When it comes to tropical Indian Ocean paradises, you can’t get much better than the Seychelles or Zanzibar. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the choice between Zanzibar or the Seychelles for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their remoteness, these islands are vastly different. Having spent time in both, we compare them below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to check out.
Seychelles or Zanzibar: Which is the better destination?
Other than residing in the Indian Ocean, both of these destinations are quite different.
For beach lovers, you will find spectacular beaches and turquoise swimming waters in both the Seychelles and Zanzibar – we tell you some of our favorites further on in this article. However the Seychelles, as a nation made up of 115 different islands, is the better choice if world-class beaches are your top priority.
There are numerous beaches in the Seychelles, including many fine white sandy stretches of coastline – which are some of the best in the world. Plus, with so many islands it’s possible to find secluded spots that still have a deserted island feel to them. That’s not so easy in Zanzibar, which packs 1.3 million people – and a lot of tourists – onto the island. Whilst you certainly won’t be disappointed by the beautiful soft sand on Zanzibar and the warm swimming waters surrounding it, the beaches in the Seychelles are better.
However, having a large population also makes Zanzibar a very interesting island in terms of culture, and there’s excursions to do away from the beach. We outline some of our favorites later. A vacation to Zanzibar also opens up the opportunity for a safari on mainland Tanzania.
Furthermore, when it comes to accommodation choices there’s a larger variety of choices in Zanzibar, which makes it the better island to visit on a budget. Food is also cheaper in Zanzibar due to its large local population. The Seychelles, on the other hand, is more focused on high-end resorts, and in general is a more expensive destination – although self-catering and guest houses do exist there too.
One exception when it comes to costs is the visa. A Seychelles visa is free, whereas a single entry visa to Zanzibar (Tanzania) will cost 50 USD. You will also need a Yellow Fever certificate for Zanzibar.
Below we look at some of our favorite places in both destinations, before comparing the culture in each. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
Seychelles or Zanzibar: Stunning Indian Ocean paradises
The Seychelles is everything you want when it comes to a beach holiday and more. And as a general rule, the more remote islands you manage to visit in the Seychelles, the more beautiful beaches you will find.
However no trip to the Seychelles is complete without visiting the breathtaking Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue island. The turquoise water and vanilla-colored fluffy sand is set against a backdrop so stunning it’s movie worthy. And it actually is. This iconic beach is so beautiful it’s been filmed for numerous movie and television projects.
Beau Vallon beach on Mahe island is a popular place for couples and families alike. It can get busy, but the shallow water is perfect for swimming and the sunset spectacular.
For good snorkeling, Anse Badamier on Curieuse Island is one of the best spots across the archipegalo. Here you can swim with colorful reef fish, hawksbill turtles and even nurse shark pups. Having a great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
In fact one of the most spectacular turtle spots in the Seychelles is the remote Bird island. Famous for its diverse bird-life which is well worth seeing in itself, you’re almost guaranteed to swim alongside turtles here.
The Seychelles has more to offer than just beaches though. If you’re feeling adventurous, then a visit to Morne Seychellois National Park is well worth it. This forest has the only remaining indigenous rainforest in the Seychelles and is home to some wonderful and unique wildlife. Watch your step though – the world’s smallest frog lives here. The Sooglossus gardineri frog is just 1cm long!
A hike up Niz d’Aigle on La Digue island will give you panoramic views over the island and across the Indian Ocean. It’s one of our favorite hiking spots in the archipelago.
If you’re looking for a beach destination, Zanzibar won’t disappoint. This coral reef ringed island has gorgeous stretches of white sandy beaches, and one of our favorites is Kendwa Beach. This dreamy slice of Zanzibar has the softest sand as well as warm water for swimming. Outlined by gently swaying palm trees, it’s a true tropical paradise.
Up and down Zanzibar you will find beaches which are perfect for enjoying a beer at the water’s edge, but the coastline here is also great for snorkeling. It’s easy to snorkel off the coast throughout the main island, but our favorite spot is definitely Mnemba Island. Two miles off Zanzibar’s north-east coast, this protected marine area is teeming with life. The crystal clear water makes it exceptionally easy to spot colorful reef fish like Blue Tangs and Clown fish!
Inland, Zanzibar is an exciting and interesting place. This island doesn’t revolve around tourism – like the Seychelles does – and therefore has many different things going on. One of those is spice farming. Nutmeg, cinnamon (which is a real ‘superfood’), and many other spices are grown throughout, and it’s a real pleasure on the senses as you explore. Tangawizi Spice Farm, a few kilometers from the capital is a must visit. Here you can take a tour of the farm, taste the local spices and fruits, and get a sense of working life on this paradise island.
The beautiful Changu Island is also worth visiting. Also known as ‘Prison Island’, this little place has a dark past as it was used as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 19th century. A small boat can take you there from Stone Town (30-50 USD return), whilst the entrance fee to the island costs under 5 USD. A visit will not only give you an insight into Zanzibar’s dark history, but will also give you an opportunity to meet the giant tortoises who have now taken up residence on the island!
Seychelles or Zanzibar: Experience paradise and island life
Both Zanzibar and the Seychelles offer that laid back island life holidaymakers are seeking. Plus, with English widely spoken in each, they are easy places to navigate for most tourists. The people in both are exceptionally friendly, and well used to tourists too.
Zanzibar is more rough and ready than the Seychelles, but that’s all part of this island’s charm. The Seychelles is more ‘Western’ due to its large tourist industry.
It’s worth remembering that Zanzibar is a majority Muslim island. While drinking alcohol and wearing beach attire are acceptable in resorts and on beaches, it’s best to dress more conservatively when exploring urban centers.
In terms of nightlife, if you’re looking for lively evenings, then Zanzibar is the best choice for you, with many nightclubs in Stone Town and laid-back bars in beach resort areas.
The Seychelles is its own diverse mix, and as a nation made up of immigrants, the culture has been formed though African, Asian and European influences.
A visit to the capital of the Seychelles, Victoria, should be on your itinerary. One of the smallest capital cities in the world (population: 25-30,000), Victoria is a colorful charming town which has many art galleries, craft markets, and architectural curiosities to visit and discover.
Just outside of Victoria you can visit the ruins of Mission Lodge. This missionary school from the 1800s will give you an insight into life for the Seychelles’ early settlers. There’s also a spectacular viewpoint nearby the ruins.
On the island of La Digue, visit the fascinating L’Union estate. This sustainable coconut plantation is a fun place to tour, but also has historical sites such as the cemetery of the island’s original settlers.
Zanzibar has been a major trade route for centuries, from the horrendous trade of humans during the times of slavery, through to the trade of spices that continues to this day. All of that has left its mark on this fascinating culture-rich island.
Much of that trade centered on Stone Town – the ancient part of Zanzibar City which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The centuries old buildings and winding alleyways in Stone Town haven’t changed in hundreds of years, and a trip to the Old Fort – the oldest building in the city – transports you back in time. As will a trip to the Old Slave Market, which has been kept as a sobering reminder of Zanzibar’s past.
Stone Town’s most famous son may well be Freddie Mercury – front man of rock group Queen. For something a little more contemporary, a trip to the Freddie Mercury Museum is well worth a visit.
Zanzibar’s Arabic influence can be seen in the spice farms and shops throughout the country. Darajani Market is a bustling market where many of these spices end up, and is an exciting and sensory-filled day out.
To get a sense of daily life in Zanzibar, head to one of the smaller villages like Matemwe. Locals are mainly involved in agricultural activity and fishing, including seaweed farming.
A taste of the tropics
Both islands have delicious seafood, and will provide a unique treat for your tastebuds.
Seychelles cuisine is focused heavily on seafood. No surprise there for a nation made up of 115 islands!
Grilled fish is a popular dish in the country, with Red Snapper one of the most common choices. Served with chili, this is a must-try dish but it will be spicy.
Why not pair grilled fish with Seychelles’ version of French fries – Breadfruit chips!
A unique cuisine to the Seychelles, and one people are either desperate to try or want to avoid completely, is shark chutney. This side dish is found in many creole restaurants and is exactly what it sounds like!
Want something to wash down your breadfruit chips and shark chutney? How about a wine made from the flowers of coconut trees. That’s what sweet-tasting Kalou is made from.
Zanzibar’s cuisine is a real mash-up of influences and styles, which makes it a foodie’s paradise.
For seafood lovers, one traditional dish to try out is Pepper Shark – which is shark cooked with a variety of locally-grown spices. Octopus is another popular seafood eaten here, and octopus boiled with coconut milk can be found on menus up and down the island.
A more modern invention is the Zanzibar Pizza. Which doesn’t really taste or look like a pizza! Diced onions, minced meat, cream cheese, mayonnaise and egg are all lumped together on a pizza-like base, and the sides are then folded in. It’s more like a savory crepe, and tastes better than it sounds.
The Seychelles or Zanzibar: Which should you choose?
Both of these islands are colorful friendly destinations that have great beaches on offer to holidaymakers. However if beaches are the priority, then the Seychelles is the better place to go. Its numerous islands are home to some of the world’s most beautiful, and also secluded, beaches.
However a trip to the Seychelles may require some island hopping which can be expensive. Hotels in the country, and food as well, tend to be more expensive than Zanzibar, which has more accommodation options. With a large local population in Zanzibar, it’s easy to find cheap food throughout this island too.
Zanzibar, which also has great beaches, can be easily explored in a week or two with a hire car, and so may be best suited to holidaymakers on a shorter vacation. This island is culture-rich and offers lots of opportunities to integrate with the local community. Therefore it might be better suited to tourists looking for a holiday that involves more than just sunbathing and swimming.
Recommended for your trip to the Seychelles or Zanzibar
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