Swim, snorkel or just relax as you get transported through time in one of Africa’s best destinations
Vast, exotic, remote and the largely unknown island of spice, Zanzibar is magical. It was the stronghold of sultans and the central shipping-off point for Africa’s infamous slave trade from 1822 through to the 1880s. Today, Zanzibar is a treasure trove of fine white beaches fronting a paradise for snorkelling and diving, picturesque sailing dhows and atmospheric architecture.
Though Zanzibar is just 25 kilometres from mainland Tanzania, it feels a whole world apart. From immersing yourself in the island’s cultural roots to exploring the abundant marine life, there are plenty of reasons why this is one of Africa’s top travel destinations.
Some people arrive in Zanzibar and head straight to the beaches, however, it is strongly recommended that you stay in Stone Town for at least a day or two. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the heart and soul of Zanzibar. A mash-up of winding alleys and old Arabic-style buildings, you can temporarily lose yourself in the town’s magic. Visit the Anglican Cathedral, the Palace Museum, the House of Wonders or soak up the local culture by sipping a cup of coffee from a local vendor, there is a lot to do here. The Darajani Market here is the place to find vendors selling all kinds of stuff – clothing, mobile phones, oil, plastic goods, cooking utensils, fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.
Surrounded by crystal clear waters and stunning coral reefs, Misali offers some of the best diving options in East Africa, with snorkelling being one of the biggest catch. Around the island, nesting turtles favour beaches on the western side, while on the northeast coast is Baobab Beach, with fine sand and a small ranger centre.
Prison Island, also called Changuu, is a former slave prison, just off the coast of Stone Town. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the island’s dark past. Today the island is home to giant Aldabra tortoises, imported from the Seychelles. You can feed the tortoises, enjoy the forest, sunbathe on the white sandy beach and get a great view of Stone Town. The island is also surrounded by a coral reef. Ultimately, deep sea diving would be the best way to explore it.
While there are few operators that provide boat trips in Zanzibar, Safari Blue is one of the most talked-about. You start in the small village of Fumba on the south coast, sailing on a traditional dhow to Menai Bay where you can swim with dolphins. The lunch buffet includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. This is followed by a sail to Kwale Island taking a ride on a Ngalawa canoe. Explore the mangroves and relax on the beach before sailing back to Zanzibar at sunset.
Zanzibar is called ‘The Spice Island’ due to the sheer number of spices grown on the island. Travellers can choose from a variety of tours and explore the winding streets with expert tour guides who will take you on a journey through the origins of the industry and teach you about the wide variety of spices that Zanzibar produces and trades.
Words: Ron Stevan