The sandbank as you approach

Nakupenda Island Zanzibar: What You Need To Know When Visiting in 2024

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Plan Your Visit To Nakupenda Island With This Handy Guide

If you are visiting Zanzibar, a top thing to do is visit the incredible sandbank of Nakupenda Island. Here you will find clear blue water, fine white sand, and some good snorkeling. No wonder it was named Nakupenda or “I Love You” in Swahili by the European woman who has rights to the island due to the taxes she pays to the Tanzania government.

Message on our boat

We spent several hours here, and it was a definite highlight of our trip to Zanzibar. In this article, we will provide what you need to know to enjoy your day based on our own personal experience.

Highlights of Nakupenda Island

Where Is Nakupenda?

Located off the west coast of Zanzibar Island, Nakupenda is located 8 kms or a 30-minute boat ride from Stone Town. In fact, at low tide, you can see the sandbank while standing on the water’s edge. Its beautiful white sand shimmers in the middle of the blue waters.

The stunning sandbank

Nakupenda Island Map

Below is a map showing the close proximity to the west coast of Zanzibar.

Map of Nakupenda Island location

How To Get To Nakupenda Island

You will need to hire a boat to take you to the sandbank and fortunately, there are many tour options available. We arranged a private option and found that was perfect as they catered to our needs, and we were able to choose the timing for the day. This is important as the island becomes incredibly crowded in the later morning.

Not as busy in the morning

When we arrived in the morning around 9:30am we were able to walk through most of the island and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the white sand without a lot of people around. To us, this was worth paying extra since by the time we left, there were hundreds of people there.

If you would like a private or shared option, you will see many vendors in Stone Town or at your hotel around the island offering tours to Nakupenda. It is a very popular place to visit so basically every tour operator offers this as an excursion.

✅ This is a similar trip to the one we took and was very highly rated by guests. Check out the full-day trip to Nakupenda and Prison Island.

Nakupenda Island Day Trip

Our trip started from Stone Town. We were led by our guide down the beach to where the boats were moored with long ropes tethered to anchors in the sand.

Traditional boats

The boats are traditional wooden dhow boats. Thankfully they are covered with a vinyl roof that keeps the sun away and they have cushioned seats along the edges. These are certainly not luxury boats but comfortable and get the job done.

Boat that we took to the sandbank

Our young captain was very casual and navigated us capably using his feet to steer most of the time!  We also had our chef onboard who had loaded the boat with a cooler, chairs, and a table for our picnic while ashore.

Our captain

Our voyage took about 30 minutes during which we enjoyed the sea and fortunately, the seas were quite calm for the entire time. We had heard the water could be rough at times so Kim took some sea sickness medication just as a precaution but as it turned out it wasn’t necessary on the day we were there.

Upon arrival at the sandbank, our captain brought us in as close as possible and we climbed off the boat by a small ladder attached to the back of the boat.  You will step off into the water so keep this in mind when choosing your footwear. This should also be a consideration for those who may have mobility concerns as it takes a little bit of maneuvering to safely exit the vessel.

The back of the boat that you will need to exit from into the water

We immediately went for a walk along the sandbank to the far end since it was still fairly empty. It is hard to know exactly how large the sandbank is since it changes all the time due to the tides, but we visited during low tide and estimate that it is at least 1 km long and approximately 200 metres wide.

Our picture on the sandbar

The views are incredible with unspoiled, white sand and the different shades of blue water. It is a truly magnificent sight to see the immaculate Nakupenda Island beach stretching out in front of you.

Incredible white sand beach on Nakupenda Island

When we returned from our walk, our chef had taken everything he needed from the boat, and we then went back onboard to go out snorkeling. 

Our chef with fresh fruit for us

We did see people snorkeling from the shore but this is not recommended as people can do damage to the coral reefs and there are a lot of sea urchins on the sea floor so it can be a hazard if walking out to swim.

Insider Tip

Make sure to check your snorkel gear before leaving Stone Town to ensure you have the correct size of fins and that your mask and snorkel are in working condition.

Our boat took us out a little way and stayed with us the entire time we were in the water. We entered the warm water to see large patches of coral reefs with many different kinds and colours.

There were small fish swimming amongst the coral but we felt the water wasn’t quite as clear as other places we have snorkeled. And the number of fish weren’t plentiful. We still enjoyed the experience and swimming in the warm, Indian Ocean was a treat on its own.

Upon our return onshore, we were delighted to see a set up with a white tablecloth and white seat covers on our chairs and flowers on the table. So pretty and very much appreciated. The whole area was under a large tarp to help give us a nice shady spot to relax and enjoy a cool drink.

Our lunch table set up

We headed out for another walk along the other edge of the sandbank and checked a shallow area that had super clear water and a pale green look to the water.  It is unbelievably beautiful along every spot of this island.

Enjoying the crystal blue water

In the meantime, our chef was busy creating a feast for us. They bring along little portable charcoal BBQs and start with cooking french fries in cooking oil followed by grilling several kinds of fresh seafood. We enjoyed lobster, prawns, tuna, and calamari. All this was followed by local fruits including watermelon, pineapple, mini bananas and mango. Everything was amazing!

Cooking on the BBQ
Lunch on the island
Fruits for our lunch

Afterwards we sat and enjoyed the breeze and took in the amazing surroundings around us – it isn’t every day that you get to see such a beautiful spot.

Once the crew had cleaned up and loaded everything back onto the boat we headed over to see Prison Island. This trip took us approximately 30 minutes.

From here we headed back to Stone Town.  It was a fantastic outing!

Nakupenda Island Things To Do

For a small island, there are quite a few things to do while visiting. Depending on your preferences there is something available for everyone.

Snorkeling

Being an island snorkeling is a very popular thing to do while visiting Nakupenda Island. It depends on what kind of tour you have booked but, in most cases, they will provide snorkeling equipment for you to use while there.

When we were there the water was very calm so it made for easy snorkeling but you may want to check on the day you are planning if the water will be rough as it could make for a more difficult snorkeling experience.

Swimming

The water around the edges of the sandbank is quite shallow so you can easily access the water for swimming and lounging. Many people just lay at the water’s edge enjoying the super warm water which feels like bath water.  It is most enjoyable.

Lounging in the warm water

Have A Seafood Lunch

As mentioned, the tour that we booked provided a seafood lunch. We saw people enjoying various things – some had just drinks, others had fruit and drinks and others had a full lunch like we did.

A seafood lunch

If you are going to be on the island for a period of time then the included lunch is a nice addition since there are no restaurants or food outlets available. The only option for food was a gentleman selling nuts.

Shop At The Vendors

If you like to shop, then make sure you bring along some cash to shop from some of the vendors that are available. You can purchase shawls or dresses from the ladies selling their wares. There are also hats, bracelets, jewellery and other local items such as soap.

Tents with vendors

Have A Massage

The island also offers many talented ladies who will give you a massage – either full body or foot and shoulders.  They will set up right on the sand under your sheltered area and you can enjoy this treat that will give you the ultimate relaxing experience.

FAQs

Is Nakupenda Worth Visiting?

Nakupenda Island is a true gem in Zanzibar and we considered it to be a highlight of our trip.  We would definitely recommend taking an excursion to the sandbank.

When To Visit Nakupenda Island

The best time to visit Nakupenda is during the morning. As mentioned it does get quite busy in the later morning and afternoon hours. The tides change considerably in Zanzibar so your visit will need to be at low tide. For planning purposes you can use this tide schedule website.

It is important to also know that Zanzibar should be visited in the cooler, dry months of June through October. And also January and February. Outside of those times you will likely experience rains – in March, April and May they are the long rains and in November and December there are the short rains that will typically rain each day for a short time in the morning.  We don’t think that visiting Nakupenda in the rain would be a pleasant experience.

✅ Check out our blog about everything you should plan to see in Zanzibar

What Islands Are Close to Zanzibar?

Aside from Nakupenda, the archipelago of Zanzibar has over 50 islands but the most notable ones are:

✦ Pemba

✦ Mafia

✦ Chumbe

✦ Mnemba

✦ Changuu (Prison Island)

Tips For Visiting Nakupenda

✅ There is no shade on Nakupenda so it is absolutely essential to bring a hat and strong sunscreen. The light-coloured sand and surrounding water give off a significant reflection and a sunburn can happen easily. We put on SPF 60 and didn’t reapply which was a mistake.

Be warned that you need to lather on the lotion and keep applying while you are there. Alternatively, wear some clothes that are light but cover your arms and legs.

✅ Make sure to time your visit to visit in the morning. This is the best time to see the island without hundreds of people around. It makes it a more special experience to see when there are fewer people there.

✅ If you want to get those sweeping photos of the island from one end to the other, it is important to note there is no raised area on the island so overhead views are only possible with drone.

✅ Most tours offer soft drinks and water while on the island, but we were told that you can request beer and wine as well. Something to ask while booking your excursion.

Final Word on Nakupenda Island

If you are in Zanzibar and looking for a memorable day be sure to schedule a visit to Nakupenda Island. While it can get busy, if you plan it right, you can have an almost private experience in paradise.

Our selfie on the sandbank