In January we arrived to go Zanzibar Durian Hunting for the first time having very little idea what to expect.
Thanks to Mark Wiens, I’d been plotting a Zanzibar Durian Hunt since 2013, but I had never managed to find any definite information about where on the island they grow, when the right season would be to find them, how plentiful they were, how much someone with our lifestyle should budget, or where we should stay for the ultimate Zanzibar durian experience.
Hopefully this blog post is the answer to those seething durian questions.
- About Zanzibar Durian
- Where Zanzibar Durian Trees Grow
- When is Zanzibar Durian Season?
- Where to stay for Zanzibar Durian Heaven
- Everywhere we bought Durian Last Season
- Zanzibar Durian Map
Why Hunting Durian in Zanzibar is Awesome
Zanzibar durians blew my mind.
Almost every durian we bought was numbing, the kind of chemical romance that sends a shockwave of delight through your soul.
Not all of them were bitter – in fact most weren’t – but they had the glorious yogurty tang and an alcoholic spice that made me immensely happy.
And the reason is because Zanzibar has a lot of very old durian trees.
No one knows for sure how long durians have been in Zanzibar. There are many theories.
Maybe Sultan Said brought them in 1812, or 1818, along with the cloves. Maybe Indian merchants brought them in the 1700s. Maybe Javanese slaves being sent to South Africa brought them. Maybe the Portuguese brought them in the 1600s.
But everyone knows Zanzibar has had durians for a long time. You can easily find a dozen 100-year-old trees within a stone’s throw of each other, and it’s this plethora of giants that makes Zanzibar so special in the world of durian.
In other countries, people have chopped down their old durians to make room for commercial varieties like Monthong or Musang King.
You can’t find as many old durian trees clumped together like this in Thailand or Malaysia.
But like in Malaysia, many people have given names to their old trees. The one in the photo above is called Mkimbu, named for the original owner who died long before anyone can remember and is buried a short distance from the tree.
These old Zanzibar durian are without exception planted by seed. They’re all what Malaysians call Kampung and Thais call Baan. Each tree is genetically unique and produces a different tasting durian.
We visited the Agricultural Department in Kizimbani and they confirmed that they do not have any kind of grafting program for durian in Zanzibar.
Musang King has not yet arrived. Which is a mixed blessing.
Zanzibar durian do not have the bright golden flesh and corpulent mouthfuls of cream craved by the commercial industry in Asia. They’re not really export-ready.
But if you like a strong-smelling, honeyed, super slurpy, slightly fizzy durian, Zanzibar is an incredible Durian Destination.
I loved that Zanzibar durian seemed so reliably good. Seed borers don’t seem to be present on the island, and we saw very little insect damage or squirrel damage.
That’s despite the trees being here for one-hundred-plus years, long enough the critters should know what durian is, and long enough that Durian has melded into the culture here.
People in Zanzibar grow up with durian. They like durian since childhood, (or their parents force them into liking durian).
And they have their own way of doing durian things. Some things are surprisingly similar to SE Asia – like washing your hands with water that has dripped through the durian shell – but others are not.
This method of chopping the durian in half is really common in Zanzibar. The only durian that is commonly opened this way in SE Asia is Durio dulcis. We realized quickly that many durians in Zanzibar have 6 sections – whereas we thought that most durians have only 5!
We’ll have to pay more attention in SE Asia to see if 6-sectioned durian is one more special thing in Zanzibar!
Where Zanzibar Durian Grows
Durians grow on the old spice farms in Zanzibar. Not so long ago, Zanzibar had a plantation economy dependent on slavery and clove cultivation, and the entire island was practically denuded in the quest to plant more spices.
At some point during this process, they started planting durian trees too. So today you can find durian wherever the old spice farms were; typically on the Western Side of the island where the soil is deeper, but there are a lot in the northeast corner near Kiwengwa beach too.
Today, many of these old Spice Farms have opened to visitors. In Kizimbani and Dole especially, almost all the Spice Farms have old durian trees.
So just rock up to a spice farm and tell them you don’t want a Spice Tour today – you want a Durian Tour.
When is the Zanzibar Durian Season?
Zanzibar has two durian seasons every year; a major season in the summer around July and a minor season in January and February.
Of course, the exact dates ofthe season shift every year according to the weather. Dry hot weather can bring an earlier season, cool rainy weather can delay it or even cancel a durian season.
In 2022, Zanzibar appeared to be having a very extended durian season, with a small amount of fruit
Where to stay for Zanzibar Durian Heaven
Zanzibar is comprised of 2 islands, and the one you’re thinking of is probably Unguja (the big one). It’s a long stretched-out island that takes around 2.5 hours to drive north to south and about 45 minutes east to west.
So choose your location wisely.
Most people who come to Zanzibar want to stay right on one of those glorious silky white sand beaches that you see in the magazines, the kind that are so bright it hurts to look at them without Shades.
But you, dear durian lover, may have other needs. Durian needs. Which flat hot tropical beaches only partially fulfill.
You may be considering Paje or Jombiani beaches in the Southeast. These are gorgeous beaches, as white and silky and fringed in coconut palms as your tropical dreams desire.
They also have plenty of vegan cafes, reggae bars, sushi restaurants, and beach parties, as well as one of the only two supermarkets on the island.
But – they are a good 1-hour drive away from your nearest durian spot.
The landscape in Southeastern Zanzibar is hot, dry, and scrubby. There are no orchards, or shade, in the general vicinity.
Driving south of Jombiani about 15 minutes, you’ll find a few mango trees and an immense Baobob tree, but if you’re a fruit-lover you may feel like you’ve landed in a Fruit Desert.
Which is just tragic if you’re coming to Zanzibar for Fruit.
But this tree is cool.
Staying in Nungwi in the north peninsula will also put you a nice 45-minute drive through mango orchards and Baobob groves away from Durian Land.
The beach at Nungwi is deeper than Paje, which makes it better for swimming when the tide is out. It’s also more fragmented, with a rocky shoreline inhabited by beach-side condos and small resorts, so it feels more private.
You don’t get the endless feeling of space as you get on the long, long, long beach of Paje. There’s a reason people stay there – it’s just not fruit.
We ended up staying in Bububu near Fuji Beach, which is 20 minutes north of Stone Town but still part of the coastal urban sprawl.
Bububu is a local village. Local people live there. In the 5-weeks that we spent in Bububu, we saw only a handful of other foreign people and they were all staying at the same Guesthouse as us.
The great things about staying in Bububu is that you are just a 6-minute drive from the main durian area (Kizimbani), and you can even walk to Durian Land if you’re in the mood.
Bububu is so close to the main Durian Area they were selling durian in town every day.
They sold them in the market, at the fruit shop, and even the random natural gas, cold drinks and phone credit store right in front of our house usually had a pile. We didn’t need to go anywhere if we wanted to sit on the beach and scarf freshly dropped durian.
The downside is that there is a lot of traffic, you should NOT wear a bikini at the beach here, and it’s a fisherman’s beach (so expect some odors and ladies expect cat-calls and attention). You’ll also find zero vegan restaurants, zero juice bars or kitsch coffee shops, or anything in English.
You could always stay in Stone Town, and many people do. This is a gorgeous walkable little city with tons of nooks and crannies to explore.
The city dates back to the 1700s, with beautiful old architecture, a winding network of alleys full of shops and street food, and a huge market where you can often find durian for sale.
Durian trees are a 20-minute drive both to the north and to south, so in terms of proximity Stone Town is not a bad option. You just have to deal with the traffic, which is horrendous when schools get out at 1PM and 5PM.
My favorite area in Zanzibar was Kiwengwa, on the northeast coast, which wins for having a lovely long expansive beach like in Paje, but is only about a 20-minute drive from Durian trees and Fruit gardens.
We found durian sold in Mitikawan Village, Uzini Village, and Changani Village. The roadsides were lined with mangoes of many varieties the entire 5-weeks we were there, and you can buy coconuts by the bunch.
I saw plenty of beach-side condos and hotels on Kiwengwa, but it had a slower, quieter, less upscale vibe than Paje, which gave me hope that it might be slightly cheaper than Paje, where they sell water for 3,000 TZS (in the local shops it’s 1,000 a bottle) and coconuts for 5,000TZS (I got them in Bububu for 800TZS).
Which speaking of upscale, let’s talk about budgeting in Zanzibar.
Pricing and Budgeting Tips Zanzibar
Coming from a Southeast Asian nomad lifestyle, we found Zanzibar as tourists to be a little bit tough on the wallet. Make sure you consider your budget when deciding between Zanzibar and another Durian Hotspot like Thailand.
Everyone from side-of-the-road vendors to your official Covid Test uses both Tanzanian Shillings and USD. Many tour operators, the car rental company, and your accommodations might specifically ask for Dollars. Everyone seemed to assume that we had plenty of them, even though we typically just use ATMs and local currency. So we were a little unprepared in the Dollar Department.
We never used ours during the whole 5 weeks.
Many ATMs just don’t work. We had good luck with Absa Bank.
The ATM fees in Zanzibar are really high. I though Thailand’s 220 baht ($6 USD) ATM fees were thievery, but in Zanzibar the banks claimed up to 25,000 TZS ($10.75USD)
Good thing I use a Schwab Account that returns ATM fees anywhere in the world. If you’re a US citizen, you can get an account here.
Zanzibar was confusing in terms of what things cost. On the one hand, food and fruit could be very inexpensive, especially if bought in bulk and haggled a bit.
On the other hand, finding a place to stay for less than $50 or 60 per night was difficult. We were there during the high-season (January to February), and I was shocked by the prices. On Paje and even Kiwengwa beach, many hotels cost up to $200 per night!
But checking Booking.com now (in March) the prices for lower-cost accommodation seem to have dropped to $25-35 per night. So it’s good to consider that Durian Season might co-occur with High Season for accommodation.
It doesn’t feel like Zanzibar has attracted many budget travelers yet, or travelers looking to “live local” in homestays or rented apartments. The scarcity of budget accommodation is one of the reasons we ended up in Bububu.
If you are a budget traveler and you’re curious how much to set aside for an Epic Zanzibar Trip, consider this comparison between some normal costs for us in Zanzibar vs Malaysia or Thailand.
|1 Coconut||1 Month Car Rental (the cheapest one)||1 Month Accommodation (long stay)|
Overall, if you want to eat Durian Baan, a trip to Southern Thailand is a significantly less expensive Durian Trip than going to Zanzibar.
You’ll have a great time in either place. But, Zanzibar is definitely very special and very different from traveling in SE Asia.
In our opinion it’s worth visiting, just make sure to budget appropriately.
Everywhere we found Zanzibar Durian
When we first arrived, people told us that durian only grew in the Kizimbani/Dole area. While it’s true that we found the most durian in that area, there are super old durian trees all over the inland areas of the island.
Here is a list of everywhere we found durian during our 5-week stay. You’ll also find a map at the end.
Darajani Market, Stone Town
Darajani is a large sprawling wet market in Stone Town, not far from the old Slave Market or really anything in the old town. It’s a must-visit when you come to Zanzibar, because they sell everything.
You can get the best selection of fruit and vegetables here, with produce you won’t find anywhere else on the island.
Prices overall, however, are typically more expensive in Darajani Market. For durian, expect to pay 10,000 per fruit for durians that are not particularly fresh.
Just south of Stone Town, this was a small market on the side of the road.
We don’t know where exactly the durians were coming from, but they were a mixture of days-old durian turning yellow and also freshly dropped delicious ones.
There are a few durian farms in Tunggu that still had durians when we drove past the Fuoni Market, so I assume these durians came were grown somewhere South of Stone Town.
When we spotted these beautiful displays of Rambutans I couldn’t help but pull over, and then we noticed the durian too!
This fruit corner is on the Mwera-Pongwe Road that connects Stone Town to Paje or Kiwengwa, on the corner of the road headed toward Kiongoni.
Prices started high here, but dropped quickly. The first seller wanted 20,000 for his durian, but when we demurred the prices fell to 10,000, and then 8,000, and finally to the standard 5,000 where we went ahead and bought a particularly delicious smelling one.
This corner at the intersection of Bububu and Dole Roads is a year-round market area for fruits. And when it’s durian season, it’s heaping durian!
Many people living in the interior come here to sell their durians, so this is one of your best bets if you’re coming in the shoulder-season for durian.
Prices are a little higher here than you can get at some of the roadside stalls, but there’s a bus stand with a shady bench to sit and watch the world go by.
Bububu to Kizimbani Road
Driving inland from Bububu Village, you’ll go over the Kidichi Hill with the Persian Baths, and from there it’s durian all the way to Kizimbani.
You’ll see many small stalls lining the road, just pick one that looks good and enjoy!
More Kizimbani Durian Stalls
When you come to the Kizimbani Intersection, head straight onto the dirt road and you will find 2 more durian stalls.
The one closest to the intersection has better durians. One of these was pretty special – a drier, sticky-creamy ivory-colored durian with seeds as big as a pinkie nail. For its small size, it had a lot of durian to eat!
It’s also a nice spot to hang out and chat with whoever is manning the stall that day. We ended up visiting this stall a bunch of times because they were so friendly.
Tangawizi Spice Garden
Most of the spice gardens in the Kizimbani/Dole area have durian trees and the Tangawizi Spice Garden is no exception. On their property they have around 8 fruiting trees, including this 90-year-old beauty named for the man who planted it.
Across the street is a tree at least 120 years old, which they can take you to if you ask.
Shambuta Spice Garden
This farm is a little more difficult to find, as it’s. up a dirt road through one of the villages. But at the top you’ll come out to a well-swept parking lot surrounded by Rambutan Trees. There are a lot of rambutans on this farm!
There are also 3 very old durian trees, which have nick-names passed down through the generations. When we were there we tasted durians from the Boko-boko and Makumbe trees. I preferred the Makumbe, which again had very small seeds and a nice dense drier flesh.
Uzini Roadside Durian
On the way to Kiwengwa beach, we passed through Uzini Village and noticed this pile of lonely durians on the side of the road.
We stopped to investigate and Hadji came out to greet us. There is only one tree here, which you can actually see from the roadside. It’s just behind the banana trees in the photo.
We ended up buying the whole pile of 6 durians for 20,000 TZS.
We ended up visiting Ali at the Village Green several times, and not only for durian. We did a cooking class, learned how to make Bungo juice, wandered everywhere across the village searching for local Zanzibarian fruits, and even did a Banana Tour where we tasted 14 varieties of bananas!
But of course, their durian is also really good. If you’re staying in Kiwengwa, this is an easy stop to fill up on durian.
Map of Zanzibar Durian
Here are a few of the places we found selling durian regularly. Good luck and Happy Hunting!
I hope that helped!
Zanzibar has been one of the most amazing Durian Hunts we’ve done here at Year of the Durian, and we’ve been durian hunting more than ten years!
We do hope you will get the chance to go to Zanzibar and that this blog post will be helpful.
If you have any experiences to add to help other travelers, or questions for us, please leave us a comment!