What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “Zanzibar”? Perhaps your mind triggers thoughts of an exotic island, unique and mysterious. Or maybe you think of its sandy beaches and cerulean waters. Zanzibar is full of history, beautiful architecture and incredible beaches. Ruled by various empires, this multi-ethnic island is a melting pot of Portuguese, British, Indian and Arabic influences. The mansions and buildings, once home to some of the richest rulers and merchants, were abandoned and are now home to immigrants who have settled here.
Visit the beaches
We spent 15 hours on a rickety bus travelling through Tanzania and arriving in Dar Es Salaam. Our goal was to make it to the infamous beaches of Zanzibar. The bottom of our bus was held together with bungee cords and we sipped warm red wine to pass the time. The humidity was more noticeable as our skin became sticky and sweaty. We persevered, as thoughts of blue water and sandy beaches filled our minds. We bobbed up and down in the ferry, passing from Dar Es Salaam and into Zanzibar, while the nausea took hold of most of us. Our reward was Nungwi beach. Azure waters greeted us as we breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it.
The beautiful beaches of Stone Town also include Kendwa, Matemwe, Kiwengwa, Kizimkazi and Bwejuu beaches. Watch Arabic dhows pass by over the waters as you relax and inhale the ocean water breeze
Get Lost in Stone Town
Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar, is an old Swahili trading town where Arabic dhows and fishing boats rule the waters. Tall houses form narrow alleyways allowing you to get lost in the history and culture of this beautiful town. Persian homes transform into clothing shops and art stalls and the smell of spices wafts out into the streets from open windows. The warm reddish stone that gives the town its characteristic colour is welcoming and you find yourself pulled deeper into the history of Stone Town. You can’t help but listen to the muezzin as it echoes over the town, calling Islamic followers to prayer while you explore the narrow streets and alleys.
The intricate carvings in the doors represent the history of Indian and Islamic ruling. Brass studs and engravings highlight the wealth of the original Arabic home owners.
Visit the markets
Forodhani Gardens transforms into a gathering spot for locals in the evenings. Vendors set up barbecue stalls and grill meats, seafood and other delectable items. The locals drink sugar cane juice, seasoned with lime juice and ginger while the sun sets across the ocean.
Having heard about this night market, we were curious and excited to be a part of the local culture. We went for dinner to a local Indian restaurant (a big mistake in humid weather and no A/C in the restaurant), making sure that we saved room for the highly anticipated grilled foods. We rushed to the market only to be greeted by locals packing up their barbecues and stalls. We got there too late. I felt deflated as my stomach growled at me. The chicken skewers and seafood, once moist and sizzling hot, were now dry and cold. Stray cats ate morsels of meat and cassava that were scattered on the ground. We had heard of the amazing night market and, by our own lack of planning, we had missed this chance to experience it for ourselves. A mistake that I will not make again! My desire to eat Swahili shisk kebab (meshkaki) and Zanzibar pizza will have to wait for the next trip.
Visit the Darajani bazaar and sift through beautifully coloured silks and African prints. The fruit, meat and fish markets displayed foods that we had never seen before. We walked through slowly, often pointing and asking for its identification. We made sure to avoid the vendors selling dates from street carts. You can see the hot sun beat down on the food, as fruit juices from the dates drip down and form puddles where flies congregate.
Take a Spice Tour
A trip to Zanzibar, also known as “Spice Island”, would be incomplete without knowing about the wonderfully aromatic spices it has to offer. The spices that are exported out of Zanzibar are responsible for most of the flavour combinations we see through the world. Smell fresh cinnamon bark and chew on fragrant cloves as it tingles and numbs the mouth. Smell citrusy lemongrass in the spice fields, harvest cardamom pods from stalks or vanilla beans off the vines.
Find bright green curry leaves that impart flavour and colour to curry dishes. Colour your fabrics and curries (or lips) with bright red annatto (“lipstick tree”) or turmeric root. Try the exotic fruits, like custard apple, citrusy sweet starfruit or the rich durian fruit. Watch an experienced guide climb a coconut tree in order to pick you a fresh coconut to drink its refreshing water and peel away at its meaty flesh.
Breathe in the intoxicating perfumes of scented trees, mainly ylang-ylang, jasmine and frangipani. Ylang-ylang oils are used to scent perfumes and soaps. Jasmine plants and frangipani trees give off exotic fragrances that are reminiscent of being in a luxurious day spa.
This island paradise is intoxicating as you breathe in the fragrances of spices, curries and the salty ocean air. As you say goodbye to the island, returning onto that treacherous ferry back to Dar Es Salaam, your stomach will crave the spicy curries and savoury grilled meats. The calls to prayer will still ring in your head, your feet will be blistered and sore and your tan will begin to fade. The memories of this island will overwhelm you, but your heart will remain full.