Boozy British tourists heading to Zanzibar might be disappointed – and that’s a good thing

Zanzibar Nungwi Beach
Tourists numbers are still comparatively low given the size of the island - Universal Images/Getty

If you wanted to compare Zanzibar to anywhere, the Caribbean might be a good place to start. It’s certainly what my friend found herself doing after a recent visit to Saint Kitts and Nevis with her boyfriend – concluding that the latter was a poor imitation of the African island she and I had fallen in love with as backpackers 17 years ago.

“The beaches were rubbish compared to Zanzibar,” she announced – loudly – for all the café, and her boyfriend, to hear. “The sand wasn’t even white.”

It’s quite funny that anyone could go to the Caribbean and complain about the scenery, but the beaches in Zanzibar are pretty unrivalled, lapped by seas so blue they look like antifreeze washing on snow.

But while the African archipelago may be more stunning than many Caribbean rivals, have less litter than, say, Bali or Thailand, and have more culture and history than its Indian Ocean neighbours (Zanzibar’s capital is like a mini-Marrakech), there’s one thing it doesn’t really have – and that’s a wild party scene.

Aerial view of tropical beach with wooden fisherman boats, Zanzibar island
'The African archipelago may be more stunning than many Caribbean rivals,' says Adam - Alamy

It’s why the recent press reports describing Zanzibar as “the new Magaluf” have caused such a stir among my friends living in the semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. I’ve visited Zanzibar five times, and, like the expats and locals that I befriended during those trips, I’m perplexed at how anyone could compare their sleepy equatorial home with the Mallorcan resort so beloved of oversexed teens and tanked-up stag and hen parties.

Yes, the beer may be cheap, as correctly identified in the reports, with some locally owned bars selling bottles for as little as £1 a pop. But no one’s going to fly all that way – and spend £450-plus on airfares – to save a few shillings on drinks.

The two places couldn’t be more different. Zanzibar’s only really got one obnoxiously loud bar that blasts dance music into the star-bleached sky (and drives its neighbours wild). And, though there may be plenty of chillout lounges and even some bijou clubs, the vibe at those is more “cocktails on the sands” and “sundowners overlooking the ocean”, rather than vodka shots, group T-shirts and everything else you associate with a cut-price Mediterranean bender.

Bar and cafe on water in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Zanzibar's chillout lounges couldn't be more dissimilar to Magaluf's super clubs - Alamy

Even the famous full-moon party on the beach at Kendwa couldn’t be less “Magaluf” if it tried, with African DJs cranking out Swahili hip-hop to a mixed crowd of locals, expats and 30-somethings on a post-safari flop.

“Anyone looking for Magaluf will be disappointed,” explained Sally, who moved to the island from England during lockdown. “I went to Magaluf when I was 17, and once was enough. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere like that.

“There are certain pockets in Zanzibar where people party. But it’s very contained. It’s not the whole of Paje or Nungwi, maybe just a couple of bars.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Fikile “Fix” Moeti, a former MTV Africa presenter, who used to DJ in Kendwa.

She said that there were a lot of Spanish and Middle East-based “DJs, club promoters and publicists” flying to Zanzibar, which was creating a bit of a buzz in places like Paje, but added that it was nothing like the sort of raucous atmosphere you might find in Magaluf.

The South African, who moved to the island two years ago, runs a fitness studio-cum-bar in the eastern beach village of Kiwengwa, which she occasionally spins the decks at. Her beachfront Yoga Bar ( is pretty typical of the sort of hangout you’ll find yourself in during a holiday in Zanzibar – relaxed, low-key and extremely friendly, with guests chatting over their shoulder to the other holidaymakers on tables half-sunk in the sand.

Beach, palms and huts at Kendwa Rocks north coast of Zanzibar
Typical Zanzibar beach hangouts are 'relaxed, low-key and extremely friendly' - Alamy

Such easy mingling is what’s so great about the dozen or so fishing villages like Kiwengwa and Paje, around which Zanzibar’s tourist industry has formed.

They’re not full of soulless, resident-only resorts like you find on other Indian Ocean (or Caribbean) islands. They’re also extremely safe, meaning that rather than being confined to your hotel, you’ll happily spend your days (and nights) strolling along their white coral sands, dropping in at all the little independently owned bars and hotels you pass for a couple of drinks and a dip in their pool.

The locals haven’t been forced out by tourism either, meaning that even in the more developed villages, like Paje, you’ll still find boat builders repairing dhows beside your lunchtime hangout, and see school kids enjoying a game of sunset 25-a-side on the beach.

It’s quite the achievement given just how much resorts like Paje have exploded in popularity since 2020, when Tanzania’s late president – a chemistry PhD – rejected lockdowns and other restrictions, leading to a surge in visitor interest and investment.

Everywhere you look, new guesthouses, holiday lets and kitesurfing schools are popping up between the coral-stone houses and banana plantations in places like Paje, Nungwi and Kiwengwa.

Kendwa beach in Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, East Africa
The island is home to beautiful, white sand beaches - Alamy

But while tourist arrivals may have soared, jumping from around half-a-million a year before Covid, to just under 640,000 last year, the numbers are still comparatively low given the size of the island, and the fact that tourists are so widely dispersed around its north and east coasts.

In fact, you only have to examine the statistics for Mallorca (16.5 million visitors, to 900,000 locals) or Saint Kitts and Nevis (540,000 visitors, to 47,000 locals), to appreciate why most of Zanzibar’s 1.8 million residents still double-take at the sight of a pale mzungu (foreigner).

This is especially true on the northern island of Pemba, where you’ll find just a handful of eco-resorts, backpackers, and the occasional luxury hotel like The Manta Resort (, famous for its underwater room with tropical fish swimming past the window.

But even on Zanzibar’s main island, tourism has barely made an impact away from the beaches and maze-like, former capital Stone Town, with very few tourists taking the opportunity to hike its rainforest, or visit its crumbling Arab palaces, harems and slave dungeons. It’s something the authorities are keen to rectify.

It won’t be easy, though. Zanzibar’s beaches are insanely hard to pry yourself away from, and with everything from diving and dolphins to some of the best kitesurfing conditions on the planet, it’s no wonder they leave such a lasting impact.