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Rift Safari
Travelling along the Rift Valley: Beaches of Zanzibar

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• The East Coast:

The whole east coast of Zanzibar is protected by the coral reefs, virtually uninterrupted from north to south, forming a long shallow lagoon with wonderful colour hues. This side of the island hosts the most beautiful, broadest white-sand beaches fringed by coconut palms trees dropping very slowly into the sea. Anyway these beaches do not necessarily match the classic beach holiday image that one could have for a number of reasons and first of all because of tides:

Albeit to varying degrees these tropical beaches are all tidal and tides here in the tropics can be particularly pronounced reaching up to 4 meters of height difference between high and low tide during equinox. This fact has always been the main complaint especially by those guests just interested to enjoy the beach and swim. More active travellers perceive the situation differently being interested as well on watersports, boat trips, snorkelling, walking toward the coral reef spotting along the way some marine stars and corals.
Nowadays anyway most of hotels, lodges, resort and guesthouses on this side of Zanzibar have a swimming pool.

Every 24 hours there are two maxima and two minima of tide and every day the maximum peak and minimum peak shift about 30 minutes forward. If you believe that tides will bother you but you still wish to visit Zanzibar and you can plan your vacation with flexibility then you should manage to be on the island during neap tides on the first or third quarters of the moon when the difference between high and low tide is least.

Low tide in Paje on the southeast coast
Low tide in Paje on the southeast coast

[tides calendar and forecast]

Seaweeds and corals:
Some stretches of the lagoon enclosed by the barrier reef are characterized by coral outcrops where it is common to find sea urchins and where algae can also grow. At high tide the crystal clear water doesn't let you perceive it but low tide leaves uncovered greenish-black expanses certainly less attractive no matter how beautiful the beach backing these stretches of lagoon. An example of that is thr strip of lagoon on the beachfront of karafuu at Pingwe. The hotel here has created a walkway that allows guests to easily cross the area and reach the sandy bottom lagoon where it is always possible to swim.

The lagoon facing Karafuu at low tide The lagoon facing Karafuu at high tide
[Pingwe lagoon at low and high tide]

Matemwe at high tide Matemwe at low tide
[Matemwe at high tide and at low tide]

There are as well some stretches of coast with sandy bottom and no coral outcrops but where there tend to be seaweed especially but no limited to the hottest months of the year [typically from December to March] examples of that can be Ras Nungwi in the northern tip of the island or Nungwi east ... anyway not the only ones.

Essque zalu at low tide Essque zalu at high tide
A stretch of coast in Nungwi east with low and high tide]

Stunningly beautiful beaches on the east coast of Zanzibar with no coral outcrops or algae are Pongwe [here is the mid range Pongwe Beach Hotel] and Paje [you can find here only more economical facilities such as Paje by Night or Arabian Night and Arabian Night Annex].

Paje Pongwe
[The beaches of Paje and Pongwe]

Halfway along the east coast lays Chwaka Bay. This bay fringed to the south by a mangrove forest serves as a breeding ground for a variety of tropical fish but mangroves adversely affect both the water and sand quality which tend to be greenish, sometimes brackish sometimes giving forth a bad smell. For this reason we tend not to suggest any facilities in the area that stretches from Uroa to Michamvi.

Sea water nearby mangroves
[Sea water nearby mangroves]

Tourism development:
In the last ten years Zanzibar has certainly undergone a considerable tourism development but not all over the island in equal measure.  The northeastern and southern coast are now able to provide a wider variety of facilities to chose from but still we are talking of small or mid-size hotels, lodges, resort or guesthouses mainly spread over large plots [see for instance Breezes and Baraza] or well spaced each other. Anyway there are still long stretches of wild beaches left with no facilities at all.
The central part of the east coast instead has undergone a major development with the arrival of many large hotels and resort [Blue bay, Melia, Mapenzi, Ocean Paradise and many others] however since all these facilities belong to big tour operators they have been built on large plots avoiding at least the impression of building abuse which has occurred in certain areas north such as Nungwi on the northern tip of the island.

The non tidal north-west coast:

The stretch of beach from Kendwa to Nungwi-west drops much more suddenly into the sea as a result this is the only area where tides cannot be perceived and where one can always swim. Obviously it has undergone the biggest tourism development and the price to pay for such a beach is a much busier beach.

Kendwa Kendwa
[The non-tidal beach and sea of kendwa]

The south-west coast:

The south-west coast of Zanzibar has since always been renowned for the possibility to swim with dolphins who are easier to be found here than anywhere else on the island [unfortunately this attracts in peak season many tourists coming from the other parts of the island on a day trip into this otherwise remote area], to explore pristine stretches of coral reef and to spot large pelagic species such as whales especially in August and September and to visit the sandbank along with the little beautiful white sand protected islands of Pungume and Komonda inside Manai Bay [again in peak season this attract a high number of tourist on a day trips from the other beaches therefore we suggest you take part to this trip in shoulder or low season] ... It has never been renowned for its beaches. The seafront in fact consists mainly of coral cliffs overhanging the sea and the coral lagoon however the coral cliff is sometime interrupted and where it happens you can find virtually private beautiful small sandy inlets such us the one at Unguja lodge. Lucky enough this is one of the very rare places in Zanzibar where it is possible to go snorkelling with a swim from the beach.
Two more inlets lays in front of Kizimkazi Mtendeni and Kizimkazi Dimbani fishermen villages and are used by the less expensive resort such as Karamba it is also true that there tend to be a good deal of boats and villagers walking around here which someone do like and someone else do not.
Other cosy coves can be found along that coast heading north towards Fumba always inside the protected Menai Bay.
The peninsula of Fumba itself offers somehow more conventional beaches but due to the proximity to mangroves forest the sand look golden instead than white and it is not powdery and again the lagoon floor consists mainly of coral outcrops. There's just one lodge in this area, Fumba Lodge and the reason to come here is to enjoy the sea by visiting the little beautiful white sand protected islands of Pungume and Komonda, dive and snorkel along the pristine coral reef or nearby the sandbanks.

The coral cliff at Unguja lodge The cove of Unguja lodge at high tide
[The coral cliff and the white sandy beach of Unguja Lodge inlet]

Chumbe Island:
Chumbe is a private marine reserve able to offer excellent snorkelling. This little island is not completely surrounded by the beach which is instead limited to a little white sand patch just in front of the main building of the multi-award winning eco-lodge.
Although tidal the effect of tides is not so pronounced as in other parts of Zanzibar. If you love snorkelling 3 or 4 days in Chumbe Island are no doubt worth it.

Chumbe Island marine reserve
[Chumbe Island marine reserve]

Mnemba Island:
Mnemba Island is the most exclusive destination in the archipelago of Zanzibar. It is entirely surrounded by the coral reef and by a spectacular non-tidal powdery white sand beach. It offers excellent diving and snorkelling to those few people who can afford it.

Mnemba Island
[Mnemba Island]

Prison Island, Bawe Island, Chapwani Island:
If the concept of staying in a small private island is to stay in a remote tropical paradise with just a few other visitors then these islets have lost their meaning.  All of them are too close to Stone Town and set along the ferries route from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar. Furthermore Prison Island is not even private: if you wish to see the giant giant tortoises that it host then we would recommend you do that with a daily trip from Stone Town [unfortunately due to poaching tortoises have nowadays been penned up in a large courtyard.]