Everyone has heard of Zanzibar, but few know it’s whereabouts …it could almost be fictitious, one of those mythical names that conjure up exotic images of spices, tropical fruits, sultans, sailing vessels and the high seas. Happily for us, Zanzibar does exist, sitting just off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa. As do the spices and the tropical fruits -such sweet tasting pineapples full of juice :)
The Arabs made Zanzibar their capital, the Africans settled around it, and the whole world traded here – most infamously for slaves in the Grand Market which flourished in the 19th century
It was the seat of the Sultan – who moved here from Oman – and came to dominate other Arab city-states such as Mombasa, Lamu and Kilwa. The British captured it in 1890, and finally Zanzibar was declared a new independent state in 1963, attracting east German and Chinese support, and Freddie Mercury's parents (who was born here).
Landing in Dar-e-Salam, we flew into Karume Airport, the resort staff met us at the coast from where we hopped into a speed boat, to the resort. Upon arriving in Stone Town we went through the Zanzibar immigration too, however we are still fuzzy about why, given Zanzibar is still part of Tanzania. Anyway…
We did see many tourists being mobbed by touts trying to sell them cabs, accommodation, tours, etc. they are in your face and annoying. Fortunately we were whisked away rather quickly and briskly so in the end no harm done. My phone signal didn't once fade, all the way from Dar-e-salam to Zanzibar to Pemba, I was constantly on bbm with folks and friends even while in the middle of the Indian Ocean!:)
It does take a bit of travel time: planes, car, boat just to reach Paradise, but this secluded stretch of sand was so worth the journey. Our first impression of the beach, was how crystal turquoise the water was and how white the sand was!
A tiny but beautiful gated community of a handful of open-fronted bungalows on an isolated peninsula accessible only by boat. That was our home for a few days in Zanzibar
The rooms were stylish, understated, with dark hardwood floors, crisp white linens, and cushy king-size beds. With a small dip pool right outside. A much needed break was here, at-last! What most appealed to me about this fundoo lagoon, beyond its eco-chic vibe, was the close relationship the management maintained with the villagers, many of whom built and now staff the hotel. The villagers have blessed the resort during traditional cleansing ceremonies such as the one involving goats. Voodoo and such cult stories are not my cuppa so we simply snorkelled, ate, drank and slept! And not to forget spa-d! :)
Zanzibar is an interesting discovery; one must make an effort to get around the island as every corner has something different to offer. The weather is different from the south to the north of the island, so if you can, chase the sun... when it starts raining on one side quickly move to a new spot. This allowed us to experience most of the island and really take advantage of the time we had there. So much hidden beauty there, you really need to take the time to explore or you’ll miss out on the best of Zanzibar
Zanzibar’s two large islands - Unguja (the main one) and Pemba - as well as a handful of other smaller islands are ringed with dazzlingly white beaches, turquoise waters and colourful corals. Put on a mask and flippers and you have a ready-made aquatic safari - easily combined with a terrestrial safari by taking a short flight across the Indian Ocean to Africa’s best game parks (Serengeti. Masalai Mara -more on these in following posts).
Snorkelling on the coral reefs we saw colourful fish and beautiful coral like we have only seen in books. Sea cucumbers, sting rays, rock fish, Nemo clown fish, electric blue fish, angel fish, anemones, turtles, star fish, and many others that I clearly had no knowledge of
What a tropical life exists in Zanzibar. We weren’t lucky enough to see any dolphins, though the locals insisted that they spotted the dolphins dipping around us …
Most of our days were spent reading and swimming (the hotel also had an infinity pool in addition to the beach); Eating was the other time pass most indulged in when there is nothing much else to do, if you love sea food, Zanzibar is an absolute haven for the non veggies, while the veg food ensures you lose weight and get back. A win- win both ways :)
With a map in hand we spent some time exploring Stone Town too. Shrouded in antiquity, Stone Town seems to be straight from an Arabian fairy-tale. I could wander around for days following its narrow cobblestone streets (they were about 4 feet wide) dodging scooters and watching children playing, walking past shops and inns and mosques, and the occasional fortress-like Cathedral (there are only 2 on this island that is 99% muslim, but they are huge, impressive buildings)
I kept looking for a magic carpet or Aladdin's lamp and think if I had stayed much longer I would have found them… With its many alleys, it can be easy to get lost, especially if walking around for hours one gets disoriented not really knowing where you are. We skipped the touristy things like the spice tour, instead chose to explore the “buzz”. After being in the lagoon for a bit, the island feels a bit deserted, Stone Town felt a bit crowded, but in a nice way. Around us there was lots of business taking place, kids travelling in packs to school, fruit sellers calling out to passer bys, bikes were a bit bothersome for the fumes in the pure environment, some bikers were rash, they nearly motored some people down, flying through alleys. Hundreds of souvenir shops to gaze at and pick the right gifts. The buzz was nice.
In summation, Zanzibar has so much to offer, that it is really easy to spend time on the island
Watching the fishermen pass by with their stylish dows , women collecting shells and clams on the beach during low tide, finding the perfect spot to have our sunset drinks ...what more can a human ask for. A piece of heaven right here in Zanzibar. Go to ZanzibarJ