Our guide to
Welcome to this wonderous Spice Island paradise
Zanzibar throws up images of long white sandy palm-fringed beaches, glorious ocean horizons dotted with dhows sailing by, vibrant spice markets, spice plantations and under water worlds abundant with marine life. Zanzibar is beautifully aromatic thanks to its spice production namely cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. Forests teem with birds, reptiles and monkeys, whilst the beaches fringe the island and offer guests relaxing Zanzibar holidays.
Zanzibar has quite the colourful history thanks to trading routes as merchant vessels came from India, Arabia, Persia, China, Japan and Russia. Traders brought metal tools, jewellery and weapons and took away with them palm oil, tortoiseshell, ivory and slaves.
Today, Zanzibar is officially part of Tanzania, yet operates semi-autonomously as an archipelago. There are many smaller islands and two large ones called Unguja (the main island that inherited the Zanzibar namesake) and Pemba Island. The island of Unguja is separated from the mainland by a shallow channel 37 kilometres across at the narrowest point. The capital and historic hub of Zanzibar is Stone Town, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Zanzibar comes from the Persian zang-bar signifying ‘black coast’ perhaps linking to its trade route significance in spice and slavery.
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Facts and figures are not for everyone. So we will keep this brief and interesting, mixing up some statistics and our take on Zanzibar.
Where is it and what should one expect?
This archipelago in the Indian Ocean sits 80 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania. Visiting Zanzibar today you can explore on land and experience vibrant cultures, fascinating history and beautiful fllora and fauna. Cultural visits to local villages, educational outings, cooking classes and more shine the light on the melting pot of diversity. For ocean lovers, Zanzibar holidays offer diving, snorkelling, fishing, sailing, boating, kite sailing, canoeing and more.
Zanzibar rose to prominence as a flourishing commercial hub in the 13th century with Swahili communities dominating the islands. Life was ornamental and celebrated through impressive buildings, carvings, styled glass and latticed windows with plasterwork friezes and wall niches. In Zanzibar today, Swahili artefacts decorate resort receptions and private houses and men still weave through the crowded streets wearing long, flowing white robes with embroidered hats (kofia).
Despite deep seated traditions of hospitality and of religious tolerance, colonisation over the centuries in Zanzibar by Portuguese, Omani and European invaders has done little to dent the unique cultural identity of the Swahili people.
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. Walking around Stone Town you can see modern development with new buildings and shop fronts beside old white washed walls with Zanzibari doors. Many of its buildings are so old they are literally falling apart as the salt air takes control and make 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 is a wonderful town to explore for a few days.
Zanzibar coastal areas are beautiful and their landscapes diverse with tidal beaches, lagoons and rocky outcrops. The north coast around Nungwi offers a vibrant village, beautiful beaches and the most spectacular sunsets on the 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.
Best time to visit Zanzibar
High season is June to August and then November to January. The coolest months are June to October and temperatures average at 26 degrees. December to March temperatures can soar beyond 30. Short rains are in November, long rains April to June. All rainy seasons see showers in morning or afternoon with sunshine intermittent throughout.
Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim and this religion observes the fast of Ramadan for a month every year, during which time believers are forbidden to eat, drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset. This sees many restaurants, bars and shops close during the day.
Conservation in Zanzibar
Zanzibar conservation efforts focus heavily on sustainability of coral reefs, marine species such as the turtle and uninhabited islands like Chumbe. There are also a number of Microfinance projects to assist communities set up businesses that sustain a number of people through employment. In Zanzibar, there is a Forest Authority to protect the remaining habitat and its residents.