Hotels in Zanzibar offer something for everyone, from backpacker-friendly bungalows to gaudy all-inclusives with thumping house music. The plushest options are offshore, on private islands like Mnemba and Chumbe, where discreet thatched-roof bungalows offer the ultimate take on "barefoot luxury." For divers, all-inclusives like Mnemba Island Lodge and Fundu Lagoon are your best bet with PADI-certified dive centers, proximity to the best dive sites, and free snorkeling and kayaking.
By sticking to Unguja—the island most commonly referred to as "Zanzibar"—you'll avoid the long transfer times (and hefty costs) involved with the archipelago's private island hideaways. The island's best beaches are along the east coast and in the north; not surprisingly, that's where you'll also find the most development. Rowdy resorts in beach towns like Nungwi and Kendwa can be more "Paradise Lost" than tropical paradise with sun-bronzed Italians cavorting in Cavalli swimwear, especially during the legendary full-moon parties. Quieter villages such as Matemwe or Jambiani have more mellow lodging options. Families should consider the idyllic Palms resort, where the adjacent Breezes Beach Club has plenty to keep the kids busy while mom and dad sip cocktails by the pool.
Be sure to book a few days in Stone Town to get a taste of Zanzibar's unique cultural offerings (and to stock up on souvenirs). A wave of new boutique options, like the Zanzibar Palace Hotel, has raised the bar for anyone wanting to indulge their inner sultan. Built from former palaces and traditional Swahili homes, most are hidden in the maze of twisting alleys that make addresses in Stone Town moot; ask the hotel for directions if you're arriving on your own, or arrange for a pickup at the airport or ferry terminal.