Zanzibar’s brilliant white beaches lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean provide the perfect place to relax, soak up the sun and take a break from some busy sightseeing.
The beaches in Zanzibar are a paradise, interspersed with picturesque fishing villages, where the people live a simple way of life, unchanged over the years. There are more than 25 fantastic beaches in Zanzibar, and some are so peaceful and remote that the only noise breaking the silence is likely to be the ocean.
Stone Town is the old city and cultural heart of Zanzibar, little changed in the last 200 years. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand Arab houses whose original owners vied with each other over the extravagance of their dwellings. You can spend many idle hours and days just wandering through the fascinating labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways.
Most of the houses that can be seen today were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important trading centers in the Indian Ocean region. The coralline rock of Zanzibar was a good building material, but it is also easily eroded. This is evident by the large number of houses that are in a bad state of repair. Several buildings have already been renovated and the Stone Town Conservation Authority has been established to co-ordinate the restoration of the town to its original magnificence. As a result of sensible policy, nearly all of the major hotels built in Stone Town are housed in renovated buildings.
As you walk through the town, please remember that Stone Town is very much a real community, where people live and work. It is not a museum piece or theme park created for tourists, and sensitivity should be shown to the local people
Islands in the sun
Only a few kilometers from Stone Town are several islets such as Chumbe and Chapwani. Bawe and Prison Islands are good for daytrips with excellent snorkeling available. Tumbatu Island, off the north-west coast of Unguja is one of the largest off-shore islands. Mnemba Island is surrounded by a rich coral reef, which is great for scuba diving and snorkeling and is visited by several watersports centers in the area.
Pemba is Zanzibar’s sister island. The infrastructure is much less than on Unguja but this is seen as a plus by many! Beautiful beaches, natural forests and outstanding diving are just some of the attractions on offer. Misali Island, off Pemba’s east coast, is idyllic and excellent for diving.
Mafia, another island in the sun and no relative of the mob, is actually governed by mainland Tanzania but is not far from the Zanzibar archipelago.
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 Skye’s monkeys, small buck and bush pigs. The elusive Zanzibar leopard (last sited several years ago) is said to feed here at night. Jozani has an excellent nature trail.
Tours to the unspoilt north coast always end up at Ras Nungwi, a 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 snorkeling. 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
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.
Changuu island (Prison Island)
Changuu Island also known as Prison Island, was once owned by an Arab who used it for ‘rebellious’ slaves. Some years later in 1893 it was sold to general Mathews, a Briton who converted it into a prison. However it has never actually been used as such and was later converted to serve as a quarantine station for East Africa in colonial times. Some structures of the prison are still intact, besides Changuu Island makes for good snorkeling, wind surfing and sailing grounds.
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