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.