We always knew that at the end of our African honeymoon, we would want some beach time. I considered the Seychelles, or even Mauritius. But the place that made the most sense was an island in Tanzania, which would be far cheaper and easier to get to as we were there already.
And so I started researching Zanzibar, and the more I read, the more I wanted to visit.
Truthfully, Zanzibar was about relaxation and sitting by the pool and/or the beach with a book – something I NEVER do on holiday. I did have a couple of plans though, and we made sure to hit a couple of the highlights of the Spice Island while we were there.
I mostly wanted to see Stone Town, the island’s capital with a very interesting history spanning centuries of influence from all over the world. As the main hub of the island, it’s somewhere we could have easily spent more than a day, but that’s all we gave ourselves away from the beaches.
Much closer to our hotel, there was also one of Zanzibar’s main attractions: a restaurant.
That’s right, and here’s why.
The Rock restaurant – is it worth it?
For our first full day, I’d booked us a table at the famous Rock restaurant for lunch – we were actually staying on the same beach the Rock is on!
It’s not often that I put a specific restaurant on my bucket list, but this one made the cut because it’s so unique and in a really beautiful location.
What was great about our location is it meant we could go and see the Rock restaurant at any time of day. The benefit of this?
Well, if the tide’s out, you can walk to the Rock – but if it’s in, it’s much prettier AND you have to get a boat out to it! This meant I would be guaranteed at least a few shots of the Rock submerged in the turquoise ocean.
We went to see it on our first day and the tide was out, which made for some fun walks along the beach but not quite so pretty at the Rock. I was really thrilled that when we visited, we had to get the boat!
Now, let’s talk about the restaurant. It is pricey. I wanted to do it, and we were on our honeymoon, so we didn’t even think twice. I highly recommend it if you can, but I do get that if you’re on a budget (and Zanzibar is a surprisingly budget-friendly island!), you might be a bit less inclined. Most of the mains were around $25 or more, and the starters weren’t much cheaper.
We both really enjoyed our meals and concluded that they were just about worth the price, but I had read so many mixed reviews that I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the quality of the food. Everything was delicious, but perhaps not excellent value. Anyway, to me it was more about the experience. It’s one of the most unique restaurants in the world! It could be awful food and people would still go. As it happens, it’s really good, so I’d say that’s pretty fair.
This was our starter, which we decided to share. As you can see, the portion sizes are pretty decent! I wouldn’t have wanted all that by myself as a starter.
For our mains, I had an amazing gnocchi with an interesting sauce, and Ash had Swahili-style chicken skewers that he still raves about.
Plus, we got chatting to the owner on our way in, as he welcomed us with “ah, Clarissa! From England!” I corrected him, and he went, “ohh, Scotland!! My wife is from Glasgow!” He eagerly showed us his Saltire tattoo, marking one of the more random connections on our trip! (Not quite as random as the taxi driver in Arusha who asked us out of the blue about the Isle Of Man, but still!) It also transpired that he owns the hotel we were staying in. I secretly hoped it might get us some discount, but alas, it did not!
Anyway, to answer the question – to me, it’s worth it just for the experience, let alone the food!
After you’ve finished your food, you’re welcome to go out onto the terrace to enjoy some drinks or just the views and the sunshine.
It was nice not to be rushed out, when it’s a busy restaurant with timed bookings and a high turnover. It’s pretty much imperative that you book in advance, and if you have to get the boat over, they ask if you have a booking for that time before they take you across.
It’s a really great experience, and if it’s something you fancy doing, I think it’s worth it.
A day out in Stone Town
Between our walks on the beach and sunbathing by the pool, the one thing I absolutely wanted to do was take a day out to visit the island’s main town, Stone Town.
We were staying quite far from Stone Town, and the local buses could take anywhere from an hour to two hours and seemed to be packed and unreliable, so we organised a taxi instead for about $80 return. It was quite a lot for a day out, and if we’d had a bit more time just on Zanzibar, I think we would have stayed in Stone Town for a night or two and then spent the rest of the time by the beach.
But we had to make do with a day, and it worked out really well.
We could have done a tour, which would have been even more expensive, but I fancied exploring Stone Town independently and hoped it wouldn’t be too overwhelming or hard to navigate. Spoiler: we loved it, and although it’s quite easy to get lost, it’s also quite small in the old town area, so we kept finding ourselves back on familiar streets quickly. (Also: Google Maps is a lifesaver!)
Here’s what we got up to.
Old Slave Market
The first place we visited was the old slave market – a part of town where people from all over East Africa used to be brought to be sold as slaves. As part of the town’s colourful history, it was a huge trading port for the Middle East, with Stone Town actually being the capital of Oman for some time. With such an important trading position, this was the main slave market for the whole of East Africa.
The old slave market is one of the most interesting places we’ve visited, with a guided tour of the church and the slave chambers, before being left to our own devices in the comprehensive and very well laid-out museum.
The slave chambers were suitably horrific, with ceilings so low even I could barely stand up and I’m tiny. The shackles on display are probably left for posterity rather than being historical.
The Anglican cathedral is part of the tour, as it was built on the site of the old slave market – in fact, it was built in celebration of the slave trade ceasing, and it’s thought that the altar is on the site of the whipping post in the market.
The cathedral itself has some interesting artefacts, including a wooden cross that’s actually made from the tree where David Livingstone was found.
There’s also a thought-provoking memorial outside, with statues of slaves inside a pit.
It cost $5 for the guided tour of the church and chambers, which was definitely worth it as he told us a lot of information that wasn’t in the museum or that we would have missed, like the cross in the church and information about the slave chambers.
It was harrowing learning about the experiences of slaves, but even more harrowing to learn that there are more slaves today than there ever were.
It was also interesting to read about Britain’s involvement in abolishing slavery, when we are so associated with the rise of the slave trade – and for good reason; we dominated the slave trade for 200 years. There’s even a sign in the museum that begins “the movement for the abolition of slavery in the Indian Ocean was led, ironically, by Britain”.
There was also an interesting piece about the ivory trade – did you know that out of everywhere that bought ivory, 75% of what was traded from Zanzibar ended up in Connecticut?! It’s estimated that up to five slaves died for each tusk that made it to Zanzibar, which is a shocking figure for a part of slavery that we don’t even consider when we think of slaves.
I highly recommend a visit to the museum if you’re in Stone Town. It’s probably one of the few museums where I genuinely read every single board!
Lunch at Lukmaan
We’d been recommended Lukmaan by one of the girls on our first safari, and I’d also read about it, so when we walked past it on the way to the slavery museum, I knew it would be our first stop afterwards.
We walked in and had no idea what to do.
We grabbed a table and I walked around to see what was available – a lot, as it turns out. I managed to try a couple of samples and eventually settled for various bits and pieces. It was basically, order what you want and then pay there and then. Ash was overwhelmed by it, but I loved it!
There were a couple of large groups ordering from a menu while staff took orders up to the counters, but I don’t know if they were taking orders from everyone or if these guys were all on a tour. Either way, I didn’t mind going up to order myself, and it helped Ash decide what he wanted.
It was also really cheap, and a great way to try lots of different local things.
And there were cats. Cats everywhere!
Freddie Mercury’s house
Did you know Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar?! As a massive Freddie fan, I had to go and see his old house. You can pay to go inside as it’s now home to a humble museum dedicated to the legendary Queen frontman, but I’ve heard it’s not really worth the price so we didn’t go in.
What I did NOT know is that you can actually stay there – part of the building is now holiday apartments belonging to the hotel next door. If I’d known that, maybe I WOULD have booked a night in Stone Town!
Anyway, it was cool seeing it from the outside.
Wandering the streets of Stone Town
I’d been hoping to go to Prison Island where giant tortoises roam, but as we only had a day in Stone Town, we settled for an afternoon of wandering the streets and then enjoying some time on the beach on the opposite side of the main island to where we’d been staying.
I really, really enjoyed just wandering around Stone Town.
It’s a town full of character and history, with something interesting around every corner.
We stumbled across Jaws Corner, where you can grab a coffee and sit for a chat with locals. It seems to be some sort of no-women-allowed affair, and I don’t even like coffee, so although I didn’t (and possibly couldn’t) partake, it was an interesting place to see nonetheless!
All of the doors
Naturally, I was drawn to all of the very pretty and striking doors of Stone Town – however it turns out I was vindicated in my love for them, because Stone Town doors are actually a huge attraction!
Their famous doors are a dying art, and there is work to preserve the ones that remain.
They are pretty much everywhere you go, and I took so many photos of them that I’ve put together a dedicated Zanzibari door photo post with lots of them!
Drinks on the beach
Stone Town has a beach with a handful of bars and we decided the best way to enjoy an hour or so before our dinner reservation was to grab a drink and sit on the beach with them.
We watched a guy practicing backflips while tours of people returned from Prison Island, as well as traditional dhow boats sailing in the distance – another thing I’d have liked to have done in Zanzibar is take a ride in one of those boats.
It was the perfect way to wind down the day.
Dinner at Emerson On Hurumzi
Another restaurant on my list was Emerson On Hurumzi – another place that, like the Rock, isn’t cheap but is iconic.
Their dinner is a set menu at $40 per person, but the entire evening is an experience in itself. For one thing, it’s set on the rooftop terrace of a traditional Stone Town palace. It’s part of a hotel, which offers a sublime traditional Zanzibari accommodation, and definitely something I was tempted by when I started researching Zanzibar.
We arrived just in time for sunset, although typically the sky had just started clouding over so we didn’t quite get a full African sunset; there was a burst of colour in the sky just for a few moments.
The dinner starts at 7pm, and you’re allowed to spend up to an hour there beforehand, so we were the first to arrive to catch the view.
One thing that was really interesting was being surrounded by chanting from all the nearby mosques at prayer just before our meal. It was very loud, from all directions!
During the three courses, we were treated to performances by a traditional Taarab group of singers and dancers – we were even encouraged to join in with the dancing! It was a really fun night, and we were kind of split between two open rooms, one with traditional floor seating with pillows and cushions, and one with low seating and tables. I’d requested the floor seating, but we missed out – as it happens, one couple decided the floor seating was uncomfortable and moved through to our area, so we could have swapped.
It was still fine where we were, and besides, we ended up chatting to everyone in our room and had a really good time with an interesting bunch of people! There was one group next to us who were in Africa filming for a foodie TV show for “a streaming service”. They couldn’t tell us much about it, but they were coming back the following evening with the full crew to film!
There was also a horrendously rich family, and the couple who had moved through to the table next to ours – everyone was lovely and we spent the whole evening chatting and enjoying ourselves. We’d all been on safari, so we were comparing our experiences which was really interesting as we’d been in some of the same places on the same days but had seen different things! The leopard we saw sleeping in the tree? A girl from the family showed me a photo of it walking in front of their truck! However, she was insanely jealous of the lion cubs we’d seen in Ngorongoro. It goes to show how much everything on safari is down to luck.
The food was excellent too – a mix of seafood, curry, flat breads, rice and veg. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of most of what was on the menu, so it was all a bit of a surprise to me – and very adventurous for Ash!
This was unquestionably worth it. The setting, the service, the food and the performance; the entire experience is fantastic, and the perfect way to spend our last night in Africa.
This is something you really have to book, as I think it generally sells out.
We adored Stone Town, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m really glad we chose Zanzibar. There are plenty of islands to get a beach holiday fix, but not many of them come with such a varied and interesting heritage with so many things to do.
Relaxing on Pingwe Beach
While we spent a lot of time in the hotel, we were right on the beach, which meant most days we took a walk along the shore.
There are Maasai men walking the beach as security, however they also sell things, whether it’s items in a beach shack that they’re trying to usher you towards, or tours around the island. I have to say they and other tour sellers could be a bit relentless – some would take no for an answer or wander off to speak to someone else, but we did have a couple of guys who followed us for ten minutes or more, which isn’t the most relaxing experience when you’re just trying to enjoy the beach. One of them literally tried to give us his number, and then when we said we didn’t have our phones on us, asked for our number instead! Then asked what hotel we were staying at, which led to us walking past our hotel and taking a detour back!
I never felt threatened by them, but it could be a bit annoying.
We regularly had a Maasai guy come into the hotel and he was lovely.
There are lots of other resorts and hotels lining the beach, each with enough privacy to not encroach on each others’ space and all small enough that it didn’t feel like a “resort beach” (you know the type I mean). It meant there was plenty of choice for restaurants, souvenirs and other services, but it felt rustic enough that you felt miles away from anywhere. Next door to our hotel, there was a hut where you could get massages for $15!
The beach is a whole different experience depending on whether the tide is in or out – if it’s in, it’s easy to walk along the shore, but if it’s out, you can walk onto the sandbanks that go out for miles and miles. Though when the tide’s out, it’s really rocky and not very easy to walk barefoot.
Our accommodation – Hekaya
The second I found Hekaya online, I knew it was the place for us on our honeymoon.
With only five rooms, all overlooking the beautiful beach from massive balconies, Hekaya was the perfect, personal experience. Not only that, but at just over £100 a night, it wasn’t even badly priced! Everyone was really friendly, and over our few days there, we spent most of our time at the hotel.
Every morning, we awoke to an amazing spread of fruit, and we could order eggs any way we wanted – including pancakes. I spent most mornings after breakfast soaking up the sun by the pool with a book, and in the afternoon we would go for a walk along the beach.
Sometimes I’d really push the boat out and read a book with a cocktail!
(Or, on one particular day, spend it scrolling BBC News relentlessly for any news about the Queen. We found out she had died while we were eating dinner on a tropical island – very surreal. We actually missed watching the Queen cross the Queensferry bridge near our house by about an hour when we landed back in the UK, which is a shame! Though we did see the plane leaving Edinburgh airport the following week.)
Our room was excellent, with a big bathroom as well as a balcony to enjoy the views of the beach while having a drink or reading a book when I wasn’t next to the pool.
You might notice there isn’t a mosquito net like there is in a lot of places in Zanzibar – they never really bothered us, but someone would come to our room every evening while we were out for dinner and “de-mosquito” the room, and whatever they did, it must have worked!
Location-wise, it’s pretty far from Stone Town and the airport, being the other side of the island, and about ten minutes further away than Paje, but if you want some beach time on Zanzibar, this side of the island is by far the best. It took just over an hour to get to the hotel from the airport and Stone Town.
We ate dinner at the hotel a couple of times too, and the food was fantastic. I honestly couldn’t fault this place.
The staff were amazing, and the manager even let us keep our room on our last day, even though we weren’t leaving until 6pm. It was just such an easy-going, relaxed vibe, and I loved it!
Almost losing Gulliver
On our last day, disaster very nearly struck. I took Gulliver, our beloved travel mascot bear, out onto the beach for a few photos, as I hadn’t actually done that yet. Some kids were playing outside our hotel, and one of them approached me, pointing enthusiastically at Gulliver.
“This is Gulliver,” I said, as the kid reached out to touch him. I then, to my potential detriment, handed Gulliver to the child. He happily played with him for a few minutes… and then wandered off towards some people who were walking past. And then, alarmingly, followed them along the beach.
Now I was worried. I followed him at a distance, keeping an eye on Gully bear. Some tourists asked the kid about the bear, and he looked back at me. “That’s Gulliver,” I said. “And he’s mine,” I added, laughing. The group laughed. The kid laughed. And he strode off gleefully.
At this point, I was worried that either the kid was going to suddenly make a run for it, never to be seen again, or worse, I’d end up having to prise Gulliver out of his hands like a monster.
Thankfully, neither happened – after some silly peekaboo games while he hid behind the group of people and I pretended to hide behind them too, I caught up with him a few minutes later about half way up the beach and asked for Gulliver back as it was time for him to go home. There was a momentary flicker of sadness on his face, and then he sheepishly handed him back.
It sounds ridiculous, but we would have been heartbroken losing our Gully. We have become very fond of our little travel bear. We got him on the way back from Iceland almost ten years ago, and then I forgot to take him to Iceland last year, so he still hasn’t been. He has, however, been to probably 30 countries with us, so he’s a very well-travelled bear.
Zanzibar, thankfully, was not Gulliver’s last trip.
We really enjoyed Zanzibar, and part of me wishes we had done more – but also, how often is it that we actually relax? We could have gone to nearby Paje beach, which in all honesty looks more like paradise than our beach did (and you’ve seen our beach, right?). There are rare monkeys native exclusively to a forest in the middle of the island. We could have gone to see the starfish just up from where we were staying. We could have taken boat trips out to lagoons to swim and snorkel.
And instead, we just relaxed. It’s exactly what we needed after a full-on trip.
The only problem is, it’s made me want more beach holidays… particularly ones that offer so much culture and unique experiences like Zanzibar. But even without the cultural experiences, who would pass up views like this?
I don’t think we could have asked for a better honeymoon! From the phenomenal sightings on safari to the magnificent beaches of Zanzibar, it’s everything I had dreamed of and more. Certainly worth the wait of lockdowns and delays.
I’m curious – did you picture Zanzibar as a beach resort destination, or a cultural hub full of history? I think I always saw it as a mix of both, which probably sums it up!
Read more about our dream honeymoon with these posts:
⭐ An Introduction To Kenya – A Safari In The Maasai Mara
⭐ Living Out Our Wildest Dreams On Safari In Tanzania
⭐ 50 Photos From Our Dream African Safari Honeymoon
⭐ The Intricate Doors Of Stone Town, Zanzibar