Zanzibar Safari Finale
There’s something really special about the spice islands of Zanzibar and it makes for the ultimate post-safari destination. On Zanzibar, you can truly relax and unwind, read a book, take long walks, swim in beautiful waters, snorkel, dive, or enjoy fabulously fresh local produce served by friendly local staff with the biggest Zanzibari smiles.
This blog gives you an over view of Zanzibar before taking you through some for our favourite Zanzibar islands and locations. Then head over to our Zanzibar Exclusive Use Properties blog for a handful of our spice island favourites, from high end five star exclusive use to eco-retreat barefoot chic and a few in between!
Zanzibar is a cluster of small islands off the east coast of Tanzania. The namesake is also the largest island, home to the airport and majority of tourism services. There is a handful of smaller islands, each made up of limestone, coral and sandstone. This makes the islands relatively flat and easy to explore!
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Pemba Island is nicknamed “the green island” because of its fertile land. This island produces the lion’s share of cloves in the region today. It’s more hilly and fertile than the others and is much quieter than Zanzibar – perhaps that’s why we like it so much.
One of the most unique accommodations is offered on Pemba Island – an underwater room! It floats offshore (pictured), with its own rooftop deck and lounge at sea level. Pemba’s underwater world is impressive with brilliant marine life and diving is a must. Its showpiece is a glass-walled bedroom submerged four meters beneath the surface of the sea and complimented by the marine protection area the hotel has created around it.
Pemba a truly tropical paradise with its astonishing underwater seascapes and prolific, brilliantly coloured marine life. Don’t miss diving here – it’s fabulous. Misali, a marine conservation area just eight kilometres off Pemba’s west coast, provides some of the best diving in East Africa, as well as a turtle nesting sanctuary.
Image courtesy of The Mantra Resort
Mafia Island takes its name from the Arabic word “morfiyeh” meaning “group of islands”. It’s the third largest of the islands and was once a vital stop over for trading boats from Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Portugal that plied these waters centuries ago.
The waters around the island are extraordinarily fertile. They host an impressive population of whale sharks and attract humpbacks each year during breeding season. There are several great places to stay, amongst the nicest is eco lodge Pole Pole (which in Kiswahili translates as “slowly, slowly,” an invitation to kick back and take it easy) on the southern end of the island with easy access to the marine conservation areas.
Mafia Diving is an exceptional little operation within walking distance of Pole Pole that won’t just accommodate your underwater adventures such as swimming with whale sharks and reef diving. They’ll also take you on sunset cruises through the Mafia archipelago, to watch turtles hatching on Juani island and visit what is possibly East Africa’s only fruit bat sanctuary for Comoros lesser fruit bat. It’s located on little Chole Island, a 10 minute boat ride from Pole Pole. Here you’ll also be able to explore gracefully decaying 19th century ruins and then slake your thirst with a beer at the Red Herring bar and enjoy fabulous sea views.
Positioned a few kilometres off the coast of Zanzibar, Chumbe is landmarked by a tall lighthouse, that rises sharply, bone white, piercing the blue of the sky. It was built by the British in 1904 and has a place in the annals of maritime history. It witnessed the famous sea battle between the “Koenigsberg” and “Pegasus” on September 20, 1914 in the German-British skirmish that became known as The Battle of Zanzibar. Fitted with gas in 1926, the lighthouse still works today and winks encouragingly all night long at the dhows which ply these waters.
The island and its surrounding waters were proclaimed as Chumbe Island Coral Park, the first privately established, privately managed marine protected area in the world, in 1994. Founded by German former aid worker Sibylle Riedmiller, who first swam in the waters surrounding the island a quarter of a century ago, it is fully-funded through ecotourism. The reefs here present extraordinary diversity. Jen Vernon from Australian Institute of Marine Science has described them as “one of the most spectacular ‘coral gardens’ anywhere in the world.” More than 200 species of hard coral, and 450 fish species live within the mile stretch of the eastern side of the island.
Chumbe isn’t just home to a secret host of sea life. It also boasts enormous, endangered coconut crabs and the rare Aders’s duiker. The first of these elusive creatures was brought to the island in 1998 in a bid to secure safe haven for one of the most threatened species of antelope.
You can visit Chumbe on a day trip from Zanzibar, snorkel the reefs and walk the coral rag island. Or you can stay the night at one of the eco bungalows raised on stilts. Make sure you get a guide to escort you after dark and search for the coconut crab. They are the planet’s largest land living anthropoid and can weigh up to five kilograms and live 60 years. They use a highly developed sense of smell to source food, including coconuts, which they pluck from trees and crack open with their claws like giant nutcrackers.
Dubbed the “Millionaire’s Island,” &Beyond Mnemba Island lies just 4.5 kilometres off the north eastern tip of Zanzibar. At just 500 metres in diameter and 1.5 kilometres in circumference, this tiny island is wrapped by an oval reef – known as the Mnemba Atoll – a marine conservation area.
This tiny destination isn’t just famed for its price tag, it’s also celebrated for the privacy it affords and its role in marine conservation. A monitoring and protection project for the green turtles that nest here has been in place for over two decades, with staff documenting all turtle breeding activities.
Whilst the island presents the perfect option to sit on the beach and do precisely nothing other than watch the sea and the sky, you can get active if you choose thanks to an onsite Professional Association of Diving Instructors centre as well as kayaking and snorkelling opportunities.
Image courtesy of andBeyond
Thanda, also known by its original name “Shungu Mbili” is, together with the similarly uninhabited islands of Nyororo and Mbarakuni, cupped between Mafia and Tanzania and situated within its own marine park. Part of the Mafia Island district, it’s owned by Swedish entrepreneurs and philanthropists Dan and Christin Olofsson. The entrepreneurs discovered the island while embarking on a hunt for a private retreat in 2006. They spotted the minuscule island from the air whilst on reconnaissance along the Tanzanian coast, a teardrop with an emerald interior and a salt white hem of beach in aquamarine waters. Measuring just 250 by 200 metres, it only takes 20 minutes to circumnavigate on foot.
Thanda offers some of the most sumptuous island living you’ll find – a sprawling luxurious beach villa. The villa, which you hire in entirety, sleeps 10 adults in five huge ensuite bedrooms with extra space for kids. On the other side of the island are a couple of Robinson Crusoe type chalets built off the ground with vast thatch roofs, to accommodate the rest of your enormous party, bringing the island to a nine-bedroom destination.
The sea around Mafia is noted for its diving and Thanda works well as a launch point – Chole Bay is exceptional. The deeper channels around the islands are home to at least two endangered species; the docile dugong (or sea cow) is thought to find refuge here, and the small islands around the archipelago including Shungu Mbili remain popular breeding grounds for turtles.
If you book Thanda, you book the whole island with all its toys (skis, jet skis, kayaks and boats). You’ll be secluded from the world as it comes with more than a kilometre of sea buffer. Not even the paparazzi can get close here!
Image courtesy of Thanda Island Private Marine Reserve
The largest island in an archipelago of dozens, Zanzibar is actually named Unguja but referred to as Zanzibar colloquially. Located 35 kilometres from Tanzania’s mainland, it’s 85 kilometres at its greatest length and 39 kilometres wide. While it’s laced with many beautiful salt-white beaches, Nungwi, Matemwe, Jambiani and Bwejuu are considered the loveliest.
The island hosts dozens of hotels that cater to every penchant and pocket. The northeast has some of the best reefs on offer and Matemwe is a favourite. There’s luxury accommodation, from beach bungalows to private houses and cottages.
Southwest Zanzibar is perfect for that sense of escapism, with fewer tourists and great marine parks and conservation projects. There are also a number of smaller islands off the coast to explore, both inhabited and uninhabited.
Along with fantastic beaches, Zanzibar also boasts lush tropical rainforests. Jozani Forest, located just south-east of Stone Town, is the largest forest in Zanzibar and is home to a variety of endemic species including the rare Red Colobus monkey. Accompanied by a guide, you can head out on a walking tour of the forest, taking in is splendid and diverse scenery and unique wildlife.
Don’t forget Stone Town itself and of course a Spice Tour.
No trip to Zanzibar would be complete without a visit to its capital Stone Town, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island’s flamboyant capital is imbued with cultural piquancy and chock full of glorious old buildings, testament to its colourful history. The House of Wonders, or Beit-al-Ajaib, stands majestic on the waterfront, its impressive facade standing sentinel over the shore. Meanwhile the Slave Market is a harrowing reminder of the horrors of human trafficking, while the Old Customs House, built in 1865, serves as a memento from the island’s time as a busy trading post.
There are heaps of fabulous little shops tucked into narrow streets including local designer Doreen Mashika, and the glorious Mrembo Spa for locally grown flowers, herbs and spices. As for eateries, The Taperia is a cool verandah tapas bar above the old Post Office. The Tea House at Emerson Spice is a glorious rooftop restaurant with views at minaret height across Stone Town towards the sea, where you can indulge in the specialty dégustation menu. Last but by no means least, dinner at The Secret Garden, tucked into a courtyard of an old Omani palace, is about as special as it gets.