Looking to ‘spice up’ your travels? Choose an island holiday with a difference. The makings of an exotic escape; one that pairs all the picturesque postcard scenes you’ve come to expect from a tropical island with a little bit more ingredients! Think history, fascinating architecture, vibrant culture and enchanting people.
Located on the east coast of Africa, this beautiful island is well-known for its Swahili culture with a mixture of African, Arabian and Asian influence. The island also forms part of the sovereign state, Tanzania.
Many visit Zanzibar to enjoy the beautiful white beaches, which is located north and east of the island, while few tourists venture out to explore Stone Town, a hub in Zanzibar. Travelling through the island, I decided to stay a few days in Stone Town before moving to the north coast and it was an unforgettable experience.
Stone Town has narrow winding streets, Indian shops and Arabian-styled houses with intricately-carved wooden doors. The balconies hang over the streets like shading leaves causing the streets to appear narrower.
There are many small cafes filled with locals enjoying Pombe, a traditional brew. I observed the men wearing their white traditional attire lounging in the cafes reading the newspaper over tea. Mosques, temples and cathedrals are scattered throughout the town; each building displaying exquisite architecture. Most of the population is African with a mix of Arabic and Indian descent.
The islanders have broad smiles, humble characteristics and are very welcoming of visitors to their island home. Walking the streets of Stone Town you can expect to see groups of modestly-attired schoolgirls making their way home from school or young, barefooted boys racing through the alleys. The market vendors line the pathways with loads of fresh produce atop their bicycles and the Indian women clad in colourful saris shop for their spices. On the odd occasion you might even catch a glimpse of an unusually tall and traditionally-attired Maasai warrior striding down a side street!
Walking along the pathways I continued to Forodhani Gardens. This is a large outdoor area at the harbour where you will find a variety of foods. Food stalls are set up in the evening where you can dine with a vast selection of meals and locally-made beverages. The choices are either seafood, chicken, beef or vegetables skewers washed down with cola, annanas (pineapple) or sugarcane juice with lime. I was here several nights in a row sampling different meals each time. Should the local flavour not be something you keen on, restaurants are in abundance, which is sure to satisfy any hungry belly.
Five kilometres outside Stone Town you will find Prison Island. The island was owned by a wealthy Arab, and in 1893 he built a prison where slaves were detained and at one point, it also served as a place of quarantine, hence the name Prison Island. It is a terrific place to snorkel as it has loads of sea life and coral. You will also be able to see some rare, enormous tortoises. These friendly giants can live up to 250 years of age!
Zanzibar is not called the Spice Island without reason. The island produces cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and pepper. Zanzibar’s organised spice tours provide an intense, detailed introduction to the region’s rich botanical and cultural heritage. In addition to all things spicy you also see different herbs like henna and lemon leaf and have the opportunity to smell these plants too. The tour includes a delicious traditional lunch with a visit to the Persian baths thereafter.
What makes Zanzibar so interesting is its fusion of cultures. The north coast is absolutely breathtaking with its crystal clear waters and endless white beaches. From afar you are able to see different shades of ocean blues, green and turquoise. At the very northern tip of the island the water is not affected much by high and low tide. Said to be one of the best swimming beaches in all of Zanzibar, Nungwi is a good option if you’re looking for nightlife, parties and social interaction. It’s one of the most popular beaches on the island so you stand a good chance of meeting other travellers.
Local company, Safari Blue Tours offers full day tours, which includes lunch and the Dhow Cruise. The Mnarani Turtle Conservation Pond is an NGO located in the centre of Nungwi village. They aim to conserve the population of sea turtles native to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is one of the trips that will remain close to my heart as Africa travel never fails to show off her raw natural beauty. Whether you are looking to have an all-inclusive resort vacation or a beach getaway, it’s the diverse culture, stunning beaches, breathtaking scenery, and the friendly charm of local Zanzibari people that makes visiting Zanzibar such a unique escape.
To reduce my travel costs, I flew to Dar es Salaam. I then headed to the port to catch a ferry to Zanzibar. The return flight was out of Zanzibar. Tours are available across the island and one can book locally.