Personally one of my favourite destinations in the continent of Africa, you cannot afford to miss out on this exotic island. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Step off the boat or plane onto the Zanzibar Archipelago, and you’ll be transported through the centuries – to ancient Persia and tales of Shirazi merchants that inspired Sinbad the Sailor, to the court of Swahili princes and Omani sultans, to India, with its heavily laden scents. For over 2000 years the monsoon winds have shaped the landscape and culture of these islands. With its tropical tableau and unique culture, the archipelago offers the quintessential Indian Ocean experience.
PLACES TO SEE and THINGS TO DO
Want a closer look at the reef on the east coast? Or maybe you would like to see some dolphins up close. Check out Sau-Inn Divers in Jambiani. They are located on the grounds of the Sau Inn and are fully equipped. They offer full PADI accredited courses. You can choose from dive packages, trips to Mnembea Atoll and Dolphin diving trips. Prices are reasonable and the staff is very friendly. So go on- have a dive!
Jozani Rain Forest
No visit to Zanzibar Island can be complete without a tour of the Jozani Forest. Any tour of Jozani will show you: The Rainforest, Red Colobus Monkeys (endangered species) and the Mangrove Swamp. The Forest is the last uncultivated/inhabited area in Zanzibar. Land crabs and the shy Blue Monkey are also present during your visit. You can either book a tour or just transportation, but do not miss Jozani!
The cost of entry to Jozani is very low so you will have to bargain big time for transport. You really need a good zoom camera and loads of film or memory. The Red Colobus are inquisitive and will come very close. They also move like the wind and it is very hard to just take a few photos to capture them. Also, watch out for large blue monkeys which you may only be able to find here.
Paje is a small village on the east coast of Unguja. It has the most amazing beaches; long stretches of white sand, fringed by palm trees. There is also a small supermarket where you can buy many things you might need during your trip. Paje has many smaller, non-resort-type hotels.
Zanzibar doors cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Traditionally when a house was built, the door was traditionally the first part to be erected! The more elaborate the carvings and decorations on the door – the higher the cost. So you can see where the rich people lived 200 years ago very easily. There are, supposedly, 560 carved doors in Zanzibar with the oldest door dating all the way back to 1694. You have the amazing opportunity to visit a “factory shop” where doors are made. Posts of the doors are made on order. The artisans use pictures of original doors in the designs. They are well trained and very skilful.
There is no entrance fee, but they have a donation box.
It would almost be a sin to visit Zanzibar and not spend some time in Stone Town. If Zanzibar Town is the archipelago’s heart, Stone Town is its soul. Its magical jumble of cobbled alleyways makes it easy to spend days wandering around and getting lost – although you can’t get lost for long because, sooner or later, you’ll end up on either the seafront or Creek Rd.
Nevertheless, each twist and turn of the narrow streets brings something new – be it a school full of children chanting verses from the Quran, a beautiful old mansion with overhanging verandas, or a coffee vendor with his long-spouted pot fastened over coals. Along the way, watch the island’s rich cultural melange come to life: Arabic-style houses with their recessed inner courtyards rub shoulders with Indian-influenced buildings boasting ornate balconies and latticework, and bustling oriental bazaars alternate with street-side vending stalls. There is a lot to see and do. The Town has a very interesting history. The buildings along the waterfront (The Old Dispensary, The House of Wonders etc.) are some of the architectural highlights, and the slave trade history can also be traced when you visit Stone Town.
Good restaurants and cafes can be found all over Stone Town, as it has UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Earlier I mentioned a good place to go snorkelling and deep sea diving was in Jambiani. This is because the Best Beaches on Zanzibar Island are on the East Coast. If you want to see the beaches, yet stay in a real village, then a visit to Jambiani is a must. Jambiani was named after the curved Omani dagger when locals found one of these ancient relics washed up on the beach. The village has a long ‘road’ that follows the beach and locals always shout a warm Jambo! (Hello!) To you.
There are plenty of economical, but beautiful hotels on the beach and yet you feel like part of local life when you walk along the road. The main money earner is seaweed and you can watch the harvesting and drying done by villagers every day. This is then dried out producing a rainbow of bright colours. Fish are caught by boats and men in the water with nets to provide meals. Children scurry between school and the beach where they chase white ghost crabs. It really is worth a visit to see authentic village life.
SHOPPING AND NIGHTLIFE
One of the most compelling sights is the main market. Here mountains of spices, sneakers and sandals, meat, fish, live chickens and mobile phones are for sale in a series of covered halls and twisting alleys. The main hall, Estella market, reeks of caged birds, while Kanga St billows with vegetal prints, and wood and fish are auctioned in loud voices in their respective areas. It’s hot, heaving and entertaining. Come in the morning before the heat and the crowds, and dress appropriately. Tourists, wandering around in skimpy clothes while locals try to shop are considered the height of rudeness.
Mtoni Marine’s beachside sports bar draws mainly an ex-pat crowd. Six satellite TVs, two of them big screens, broadcast an endless diet of football accompanied by cold beers, burgers and South African steaks.
A very popular place for waterside sundowners watching local football matches on the beach. International football is also screened here and there’s live music on Saturday evenings until 1 AM. Food is served and consists of crowd-pleasers such as pizza, pasta and seafood grills. During Ramadan opening hours are 6 pm to midnight.
RESTAURANTS & ACCOMMODATION
Livingstone Beach Restaurant
This worn but popular place in the old British Consulate building has seating directly on the beach – perfect for sundowners and lovely in the evening, with candlelight. While the restaurant chaotically serves some mediocre food it’s a wonderful place for a drink and hosts regular live music.
Probably the best local restaurant for quality Zanzibar food, the Luukman Restaurant is a place to go. There’s no menu, just make your way inside to the 1950s counter and see what’s on offer. Servings are enormous and include various biryanis, fried fish, coconut curries and freshly made Nan. Occasionally it also serves specially made Zanzibar maandazi, and other sweets.
Emmerson Spice Rooftop Tea House
Perched on top of a Swahili mansion in an intricately carved wooden gazebo, Emerson’s Tea House screams ‘date night’. Enjoy expertly made cocktails with 360-degree views over Stone Town. Mojitos are followed by multicourse dinners with an emphasis on seafood, spices and island fruit. Try the delicate passionfruit ceviche or the prawns with grilled mango, and refreshing sorbets of custard apple and a hint of saffron.
Blue Bay Beach Resort
Featuring a terrace with Indian Ocean views, all BlueBay Beach Resort accommodation has four-poster beds. Set by sandy Kiwengwa Beach, the 30-acre site includes a spa, pool and sports facilities.
The spacious rooms and suites have a walk-in dressing room and seating area. Some are in a private area and have an outdoor shower. A few have private butlers in Swahili dress.
Overlooking the pool and ocean, Makuti Restaurant serves international cuisine. The Beach Bar and Restaurant offers light meals and drinks, while seafood and steak dinners are available at the exclusive Bahari Grill. The pool bar also provides drinks. This is a five-star hotel rated exclusively well for when you want to splurge, go all out, and treat yourself.
Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins Zanzibar
When you stay at Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins Zanzibar in Zanzibar Town, you’ll be on the beach and within the vicinity of Anglican Cathedral and Old Fort. This 4-star hotel is within the vicinity of Stone town Beach and House of Wonders. Make yourself at home in one of the 13 air-conditioned rooms featuring LCD televisions. Rooms have private furnished balconies. Complimentary wireless Internet access keeps you connected, and cable programming is available for your entertainment. Conveniences include phones, as well as safes and desks. Enjoy a satisfying meal at a restaurant serving guests of Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins Zanzibar. A complimentary buffet breakfast is served daily.
The Swahili House
The Swahili House, a three-star hotel located in the centre of Stone Town amongst the bustling market, shops and restaurants. The refurbished 5-storey Indian Merchant House is built around a courtyard. The rooms are decorated in traditional Swahili style. Each room comes equipped with a fan and the bed is draped with mosquito nets. The private bathroom has a bath or shower.
The restaurant on the rooftop terrace at Swahili serves fresh seafood and Mediterranean Tapas. The bar offers a large variety of wines, international spirits and cocktails. A number of restaurants can be found within 1 km. Guests can relax in the hot tub on the rooftop terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean. Spice Tours, visits to the Jozani Forest and Tours of Stone Town can be arranged for guests on request.
Seyyida Hotel and Spa
Offering a rooftop restaurant overlooking Stone Town and the Indian Ocean, The Seyyida Hotel and Spa offers a bar, free parking and terrace. The beach and Forodhani Gardens are within a 10-minute walk. Decorated in Swahili style, the rooms are stylish and spacious. Each comes equipped with a satellite TV, minibar and safe. With tiled floors and wooden furniture, the décor combines warm and light colours. Fresh seafood forms part of the Seyyida Rooftop Restaurant’s menu. Regular African music events can be enjoyed at the lounge bar and it offers a selection of cocktails.
As it is part of the East Africa region, Kenyans don’t need visas to travel to Zanzibar though you do need a valid passport for identification.
• 48% of all flights from Nairobi, KE to Zanzibar leave and arrive during morning hours.
• 3 airlines operate between Nairobi, KE and Zanzibar. (Kenya Airways, Precision Air, and Ethiopian Airlines
• 2,080 seats are available per week to fly direct from Nairobi, KE to Zanzibar.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.