees, while walking along pristine, empty stretches of pale sand.
With few people, and no 'beach boys', you’ll be free to reflect quietly. It’s paradise, but if the quiet days start to feel a little too quiet, plan a day trip to nearby Maziwe Island. This protected marine reserve is perfect for snorkeling and diving on healthy coral reefs, and boat trips can be arranged with dive operators at Ushongo.
Stay on Mnemba Island for lavish privacy
Best for luxury
If you’re looking for no-expenses-spared luxury, Mnemba Island is a blissful beach sanctuary for those who can afford the steep accommodation costs. Rates of US$1320 per person per night give you exclusive access to this private island and its lush soft sand beach shadowed by casuarina trees. Only 24 guests are permitted to stay on the island at any one time, with accommodation in gorgeous bandas (thatched huts), each with a personal butler.
The surrounding coral reefs are a treat for enthusiastic divers. If you are not certified, swimming and snorkeling make wonderful alternatives. You can expect dolphins, turtles and sometimes even whales to swim past at any moment. Visitors from Matemwe, Muyuni and other nearby islands visit the waters around Mnemba for diving and snorkeling, but they cannot go onto the island.
Misali Island offers Tanzania's best diving
Best for diving and snorkeling
Pemba Island is the second-largest island in the Zanzibar archipelago, edging north towards Kenya. It’s called the Green Island, and as soon as you arrive from the mainland you’ll see why. The Ngezi Forest explodes from the island's fertile soil, home to monkeys, bushbabies, Pemba fruit bats, a plethora of bird species and untold kinds of flora, as well as butterflies and a fresh-water lake.
Edging the forest are neatly-cropped farms that raise beans, cassava, banana and mango, and the air blows a gentle breeze on which you can smell a hint of cloves and cardamom. But the real draw is the thriving marine life on the western side of the island, with low-lying Misali Island being the most vibrant hub for snorkelers and divers.
This wildly rich ecosystem hosts 42 types of coral and more than 300 species of fish, while the island's fringing, snow-white beaches a visited by a rare subspecies of vervet monkeys and serve as a nesting site for green and hawksbill sea turtles. And as if that’s not enough, bottlenose and spinner dolphins also love to play in these waters. Snorkeling and diving day trips to Misali are easy to arrange at resorts and hotels in Pemba.
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