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Is Zanzibar a country or a part of Tanzania?

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Islands Islands

Many people are unaware of what Zanzibar is and in which part of Africa it is located. Even more surprising are those who fly to vacation in Zanzibar and end up in the East African country of Tanzania.

We'll provide brief answers to these questions:

  • Where is Zanzibar located?
  • Is it a sovereign state?
  • What's its connection to Tanzania?
  • Why go to Zanzibar for a vacation?
  • Does Zanzibar belong to the United Republic of Tanzania?
A beach on Zanzibar island
A beach on Zanzibar island

What is Zanzibar?

Zanzibar is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, located off the east African coast. It's still Africa, but in island form. Just like Madagascar, the Canary Islands, the Seychelles, the Comoros, and many other lesser-known ones. For instance, Saint Helena, where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his final years, is also an African island.

The Zanzibar Archipelago comprises over 70 islands, many of which are small and uninhabited. The most renowned ones are Unguja (commonly referred to as Zanzibar), Pemba, Mafia, Changuu, Thanda, Latham, Mnemba, and Tumbatu.

The two largest islands, Pemba and Unguja, are considered the most populated. Unguja is unofficially known as Zanzibar Island, so when people mention Zanzibar, they usually mean Unguja. The Mafia Island and its adjacent islets are sometimes considered part of a separate archipelago.

Where is Zanzibar Island located?

On the map of Africa, locate Tanzania and move down from the Horn of Africa to mainland Tanzania. To the right, in the ocean, you'll spot several large islands. That's the Zanzibar Archipelago. It's situated approximately 40 kilometers off the eastern coast of Africa, opposite the mainland part of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Is Zanzibar an independent country?

Zanzibar is considered a semi-autonomous region within another country. This means it has its own government and parliament, but in matters of foreign policy and defense, it falls under the jurisdiction of the overarching government of the country it's a part of. In short, in a political-administrative sense, Zanzibar is not an independent country.

In terms of tourism, all this doesn't matter much. For example, many visit Zanzibar for beach vacations and diving. Since the main island has an international airport, some travelers land directly on Zanzibar and depart from there. They may not interact with representatives of the republic's authorities at all.

Tourist strolling around the old Arab fort in Zanzibar. Altezza Travel, 2023
Tourist strolling around the old Arab fort in Zanzibar. Altezza Travel, 2023

What country does Zanzibar belong to?

Zanzibar is part of the United Republic of Tanzania, the official name of Tanzania. It consists of a mainland zone and an island zone. These two parts merged in 1964, gaining independence from Great Britain after being a part of British Protectorate on the African continent.

Zanzibar in the name of Tanzania

The word "Tanzania" itself implies unity. "Zan-" is the beginning of the name of the island region Zanzibar, and "Tan-" is a fragment of the word "Tanganyika." That's what the mainland part of present-day Tanzania was called before the merger. Now, that name remains with Lake Tanganyika, which, incidentally, is the deepest in all of Africa.

So, if you plan to relax on Zanzibar's beaches after a safari tour or climbing Kilimanjaro, you'll still be in Tanzania. By the way, the highest mountain in Africa – Kilimanjaro, is also located on the territory of this country. We know Zanzibar's hotels and other establishments well, so don't hesitate to ask; we'll recommend the best.

Private beach of one of the hotels on the island of Zanzibar, East Africa. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023.
Private beach of one of the hotels on the island of Zanzibar, East Africa. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023

What's interesting about the islands?

The islands of Zanzibar are famous for their sandy beaches with incredibly beautiful turquoise water. The Indian Ocean is very warm and calm, and the archipelago is protected from the east by a coral reef barrier, so there are no sharks there.

In earlier blog posts, we've explored all the beaches of the main island of Zanzibar, and discussed the tides and how to choose the right beach and time to enjoy your vacation on this beautiful island in the ocean.

Snorkeling and diving

Coral reefs and diverse marine life are another feature of Zanzibar that attracts travelers enchanted by the oceanic beauty. Snorkeling and diving are very popular here. It's worth noting that during organized diving trips, there are no crowds here, unlike, for example, in Thailand. Additionally, on one of Zanzibar's beaches, nature has created excellent conditions for kitesurfing, attracting many enthusiasts of this active pastime.

Kitesurfers on the beach of Paje, Zanzibar. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023.
Kitesurfers on the beach of Paje, Zanzibar. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023

Zanzibar City and Stone Town

On the main island, there is a city of the same name, which is considered the capital of all the islands in the archipelago. It's called Zanzibar City and consists of two parts: modern and old. The historic part bears the beautiful name Stone Town. The rich architecture, culture, and history of Stone Town, deeply intertwined with its connections to the Middle East, Swahili merchants, ancient trade routes, and the legacy of the slave trade, attracts many tourists.

Ancient houses, Omani baths, Swahili markets, traditional dhow sailboats at the pier, local street food festivals, hidden in the labyrinth of narrow streets coffee shops — all this creates an unforgettable atmosphere of Africa that seems frozen in time. The mixed cultural traditions of Swahili, the Arab world, and Indian heritage charm in such a way that it's impossible to break away from walks and excursions around Stone Town.

One of the streets of the ancient Stone Town in Zanzibar. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023.
One of the streets of the ancient Stone Town in Zanzibar. Photo by Altezza Travel, 2023

Freddy Mercury museum

By the way, did you know that Freddie Mercury was born and spent his childhood on the island of Zanzibar? Today, there is a museum of the Queen's frontman in the center of Stone Town. It's located in the house where the family of the future pop star lived before the Zanzibar Revolution. It was this event that forced his family to leave Zanzibar forever and also led the island sultanate to the coveted freedom.

How to get to Zanzibar?

For adventure lovers, it's worth noting that Zanzibar and the African mainland part of Tanzania are connected by modern ferry services, allowing you to reach one part of the country from another in just one and a half hours across the ocean waves. This way you can explore both Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, or other parts of Tanzania in one trip! This is much more interesting than the usual planes, which, by the way, also fly regularly to and from the islands.

Quick information about Zanzibar:

  • Official languages: English, Swahili
  • Currency: Tanzanian shilling
  • Population: 1.7 million people
  • Capital: Zanzibar City
  • Best time to visit: June-October (dry season)
Published on 18 February 2024 Revised on 25 April 2024
About this article
Agnes Mkumbo
Expert Articles: 22
Written byAgnes Mkumbo
Travel Expert Tanzania
Diving Diving
Islands Islands
Safari Safari
Tanzania Tanzania

Agnes is a vital member of the Altezza operations team, boasting extensive experience in Kilimanjaro and in-depth knowledge of Tanzania's safari parks. Additionally, she holds an Advanced Open Water diving certification, a rare achievement in Kilimanjaro. With her diverse skill set, Agnes is the perfect author to guide readers through hiking, safaris, and island trips in Tanzania. Through her writing, Agnes introduces readers to both well-known destinations and hidden gems across the region.

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