Just Back: The Beaches of Zanzibar with Laura Gerwin


Outside GO's Newest Trip Designer Experiences the Island of Zanzibar

Laura Gerwin reports back from a long weekend off the coast of Africa complete with endangered wildlife, piña coladas, and one seriously cool spice tour.


Beaches are not just palm tree lined tropical delights. They are home to mountains, icebergs, wildlife, and a way of life that thrums to the sound of the ocean where the rhythm of the waves set the pace of life.


The word “beach” conjures up a different image in every person’s mind. Growing up in southern California, this word brings to my mind a grey day on the Pacific Ocean, with surfers and dolphins dotting the big waves, a long wooden pier, and a hoody—hood up. But over the past fifteen years, I’ve visited all seven continents. Along with the number of stamps in my passport, my beachy memories have grown. Visions of coastlines near and far flicker through my mind, but nothing would compare to the beach I experienced in Zanzibar with Outside GO.

As a traveler, a beach lover, and a trip designer at Outside GO it is my pleasure to introduce you to the island of Zanzibar. Here time revolves around swarming schools of fish, lush jungles, and rich culture surrounded by the buoyant warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. I would be spending four days as part of an East Africa safari exploring this blissful region so that I can come home and share it with you.


"Beaches are not just palm tree lined tropical delights. They are home to mountains, icebergs, wildlife, and a way of life that thrums to the sound of the ocean where the rhythm of the waves set the pace of life."


The trip began in Stone Town, the historic UNESCO world heritage listed city on the coast of Zanzibar. Here, the heart and soul of the island is vibrantly fused together with traditional influences from Africa, India, the Arab region, and Europe that date to the early 1600’s. This place is an absolute must for travelers of all ages that enjoy wandering through history and modern-day island culture with color and flare. Tall, colorful walls wind through narrow alleyways, twisting and turning into a maze filled with treats and trinkets. Hip rooftop restaurants, sheesha bars, and local food markets similar to what you would find in the far east of Asia abound. Speeding scooters, carts pulled by oxen, and old rickety bicycles zoom by. Spice carts of turmeric and curry overflow next to stands filled with mangos, pineapples, and dragon fruits.  The meat market offers a real life look at farm-to-table food.

If you don’t handle strong smells well, you may want to wait outside. The chicken market is less potent—most of the poultry is still alive, just as the fish still flop on the tables in the seafood market as the men barter for the price of the day. The entire scene vibrates with the hum of a historic city that is still part of every day life here in Zanzibar.

The spice tour described above and my following adventures would be based out of two exceptional Outside GO outposts: Matemwe (featured in this itinerary) and Xanadu. But no matter where you visit on the island, the beach is incredible. Not only is it lined with palm trees, it has fields of palm trees! The sand is creamy–not just like butter–but creamy and soft like a fine spa product. The water is mesmerizing with hues of blues, shades of turquoise, and highlights of emerald greens.

Over a lunch of tuna tartar and coconut-crusted shrimp out on the pier, with a staircase to the sea, Heather Forbes, reservations manager at Essque Zalu (a sensational property featured in this trip) and I chatted about how the water gets its color. Heather shared that “the water is a brilliant turquoise color because the beach sand is so soft and white and powdery, that when the clear blue waves mix is up, it turns the water turquoise. A bit like paint on a palette.” 


"The entire scene vibrates with the hum of a historic city that is still part of every day life here in Zanzibar."


If I were asked what impressed me the most about Zanzibar, after describing the sensations of the beach, I would have to stand up and shout about the diversity of adventures available around the island. Here are just a few ways you can enjoy your time on this island paradise…


  • Become part of the underwater world of coral reefs with fish displaying every color of the crayon box around Mnemba Island.

  • Visit the Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond, a community-based NGO established in 1993 as an effort to conserve the population of sea turtles native to Zanzibar island.

  • Snorkel around the crystal clear waters of the Blue Lagoon.

  • Head to the south end of the island and swim with the wild dolphins who regularly frolic in the waves with the tourists.

  • Take a tour of one of the many spice farms with crops of nutmeg, cinnamon, and turmeric or visit the Jozani Forest, one of the last remaining sanctuaries in the world that is home to the red colobus monkey.

  • Enjoy some time on Prison Island, where endangered giant land tortoises roam unimpeded.

  • You can also simply take a village walk, a friendly way to experience Zanzibar and get to know more of its story and the people who count the days by the moon and work with the tides and simple nets from the shore to catch food and nourish the soul.

  • At the end of the day, enjoy the blues of the Indian Ocean from the deck of a boat with a sundowner in hand.


While I was able to partake in a number of these adventures, my favorite moments might have been chilling in a hammock all day hanging between the palm trees, with the warm breeze on my skin, listening to the waves lap at the shore with fresh Piña Coladas at my fingertips all afternoon. 


Although my time here was short, it was easy to see that Zanzibar is the perfect destination for those that love relaxing on the beach and also enjoy being active. This tropical paradise is the best compliment to a classic East African safari that I could have ever imagined, and I can’t wait to return!  

Ready to pack your bags and GO on a blue safari? Get in touch with Laura below or see an inspiration itinerary featuring some of the same outposts and activities described here.


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Laura's Zanzibar Trip Report


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