Most visitors come to Tanzania for prime game-viewing in reserves like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; but when you’ve had your fill of the Big Five, the country’s picturesque coastline awaits. Whether you prefer backpacker waterfronts with vibrant party scenes or private islands with abandoned stretches of untouched sand, there are beaches to suit all tastes in Tanzania. The most famous are located on Zanzibar Island, but for those in the know, there are plenty of magical beaches on the mainland and smaller Tanzanian islands as well.
Located at the northern tip of Unguja Island (known to most as Zanzibar), Nungwi Beach is the island’s most famous stretch of sand - and for good reason. Crystal-clear waters wash upon white sand shores, while anchored dhows provide an atmospheric backdrop for your vacation selfies. Popularity comes at a price, though, and Nungwi can be overpopulated with tourists and locals attempting to sell their wares. However, those that like to be part of the action will love the beach’s atmospheric waterfront bars and restaurants, while accommodation options range from backpacker B&Bs like Nungwi House to 5-star resorts like Essque Zalu Zanzibar.
Zanzibar visitors looking for a quieter place to catch a tan will love Kendwa Beach, located on the island’s northwestern tip. It’s possible to walk there from Nungwi at low tide and you’ll find the same white sand and turquoise waters, but with fewer crowds. Because the waters off Kendwa get deep quickly, there is less of a tidal range here than on the eastern beaches, making it ideal for swimming no matter the time of day. Its western location also means that for scenic sundowners, there’s no better place to be. Various operators offer snorkeling trips and Kwenda village tours, while Kwenda Rocks resort is known for its monthly Full Moon Party.
If exclusivity is a priority, consider booking a stay on Mnemba Island. Located off Zanzibar’s northeast shore, this private getaway is only accessible to guests of luxurious &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge and has a circumference of just 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles). Essentially, the entire island is a breathtaking ivory beach, studded with a patch of causarina pine forest and surrounded by protected coral reefs. The lodge’s PADI dive school offers exceptional scuba diving excursions, while private beach dinners, open-air massages and yoga sessions are all on the menu for those staying in one of the 12 thatched beach bandas. Activities range from fishing to dolphin watching.
Saadani National Park
If you have limited time in Tanzania and want to combine the safari and beach elements of your trip, head 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Dar es Salaam to Saadani National Park. It’s the only national park in East Africa to border the Indian Ocean, and it’s entirely possible to see game venturing out of the mangrove forests and onto the beach’s golden sands. Divide your days between lazy hours spent tanning on the beach and game drives spent searching for an impressive array of game including lion, elephant, giraffe and buffalo. Wami River cruises are a particular highlight, giving you the opportunity to spot hippos, crocodiles and a plethora of aquatic birds.
Located in between Saadani National Park and Pangani, Sange Beach is another off-the-beaten-track mainland destination for those that prefer peace and quiet to full moon parties and backpacker bars. Silver sand and swaying coconut palms provide an idyllic backdrop for the thatched accommodation of Kijongo Bay Beach Resort. Whether you choose a beach bungalow or duplex villa, these private rooms are perfect for families and feature large verandas with daybeds overlooking the ocean. The lodge can arrange activities to suit all interests, from snorkeling and scuba diving trips to walking tours of historic Pangani and river cruises on the Msangazi estuary.
Ras Kutani Beach
Also on the mainland, visitors to Dar es Salaam can easily escape the frenetic pace of Tanzania’s largest city by traveling 15 miles (25 kilometers) south to the beach at Ras Kutani. This secluded section of the Swahili Coast offers white sand, safe swimming and a shipwreck for snorkeling enthusiasts. Ras Kutani Lodge is the place to stay here, with individual cottages that encourage you to admire the seaview from a hammock strung up on your private veranda. In addition to a restaurant that specializes in fresh seafood, the lodge offers a slew of activities inspired by the beach and the adjacent freshwater lagoon. Think kayaking, fishing and turtle nesting tours in season.
Further south, private Fanjove Island is the place to go for those in search of an authentic Robinson Crusoe experience. Here, the only accommodation is provided by six rustic beach bandas, all with upstairs balconies that promise unimpeded views of the surrounding ocean. In a place that prides itself on its locally sourced building materials and solar power, don’t expect air-conditioning and TV — but revel instead in the pristine condition of the white coral beach and the unpolluted night skies. You’ll share the island’s scuba diving reef with a resident pod of dolphins, while migrant seabirds and coconut crabs claim the island’s interior. It’s also an important seasonal nesting site for green turtles.
Ushongo Beach is a traditional fishing village on Tanzania’s north coast that remains largely untouched by tourism. Instead of intimidating beach hustlers, expect to meet friendly local fishermen on a palm-fringed shore that borders the Maziwe Marine Reserve. With no riptides or strong currents, the beach is ideal for swimming, while 5-star The Tides Lodge offers the last word in barefoot chic. Spend your days feasting on fresh seafood in the open-air restaurant, cooling off in the swimming pool or enjoying day trips to Maziwe Island. Known for its healthy coral reef, this stunning sandbar is perfect for snorkeling and only accessible at low tide.
Misali Island lies off the west coast of Pemba Island. It’s surrounded by plunging coral reefs and with over 300 fish species recorded in its waters, its one of East Africa’s best destinations for scuba diving and deep sea fishing. You can take your pick of postcard-perfect beaches, many of which are seasonal nesting sites for green and hawksbill turtles. Baobab Beach on the island’s northeast coast is arguably the most scenic for a day spent sunbathing or swimming in the shallows. There are no permanent lodges on the island so it’s accessible via day trip only. Arrange a visit through an operator like Coral Tours or through Pemba hotels like Fundu Lagoon.
On Pemba itself, Vumawimbi Beach is the destination of choice for those that want to get away from it all. Located on the eastern shore of Kigomasha Peninsula, it is an untouched stretch of white sand with no nearby restaurants, bars or hotels. Visited mostly by locals, it’s clean, safe and breathtakingly beautiful—but you’ll need to bring all your supplies for the day with you. The best way to get there is on a dhow cruise or a Ngezi Forest walking tour. After several sweaty hours searching for red colobus monkeys and endemic birdlife in the forest, a cooling swim in Vumawimbi’s crystalline waters is the perfect way to end the day.