The idea to cycle around the island came up very randomly, without much planning or preparation. On the first day when I landed and dropped my bags in my new house, I decided that I must get a bicycle, which would be an ideal mode of transportation for me to explore the neighborhood and commute to bigger towns. After several hours of asking the neighbors and the landlord if they had a spare bicycle to sell, I managed to get my hands on an old corroded bike for which I paid 45 EUR to a local teenager. I thought it would do the job of discovering the surroundings, but little did I know that I would set a bigger goal.
After an incredible month-long stay in Jambiani, I decided to explore the island even further by crossing its remote villages, meeting local people, discovering amazing beaches, and observing the differences between different parts of the island. Doing it on two wheels seemed like a good plan, as it would allow me to have a closer experience of Zanzibar’s various sites. The roads, in general, are not very busy, and even if you take less popular routes, you would encounter only a few mini buses and locals riding cows. The main concerns were the road conditions and the heat. Being exposed to the sun for extended periods when it’s 33 degrees would be too risky, so I had to limit my cycling to a maximum of 4 hours per day, preferably in the early mornings. Cycling in Zanzibar is relatively safe since the island is small and densely populated. If anything were to happen to me or the bike, finding help or leaving the bicycle in the bushes and continuing my journey by public transport wouldn’t be a problem. So, I decided to give it a go!
The plan was to take it easy and cycle an average of 30 km per day, spending around 4 hours on the bike, while staying in different locations and occasionally taking a couple of extra days to rest.
Jambiani – Pongwe
Without much preparation, I packed all my stuff into a 28-liter backpack that fit perfectly in the front bicycle basket. I hit the road early in the morning. During the first few kilometers, I realized that I was only worried about whether my backpack would fit in the front basket, but I didn’t consider whether the basket could hold its weight! The basket, like the whole bike, was old and poorly maintained. At any moment, my backpack could fall off, especially considering the bumpy gravel roads. However, I decided to give it a try. In the worst case, I would put it on my back and carry it to the nearest bike shop.
It was a beautiful morning, with a fresh breeze and the rising sun. I cycled with excitement for my future adventure. The smooth asphalt roads ended when I decided to take a shortcut and reduce the distance to Charave, where I had to cross the bay. Unfortunately, the busy road wasn’t very pleasant. As soon as I turned onto the gravel roads, the nightmare began. Even though it was peaceful and quiet with no cars around, the road was dusty and full of rocks and potholes. Frustrated, I managed to miss a turn, which led me on a longer route. When I checked the map before the trip, I couldn’t find any information about crossing the bay from Charave to Chwaka. I didn’t know if there was a bridge, boats, or if the water was shallow enough to cross on foot. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—what would I find there? Maybe I would have to cycle back and take a huge detour. The Charawe area was very green, with enormous bushes, lime, cassava, and other vegetable or fruit plantations. Surprisingly, there was no one there at all. I cycled alone, passing through some empty villages. It was a nice change from the bustling beach town. I must have been a surprise for the locals since I guess no foreigners come to this dead-end place. The funniest part was when I reached the coast of the bay. At first glance, it looked completely deserted with just a few bushes and boats in the water. However, as soon as I got off the bike, I saw several guys emerging from the bushes, each holding a knife! I froze and can’t even remember what I was thinking. I was shocked and scared, but at the same time, somewhat relieved because their facial expressions didn’t indicate any bad intentions. They were just curious about why I was there. And the knives? They were for fixing nets. That’s what they were doing in the bushes—hiding from the sun and repairing fishing nets after their morning catch. All of them started talking to me, creating a chaotic atmosphere. Everyone was speaking, but I didn’t know whom to ask about the boat. No one responded to me in English. After some time, I managed to arrange a transfer to the other side of the bay in a fishing boat. What a relief! A few guys loaded my bike onto the boat, and after 20 minutes, I was already on the other side of the bay.
Chwaka was supposed to be my first overnight stay, and it was already noon. After getting off the boat, I looked around to see if there were any homestays nearby, but I couldn’t spot any. I couldn’t find any information on my phone either, and the town didn’t seem inviting. I decided to move forward, hoping to find more tourist-friendly beaches with guesthouses.
Cycling in the midday heat was really tough. The sun drained all my energy, and there was no option to seek shade. The road ahead was empty, and the area was sparsely populated. I couldn’t even find a small shop to buy water, and online, I could only find fancy hotels available. Finally, I stumbled upon a small shop and asked the people there if they knew of any small guesthouses or if anyone was renting out a room. Unfortunately, they gave me a negative answer and mentioned that all the hotels in the area were closed. I had no choice but to continue cycling forward and hope to find something. After several kilometers, I tried my luck with a few hotels and fortunately managed to find a room. It wasn’t exactly within my budget, but it was nearly impossible to continue in the heat. The hotel offered a nice view, a swimming pool, and a comfortable bed. The first day didn’t end too badly!
While chatting with the hotel owner, she informed me that this community was known for being difficult and unwelcoming towards tourists. That explained why the people in the shop didn’t want to help me and lied about the hotels not being operational.
Pongwe – Kigomani
A new day meant new challenges. The first item on my to-do list was to buy a back seat for my backpack. Fortunately, it wasn’t as complicated as I had initially thought. I just needed to have enough money, and the issue could be quickly resolved. I stopped at one of the small bike shops along the way and inquired about the seat. This led to a lengthy bargaining process, which ended up consuming a significant amount of valuable time. I was aware that I needed to reach my next destination before noon. However, I believe it was worth it, as I managed to negotiate nearly half of the initial asking price. Soon, I was cycling with a bike that had been pimped out with a new back seat for my backpack.
Finding my next destination would be much easier, as the northern part of the island is famous for its beaches, and most of the villages are tourist-friendly. With a positive vibe and a perfectly smooth and flat road, I quickly reached Matemwe. Once again, without any prior booking, I began asking locals for accommodation. After visiting a few incredibly run-down huts where sleeping on the floor and showering with chickens seemed to be the norm (despite charging guesthouse rates), I ended up in Kigomani at “Mohammed’s Restaurant and Bungalows.” I decided to stay there for a couple of days and enjoy the peaceful village life by the beach.
A quiet beach village was exactly what I needed to rest. The water might not have been the best, but I truly enjoyed long walks along the beach, watching local kids swimming and villagers simply relaxing. Instead of just a day or two, I ended up staying for five days! I got along well with the locals who showed me around, rode bicycles with me to remote nearby beaches, cooked together, and made the most of our time.
One of the most memorable things in Kigomani was the daily fish market, where fishermen returned from the sea with their catches. Many local people, including villagers, hotel workers, and chefs, eagerly gathered to get their desired fresh fish. The demand and competition were so high that some people even waded into the water to check the boats before they reached the surface. The entire market unfolded right on the beach, where you could get the freshest fish and have conversations with the fishermen. With the help of my new friends, I bought a fresh octopus, which had to be tenderized by repeatedly hitting it before it was handed over. Otherwise, the meat would be too tough to eat. This task was usually entrusted to local kids who earned some cash from it.
Preparing octopus is very simple. You need to boil it in heavily salted water until it becomes tender—that’s basically it! You can either eat it as is or fry it in a pan to make it slightly crispy. By the way, the soup in which the octopus was boiled is incredibly delicious. Locals often give it to kids as a treat.
During my extended stay, I also joined a dolphin-watching and snorkeling trip, which I’m not very proud of. When we arrived at the dolphin location, we were surprised to see around 30 more boats! I’m not exaggerating—the boats were rushing to get ahead of the dolphins, competing with each other while the dolphins were desperately trying to escape. It was truly disheartening to witness, and I felt ashamed to be part of it. Along with the other passengers on our boat, we decided to leave this madness behind and explore the underwater corals instead.
Kigomani – Nungwi
After my short break, I hit the road again towards Nungwi, the most touristic place known for having the best beaches in all of Zanzibar. After covering several kilometers, I reached the busiest road on the entire island, and it was completely different from the areas I had cycled through before. The road was narrow and crowded with buses carrying tourists, cars, bikes, and trucks. I must mention that the driving was incredibly reckless. It was a highly dangerous situation, and I was eager to complete this part of the journey as quickly as possible. There was no alternative route to reach Nungwi, so I had no choice but to continue.
After an hour or two of searching for accommodation (since I hadn’t booked in advance), I finally settled into a cozy, clean room with air conditioning near the beach. I was delighted to have found such a place.
I wholeheartedly agree that Nungwi has the most stunning beaches. It’s unbelievable how clear and blue the water is! I never imagined such beauty could exist on this planet. The only downside is the high number of tourists. It seems like everyone shares the same sentiment about its beauty. Nevertheless, I still believe it’s the top destination to visit in Zanzibar. One day, in an attempt to escape the crowds, I walked a considerable distance to find a secluded spot for sunbathing. I was thrilled with my decision and spent an entire day nearly alone, admiring the breathtaking view that resembled a postcard. I was enjoying myself until it was time to head back. I had completely forgotten to take into account the high tide. The beach I had walked on before was now underwater, and the waves were crashing against the rocks. The water had risen above my head. I couldn’t go around because there was a construction site blocking all the paths. There was nothing left to do but swim and seek help from the local boats. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long, as a few boat taxis were operating during high tide to rescue oblivious tourists like myself. 😄
The following day, I went diving with a local diving company. Our destination of choice was Minemba Island, renowned for its underwater beauty. The moment I submerged into the crystal-clear water, I was immediately captivated by the visibility that stretched quite far. Each dive revealed a vibrant marine life: graceful seahorses, elusive eels peeked out from their hiding spots, colorful scorpionfish and lobsters scuttling along the seabed. The reefs themselves were really beautiful, corals in various shapes, sizes, and hues. The underwater was really beautiful, but I have to acknowledge that it fell just shy of the awe-inspiring experiences offered by other world-renowned diving destinations such as Indonesia or Egypt.
Nungwi – Stone Town
After several days of chilling and swimming, I’m back on the road. I was planning to find a way to cycle along the coast to avoid the deadly route, but none of the maps I had showed any alternative options. I left very early because I knew the day would be challenging, but I had to stop soon due to both of my flat tires. It wasn’t easy to find someone to fix them at 6 am, and I didn’t have the necessary tools either. After pushing the bike with all my belongings and flat tires, I came across a man working in a shop who agreed to help. It took much longer than I had planned, so straight after it I was searching for shortcuts. I crossed several kilometers of plantations and fields with fruits and vegetables, and even encountered an army camp that turned me around. The few locals I met were shocked to see a foreigner on a bicycle in this remote area, but nobody asked me anything; they just looked at me with surprise. The road was bumpy and dusty, with small rivers and empty fields… until I finally reached the seaside and a “proper” road.
My initial plan was to stay overnight close to Mnagapwani, so I began looking for accommodation. There weren’t many options available, but I managed to find something through booking.com. It’s a very remote location with no tourists at all. From what I understood, only locals occasionally visit or some adventurous travelers get lost and end up staying in such places. There is no proper beach, only rocks and pretty high cliffs. The western part of Zanzibar was extensively used for military purposes, and there are a few sites associated with the slave trade. I could sense that in the overall atmosphere of the area.
However, when I finally found my accommodation through small unmarked paths, I discovered that there was no electricity at the place, which was crucial for me to charge all my electronics and find a way back home the next day. Additionally, the staff was quite rude, and I felt unwelcome. Nevertheless, I checked in, unpacked, and after a few hours of rest, I decided to leave. I didn’t feel like staying there anymore. So, I packed my things, explained that I needed electricity, and left, heading towards Stone Town. The area was very remote, so I didn’t even try to find another place to stay. My new goal was to reach Stone Town before sunset. That turned out to be the longest and most boring stretch of the journey because as I got closer to the city, the suburbs began and the roads became busier and more dangerous, with no pleasant views anymore. A bit after sunset, I arrived at a hotel in the old town. My few days in Stone Town went by quickly with sightseeing, attending the Afro music festival, and catching up on work.
Stone Town – Uzi Island
After a few days, my bike was already packed to complete the tour around the island. I hated the city when I tried to leave it—the roads were closed and congested, with traffic everywhere. I had hoped to be clever and take a shortcut, but due to the presence of an army base and blocked roads, I ended up circling around the city, wasting two hours instead of cycling towards the south.
My destination for the day was Uzi Island, a place I had heard a lot about. It was said to be a unique location accessible only during certain hours when the tide was low, as the road would be flooded and require a hired boat otherwise.
As you can see in the photos, the road was incredibly bumpy, made only of small rocks. I was hopeful that my bike would survive this journey, as it was quite challenging for both me and the bike. On the way to the island, I encountered a man who had come from the village to meet me. Most likely, someone who passed me on a bike had informed him that a foreigner was coming to the village, and he was from a minority that spoke English. I was quite pleased to meet someone offering help, as I knew there were no hostels on the island, and I would have to knock on doors and ask for accommodation. This man kindly offered his home for me to stay in, in exchange for my support with some money. He invited me to his home, where he lived with his wife and their son. Together with his wife and her mother, we prepared a delightful meal of clams with vegetables and rice. The family appeared genuinely happy to host me, displaying great hospitality, and I could sense that they didn’t expect anything in return, only to share their way of life.
The island was a strict Muslim community, so before we went to the market, the wife placed a scarf on my head, stating that I couldn’t walk around like that there. The tour of the market and the village was fantastic—I was introduced to every villager there. My host showed me some remote beaches, unique beehives hanging from trees, and old religious trees that were used as prayer sites. All of this was followed by photos with locals who were excited to have a foreigner visiting them.
The next day, I was invited to take a boat trip to observe birds in the morning. I was overjoyed to witness the sunrise above the calm waters, embracing the tranquility and undisturbed peace. The boat slowly approached the bushes and entered it. What had appeared as simple empty trees from the outside transformed into another world inside, where birds lived their lives. The melodies of the birds, I was observing them doing their activities, oblivious to our presence amidst the morning peace and watching birds, felt surreal and unforgettable. After birdwatching, my host took me back to the road I had traveled the day before where I complained about its bumpiness. Now, seeing it, I felt grateful for its existence. The road was underwater due to high tide, rendering it navigable only by boat.
Uzi Island – Jambiani
Knowing that I could only leave the island during certain hours, after the boat tour I quickly prepared myself to depart and complete the grand tour. I didn’t want to go through that bumpy road again, so I managed to hitchhike a ride on a small truck, where I loaded my bike and reached the nearest junction.
The last section of the journey was familiar to me because I had cycled extensively in that area while living in Jambiani. The roads were in excellent condition, with fewer cars, surrounded by fruit trees, and dotted with a few small villages along the way. My next and final stop was Jambiani, where I had begun my journey a few weeks earlier. After making a few stops to enjoy refreshing mangoes purchased from roadside vendors and taking a break at a market, I finally arrived in Jambiani.
Completing my goal filled me with immense happiness. Now, I would have well-deserved time to reflect on my journey—the people I met, their lives, their kindness, and the ups and downs I witnessed in Zanzibar. I would contemplate the life-changing experiences I had encountered, which would remain etched in my memory forever.
In conclusion, cycling around Zanzibar is a remarkable adventure that immerses travelers in the island’s natural beauty and vibrant culture. From the turquoise waters of its stunning beaches to the captivating sights and sounds of Stone Town, this tropical paradise offers a unique and unforgettable experience for cycling enthusiasts. Whether pedaling along the coastal roads or exploring the narrow alleyways, every turn reveals a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. So, hop on a bicycle, embrace the warm breeze, and let Zanzibar’s enchanting landscapes and friendly locals guide you on a journey of a lifetime.