Luxury comes with a family-friendly price tag at this paradise destination off the coast of Africa.
Simply put, Zanzibar is an exotic paradise destination. Located in the Indian Ocean, about 16 miles off of the mainland of the East African country of Tanzania, the Zanzibar archipelago consists of numerous small islands. The biggest and main island of Zanzibar (or Unguja, which is its real name but rarely referred to as such) boasts many miles of pristine white beaches, luring thousands of tourists from around the world each year. While an African island, it has a very distinct Middle Eastern vibe. In fact, 98-percent of the island’s population is Muslim. If you are planning a visit to the East African region, perhaps on safari, a visit to Zanzibar is a must.
Where to stay?
While there are many places to stay in the city and around the island, I’d recommend reserving a spot at one of the all-inclusive resorts that dot the coastline. My personal favorite: The Neptune Pwani Beach Resort and Spa.
Neptune Pwani is right on the beach. The property features authentic Zanzibar-style furnishings and architecture, including the traditional makuti (thatched) roofs. Scattered throughout the property, large bungalows house the guest rooms, which all have balconies and sweeping ocean views. My husband and I opted for a deluxe garden-ocean view room instead of a deluxe seaside or master suite because of its proximity to the resort amenities, including the pool, restaurant, and kids’ playground; plus, it’s a little less expensive. Our room was very clean and comfortable with a queen bed for us and a twin bed for each of our children, draped with own mosquito net canopies, a familiar feature in most Zanzibar accommodations. The beachfront master suites feature two separate rooms that would fit a family of six, plus an in-room Jacuzzi. However, they are more secluded and costly.
KidTripster Tip: Some rooms are set on the hill, which overlooks the resort and ocean. It’s quite a workout to get to them because of the many steps. The resort usually won’t place families with young children in these rooms, but it’s always best to check before you go.
We spent countless hours at the resort’s pool. In fact, there’s two pools. The large one has a wading area for little ones and a swim-up bar; it’s also conveniently located to the snack bar, where food is available all day long. The kids’ playground, which also has a covered area equipped with a TV, is supervised most of the day. During the evening, kids can continue to play here as parents enjoy a few sundowners at the bar, still close enough to keep a watchful eye on the action. Babysitting is also available.
Older kids may gravitate toward the beach, beach volleyball, and water sports. For an extra fee, the watersports center rents out equipment and offers sailing, snorkeling, and diving excursions, plus water skiing and windsurfing lessons.
During low tide, you can walk into the small tide pools and make lots of ocean discoveries with the kids. But be careful not to step on the sea urchins.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t get too attached to any shells that you may find. Exporting shells, whether you bought them at a souvenir shop or found them on the beach, is prohibited. They won’t make it through airport security.
The full-service spa offers different beauty treatments and massages at fairly reasonable prices. It has a sauna, steam bath, and its own pool.
What to eat?
I do love an all-inclusive resort and never having to worry about what to do at meal or snack time. Neptune Pwani boasts four bars and five restaurants. We made the most of the all-you-can-eat buffet in the main restaurant, which offers an extensive selection of local and international foods. Being all-inclusive, it’s a great time for less-adventurous eaters to give new foods a try, though I have to admit that my kids’ favorite was the pasta station for lunch and dinner. The chef prepared the pasta with a sauce of their choosing right in front of them; he was a huge hit!
The other four restaurants are à la carte, however one of them, Samaki (which means fish in Kiswahili) is not all-inclusive; it’s where you go if you want fresh lobster or other such seafood in a more quiet and romantic setting. However, we didn’t visit that restaurant; the buffet had more than enough fish and seafood for us and always featured a different catch of the day.
Overall, the food was excellent. Everyday, there was an assortment of new dishes. In addition, the chef will customize food for those who are gluten-free or have other food allergies. The all-inclusive drink selection had everything imaginable from wine to cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, coffees, teas, and everything in between.
KidTripster Tip: Try Tangawizi ginger beer. My kids couldn’t get enough of it, and now have me looking for it back in the States.
What to do?
If you can tear yourself away from the pool and beach, I’d encourage you to explore Zanzibar’s many attractions. You can swim with dolphins or visit the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, home to the famous Red Colobus monkeys. Take a dhow (local fishing boat) to one of the smaller surrounding islands or simply stroll the cobblestone streets of historic Stone Town. Or go on a spice tour; it’s surprisingly kid-friendly. My kids loved learning about all the medicinal uses for spices. For example, did you know that a key ingredient in Vicks VapoRub comes from cinnamon? The root of the tree actually does smell like the cream! Whatever your pleasure, have the resort’s concierge arrange your tour.
KidTripster Tip: For the best snorkeling in Zanzibar, book a day trip to Chumbe Island, a protected marine park about a 45-minute boat ride from Stone Town. You can only book two days in advance, and the tours fill very quickly.
Rates are charged per person, per night and start at $152. Children (under 12) receive a reduced rate. I would advise booking directly through the resort’s website to get the best seasonal offers. They also typically have an early bird special, where you get a reduced rate, if you book 45 days in advance.
Most guests fly to Zanzibar from Arusha, the starting and ending point of the Northern Tanzanian safaris, or Dar es Salaam on small propeller planes, which are not for the faint of heart but overall are not bad. From Dar es Salaam, it’s a quick 20-minute flight. Alternatively, you can take a 1-1/2-hour ferry from Dar es Salaam to Stone Town. I would recommend Azam Ferries; the company is better about not overloading its ferries as compared to its competitors. The waters, however, can be rough, causing passengers to suffer sea sickness.
The resort, which is located on the northeastern Kiwengwa shoreline, is a quick hour from the airport (or port). A hotel shuttle can be arranged through the resort prior to arrival at an additional charge. We took advantage of this option, as local taxis tend to inflate their fares. It’s worth it for the added convenience, safety, and peace of mind.
Denise Smith is a former journalist, who lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 8. She’s Italian but grew up in Tanzania and visits family in Italy and Africa at least once a year. Needless to say, she has acquired a few tricks when it comes to traveling internationally with young children!