Last Updated on November 15, 2022 by Jeremy
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When we planned our safari in Tanzania, we saw that Turkish Airlines flew into/out of both Kilimanjaro International Airport and Zanzibar International Airport. As we were flying on the airline due to winning tickets at a conference, and that domestic flights on Tanzanian carriers were rather cheap, we knew we had to spend some time in Zanzibar during our trip.
But, much like we struggled with how much time to go on safari in Tanzania, we had the same question for Zanzibar. But not only did we struggle with how many days you need in Zanzibar, we also had another challenging question to answer too- do you visit Zanzibar before or after safari?
So in this one, we thought we'd share more about our thought process and how we settled on five days in Zanzibar before going on our safari.
Visiting Zanzibar Before or After Safari Matters
The biggest question on whether you do Zanzibar before or after safari had two key parts for us. This must be discussed before we get into how many days you need, as they're all related.
First up, there was the convenience of flight times. Our flights on Turkish Airlines did a loop from Istanbul to Kilimanjaro, onward to Zanzibar, and back to Istanbul. The flight landed in Kilimanjaro at around 1:30 am, popped over to Zanzibar for a ~3 am landing, and departed back to Istanbul at ~4 am.
- When we booked our flight, this route was reversed (Istanbul -> Zanzibar -> Kilimanjaro), but schedule changes seemingly flipped the routes. We were kind of annoyed by this initially, but ultimately it worked out just fine for reasons we'll discuss later.
If you fly on a looped route like this, starting your trip wherever the plane lands first may make the most sense if only to avoid a stopover as we had. The stopover was incredibly easy (no getting off the plane, ~45 minutes of ground time, no customs checks til Zanzibar, etc.), but it does add time before/after very long days of travel.
That being said, arriving at Kilimanjaro at 1:30 am is not a fun way to start a safari, nor is arriving at Zanzibar at 3 am. In the case of the latter, since it took us almost 90 minutes to reach our villa after leaving the airport, we arrived in time for sunrise which was actually quite nice. Our hotel, Jambiani Villas, also let us pay for early check-in so we could nap immediately after that, too! On the flip side, departing from Zanzibar at 4 am would've mentally been a whole lot harder for us than a ~2 am departure from Kilimanjaro outbound.
If you don't like late nights or early mornings, picking the least stressful scenario here can be good for your sanity- so many international flights operate overnight, so you will likely be inconvenienced in this fashion no matter what carrier you fly on. Some routes are just more stressful than others.
Second, you should determine your primary reason for having time in Zanzibar beyond the attractions. What we mean by this is do you want to hit Zanzibar first to recover from the jet lag of traveling to Tanzania or do you want to hit Zanzibar second to recover from the stresses of safari before going home?
We see merit in both options.
The vast majority of people we met planned for, and even Angie and my mother who joined us on this trip argued for, Zanzibar after safari as a means to recover from long days of jeep time and rough roads.
I lobbied for the alternative if only because the last thing I would've wanted to do after two overnight flights to get to Tanzania is hop into a jeep the next day, drive ~3-4 hours to a national park, and start game drives. You can add attractions closer to Kilimanjaro Airport into your safari (some national parks are nearby, as is a coffee farm near Moshi, etc.), but these are likely also still quite active experiences.
I know it takes me a few days to recover from jet lag whenever overnight flights are involved, let alone double overnight flights, and to me, that was best done with beach time. Five days later when it came time to fly to the mainland we were set on Tanzania time, refreshed, and ready to go on safari.
Ultimately, we all ended up agreeing this was a great idea, but oh do we wish we had beach time at the end, too.
On this front, choosing Zanzibar before or after safari comes down to your preferences and the convenience of flight times. Whatever you pick will be fine, but be prepared for some tradeoffs as noted above.
How Many Days in Zanzibar? Four to Seven is a Good Range
Now that we've discussed whether you visit Zanzibar before or after safari, we can get on to our main discussion- how many days do you need in Zanzibar outright?
Ultimately, Zanzibar is a rather large island in the Indian Ocean and generally speaking, takes 3+ hours to drive north to south and 1-1.5 hours to drive east to west (with a hired driver at least, do not attempt to drive here on your own).
You could simply fly into Zanzibar, head to a resort on the beach, chill for as many days as you need, and have a great time. But for those who are a bit more active, there are several day trips you could consider as well, such as:
- Heading to a spice farm and exploring Stone Town (~1 day).
- Exploring other beaches on the island (~1 day).
- Day trips to snorkel, scuba dive, etc. (~1 day).
- Dining at The Rock Restaurant (~1/2 day to 1 day pending distances).
- …plus beach time, of course.
As we mentioned, we picked visiting Zanzibar first primarily to recover from jet lag, arrived at ~3 am, and reached our villa just before sunrise. We wrote off that day entirely for relaxing at our villa on the beach, so we allocated a day just for that.
We love exploring, so naturally, we had to hire a driver to get back to Stone Town and explore a spice farm (+1 day) and explore beaches on a private tour (+1 day). We were planning on taking another day trip organized via our hotel, but in a last-minute change decided to explore our local beach for another day if only because it was absolutely beautiful and we wanted to take advantage of our prime location.
This took us up to four days at a minimum, and we think this is a good number for those who want to have time to explore all the highlights. But that is only to start!
We got lucky to find a late-night flight from Zanzibar to Kilimanjaro Airport for our departure (~11 pm landing), so we could add in a full fifth day with only four nights (our villa, again, let us pay for late check-out). We used this time primarily to enjoy our local beach but also dined at The Rock for lunch. This let us feel like we enjoyed Zanzibar at a leisurely pace instead of packing it all in over only having full four days as noted above.
So if you are active like us, it is safe to say you can have a great experience in Zanzibar with four full days, but five will make it much more comfortable.
But that was simply our preference. If you are a bigger beach fan or want more recovery time after a safari, you could add another night or two simply to relax. This is why we say up to seven days in Zanzibar could be a good option. That being said, if you're able to allocate at least four (ideally five) days to check out Zanzibar and have to pick whether the extra days should be spent on safari or in Zanzibar, there is no doubt in our minds here- add it to the safari.
Nice beaches are everywhere, but safari experiences are inherently limited. Give yourself more time on safari unless you've been on countless game drives already. But when stopping in Zanzibar, you really should consider four or five days as the minimum time for planning purposes if you want to see the highlights!
How many days did you visit Zanzibar for? Did you visit before or after safari in Tanzania? Comment below to share your thoughts!
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.