The EA guide to Zanzibar holidays

A luxury safari holiday in Tanzania just isn’t complete without a beach finale on the islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago. With a long history of colonisation, trade and pirates, this wondrous spice island paradise is rich in culture, and exotic sights and experiences. The mere word “Zanzibar” conjures up images of long white sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, traditional wooden dhows sailing by on glorious oceans, vibrant and aromatic spice markets and plantations, underwater worlds abundant with marine life, and forests teeming with birds, reptiles and monkeys. The beaches that fringe the islands offer guests diving, snorkelling, fishing, sailing, boating, kite sailing, canoeing and lovely, relaxing Zanzibar luxury holidays, while the cuisine is rich in spices, fresh fruits that are grown locally grown and seafood that’s caught daily.

Lying 80 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, the Zanzibar archipelago is made up of a number of smaller islands and the main island of Unguja, also known as Zanzibar Island. While we often prefer to get away from the crowds of the main island and experience the smaller islands of Pemba, Mafia and Mnemba, Unguja has many great attractions, including the old quarter of Stone Town. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Stone Town is a wonderful hotchpotch of cultures, languages and architecture, and a must if you’re visiting Zanzibar.

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Stone Town

Stone Town is a historically important town and a melting pot of cultures, architecture and languages. This once small fishing village is now a thriving port. So, what to do in Stone Town Zanzibar? Walking around Stone Town you can see modern development with new buildings and shop fronts beside old whitewashed walls with Zanzibari doors.

Many of its buildings are so old they are literally falling apart as the salt air takes control and makes it difficult to preserve the monuments for posterity. Cobbled stone alleys meander through town, locals sit sipping coffee, playing games and talking to friends just as they did a century ago. Shops display their exquisite wares of spices, fabrics, perfumes and oils. It’s a wonderful town to explore for a few days.

Zanzibar coastline

Zanzibar is 120 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide. It’s easy to see why so many people want to come and explore when the coastline is such a spectacular feast for the eyes.

It is important to note the huge tidal beaches – at low tide you can walk out for miles and see locals catching octypus and children playing soccer on the beach. There are lagoons and rocky outcrops. The popular beaches on the main island are of course Stone Town (while not an actual leisure luxury beach it is on the coastline) and Nungwi which is the vibrant village on the island. You can expect sunny glorious days and soulful nights.

Matemwe beach is quiet, relaxed and boasts an impressive reef just outside and the world-famous Mnemba Atoll. This atoll offers fantastic diving and snorkelling and you may also encounter dolphins and turtles. Accommodations here are smaller, more boutique in style so it’s ideal for romantics! It is still close enough for a visit to Nungwi if you want a piece of the action.

Jambiani is where you can witness local and beach life coming together. There are barefoot bars and restaurants, an epic tidal beach that creates a ‘river’ amid the sandbanks at low tide. Just behind the white palm-lined beach you’ll find laid back life with locals playing bao, embroidering hats and chatting and laughing. For something different visit Uzi Island at low tide or by canoe through the mangroves and here you travel by oxcart.

Lesser-known Kizimkazi is an authentic fishing village – small and quiet but very special. There are coral cliffs surrounding the area, ideal for the sunset and there’s a reef so close you can swim to it for a daily snorkelling session. It is also the most frequented spot by dolphins and guests have even swum with them. If you love seafood or fishing it’s the place to go with tuna, marlin, red snapper and dorado often caught offshore.

Tumbatu Island

The inhabitants of this tiny island on the north-east coast of Zanzibar live an isolated life and the island is powered entirely by solar panels. Everyone who is not from Tumbatu needs a written permit by the village elder to enter the island. This trip is a rare opportunity to experience something truly meaningful and personally rewarding.

From Nungwi, you take a boat ride for 30 minutes to the island and the Sheha (village elder) will welcome you. Voodo is still practised on the island and the magic man, Mganga will do the “pururu”, future telling in sand and reading your signs, “mchanga”.  You will walk around the island, seeing locals plant and harvest their crops, you’ll pass women in the water, surrounding the small fish with their netting or collecting crabs and clams on the beach.

Jozani Forest

Jozani is actually a rainforest and located on the way to the South East coast. It forms part of the Chwaka Bay Conservation Area. Easily explored in a few hours, Jozani is the largest area of mature forest remaining on the main island of Zanzibar. It is also a hot spot of biodiversity and rather special scenery. Here, visitors can come across endemic species like the rare Red Colobus Monkey, only found in Zanzibar and one of Africa’s rare primates. The population on the island is 3,500 monkeys of which a third can be found in Jozani.

The nature trail is only a 45-minute walk and you will see a significant change in scenery. You enter the mangrove forest where crabs and fish are seen in muddy waters at low tide, then it becomes the eucalyptus and mahogany tree area and you may spot Blue Skyes monkeys, elephant shrews and bush babies.

Makunduchi Village

So many of our guests want to delve into the real Zanzibar life that locals live. A visit to Makunduchi Village can provide this in spades! There is a quiet, slow life in the village and it’s very red – red soil, red clay huts and stained clothing on the cheeky children as they play. You are guided through the gardens and plantation of bananas and mangoes, taken to the well where water is sourced each day by all of the locals. Visit the school, local hospital, and look at some stunning clay huts with courtyards and see how they make charcoal. You will chat with the locals and get a unique perspective on Zanzibari life.

Mafia Island

This small island is unspoilt with untouched beaches and warm air and sea temperatures all year round. There’s a diversity of ecosystems here with mangrove forests, stretches of golden beach and the brilliant turquoise waters. The island is abundant with vegetation and wildlife like blue duikers, genets, vervet monkeys, fruit bats hanging from trees, bush babies and wild pigs. Then you get the marine life and wow does it impress. The Mafia Island Marine Park is a conservation area that was formed a number of years ago to protect the reef. Its reef system is mostly pristine with over 50 types of coral and more than 400 species of fish. Visibility is great for snorkelling and diving.  The main drawcard for divers and ocean lovers is certainly swimming with whale sharks that come through between October and March.

There are a handful of accommodation options and the people here are so friendly and welcoming.  Locals either work in tourism, are farmers or fishermen and women.

This is certainly a paradise worth exploring and Tanzania’s best snorkelling and diving location.

Pemba

This green, hilly island is located 80 kilometres from the Tanzania mainland. This island is far more green and hilly than its sister Zanzibar. There is something like 3.5 million close trees covering the island, ten types of mango trees and clumps of native forests. With this vegetation comes a rich birdlife.  The history of the clove trade dates back to late 19th century when Sultan Said, who lived on the main Zanzibar Island developed his spice trade empire across the islands. He introduced the clove-planting initiative on Pemba which today is solely controlled by the Government, Zanzibar State Trading Company. Cloves are harvested twice a year and are considered some of the best quality in the world. The Pemba Essential Oil Distillery is a great place to visit during your stay.  Here, they extract the essential oil from cloves and create wonderful oils and potions and lotions!

Pemba is a short small plane flight away from Zanzibar and worth considering if you want to get away from the Zanzibar crowds.

Misali Island

Located just outside Pemba, Misali Island is surrounded by crystal waters and stunning reefs easily reached from the pristine stretches of beach. This island is part of the Pemba Channel Conservation Area which covers Pemba’s entire west coast. Divers, snorkellers, and beach-goers pay an admission fee to enjoy the privilege of time on the island. There are no permanent settlements here and camping is not permitted. So this is a day trip not to miss if you’re staying on Pemba.  The attraction is the empty beaches, fantastic reefs, Baobab Beach and inland caves through to be inhabited by the spirits of ancestors.

Snorkelling is breathtaking and even close to the beach it is possible to see the larger species of fish. The beesh is really steep and the sands change into vibrant colours.

Mnemba Island

Mnemba Island in the north east is a marine conservation area and home to a very special coral atoll that supports an overwhelming number of tropical fish and other marine life. Another stunning coral garden is Chumbe Island just off the coast of Zanzibar and a short boat ride away.

Activities abound

Zanzibar can offer as much as you seek or nothing but relaxation, the choice is yours. Some of our favourite water-based activities include diving, snorkelling, dhow sailing, sand bar picnics, canoeing and deep sea fishing expeditions.

On land, we love the Swahili cooking classes, spice plantation tours, Jozani forest walk, Stone Town by day and night tours so you see locals and their daily routines plus learn about local culture, history and architecture along the way.

For total relaxation, make sure you visit Mrembo, a small unique spa that specialises in traditional beauty products and treatments from Zanzibar. Only locally grown spices, herbs and plants are used. Workshops are offered here too in spice mixing, tinga tinga painting and batik.

There are some brilliant taste tours of Stone Town to tickle your tastebuds. You get to try freshly baked chapati and mandazi (locally made doughnuts) made by local women in the alleyways of Stone Town. Sample the best local coffee, treasure hunt for home made Zanzibar candy and try the Zanzibari shared lunch of fish, vegetables, mussels and octopus.

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