Zanzibar

 

The name Zanzibar is an Arabic word that is translated as 'the coast of black people'. The Zanzibar archipelago is a series of islands on the Indian Ocean about 16-31 miles from the mainland Republic of Tanzania. It is a semi-autonomous region of the Tanzania. The island has the best beaches in the world - and this is not an exaggeration. If you love lazing around in the sun, then this is the place to go. Below are a few facts that will give you an overview of the Island country.

  1. Zanzibar is comprised of several islands, but two are the larger ones. Ugunja is the largest one and is erroneously called Zanzibar. The other is called Pemba.
  2. The island is home to the almost extinct Zanzibar Red Columbus Monkey, the Zanzibar Servaline Genet, and the Zanzibar Leopard.
  3. Zanzibar has been home to intelligent humans (Homo sapiens) for more than 20,000 years.
  4. The capital of Zanzibar is called Zanzibar City and its most historic feature is the ancient Stone Town.
  5. Due to its proximity to Equator, Zanzibar is warm throughout the year and has equal day and nights (12-hours each) like most of the East African Countries.
  6. Apart from tourism, the other economic activity in Zanzibar is spice growing. In fact, the island is sometimes fondly referred to as The Spice Island due to its cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper.
  7. Some ancient potteries have been discovered in Zanzibar showing that it was a major trading route for the ancient Assyrians.
  8. Amazingly, the shortest war ever recorded by man is the Anglo-Zanzibar War where the British bombarded the Beit al Hukum Palace and after 38 minutes, a ceasefire was called.
  9. Thanks to Monsoon Winds, by the first century, Arabs, Persians and Indians were sailing to Zanzibar in their fast sailing dhows.
  10. Throughout history, the Persians, Portuguese, Omani and British have fought to control the important island. It was seen as a gateway to mainland East Africa. In fact, the Sultanate of Omani was the first to trade slaves, cloves and ivory from East African Mainland.

The Island of Zanzibar boasts pristine white sand beaches, abundant sunshine, exotic Swahili dishes, a hospitable people and luxury tourists resorts. If your idea of fun is to mix a jungle safari with lazing on the beach, then you have just found a hidden gem in Zanzibar.

 

Stone Town

Steeped in history and overflowing with charm, Stone Town is the iconic capital of Zanzibar.

It is in Stone Town that myriad narrow streets wind their way through craft shops, art galleries, fabric stalls and quaint coffee shops. It is also the perfect place to explore on foot and getting lost within this maze of ancient streets will give rise to a number of cultural experiences that can appear much more local and authentic than the beach life up north.

Getting to know Stone Town

Turning off Kenyatta Road onto Gizenga street, the precious blue of Tanzanite shines from the counters of several jewelry stalls, while an elderly man shapes a piece of leather in the shop next-door.

Further on, a young artist puts the finishing touches to his latest painting as the aroma of fresh Arabica drifts through the air from a quaint coffee shop down another side street.

Small children hurry around every corner, while family members hang over a window ledge up above. Whether you are buying or selling, or neither of the two, a walk through these streets is a fascinating encounter.

Location: Zanzibar

Nungwi and Kendwa beaches

Whether you stay at Nungwi beach, Kendwa beach, or even somewhere along the East coast, exploring Zanzibar's north beach resorts is certainly worth the effort.

Nungwi is the third largest settlement in Zanzibar, with a population of about 5,500, found at the far north of the island. The smaller nearby Kendwa is on the west coast, overlooking the tiny Daloni island and the larger island of Tumbatu. Both are located about an hour's drive from Stone Town.

Nungwi

Nungwi is the most popular resort in the north where a long line of quality restaurants, bars and hotels provide ample entertainment and variety.

The real draw, though, is the golden sand beach, ranked at 43 on CNN's 2014 list of the world's best beaches. CNN commented as follows: "At sunset, white-sailed dhows leave from the boatyard, making for a great photo op."

Whether you stay in a five star resort (such as Essque Zalu Zanzibar, Diamonds La Gemma dell' Est and Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort) or one of the most affordable accommodations, you still have full access to many restaurants, massage parlours, coffee shops and bars along the waterfront.

Nungwi beach is relatively quiet during the day, but it also provides a wide range of water sports and things to do, including scuba diving, Jet Ski and paragliding along with other activities such as volleyball, craft lessons or the local village tour.

Many people will choose to visit this area for the number of things to do in Nungwi. But for anyone wanting a more secluded resort, it still makes for a great place to spend the day before returning to another part of the island.

Kendwa

Similarly, Kendwa beach is another great place to spend a day. Although it is a much quieter resort than Nungwi with fewer people, restaurants and things to do, it has the added benefit of a huge beach which can feel a lot more secluded.

The Kendwa Rocks Hotel is also home to the monthly Full Moon Party, but for every other day, this resort is all about peace and quiet, sunbathing during the day and sunset cruises in the evening.

It is also possible to travel between Kendwa and Nungwi using a local water taxi, which means exploring both resorts in a single day is always possible.

Location: Zanzibar Beach

Snorkelling at Mnemba Atoll

Snorkelling at Mnemba Atoll is quite possibly the best “value for money” tour in the world.

This may sound like a sweeping statement, but provided you choose the right boat captain, the return on investment for this $25 trip is no less than incredible.

Departing from one of Zanzibar's many Northern Beaches, you begin the morning by gliding across crystallised waters in a traditional Dhow sailing boat. Sailing is slow, but as a gentle breeze runs across the deck and you lay down beneath the shade of the mainsail, a distinct feeling of calm will ensure you do not want to reach anywhere fast.

An unexpected part of this trip will often take the form of interacting with the boat crew, which can be a real eye opener into the laid back attitude and charming personality of the local Zanzibarian. Expect a lot of laughing, but also understanding, as these guys know exactly when their guests want to rest in peace, sunbathe or even take a nap.

Traveling to Mnemba Atoll there is always the chance of spotting dolphins, and reaching the island itself, the colourful coral is no less than mesmerising. Zanzibar is home to many species of fish, with huge trevally, yellow snappers, barracuda, eels and many more.

Watching the sunset

Zanzibar is also synonymous with stunning red sunsets ... and there are a number of unique locations to experience them.

Contrary to what many people may think prior to arrival, Stone Town is likely to be the most spectacular place on the island to witness the last light of day and more specifically, the Africa House Hotel. Luxurious in decoration and with a clear view of the horizon, the Sunset Lounge Balcony at the back of this unassuming hotel has a vibrant atmosphere, comfortable seating areas and the ultimate vantage point from which to watch the sun go down.

Another great alternative for catching the sunset or sunrise in Stone Town is to choose a lodge or hotel that provides access to a terrace on the top of the building.

That being said, the northern beaches of Nungwi and Kendwa are also ideal in that they both face in a westerly direction. Comfortable hammocks on the front of the bar at Sunset Kendwa (also known as the Sundet Bungalows Hotel) are perfect for enjoying sunset cocktails at Kendwa Beach while you can usually have the soft sands to yourself on the most southerly of the two beaches in Nungwi.

Alternatively, for a small fee, you can take a sunset cruise on a traditional Dhow sailing boat which comes with a fully stocked bar. Long stretches of sand on one side, and a red sun falling over the Indian Ocean to the west with nothing to obstruct the view; taking a sunset cruise is the ultimate way to watch the sun go down on Zanzibar.

Giant Turtles on Prison Island

Prison Island is a must-see Zanzibar attraction.

Also known as Changuu, Prison Island is an 800 x 200 metre island found about 6 kilometres north-west of South Town.

Although there are wonderful coral areas to snorkel around Prison Island and you will have plenty of time to do so, the real attractions are the huge turtles and a highly engrossing Slave Trade Museum.

The waters are some of the clearest anywhere in the Spice Islands and, once more, there is every chance you will catch a glimpse of the many pods of dolphins which inhabit this part of the Indian Ocean.

Once on the island itself, you will have the unique and incredible opportunity to visit the giant turtles and, most often, this invitation is extended assist with feeding time in the afternoon.

Provided you are gentle and respectful, it is perfectly fine to touch the turtles and interact with these gentle giants, some of which are more than 180 years old.

At this point, it's worth mentioning there are many other things to do in Zanzibar such as visiting the Spice plantations or taking one day trip to Jozani National Park where blue and red Colobus monkeys swing through the jungle.

Zanzibar is a beautiful island filled with culture, not to mention its stunning beaches. To make sure you’re seeing the best of what the island has to offer, check out this list of the top ten things to see and do in the east African archipelago.
 
Spend the day in Stone Town

Stone Town is the heart and soul of the island. An incredible mash-up of winding alleys and old Arabic-style buildings, you can temporarily lose yourself (both physically and mentally) in the town’s magic. Soak up the local culture by sipping a cup of coffee from a local vendor or just keep on wandering through the streets, discovering unique little spots at every turn.

Head to Jozani Forest

A vast and scenic spread of green, Jozani is the last indigenous forest left on Zanzibar. Located inland from Chwaka Bay the area often floods, which luckily nurtures a unique swamp forest of many amazing looking trees and ferns. The forest is best reached via bus (309 or 310), by chartered taxi, or as part of an organised tour.

Catch some sun at Nungwi beach

Nungwi is a village found on Zanzibar’s North West tip. This is a popular place yet it’s not overrun by tourists, and it’s one of Zanizbar’s top beaches as the tide doesn’t head out too far. This is a great beach for those looking to just soak up some sun and dip their toes in the sea but who don’t need the luxury of a fancy hotel on top.
 
Visit Prison Island

A half-hour boat trip from Zanzibar, Prison Island provides a fascinating glimpse into the island’s slightly dark past – this land was once used as a place where slaves were detained and, when slavery was abolished, it functioned as a camp where people with deadly diseases were sent. Fortunately enough, that is all in the past and today the island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and a place to see the ruins that once functioned as the prison.

Eat at Forodhani market

A spectacular night-time food market, Forodhani opens in the late afternoon in Stone Town. The buzz and energy of this market are spectacular, and here you can find fresh local produce as well as freshly grilled fish, meat and vegetables. The seafood options are by far the most popular and the fish is served with fried potato balls, naan bread and samosas.

Palace Museum

Commonly know as the Sultan’s Palace, The Palace Museum is perhaps the most historic building in Stone Town and is a must-see for any tourist. The Palace Museum is located in the waterfront, overlooking the ocean, and was built in the 19th century as a home for the Sultan and his family. After the 1964 revolution the site was used as a Government building and was renamed as The People’s Palace. Today it serves as a museum that showcases relics of the past Sultan family.
 
House of Wonders

The House of Wonders is a hugely important and visually stunning historic building in Stone Town. It hosts a highly interesting exhibition and offers a brilliant insight into Zanzibari and Swahili culture. The House of Wonders is the grandest and tallest building in all of Stone Town and is found in a prominent location in front of the Forodhani Gardens on the old town’s seafront, in Mizingani Road.

Spice Tour

Zanzibar is known for its spice trade, so what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture than learning about its wealthiest and most profitable industry? Tourists can choose from a variety of tours and explore the winding streets with expert tour guides who will inform you of the origins of the industry, as well as teaching guests about the wide variety of spices that Zanzibar produces and trades in.
 
The Old Fort

The oldest building in Stone Town, the Old Fort  is located on the seafront, right in front of the famous Forodhani Gardens. Originally built in the 17th century with the purpose of defending the island from attacks from the Portuguese, nowadays the Old Fort is one of Stone Town’s main sights. Visitors can admire the remains of the former fort and amble around the courtyard in the center, where sellers have local produce for sale. An old amphitheater still hosts events and functions in the fort.

Enjoy great views and fine food at The Rock

The Rock restaurant offers some stunning views of the island, as it is located on a rock with a view over all the city’s main sights. Visitors don’t only come for the view though – fine dining also awaits with some of the best seafood Zanzibar has to offer. Make sure to book as this exclusive restaurant has only 12 tables and it’s often fully booked

The best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to October during the cool, dry months of spring. Another popular time to visit this tropical island is from December to February when it’s hot and dry.
An African beach holiday means sundrenched shores, palm fringed beaches and glorious sunsets - expect all this and more on a Zanzibar beach escape.

There are two best times to scuba dive off the coast of Zanzibar, in July and August and in February and March. Diving off the north coast is particularly good from June to October and off the south coast between November and March.

We don’t recommend visiting Zanzibar during the two rainy seasons,  from mid-March to late May and again in November.