Surfing in Zanzibar
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Zanzibar is a destination that conjures images of an exotic, tropical isle with endless turquoise seas, cocnut laden beaches and fascinating culture. Even the name sounds exotic and alluring!
Well, it turned out to be all of this and much more! The villages, the beautiful dhow boats, the locals charmingly adding a ‘y’ onto most nouns and using the beach as a bicycle highway are all unforgettable and unique memories from Zanzibar.
This island may not be the place you think of for surf blessed shores but this Indian Ocean gem can be a great surf destination when combined with some other activities. Zanzibar's not got Bali's swell but it also doesn't have the crowds either. I decided to travel to Zanzibar for some ocean action and fell in love with the vibes of this friendly isle.
Why Go? Zanzibar is relatively cheap to get to, it's not as far as Sri Lanka (if flying from Europe) and you still get a maximum culture dosage. You can surf in the morning, grab lunch in a hut with some masi mara warriors then dive or kitesurf in the afternoon! Of course surfing in uncrowded waves in 27 degree water is also something not to be sniffed at!
Where to Stay Paje beach is the epicenter of kiting in Zanzibar and also host to Aquaholics who were the first company to offer surf trips to the reef off of Dongwe beach. If you base yourself in Paje you are perfectly placed to go diving, take some kitesurf lessons or just chill on one of the swinging beds shaded by driftwood. I stayed at Ebb and Flow which is just behind Aquaholics kite and surf centre. Aquaholics holds a prime spot of the gorgeous shores of the turquoise Paje bay, Steffi and Brad who own Aquaholics are also great hosts and can organise kite lessons, dive excursions and mangrove SUP trips amongst other adventures. It only takes about two hours to get from Nungwi in the far North to Kizimkazi in the far south (for dolphin watching), so it’s entirely possible to base yourself in one area and get taxis to and from the spots around the island.
How to get to the Reef So you will need to book a surf trip and then they can figure out the surfing window for you (which is very tide dependant). You will then get whisked to Dongwe beach where you get kitted up with board and booties and are then taken by boat through azure coloured, warm seas to the breaking waves. I went with Aquaholics who were great and had a surf photographer Ale Sellers come out with us to take amazing shots of everyone. After your surf you can dine on boiled eggs, chapatis and tropical fruits from your boat moored in paradise! There's a couple of spots where you can surf, a beginner zone and a more intermediate section, the surf guide’s are great, telling you what markers to line up on the shore with to be in the perfect take off spot! The surfing window may not be massively long as the spot is very tide dependant and a boat is needed to get to the reef. However this also gives you time to do all of the other cultural and water based activities on offer. The surf can be fairly small so it might not appeal to big wave surfers and as you can't surf all day it might not be your first choice if you want to surf as much as humanly possible on holiday.
Best time to go Between December and March anti-cyclones in the Indian ocean send ground swell towards Zanzibar to create decent waves if the wind is offshore. If you are going to Zanzibar for surfing and kiting it would be a good idea to check the tides before booking your flights. Surf lessons are restricted to 1.5 – 3 hours of surf a day as it only works during the pushing mid-tide for lessons and the last hour of the dropping tide for advanced surfers. Kiting also needs to be planned around the high tide. A local taxi driver told me categorically that ‘rainy season starts on the 21 March’, so if he’s right then you can bank on rain from exactly that date!
What else is there to do for salty souls?
Day tripping from Paje is easy, it's not far if you want to go on a 'Blue Safari' day excursion where you're whisked off to the Menai Bay Conservation area to explore isolated sandbanks, secluded islets and pristine marine life from a traditional Dhow boat. You’ll get to swim and snorkel in the turquoise waters with guides, spot dolphins, swim in a hidden mangrove lagoon then feast on a delicious Swahili barbeque.
There is also 'Seaweed Tour' that you can do in Paje; giving an insight into seaweed production and supporting a socially responsible business. You get to harvest and plant seaweed with the mamas, you learn how to make a natural beauty product with raw seaweed and finishing with a fresh seaweed juice superfood smoothie.
The beach of Paje is also good for solo travellers, most nights there is a party night in one beach bar and it felt safer than other beaches we visited at night especially for wandering back to your accommodation after dark.
Zanzibar is an ideal location for kite surfers, with shallow turquoise lagoons and consistent, warm winds. The south-east is the best sport for kiting, particularly the beaches in Dongwe, Paje and Jambiani. Paje beach has the most kite centres where you can rent equipment or take lessons if you prefer. We rented our equipment from Aquaholics Kite & Surf Centre in Paje and found them to be extremely helpful, knowledgeable and perfectly positioned on the beach.
If you head to the south-east of Zanzibar, to Chawaka Bay near Pingwe, you can take a guided paddle board tour though mangrove swamps to discover the beautiful, endangered mangroves and its native wildlife. You don’t need to be an expert and can do this tour even if you have never been on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) before. Your guide will take you through the waterways so you can look out for monkeys. The tour finishes with complimentary fruit and drinks from the bar in a glorious roof-top terrace.
There are numerous dive sites in Zanzibar, and it’s possible to dive here all year round. The private Mnemba Atoll to the northeast of the island is the top dive site; a conservation area with excellent visibility where you can spot dolphins, green turtles, elusive little seahorses, moray eels and rays. I dived here with Dive Point Zanzibar who were extremely professional, knowledgeable and the closest dive centre to the Atoll. One of their divers is starting a programme of coral restoration as well as teaching the local community more about the aquatic life and waste management on land, so I was happy to support the enterprise.
My thoughts on Zanzibar
I can wholeheartedly recommend Zanzibar. Expect some of the most stunning beaches imaginable, tasty fusion cuisines from India, the Middle East and Africa, oh-so-friendly locals and plenty of activities available, on land and sea.
I fell in love with the people of Zanzibar and also the Masai Mara who had come over from the mainland. Most residents of the island are Muslim, so be respectful and cover-up when you’re away from the beach. We found some fantastic local eateries hidden away in the villages run by locals and feeding the tourists alongside the Masai Mara and local islanders all at once! All in all Zanzibar is perfect for ocean lovers, if you have a mango addiction and surfing isn't the only thing you want to be doing on your holiday!