Nungwi is traditionally the centre of Zanzibar's dhow-building industry, and, over the last decade, the coastline here has rocketed in popularity to become one of the island's busiest beach destinations. The ramshackle fishing village has been sidelined by an ever-increasing number of guesthouses, bars, shops, restaurants and bikini-clad backpackers. Ageing hippies, cool dudes, gap-year students and bright young things escaping European city jobs are all drawn to its white sand, stage-set palm trees, turquoise sea and sparkling sunshine. The setting is beautiful, but the number of people, constant noise and seemingly uncontrolled development, albeit low level, take the edge off its charm.
By day, the beach sees sunbathing tourists slumber, swim and indulge in lemongrass massages, whilst wandering local guys tout their 'tours' and sell a range of mediocre paintings, sunglasses and replica football shirts; then, as the sun sets, the visitors arise and the whole place buzzes with party spirit. Beach bonfires blaze, cocktails flow and the music rocks till dawn. This is not a location for those seeking peace and quiet.
Despite the influx of tourists, Nungwi is a traditional, conservative place. It was one of the last coastal settlements on Zanzibar to have a hotel, or any tourist facilities. As recently as the mid-1990s, proposals for large developments in the area were fiercely opposed by local people. Today, the proudly independent villagers give the impression that tourists are here on sufferance. However, they are not unfriendly and most visitors find that a little bit of cultural respect, politeness and a few words of Swahili go a long way.
Some visitors, particularly backpackers, find themselves torn between either coming to Nungwi and the north coast, or going to Paje, Bwejuu and Jambiani on the east coast. For some thoughts on the differences between these two areas see.
Getting there and away
Nungwi can be reached by bus, tourist minibus or hired vehicle. From Zanzibar Town the main road to Nungwi goes via Mtoni (Mtonim 6º8.191's; 39º12.801'e), Mahonda (mahond 5º59.388's; 39º15.106'e), Kinyasini (kinyas 5º58.088's; 39º18.5'e) and kivunge (Kivung 5º52.895's; 39º16.973'e). There is a more scenic road directly north of Mahonda to Mkokotoni (mkok0t 5º52.517's; 39º15.308'e), but at the end of 2005 it was in extremely poor condition and the preserve of 4x4s only.
As you enter Nungwi, a conglomeration of signs advertising accommodation and activities marks a fork in the road. Head right for Nungwi's east coast hotels, or follow the road straight and then left around the football pitch to reach the village, and the north, south and west beaches.
If you arrive by dala-dala
(number 16 from Stone Town), the main stop is opposite the football pitch, mentioned above, from where it's a 20-minute walk to the heart of the tourist throng. The shared tourist minibuses, a more popular option, will stop in the centre of the action beside Amaan Bungalows.
It has also been known for travellers to pay local fishermen to take them by boat to their next destination, even as far as Matemwe. Ask around to ensure reliability and safety, make sure people know where you're going, and check that there's a decent motor and safety equipment (like lifejackets) for longer trips.
Most places in and around Nungwi are within walking distance, but if you're staying on the more upmarket east side of the peninsula, and fancy letting your hair down on the lively west side, the local taxi service charges US$3 each way. Ask your hotel to put you in touch with a driver.
If you want to tour this part of the island, for example to visit Fukuchani and Mvuleni Ruins, then it's possible to hire motorbikes, jeeps and bicycles. Ask your hotel to help you arrange this, and remember you must carry an International Driving Permit for a motorised vehicle: these are checked frequently by police, so don't be tempted to chance it. Drive with extra care, especially if you've rented a motorbike; traffic is unpredictable and pot-holes common, so accidents are frequent.