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.
- 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.
- The island is home to the almost extinct Zanzibar Red Columbus Monkey, the Zanzibar Servaline Genet, and the Zanzibar Leopard.
- Zanzibar has been home to intelligent humans (Homo sapiens) for more than 20,000 years.
- The capital of Zanzibar is called Zanzibar City and its most historic feature is the ancient Stone Town.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some ancient potteries have been discovered in Zanzibar showing that it was a major trading route for the ancient Assyrians.
- 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.
- Thanks to Monsoon Winds, by the first century, Arabs, Persians and Indians were sailing to Zanzibar in their fast sailing dhows.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.