Exotic and romantic, the archipelago of Zanzibar is a place of legend, filled with wonders ranging from historical palaces to breathtaking beaches and cultural experiences.
In Zanzibar, sultans ruled from palaces and sailors arrived from Arabia, Persia, and India to trade for tropical fruits and spices. Legend says Sinbad the Sailor, of ‘A Thousand and One Arabian Nights’ , docked his ship here.
These days the archipelago attracts an increasingly sophisticated traveller who finds a different and exciting African experience. It comprises over 50 islands nestling in the Indian Ocean, part of the East African nation of Tanzania. The major inhabited islands of Zanzibar are Unguja (which we call Zanzibar) Pemba and Tumbatu, each with their own charms. Along the coast are luxurious resorts and hotels and Tanzania is one of the safest countries in East Africa.
‘Jambo’ grins Joseph the boatman as we step aboard his tiny vessel called Karibu (Swahili for welcome) ‘I am taking you to prison.’ With a parting glance behind us at the crumbling skyline of Stonetown, we head across the water to one of Zanzibar’s outlying islands. Prison Island was a former prison for slaves and a quarantine station for Zanzibar.
Back in Stonetown, Zanzibar’s main town which is a UNESCO world heritage site, we find a maze of twisting alleyways with over 200 huge ornately carved doorways, best explored on foot. Historic buildings such as the Old Fort, The House of Wonders and the Old Dispensary are a fascinating living monument to the curious mix of East African, Arab, Indian, Persian and European conquerors, traders and seafarers who all left their mark on the islands. They traded for cloves, nutmeg, ginger, peppers, cardamom and cinnamon, and all these spices still scent the markets and stores as we walk through the streets.
Must see in Stonetown:
Beit-el –Sahel - The imposing palace museum is a reconstruction of Sutan Syyid Said’s 19th century home. At the centre of Stone Town are the Persian styled Hamamni Baths, built at the command of Sultan Bargash at the end of the 19th century. Echoes of Zanzibar’s sinister past are to be found in Tippu Tip House, built for the notorious slave and ivory trader Hamad bin Muhammad el-Marjab.
Must do in Zanzibar:
* Sunset dhow cruise – romance on the high seas
*Spice tour –After touring a spice farm visit the markets where you can purchase pure spices. Later chefs teach you to create traditional dishes from the Swahili kitchen.
*The Jozani Forest - home of the red colobus monkey, a rare species found only in Zanzibar. These monkeys are full of character, and roam freely.
* Shopping Tours - Zanzibar is a shoppers’ paradise. Stonetowns winding streets are crammed with stores selling antiques, art, gemstones, jeweller, perfumes, fabric, silver and of course its famous spices.
Eating and drinking In Stonetown –
The balcony bar at Africa House, the former English Club in colonial times, is the place to be seen for sundowners.
After dark, head to Forodhani Gardens to eat freshly caught fish
Mercury’s, just 2 minutes from the Old Fort is a beachfront tribute to Freddy Mercury
Emerson & Green Hotel typifies Stonetown style with breathtaking architecture and is famous for its rooftop dinners
Approaching Zanzibar from the air, you see numerous tiny coral atolls and islands. Zanzibar beaches are among the best in the world from where you can watch the hand-sewn sails of traditional wooden fishing dhows.
Zanzibar's many coral reefs offer exhilarating scuba diving and snorkelling within a short boat ride from most beaches. Scuba is most spectacular off Pemba Island.
The island resorts are all different in style, ranging from the simple pleasures of Chumbe Island eco-resort south west of Stonetown, to the exclusive luxury of Mnemba Island off the northernmost point.
The Serena Inn; Stonetown, Zanzibar
The Serena in the heart of Stonetown is operated by the Serena Hotel Group and owned by the Aga Khan. The building has been restored in keeping with the surroundings.