It offers rich history, culture, some of the best beaches and diving sites in the world, along with a unique culinary cuisine and friendly, often inspiring local people.
I can highly recommend:
- Staying at the Tembo Hotel, right on the beachfront, in the heart of the historic and UNESCO World Heritage listed Stone Town. Suite Tembo, was wonderful, with its own beachfront terrace!
- A sunset cruise on a traditional and very romantic Dhow boat!
- A visit to the Palace Museum, ( Beit- al Sahel).
- Exploring Stone Town, with its crumbling buildings, incredible doors and architecture.
- Discovering the Freddie Mercury links and buildings he lived in, as a boy and later in life.
- Savouring the wonderful food and discovering the clove based dishes unique to Zanzibar.
- Touring a spice farm.
- Visiting turtle island.
- Observing and interacting with the locals on the beach and at the markets.
- Learning more about the history of Zanzibar in colonial times as a major arrival point before heading on to Tanzanika, or Kenya.
- Discovering the tragic history of slavery with a visit to the poignant memorial and unthinkably crowded and dark slave holding, now beneath the Anglican Church.
My very favourite activity was simply observing the rich tapestry of life on the beachfront beyond my hotel room. I was greeted by the local dhow operatorss vying for my business, from the time Iset outside on my terrace. I enjoyed watching them skillfully steer their colourful boats in and out of their anchorage. Then there were women selling glorious baskets and textiles, ice creams and other locl treats. At dawn, local famillies, led by a man followed by one or more well covered wives, sometimes with and sometimes without children, strolled along the beach. Joggers, cyclists and local trainers taking elderly tourists through their paces with early morning stretches and aquatic coaching. Women sweeping the hotel grounds with traditional brooms, the beach lielow man putting out the cushions and sweeping away fallen leaves from the tropical trees. Then the fishing fleet headed out, on more traditional dhows. Outrigger canoes in the shallows. The ferry arriving from Dar El Salaam, dwarfing every other vessel.
In the hottest part of the day, the beach was filled with a procession of western tourists, sunbaking, swimming or en route to explore Stone Town. However, by far the most colourful and exciting time of the day began an hour or more before sunset. Local lads arrived with a number of tyres as a springboard and having warmed up. proceeded to form queues to hurl themselves skywards, achieving miraculous feats of gymnastics. They seemed to simply coach each other to develop new summersaults and twists, full layouts and more. They never asked a penny from the assembled audience, but rather performed their gymnastic routines for the sheer love of their sport, need of a venue, sense of community and self esteem.
The narrow streets of old Stone Town, are shared by pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes and if wide enough, cars. They twist their way between the harbour and the market. Some buildings have been restored to their former glory, whilst others are crumbling, but still in daily usage as businesses, schools or homes. Their wooden doors tell a tale of their former occupants, different decorative motives and styles were used to denote whether one was an Arab slave trader, an African slave trader, or even a Chinese store keeper,
Visiting Stone Town, indeed Zanzibar itself, is like stepping back in time. The old cars and old buildings that seem to be caught in a time warp. Signage relating to the socialist revolution that took place here in the 1960s still abounds.
Zanzibar is a conservative, largely Moslem, male dominated society, so conservative dress, especially for western women is advised and it is frowned upon to openly display affection between the sexes, or show too much flesh. Despite this I didn't once feel uncomfortable as a solo woman traveller. Other women and the men, working in hospitality and tourism were invariably welcoming, friendly, polite and obliging. I walked alone around Stone Town, down to the local port area and along the harbour, without any form of harassment and indeed, considerable assistance from local youths in helping me navigate the maze of narrow streets and poor signage.
Another friend and her partner also visited Zanzibar post safari in Tanzania and enjoyed the very best diving and island resorts of their lives. They too fell in love with Zanzibar, for its beaches and rich marine life, whereas I fell in love with Zanzibar for its incredible contemporary culture, cuisine, history and opportunity to simply relax and enjoy all that Stone Town itself, has to offer.
Zanzibar is a holiday destination in its own right, worthy of several weeks at least. I felt five days barely scratched the surface of this vibrant culture and place. If you are heading to Tanzania on safari, include at least some time in Zanzibar. Better still, head here for that dream tropical island retreat you have long sought, but never yet found.
Zanzibar can be reached inexpensively by twice daily ferry from Dar Es Salaam, or if you are short of time, by flights from Dar Es Salaam, or Nairobi in Kenya.
All photos by Fiona Ludbrook 2013