Zanzibar also refered to as “Spice Land” is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. Zanzibar Island (known locally as Unguja, but as Zanzibar internationally) is 60 miles long and 20 miles wide, occupying a total area of approximately 650 square miles. It is characterised by beautiful sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs, and the magic of historic Stone Town – said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. It is rich in culture, history and beautiful white sand beaches and world class hotels make it a holiday destination for the honeymooners, tourists, photographers and conservationists. It consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.
TOURS ON THE SPICE ISLAND
This tour takes you through fabled Stone Town, where history appears to stand still. With visits to the House of Wonders, the Palace Museum (People’s Palace), Dr Livingstone’s House and the Arab Fort amongst others, it is a fascinating look at the essence of Zanzibar. You will see Zanzibar’s bustling market, winding alleyways, ornately carved and studded doors, two cathedrals and countless mosques! A trip to the site of Sultan Barghash’s harem at Marahubi should also be included and rounds off an insight into Zanzibar’s huge history and vibrant culture. Stone Town has some excellent gifts shops with plenty of souvenirs and handicrafts to choose from.
The history of Zanzibar would be incomplete without the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and many other spices which brought the Sultans of Oman and the beginnings of the infamous slave trade. They can be seen in the plantations just outside Zanzibar town, and a good tour includes opportunities to dazzle the senses with fresh spices. A detailed description is given about a variety of spices, and their uses in cooking and cosmetics. Visitors will be fascinated by the sheer number of spices produced and their incredible value for many ailments. This is also the cheapest place to purchase spices and spice oils.
The Jozani Natural Forest Reserve is located in the central east region of Zanzibar island and is home to the rare Red Colobus Monkey (pictured opposite), which is endemic to Zanzibar. These monkeys are full of character, and roam freely. They can also be seen at very close quarters just outside the reserve’s perimeter and are incredibly photogenic. Jozani is home to other species including Syke’s monkey’s, small buck and bushpigs. The elusive Zanzibar leopard (last sited several years ago) is said to feed here at night – perhaps this is why the reserve is only open during the day?! Jozani has an excellent nature trail and the guides are well trained and informative.
Tours to the unspoilt north coast always end up at Ras Nungwi, a sleepy fishing village on the northern tip of Zanzibar island. It is the dhow building capital of Zanzibar, so you will be able to see the traditional methods of dhow construction in action. This area of Zanzibar has some fantastic beaches and nearby coral reefs which are ideal for diving and snorkelling. The local villagers have built a turtle sanctuary where injured turtles and other marine animals are nursed back to health before being released back into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Kizimkazi Mosque & Dolphin Tour
Situated on the southern point of the island, Kizimkazi fishing village is home to several schools of bottle-nosed dolphins which can often be sighted following a short boat trip from the village. If you are lucky, you may be able to swim quite close to the dolphins which can be a very rewarding experience. Kizimkazi is also the site of a 12th century mosque, the earliest evidence of Islam in East Africa, and is thus worth a visit for both natural and cultural reasons.
Once the site of a gaol for misbehaving slaves, the island lies just off the old stone town. It is fringed with a beautiful coral reef, ideal for snorkelling, and has a lovely white beach for sun-bathing.
It is also home to a family of giant tortoises, imported from the Seychelles in the late 19th century. This island is ideal for a day-trip with refreshments available throughout the day. It also has a small restaurant where you can enjoy freshly caught fish.