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 perfect location to relax and unwind.
Zanzibar is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, it is around 50 kilometres 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 Ungujia. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
Stone town is the original site of the slave trade, and a tour is a must.
Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged from the 16th century, and visitors can walk between the Sultan's Palace, the House of Wonders, the Portugese 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, the sand and surf are very different, depending on what side of the island you are on. On the east cost, 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, 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 of two spent on the east or north coast is well worth the extra hour is takes to drive there. 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. This is recommended for those staying longer than a few days.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lied 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 Forrest, home to Zanzibar's rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primates and small antelope species.
Generally, I will not book tours on Zanzibar unless requested. There are so many things to do and tours are very easy to book, so you are free to choose your own itinerary. I do however recommend a tour of Stone Town with a booked guide, as there will be many "want to be guides" who will pester you without one. A tour guide will also make sure you see the best attractions.
In the 19th century, Stone Town was at the centre of the ivory, gold and slave trades. These days it's narrow streets are a web of markets, shops and craft centres. The buildings are old and have a strong Arab influence. The doors of Zanzibar are quite famous, they are extremely ornate and beautiful. Kilele Square was once the site of a slave market, a must to visit.
House of Wonders and Palace Museum
The House of Wonders Museum conveys the cultural and architectural influences of Zanzibar, England, Portugal and Oman over the centuries. Just next to the Palace Museum, built by the second sultan of Zanzibar in 1883. It is an opulent palace comprised of marble flooring, coral stone walls and silver decorations. It is built in the Moan style as an extravagant Arab mansion and offers a rare glimpse of a past era.
Red Colobus Monkeys
The Red Colobus Monkey is endemic to the main island of Zanzibar. They are an extremely cute and interesting monkey. This monkey is now classified as an endangered species. Less then 2,000 monkeys remain, and unfortunately their numbers are decreasing. They are found in 3 tree forests around Zanzibar island.
There are many things to do on Zanzibar Island, but the beaches are so beautiful that doing nothing is also an option.
I will generally end my tours with 4-5 days in Zanzibar, it is a perfect piece of luxury with which to relax and end the tour.