ZANZIBAR: A TROPICAL GETAWAY
January 1, 1970
by Yvonne Wabai
If you’re looking to take a tropical vacation, chances are that you’ve thought about heading to Zanzibar. With its beautiful beaches, great sights, delicious food and lovely people, Zanzibar sure has a lot to offer. Whether you’re just a tourist seeking relaxation or you’re an enthusiastic explorer, Zanzibar has something for everyone, and this has been a major reason why Zanzibar was at the top of my list of travel destinations. Therefore, when the opportunity came knocking for me to visit Zanzibar late last year, I booked a flight, packed my suitcases and headed off to my tropical getaway.
Getting to Zanzibar: Tourist Information.
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and consists of a series of islands located in the Indian Ocean, with the largest ones being Unguja (the main island) and Pemba. As such, it is accessible by air and by water. I flew in from Nairobi, Kenya, and landed in Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, which is Unguja’s and Zanzibar’s main airport. Being that I am a Kenyan citizen, I did not require a visa to be granted entry. Before planning your trip, find out the visa requirements for your country and learn about the different weather seasons of Zanzibar so as to optimise your visit.
Where to stay.
There are a lot of great hotel and resorts, as well as private residences, that you can stay at while in Zanzibar. Whether you’re ready to splurge or you’re travelling on a modest budget, you’ll surely find a place to stay. I stayed at the Ocean Paradise Beach Resort and Spa. My experience there was wonderful and the staff was quite helpful with answering any questions I had. However, I found that many foreign tourists were having a bit of trouble communicating with the staff, as well as the locals, due to the language barrier. Kiswahili is the main language spoken in Zanzibar. If you are not familiar with the language, I suggest you get yourself an English-Kiswahili dictionary, as well as learn a few basic phrases of the language. Nonetheless, there is no cause for alarm as English is also spoken there, though not as widely.
Depending on where you’re staying, there are many different ways to get around. You can use a taxi service or the local buses known as daladalas to go in and out of town. If you’ll be moving from island to island, there will be boats and dhows available. However, for touring the different sites, it is advisable to sign up for tour services. This can be done online or through the hotel/resort that you will be staying in.
Things to do.
1. Explore Stone Town.
Stone town is the former capital of the Sultanate of Zanzibar. In the 19th century, it served as a spice trade centre as well as a slave centre. Most of the buildings there are quite old, which explains why locals refer to it as ‘mji mkongwe’ which is Kiswahili for ‘old city’. However, there is a portion of it known as Ng’ambo which has renovated and newer buildings. While exploring Stone Town, you’ll learn a lot about Zanzibar’s history. For instance, Stone Town was instrumental in the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution which resulted in the Sultanate’s abolishment and the rise of a socialist government under the Afro-Shirazi party. Aside from the history, there’s also a lot of architectural marvels in Stone Town. The architecture features various elements of the Swahili culture and has notable Arab, Persian, European and Indian influences. Sights to explore in Stone Town include the Hamnani Persian Baths, the Old Fort of Zanzibar, the House of Wonders, the Old Dispensary and the Hurumzi Henna Art Gallery.
2. Tour a spice farm.
Zanzibar has a long history of being a spice trade centre. As such, it would be a waste to go to Zanzibar and not visit a spice farm. An easy way to visit a spice farm is to sign up for a spice farm tour, which can be done online or through the hotel/resort in which you’re staying. Some of the spices cultivated in Zanzibar include vanilla, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, green pepper, nutmeg and cloves. Some spice farms give away little bags filled with spices. You can also buy some spices to carry home with you.
3. Water sports.
There are plenty of water sports to take part in while in Zanzibar. You can go snorkelling, deep sea diving, kayaking, dhow cruising, windsurfing, parasailing, water skiing, jet skiing, kite boarding, scuba diving, fishing and good old regular swimming. Once again, most hotels/resorts will have these activities offered but where they are not, there are plenty of tours you can book online.
4. Tour Jozani forest.
Nature lovers will enjoy touring Jozani forest. The forest is a conversation area that was established in the 1960s and it is home to primates such as monkeys. It also has plenty of mangrove trees. The star of the forest is a 200-year old mahogany tree by the name Mama Mtondoo. Other sights include a strangler fig tree and a sycamore tree growing together side by side, which is unusual, and a raffia fern tree with the largest leaves in the world.
5. Exploring Zanzibar’s fauna.
If you’re an animal lover, there’s a lot on offer for you too. You can visit Nungwi Natural Aquarium, Zanzibar Butterfly Centre, Jozani Chakwa Bay National Park, Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond and Cheetah’s Rock. I especially loved swimming with the dolphins in the ocean (a tour package) and visiting the butterfly centre.
6. Exploring the food scene.
The food scene in Zanzibar features a lot of Swahili cuisine and seafood. I visited several food markets while in Stone Town. Although there are several restaurants and food establishments there, I preferred the food markets because they provided a greater variety and I got to interact with the locals. However, beware of scammers in Forodhani Food Market.
I loved being in Zanzibar and I would definitely visit again.