The tropical island of Zanzibar is roughly 35 kilometres off the coast of mainland Tanzania and is connected to Dar es Salaam by ferries and flights, and many of the most popular safari destinations in East Africa are no more than a couple of hours flying time away. No wonder than, with its gorgeous sunny climate, dazzling powdery white beaches and relaxing holiday atmosphere, is it such an ideal add-on to a game-viewing experience in the parks and reserves.
The name Zanzibar comes from the Persian Zendji-Bar, which means 'land of blacks', originated from when the East African coast was the trading centre for Persians, Arabs, Indians, and Chinese. The island’s capital, Stone Town, with its intriguing, winding alleyways, old Arabian townhouses and heaving port, is steeped in history and immensely attractive. The 19th century Arabic buildings with their elaborate balconies and carved brass studded doors are testament to the Omani sultans who founded their empires on the spoils of ivory and slaves.
UNESCO Heritage Site
In recent years many of the lovely houses have been restored to their former glory thanks to Stone Town earning the recognition of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many are now atmospheric hotels, where you can sleep in a cool high-ceilinged stone room in a beautiful Zanzibari four-poster antique bed swathed with billowing fabrics, while looking out on the Stone’s Town’s rooftops and the ocean. A walk through the narrow, twisting passageways where veiled women haggle in markets that are full of the aroma of Zanzibar’s many spices, and old men sit on crumbling walls to drink chai (tea) and idly gossip, simply plunges you into the past.
Once you’ve explored the fascinating streets of Stone Town, and perhaps bought some fine souvenirs in the many curio shops, it’s time to head to the beach. The island has some excellent accommodation from 5-star glitzy luxury resorts to rustic reed and thatched bungalows, and the smooth beaches backed by swaying palms make for dazzling days in the sun. The Indian Ocean has warm clear blue waters, where waves break over coral reefs, and offers superb snorkelling, diving and deep-sea fishing, among a range of other water-sports including kite-surfing and parasailing.
Wildlife and Culture
There’s also the rare opportunity to swim with dolphins, and dhows (traditional white-sailed boats) can take you to see the impossibly beautiful sunsets that Zanzibar is so famous for. Inland, the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park is Zanzibar’s only protected reserve, and the only place in Africa where the red colobus monkey can be found. Visitors can go on guided walks or take themselves on a stroll along a boardwalk through mangroves and coastal forest to see birds and butterflies. There’s also the opportunity to dazzle the senses on a spice tour – a speciality unique to Zanzibar – to learn about the hundreds of different spices and fruits that grow on the island, from cinnamon and cloves, to jackfruit and sugarcane.
Finally, Zanzibar is a seafood-lover's paradise and numerous restaurants offer the freshest catch from game fish to giant lobster. Alternatively, join the locals for dinner at the charming nightly food market in the Forodhani Park on Stone Town’s waterfront where a collection of stalls serve up seafood and snacks cooked on charcoal burners under paraffin lamps. It opens at dusk and is a lively, atmospheric place to eat and is a Zanzibar must-do.
Best time to visit
Due to its proximity to the equator, Zanzibar’s climate is tropical with at least 7-8 hours of daily sunshine. Temperatures fluctuate between 25-35°C, but the heat is tempered by a sea breeze throughout the year. There are short rains in November-December and long rains March-mid-June, but during these times good deals can be had when booking flights and accommodation.
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