Zanzibar needs no lengthy introduction; the Tanzanian island has a vibrant voice of its own.
In this story, Funmi Oyatogun of thevillagepot.com chronicles first-hand, creative travel adventures around the world and food experience inspired by these adventures. Before we dive into this fascinating island, let’s quickly share details on how to get there.
The three best routes from Lagos are on Kenya Airways (through Nairobi), Rwanda Air (through Kigali) and Ethiopian Airlines (through Addis Ababa). Often times, flights will land in Tanzania’s capital city – Dar es Salaam and then travellers can take a short 2-3 hours cruise to the island of Zanzibar.
So, let’s jump right in to the promised adventure of this East African treasure island. Here are 7 reasons to travel to Zanzibar on your next vacation.
If you want to buy very unique souvenirs, cloths or jewellery, Zanzibari markets and street stalls are the best places to get them. Goods in Zanzibari markets also have very dramatic packaging; with mixed spices arranged in shapes of Africa, hearts and birds.
2. Spice Tours of Zanzibar
Zanzibar is known for its spices so a trip to the island is incomplete without a spice tour. The tour is always a pleasant surprise because tourists can visit actual spice farms and see how a variety of spices are grown.
Who knew that cinnamon spice can be obtained from the root, bark and leaf of the cinnamon tree (pictured)? Who knew that ‘mixed spice’ is not a mix of spices but a spice farmed on its own? How about the plants producing ylang ylang, rose and olive oils? Spice tours are fascinating expeditions into the origin of spices we use everyday.
It should also be more appropriately named a ‘Spice and Fruit Tour’ because most of these farms have all kinds of fruit trees from oranges to star fruits and a variety of berries. In many spice tours, the guides are also able to pluck fresh coconuts and weave pretty baskets and souvenirs from the palm fronds. At the end of each tour, there is an array of all the spices and oils produced on the farm, available for purchase at discount prices.
The ocean off the coast of Zanzibar is unbelievably blue and glistens in the Sun but the beauty of the ocean cannot be fully appreciated until you grab a snorkelling mask and view the vibrant and colourful world under the sea. Snorkelling involves looking underwater through a large pair of goggles and shallow breathing tube.
You do not dive into the ocean, instead, you go right beneath the water and view the intricate coral reef and colourful sea creatures. Snorkelling is typically part of Blue Safari or Seafari packages and the masks are provided as part of the cost package. As long as you know how to swim, you can climb out of the dhows (or jump out, if you believe life is for living) and explore the under water world.
Anyone can snorkel, whether you are an expert or it is your first time. The dhow captains are eager to show you how to use the masks. If you have an under-water camera, you can bring back those awe-inspiring images to you family and friends.
From the gigantic red snappers in the markets to the seafood platter on the Blue Safari, Zanzibar does not have a shortage of seafood. For the first time, I was stuffed with seafood so much that 8 of us on our dhow were unable to finish the abundance of clams, lobsters, prawns, squids and other fruits of the sea.
If you are not into seafood, do not fear, there is always a provision of delicious barbecued chicken, rice, sauce and chips so that everyone can enjoy a delicious meal after a long day of exploring the sea and its white sand beaches.
Stonetown is the heart of Zanzibar – a very ancient settlement with tiny streets and stone buildings. On our way to our home-stay through the foot-wide alleys in Stone Town, we were determined to take in all the beauty only with our eyes.
We saw jewellery, scarves, and colourful stalls with harem trousers draped graciously on their lintels and we were focused until we saw soft yellow mangoes – almost too soft – and then we had to stop.
The streets of Eid celebrators, half of them on motorcycles and the other half chatting around intricate doors, become the maze through which guests experience Zanzibar
6. The gorgeous ocean and beaches
On a gorgeous island like Zanzibar, it is taken for granted that there will be blue ocean and clean beaches. But in Zanzibar, the ocean is very blue and glistens in the Sun. There is also a white-sand beach called Disappear Island which disappears in high tide and reappears in low tide. The sand is nearly as white as snow and the ultimate relaxation spot for sunbathing.
Those of us on our dhow all came from different places, spoke different languages and even preferred different sides of the Sandbank to sunbathe. Fruits, the blindingly blue ocean and seafood were our common muse.
Seafood on an island should no longer be amusing. But with good food, there is always an element of awe and fascination. As Taarab dancers and drummers welcomed us ashore from our dhows, we dusted off sea salt from our hair and wet sand from our trousers.
This platter was salty-sour because we dined together and felt like we were welcome in Zanzibar but also because the blue safari, or seafari as some call it, was our brief journey to paradise.
7. Truly amazing people
The greatest assets in any place are its people and that is true in Zanzibar. On our trip, we met our dhow captain, who taught us Swahili songs and gave us a truly magical experience on our dhow cruise. He was also very helpful in showing us novices how to snorkel and chopped up a fresh fruit salad for us when we stopped on a white-sand beach.
Then, our spice tour guides were the ultimate guides – climbing palm trees to bring down fresh coconuts, plucking star fruits for us and making baskets out of palm fronds to carry our loot.
There was also Malick – an amazing host who went way and beyond to make sure that his guests had the most authentic experience. The least I could do was cook a proper meal for our host before saying goodbye. Rice, sweet stew (pineapple and honey stew), fried plantains, grilled gigantic red snappers and zobo. It was my way of saying thank you to beautiful Zanzibar and its people.