Travel Obsessions: Zanzibar
It’s Africa, but not as you know it.
Poised 35 kilometres off the east coast of Africa and suspended in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is my latest travel obsession. The semi-autonomous archipelago belonging to Tanzania is also known as the Spice Island of the Indian Ocean and consists of the main island Unguja (also known as Zanzibar Island), the smaller Pemba island and other small isles. The Swahili culture of Zanzibar – a blend of African, Arabian, Persian and Indian roots – had spread throughout East Africa. Zanzibar has a mixed history too – famed as a popular spice route stop for Portuguese and Arab merchants, this area was also the largest slave trading centre in East Africa.
Why you’ll want to come here, though, is for the white, sandy beaches fringed with swaying palm trees and an impossibly teal blue ocean dotted with coral reefs and diverse marine life. Do a spice tour to see how exotic flavourings like anise, cardamom, ginger, cloves and nutmeg grow in plantations – Zanzibar is also one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced. Head to the huge open-air markets in Stone Town for all manner of fresh fruit, produce and more. In the lush Jozani Forest Reserve, you’ll spy the rare Kirk’s red colobus monkey.
On the less-populated Pemba Island, you’ll be surrounded by hectares of banana, coconut and mango forests plus the colourful coral gardens off the sandy shores – a favourite with divers. Famous for its sorcerers and bull-fighting (a leftover from Portuguese rule), Pemba is a curiosity and well worth a visit.
Best time to visit: June to October when the average temps are around 26 degrees Celsius.
Know: Unlike Tanzania, Zanzibar is 99 percent Muslim, so cover up accordingly at religious sites and during the month of Ramadan.
Places to go:
Stone Town is the capital and an UNESCO World Heritage Site with a maze of narrow streets lined with houses of limestone and coral (hence the name) and a distinct Omani feel (it was the capital of Oman in the early 1800s).
Nungwi is an idyllic resort town on the northern tip of Unguja with a relaxed party vibe and popular with backpackers
For blindingly white sand and deep teal waters, head to Paje and Bwejuu on the east coast of Unguja.
Kendwa, on the west side of the island, is known for its full moon parties with a relaxed atmosphere the rest of the month.
Kizimkazi on the south side offers secluded beaches and ideal conditions for diving and snorkelling from the shoreline.
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