The best time to visit the islands of Zanzibar is during the dry seasons – December to February and June to October – but generally speaking, from December to February any wind comes from the northeast, so beaches on the southern and western parts of the islands are more sheltered. Conversely, from June to October it tends to come from the southwest, so northern and eastern coasts are best. Ultimately, however, these islands are at the mercy of the ocean and their weather patterns can be unpredictable at any time of year. Even during the ‘dry’ seasons, afternoon showers are not unknown, although they tend to be short and pleasantly cooling.
It is also possible to visit during the rainy season, when there are fewer visitors and you’re more likely to get good bargains from lodges and hotels (the ones that remain open) and trips. The rain can be heavy, but is not usually constant; the sunsets can be particularly magnificent; and pineapples are in season! Travel can be trickier, with roads damaged and buses delayed, but you’ll get there eventually.
The climate of Zanzibar is dominated by the movements of the Indian Ocean monsoons, and characterised by wet and dry seasons. The northeast monsoon winds (known locally as the kaskazi) blow from November/December to February/ March, and the southwest monsoon winds (the kusi) blow from June to September/ October. The main rains (the masika) fall from mid-March to the end of May, and there is a short rainy season (the vuli) in November.
Throughout the year, humidity is generally quite high (less so in the rainy season), although this can be relieved by winds and sea breezes. Temperatures do not vary greatly throughout the year, with daytime averages around 26°C (80°F) on Zanzibar Island from June to October, and around 28°C from December to February, although in this latter period the humidity is often higher, so temperatures feel hotter. Pemba tends to be cooler and gets slightly more rain than Zanzibar Island.
Festivals and public holidays
At holiday times, such as Christmas and Easter, the islands are popular with expats from Dar es Salaam and Nairobi as well as overseas visitors. Expect full flights and higher hotel rates. Conversely, during the Islamic fasting period of Ramadan, many restaurants and shops are closed during the day, and life runs at a generally slower pace. Sports fans may like to tie in their visit with the Zanzibar International Marathon, held every year in early November.
The islands share most public holidays with the rest of Tanzania. Offices and businesses are usually closed on these days, although some tour companies remain open. Public holidays with fixed dates include:
- 1 January – New Year
- 12 January – Mapinduzi ‘Revolution’ Day
- 7 April – Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume Day
- 26 April – Union Day: Zanzibar and Tanganyika
- 1 May – Workers’ Day
- 7 July – Saba Saba (Seven Seven)
- 8 August – Peasants’ and Farmers’ Day
- 14 October – Nyerere Day
- 9 December – Independence Day
- 25 December – Christmas Day
- 26 December – Boxing Day
The Muslim feasts of Idd il Fitri – the end of Ramadan – and Idd il Maulidi (also called Maulidi ya Mfunguo Sita) – Muhammad’s birthday – are celebrated by many people and are effectively public holidays. Dates of these holidays depend on the lunar calendar, and fall 11 or 12 days earlier every year. Approximate dates for Ramadan for the next few years are as follows: 3 April to 1 May 2022; 23 March to 21 April 2023; 10 March to 8 April 2024.