ZANZIBAR - TANZANIA:
Zanzibar, or 'Unguja', the spice island beckons you to its golden shores, warm smiles and delectable cuisine. An island with a history dating back to as early as 1st century AD, when Greek and Roman ships sailed down the East Coast of Africa. Centuries later saw a succession of Arab, Persian, Portuguese and African traders all searching for ivory, tortoiseshell, ebony, coconuts, fruit, timber and slave trading.
Geographically, Zanzibar's location made it a viable commercial centre for trading through the centuries and as a result we see an incredible mix of architecture with buildings displaying Arabic, Indian, European and African characteristics. Of particular note are the city's 500 or so doors, with their intricate carvings, brass spikes and even verses quoted from the Koran. Zanzibar was the capital of Oman for well over a century and was eventually colonised by Great Britain while the mainland became a German colony. Zanzibar is now independent and has had its own government since 1990. Famous explorers such as Stanley, Livingstone, Burton and Elton visited Zanzibar at some stage of their adventures and it remains still very untouched and tropical.
The main inhabitants of Zanzibar speak KiSwahili and fall into three ethnic groups, the Wahadimu, the Watumbatu and the Wapemba and relations between the various clans or tribes is very relaxed. The people of Zanzibar are predominantly Muslim, about 95% of the population being followers of Islam. The population of the archipelago is estimated at over 800,000 of which approximately 100,000 call Stone Town home. Most of the population lives in the more fertile regions of the north and west. The eastern part of the island is arid and covered in coral making it unattractive for farming, but the beaches and the reefs on the eastern coasts make them ideal for fishing villages, tourist guesthouses, and resorts.
Zanzibar consists of two islands, one being actual Zanzibar and then Pemba. Zanzibar is approximately 85 km long and 30 km wide with an area of 1500 km. Like most other Indian Ocean Islands, the monsoon season starts early March till end May and then again in November but for the rest of the year hot sunny temperatures are the norm, ranging from 26 - 28 C. (80 - 83F).
Zanzibar is famous not only for it's spice production but also for it's beaches. Extending almost entirely around the perimeter of the archipelago runs a halo of soft, white, sandy beaches cooled by the lapping turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The island boasts world-class beaches, opal coloured seas plus a choice of luxury and budget hotels to suit all tastes plus easy access, whether it be by air or by ferry. World famous for diving and snorkelling these seas offer unspoilt coral reefs with a variety of marine life including whales, dolphins, dugongs, big game fish and delicious fresh fish. Just south of Zanzibar town are Fuji and Chuini Beach, offering facilities for a wide range of watersports, while to the north is Mangwapani. On the northern tip of the island is Nungwi, where visitors can watch fishermen building their boats or swim in the coral lagoons. On Zanzibar's north-east coast are the beaches of Matemwe, Mapenzi, Kiwenga and Uroa with their wide stretches of uncrowded sands and ideal for snorkelling. Other well developed areas are Pingwe, Bwejuu and Jambiani, found on the south-eastern coast.
The ideal package to Zanzibar should include a short stay in the magnificent old Stone Town before heading up to the Beaches. Evident in the architecture of Stone Town, a captivating maze of a city that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the multicultural influences of the people who have made Zanzibar their home. Overlooking dhows and outrigger canoes moored in the harbour, many buildings date from the 19th century slave boom. The crumbling facade of faded Empires provides the backdrop for a lively, energetic town crammed full of shops, restaurants and hotels. The numerous hotels in Stone Town cater for all budgets and are located a stones throw from the center.
A walking Spice Tour is the best way of seeing the countryside around Stone Town where most of the ingredients of the average kitchen spice rack are represented - cinnamon, tumeric, ginger,garlic, chillies, black pepper, nutmeg and vanilla, to name but a few. Many spice tours include a visit to the Persian baths built by Sultan Said for his harem.
Approximately 35km south of Zanzibar Town lies the Jozani Forest, part of the Jozani-Chwaka Conservation Area, a conservation project which is aimed at preserving some of the last indigenous forest on the island. Within the forest are the unique and rare Kirk's Red Colobus and the rare forest antelope, Ader's Duiker, as well as several other species of monkey, birds, butterflies and other animals. Here you can experience close observation of the indigenous wildlife.
Zanzibar has many offshore islands which provide a stunning location for a day trip or a longer stay. Prison Island is one of the nearest to Stone Town, also known as Changuu, and its original use was as a prison for renegade slaves. Today it offers a nature trail that runs around its circumference, a small beach and giant land tortoises as well as offshore coral formations which are great for snorkelling. Chapwani Island, or Grave Island, is the site of a British naval cemetery, many servicemen died from tropical disease or were killed in clashes with local slavers. Bawe island has no facilities at all but at low tide the beach has unusual stone formations and is excellent for snorkelling. Chumbe Island Coral Park was named Tanzania's first Marine National Park in 1994 and covered with lush mangrove forest is a designated forest reserve. Chumbe Island has a lighthouse built by the British in 1904 and still operational, a ruined Mosque and the lighthouse keeper's house which is now an education centre and restaurant. Its incredible coral reef contains over 90% of all coral species ever recorded in East Africa and is home to over 370 species of fish, turtles and dolphins. The islands coral rag forest, interspersed with intertidal pools and huge baobab trees, supports a unique flora and wildlife population including the rare coconut crab.
- Please refrain from buying large shells, turtle shells, or pieces of coral from street or beach vendors. These are mostly taken from endangered reefs and marine species and buying them only encourages the destruction of Zanzibar’s ocean fauna.
- Please do not walk around stone Town or other towns and villages in Zanzibar dressed in bikinis, miniskirts or similar clothing. Modest dress is requested of all tourists in keeping with the Islamic faith of most of the island’s inhabitants. Women should cover their shoulders and wear trousers or skirts that reach below the knee. Men should not walk without t-shirts.
- Please refrain from topless bathing on the beaches of Zanzibar. Bikinis and swim wear are acceptable on tourist beaches, but not if there are fishermen or seaweed harvesters nearby.
- Please be careful about walking on the beach or on deserted parts of the island late at night or early in the morning. DON’T carry valuables on the beach or walk alone.
- Under no circumstances accept tours or transport from unlicensed ‘beach boys’– their services are illegal and unreliable.
- During the holy month of Ramadan, while Muslims are fasting, it is considered the height of bad manners to eat, smoke or drink on the street or in public places.
- Please ask permission before taking pictures of people or private houses.
- Zanzibar is a Muslim society, although alcohol is freely available on the islands, drunken behavior is not regarded with tolerance but is considered offensive by most people.