Zanzibar, an Island of Magic

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. This makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind.

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town. Photo by Brocken Inaglory

Located just 40 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania and just six degrees south of the equator, Zanzibar Island is referred to locally as “Unguja” and is known internationally as the “Spice Island”. The island was an important stop in the Spice Trade centuries ago. Today, it is one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced, and many other Middle Eastern/Asian spices (cardamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, etc.) are grown here. Around $25-$30 per person you can go on a spice tour, which winds you around the island, showing you how anise grows; letting you sample some of the exotic fruit grown on the island; and allowing you to tour the beautiful plantations.

The island of Zanzibar is characterized by the magic of historic Stone Town and beautiful sandy beaches, coral reefs, warm clear blue waters and idyllic islands.

Stone Town is said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa and it is the cultural heart of Zanzibar. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African traditions and architectures, it is possible to spend days winding through Stone Town’s labyrinthine alleys; shopping; drinking tea; and visiting the city’s historic sites. The whole atmosphere is of medieval times, veiled women, their hands and feet hennaed with elaborate patterns, haggle in the markets and small shops which cluster the peripheries of the town.
Since most streets are too narrow for cars, the town is crowded with bicycles and motorbikes. The seafront has wider streets and larger, more regularly placed buildings. Bikes can be rented from shops near Darajani Market. Mopeds and motorcycles are another great way to get about the island.
Stone Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

House of Wonders, Stone Town, Zanzibar

House of Wonders, Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo by David Berkowitz

Many see the beaches around Zanzibar as split into the North and the East. The East Beaches are very popular among travellers. The sand is brilliant white, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are a deep teal. Here, you can also find plenty of opportunities for scuba diving. Do not miss out on one of the best dives in East Africa. Spanish Dancer Divers arrange daily trips to the famous Mnemba Atoll Marine Park for divers and snorkelers. Mnemba Atoll is known for having clear worm waters. Dolphin and Green Turtle encounters are very common.
Kitesurf is a popular sport in Paje Beach, where the crystalline lagoon waters and reef protection offer ideal conditions for both advanced and beginner kitesurfers.

Located on the northwest coast of Zanzibar, Kendwa boasts perhaps the best swimming beach on the whole island. It’s youthful and the beaches are beautiful. Here you can swim during low and high tide, which is not always possible on the East side of the island. Just beware of the “Sea Urchins” that gives a powerful sting if stepped upon during low tide. There may be some cloud and wind and quick rainshowers in June/July but the sun is usually out and the weather very pleasant. The beach is fine white sand or ground shells, the water turquoise blue, the sunsets spectacular and the local boat activity picturesque. Kendwa offers lots of beach bars and restaurants serving everything from pizza to local curries.
If you walk left when reaching the beach (South), you’ll hit some gorgeous empty beaches with no buildings and no infrastructure. The perfect place to get away from the touts and have your own paradise.

Beach at Zanzibar

Beach at Zanzibar. Photo by neiljs

Off the shores of Zanzibar are many little islands making for a more secluded and remote beach experience away from the main attraction of Zanzibar. Some of these island are only accessible at certain times of the day according to tide levels and these smaller sandbanks adn spits are excellent for sailing excursions and picnics. Then there are the permanent little ones like Mnemba and Chumbe. For those looking for the very best and most secluded beach stay with flour-like beach sand and no one else around, there is the private island lodge of Mnemba Island. This tiny island is everything you can imagine of a remote windswept paradise and often voted one of the most romantic destinations on the planet. Chumbe Island is also a unique nature travel destination on a private island in Zanzibar. Situated 8 km Southwest of Zanzibar town, it is covered by an undisturbed forest and surrounded by a virgin coral reef. The island can be reached in a 30-45 minute boat ride from the Mbweni beach departure point south of Stonetown.

Zanzibar is also a seafood lover’s paradise. The freshest catch from game fish to giant lobster and crayfish are on offer. Dinner at the nightly fish market in the Forodhani Gardens on Stone Town’s waterfront where a collection of stalls serve up freshly cooked seafood is not to be missed. It is possibly the cheapest food you will find on the island, and value for money too. Ranging from crab claws, calamari steaks to plain old chips done in big woks. You are well advised to try the local sugar cane juice. The curio market can be found next to the food market. Here you will find all the gifts you may want to take back to friends and loved ones.

Zanzibar Sunset

Zanzibar Sunset. Photo by hobbs_luton

Because Zanzibar lies below the equator, the coolest months occur during the northern hemisphere’s summer, and all year round the weather remains pleasant and comfortable. The best time to visit Zanzibar is during the slightly cooler spring months of July to October. You will probably want to avoid the rainy season. The rains fall from March to May and are so heavy in April that some hotels close. April and May when the long rains fall are the quiet months in Zanzibar. During this time many resorts close, and at others the rates are highly discounted. The short rains in East Africa fall during this period and the weather is hot and humid. Scuba diving (though excellent year round) is also best from December to March.

Enjoy this island and remember to venture out of your resort to do some exploring and make the most of your time on this very exotic island.

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