Known as the Spice Island, the beautiful island of Zanzibar on Africa’s east coast is bursting with culture and history, seemingly at odds with its idyllic geography of white-sand beaches with palms swaying lazily in the sea breeze. Together this makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and 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.
Breathe in Zanzibar’s scents and spices on a 4-hour food and culture tour with a Swahili lunch, and learn to prepare a traditional cassava leaf sauce. Visit a spice farm deep in Zanzibar’s countryside, and learn the island’s remarkable role in the historic spice trade. Taste fresh spices and seasonal fruits, see how cassavas are cultivated and processed, and join in a short cooking lesson in the farm’s outdoor kitchen. Enjoy a traditional meal of richly spiced rice with vegetables and fruit then return to Stone Town in an air-conditioned minivan.
For those who don’t dive there is a wealth of snorkelling opportunities around Zanzibar. Many of the sites have reefs almost reach the surface and the fish are used to divers and cluster round you. All of our snorkelling trips are accompanied by an experienced guide who will help you find the fish, answer any questions you have about them and ensure you are safe and comfortable.
Stone Town was constructed from coral stone during the 19th and 20th century. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. This has uplifted the face of the historical city remarkably, and still does. As the whole historical part of town is protected, i Stone Town you can really walk in the same environment the sultans did.
The most popular evening spot in Stone Town must be the Forodhani Gardens, with street food and comfortable cafes. It gets busy around sunset and continues until around eleven.
Jozani Forest is the largest area of indigenous forest on Zanzibar Island. Situated south of Chwaka Bay on low-lying land, the area is prone to flooding, which nurtures a lush swamplike environment of moisture-loving trees and ferns. The whole area is protected as Jozani-Chwaka National Park, and is famously home to populations of Zanzibar red colobus monkey (an endangered species found only on Zanzibar) as well as other monkey species, bushbabies, duikers and more than 40 species of birds.
Transfers can be arranged between the airport, stone town and between hotels, restaurants and attractions, either on a seat-in-coach basis, or the private hire of an entire vehicle. All pick-up times are arranged to tie in with flight departures and scheduled tours. Our guides work to this timetable, collecting guests from each hotel en route to their intended destination.