Zanzibar is a jewel in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of the Tanzanian mainland. This archipelago boasts dreamy white sandy beaches, a green tropical interior and spice plantations that centuries ago made these islands a magnet for traders from both East and West. Exotic Zanzibar never fails to enthrall visitors with its glorious beaches and rich cultural heritage.
Zanzibar (map) is an archipelago, of which the largest island, Unguja, is what most tourists refer to as Zanzibar. Zanzibar has a truly breathtaking palm-fringed coastline lined with blindingly white, powdery beaches that seem to go on forever. The turquoise sea lapping at the island’s shores is crystal clear and hosts various coral reefs just off the coast.
The interior of Zanzibar is covered in dense tropical foliage and expansive spice plantations (cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, etc…). The main roads are lined with beautiful mango and coconut trees, while along the coast, you can find houses made of coral.
Things to see in Stonetown
While the principle attraction for many visitors to the island are the beaches, Zanzibar has much more to offer. The capital of Zanzibar is Stonetown, which historic centre is composed of a labyrinth of streets lined with magnificent Arabic and Indian-styled buildings.
Some of the houses have impressive metal-studded doors that were designed to ward off attacks by armies of elephants! This UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its colourful history, eclectic architecture, bustling markets and constant scent of spices in the air is an absolute must for any visitor to the island.
In addition, do not miss the old slave market and the cathedral next door, the Darajani market, the night market in the Forodhani Gardens at the waterfront (when dozens of vendors open up for business selling the island’s many delicacies), Freddie Mercury’s birthplace, and the Old Fort. In addition, I can recommend shopping for souvenirs in Stonetown as I found the quality and variety to be superior to those found on the mainland.
Above all, do not miss the breathtaking sunsets from any one of the terraces that face the sea. Stonetown is truly magical!
If you choose to stay at one of the beach hotels, try to plan a night or two in one of the hotels in Stonetown. An alternative is to take a day tour of Stonetown. Another interesting tour is the Spice Tour that brings visitors to various spice plantations and usually includes some of the island’s historical sights.
The waters surrounding the archipelago harbour an astonishing variety of marine life, ranging from spongy corals and colourful clown fish, to manta rays, hawksbill turtles, barracudas and sharks. Most hotels offer diving and/or snorkelling trips to nearby reefs and outlying islands.
Zanzibar can easily be reached by air from Dar-Es-Salaam (‘Dar’) or from Arusha/Kilimanjaro, making it ideal after a safari. There are also frequent boat services from Dar and neighbouring islands. Search for hotels in Zanzibar.