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Zanzibar: The Ultimate Indian Ocean Experience

By Laura Blake

Posted: 17th September 2014 15:25

Beautiful Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania.  With one of the main industries being the production of spices; particularly cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper, it is often referred to as one of the Spice Islands, together with Tanzania’s Mafia Island.  Its historic centre, known as Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site and is claimed to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa.  Consisting of Zanzibar Island (known locally as Unguja), Pemba Island and a number of smaller islands, Zanzibar itself is roughly 90km long and 30km wide and has plenty to offer almost every kind of traveller. 

The place is magical; the call of swifts and curlews accompanies the pleasant clinking of seashells being caressed by lapping waves, and the sunsets are simply breath taking.  If you dream of absolute relaxation when you plan your holiday, everything you could need is waiting for you in sun drenched Zanzibar.  However, if a little more adventure is what you tend to favour when selecting your destination, this gorgeous island will not disappoint you.  Full to the brim with the potential to delight those who hunger for history, architecture, delicious cuisine and an exotic climate; Zanzibar is a prime location for those seeking to unwind in luxury or explore and discover the remarkable local culture.

If you yearn to dive into culture, Stone Town is the old city at the heart of the archipelago which has changed little in the last 200 years.  It is a treasure trove of winding alleyways, extravagant Arabic houses and bustling bazaars.  The grand dwellings have brass-studded, carved, wooden doors that tell the tale of how the original owners vied with each other over the luxuriousness of their homes – and there are over 500 varying examples of this wonderful handiwork.  One could spend many hours just wandering around the captivating labyrinth of narrow streets.  Most of the houses that can be viewed today were built in the 19th century, when Zanzibar was one of the most significant trading centres of the Indian Ocean.  As magnificent and thought-provoking as Stone Town may be, it is still very much a real, working community and one can be sure that what you see is a genuine reflection of Zanzibari life.  The Old Dispensary is a majestic four story building with beautifully decorated balconies.  It served as a dispensary during colonial times but fell into disrepair in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  It is one of the buildings of Stone Town that have been successfully restored to its former glory, with funding from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and can be found on Zanzibar’s seafront on Mizingani road.  The Peace Memorial Museum is an interesting look at the history of the island; and has sections on archaeology, early trade, slavery, mosques, explorers, missionaries, traditional crafts, sultans, coins and clove cultivations.  Stone Town is also home to several other outstanding attractions, such as The House of Wonders, The Palace Museum, and The Arab Fort.

Zanzibar’s azure Indian Ocean offers spectacular water sports opportunities, such as scuba diving, snorkelling, deep sea fishing, windsurfing, water-skiing and the chance to sail on traditional dhows.  If you are a qualified diver, the stunning dives at Tumbathu or Wattabomi are truly awe-inspiring.  If you have never dived but are keen to try, Zanzibar is home to a five-star dive resort that offers a wide range of courses.  The coastline itself is a paradise interspersed with picturesque and quaint fishing villages, where people live a simple way of life.  There are more than 25 golden beaches in Zanzibar, and some are so remote that the only noise to break the silence is likely to be the ocean.  At the island’s northern top lies Nungwi, the road to which is lined with banana palms, coconut trees and mangroves.  It is a great place to see traditional craftsmen at work as it is the dhow-building capital of the island.  Zanzibar also boasts several small offshore islands that are more than ideal for a day trip. 

Spice Plantations are a wonderful destination to add to your itinerary, and a tour offers opportunities to dazzle the senses with fresh spices.  Visiting a spice plantation will leave you intrigued by the sheer number of spices produced and their incredible volume of uses from cosmetics to dyes, cuisine to medicine – and this is also the best place to purchase spices and fragrant spice oils.  The Jozani Natural Forest Reserve is situated in the central east region of the island and is home to the rare Red Colobus Monkey, which is endemic to Zanzibar.  These spritely monkeys are full of character and roam freely, whilst being incredibly photogenic.  Jozani has an excellent nature trail, with guides that are especially informative. 

Full of romance and magic, Zanzibar is the ultimate Indian Ocean experience.  Some may opt to safari in Tanzania and spend just a couple of days on the island’s unspoilt and pristine beaches – but there is so much to see and do, it can be an adventure all of its own.