Island escapes: Swahili sunsets in Zanzibar


ts main export could also be pictures of candy-coloured, gold-rimmed sunsets, however Dave Buchanan discovers that there’s extra to Zanzibar than meets the attention 

There wasn’t a second to get better. We’d simply dropped our baggage on the unassuming however glorious Al-Minar Resort when Amir-the-guide arrived to take us on a strolling tour of Stone City, the traditional coronary heart of Zanzibar Metropolis. Which is a must-do. It’s a captivating place, stuffed with magnificence and squalor and historical past. 

A information is a good suggestion, not a lot to keep away from getting misplaced (which you’ll – it’s a maze; however fairly protected to wander in), however as a result of all the things has a narrative. Like most guides we met, Amir was a fount of data, with insightful solutions to our questions. 

Zanzibar’s historical past is just too advanced to enter right here, however the typical suspects – slavery, colonialism, faith, greed, violence – are all there, and in some methods it’s outstanding that it’s peaceable now. Amir and others assured us that each one races and creeds get alongside high-quality; however it’s solely 50-odd years because the horrendous bloodbath of the Zanzibar Revolution. You must marvel.

At present, mainland Tanzania is pretty balanced, religiously, however Zanzibar (generally known as the “African Hong Kong”, for its semi-autonomous existence) is 95% Muslim; vacationers are greeted with the ever-present Swahili ‘Jambo!’ however in case you get in first, ‘Salaam aleikum’ can go down properly.

Stone City suffers from lack of upkeep, and maybe corruption; it’s crumbling slowly, and yearly unscrupulous locals promote a couple of extra of the well-known carved picket doorways to unscrupulous foreigners. 

However there’s nonetheless loads to thrill (the numerous doorways that stay) and horrify (the fish market), in equal measure. One other delight was Amir’s passionate a cappella rendition of We Are The Champions, as we handed the childhood residence of Stone City’s most well-known son, Freddie Mercury.

All of which meant we would have liked a beer and a sundown earlier than tackling the Forodhani Gardens evening meals market. We have been gratefully glugging chilly Kilis on the deck of Stone City’s Livingstone Seashore Restaurant – our reward for the 23 hours we’d spent getting there – once I was struck by that first sundown. Little did I do know that we may depend on each subsequent night rewarding us with extra of the identical.

It was on the market, only a few streets away, that the Spice Islands’ tumultuous again story got here collectively in a typically shocking mixture of cultures, flavours and creativeness. Be cautious of the seafood sosaties; some are brisker than others (tip: be a part of the longest queue). However thrilling in a great way are urojo (a thick mango and tamarind soup), candy potato samosas, contemporary sugarcane juice with lime and ginger, and pizza and crêpes in contrast to any you’ll discover in New York or Paris – with unique however delectable ingredient mixtures which will embrace mayonnaise, atjar and egg, or “dessert” varieties containing chocolate, banana or Nutella.

Leisure got here courtesy of the Makachu divers, (largely) teenage boys who fling themselves acrobatically off the harbour wall into alarmingly shallow water. One in all many contradictions right here: it’s nice to observe however kids have been injured, paralysed, even killed making an attempt to out-perform one another. There’s now an initiative in place to make it safer. 

The following morning, a half-hour boat journey to Jail Island received out over a Spice Tour, although that’s mentioned to be a great time out, too. By no means used as a jail, Changuu (its “different” identify) has as its important attraction a set of Aldabra big tortoises, a present from the British governor of the Seychelles again in 1919. They’re spectacular creatures, and never known as “big” for nothing; adults common 250kg. Additionally on the island are dik diks (tiny antelope, so much smaller than the tortoises), lizards and different wildlife. There’s additionally a small reef shut by, in case you need to snorkel; ask your boatman.

Seashore and past

If the normal exotic-destination seaside vacation is what you’re after, the northern finish of Unguja (Zanzibar’s important island, and usually what folks imply once they say “Zanzibar”) is an efficient guess, although the entire place is peppered with beautiful seashores. Kendwa has miles of excellent sand however felt a bit sterile; Nungwi, shut by, could be very touristy however extra relaxed, informal. Regardless of being solely 60km (midway throughout the island) from Zanzibar Metropolis, congestion accounts for a 90-minute drive. However a Swahili phrase heard typically is Pole pole – decelerate, chill, what’s the hurry? (One other you would possibly recognise is Hakuna matata. Due to Disney, you’ll hear that always, too.)

Nungwi village itself is an unprepossessing place, contrasting uncomfortably with the comparative luxurious of the vacationer lodging proper subsequent door. Nonetheless, not all over the place is that “luxurious”, in First World phrases; what you pay for is the privilege of dwelling on excellent white sand, actually inside metres of the nice and cozy, crystal-clear ocean. 

And it’s a privilege. Zanzibar averages a few levels north or south of 30°C, all 12 months spherical. That’s fairly doable; however within the wetter months, added humidity makes issues much less comfy. Strolling into the ocean – typically that Goldilocks temperature someplace between “refreshing” and “bathwater” – a number of instances a day is a pleasure. “Winter” is an efficient time to go to, too: temperatures within the excessive 20s, and dry, which sounds fairly good to chilly South Africans round July to September.

However don’t fall into the swim-laze-eat-swim lure (until that’s precisely what you want). Dangerous examples abound: euro-rich vacationers in too-small Speedos, burned black and bored, sporting a each day path between seaside towel and bar. We got here throughout a funeral for a fisherman who had drowned, and witnessed a vacationer wandering via the group, taking footage of the coffin. Folks actually do lose their minds and their manners on trip.

The countryside is there to discover, for one factor. A great tour to take is by buggy: small two-person, one-gear autos with excessive floor clearance, rudimentary suspension and kooky steering. Once more, the cheerful information who led our ramshackle convoy was excellent, and we stopped steadily for views, factoids and anecdotes. 

Simply exterior Nungwi are the limestone and dolomite Tazari Caves, essentially the most intensive in Zanzibar, and solely rediscovered in 2013. Damaged pottery and chains estimated to be tons of of years outdated have been discovered there; it’s thought they might have been a hideout for escaped slaves. Anticipate stalactites, stalagmites, crystals – and large bats. Strive to not stand within the cave entrance at sundown, once they all fly out… The cave system is small in comparison with Cango, say, however price seeing, and a great change from the seaside. And there’s a chameleon sanctuary subsequent door. 

After the bats and reptiles, you could want a beer and a sundown. Appropriate websites in Nungwi are plentiful; most institutions have rooftop pubs or giant decks. If you get hungry, seafood is the way in which to go – it’s plentiful, contemporary (fishing boats are moored all alongside the coast) and scrumptious. Should you crave well-made Western meals or ice cream, you’re in luck; there’s lots of Italian affect round. Do not forget that 80-odd years in the past, close by Somalia, Ethiopia and others have been Italian colonies.

Whereas gazing out to sea as you plough your means via your prawns, you would possibly see horse riders on Nungwi seaside. The Zanzibar Horse Membership gives varied rides and actions, together with swimming with horses. (Typically you’ll additionally see cows on the seaside. Don’t attempt to swim with them.) The membership additionally runs an Appaloosa breeding programme and a horse and donkey sanctuary. On one event, we noticed a horse with saddle strolling on the seaside by itself. Two minutes later, the remainder of the using group got here into view – together with one rider dejectedly strolling. Ask for a horse that matches your talents! 

Maasai dreaming

There’s one other widespread however uncommon sight on the seaside: Maasai warriors from northern Tanzania, tall and muscular, absolutely kitted out with shiny conventional robes and intimidating weaponry… and Ray-Bans and a cellphone. 

Within the Nineties, lack of alternative at residence introduced younger Maasai to Dar es Salaam, the place they rapidly discovered employment as safety guards; they have been courageous, extremely ethical, and tended to stay collectively, so it was troublesome to deprave them. The apply turned fashionable, and unfold. Now, sadly, not all are as admirable; it’s mentioned that some are usually not even actual Maasai. 

A brief stroll of your individual down the seaside will convey you to the Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond, the place rescued turtles are rehabilitated, hatchlings are raised (and launched annually, in February), and you’ll feed the adults

One of many extra well-known sights of Zanzibar is diving and snorkelling, and for good motive. The range of sea life is marvellous, as is the readability of the water, and there are various operators who will take you to close by reefs and islands to discover. Reef well being is regarding, and there’s a concerted transfer to protect the coral that’s there; as with many points, native opinion is split on how profitable it’s been. 

Should you’re feeling indulgent (and that is undoubtedly the place for it), a great way to see the ocean is to hitch a gaggle on a catamaran or dhow day journey. It was expensive, however all our drinks, meals (cooked contemporary on board, and scrumptious) and snorkelling gear was included, and the easygoing crew knew the very best spots to drop anchor. On our strategy to one vacation spot (simply off a non-public island, rumoured to be part-owned by Invoice Gates), we have been joined by a pod of dolphins swimming joyously underneath and round our yacht. The colorful fish and coral we swam amongst later have been simply the cherry on high.

Price it? Oh sure. Zanzibar has its issues, like all over the place else. However journey with integrity, embrace the sudden, and take it slowly – pole pole – and also you’ll get residence relaxed and richer for it. And with extra sundown pictures than any sane particular person wants.

What to do in Zanzibar

Stone City 

You received’t need to miss a guided strolling tour of Zanzibar Metropolis’s historic coronary heart. Plan upfront by emailing [email protected]. He fees $20.

+255 717 017 859; WhatsApp +255 776 068 531

Jail Island 

The boat journey with Yussuf (+255 777 861 188) will price upwards of $10 relying on how many individuals are travelling. Island entrance is $4.


There are a variety of choices. We did the Journey Tour, which concerned visiting seashores, a farm, a village and different websites of curiosity, on- and off-road. It prices $60 every for 3 to 4 hours.

+255 777 114 030

Tazari Caves

They’re close to Tazari Village simply exterior Nungwi. A great tip is to take your individual torch (theirs are a bit feeble), and be ready for the warmth. Entry is $10, and it’s one other $10 for the chameleon sanctuary.

+255 717 300 704

Fb: Tazari Caves

Horse using

Zanzibar Horse Membership is situated behind the Z Resort in Nungwi. Rides from $40.

Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond

To not be confused with Baraka Pure Aquarium, which is solely business, that is the actual deal; they cost $10.

+255 773 204 320

Fb: Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond


East Africa Diving in Nungwi is skilled, pleasant and accommodating. Dives from $125 for 2 folks (or cheaper per particular person if there are extra of you). Padi programs from $150.

+255 777 416 425

Catamaran day journeys 

Zanzibar Watersports in Kendwa fees upwards of $800.

+255 777 415 660 


Mainly, being towed behind a ship on a jazzed-up tractor inside tube. Expensive however enjoyable, and you’ll inform the operator how excessive (or soporific) you need the journey to be. Nungwi Excessive Parasailing & Watersports fees $60 for 3 folks for about 20 minutes.   

+255 629 987 373

Zanzi information

  • Zanzibar was as soon as the world’s largest producer of cloves, that are nonetheless the island’s single main money crop.
  • Zanzibar is definitely a gaggle of islands, together with the 2 giant, important ones – Unguja and Pemba.
  • On 27 August 1896, Stone City witnessed the shortest conflict in recorded historical past. The Anglo-Zanzibar Struggle, between the UK and the Zanzibar Sultanate, lasted between 38 and 45 minutes.
  • One of many Aldabra big tortoises on Jail Island is regarded as greater than 200 years outdated, and several other are over 150. They’ve a resting coronary heart charge of six beats a minute, which can clarify their longevity.
  • Farouk Bulsara, born right here in 1946, is undoubtedly essentially the most well-known particular person to assert Zanzibari heritage. The world knew him as Freddie Mercury.
  • In 1973, Zanzibar launched color tv – the primary place in Africa to take action. 
  • Zanzibar’s Jozani Forest is thought for its uncommon pink colobus monkeys, however at one time it was additionally residence to the Zanzibar leopard, now presumed extinct. The cats are mentioned to have been introduced over from mainland Tanzania for the amusement of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who stored them within the palace till they grew too ferocious and have been launched into the wild after which later hunted out of existence.

Zanzibar Lodgings

Al-Minar Resort
Snug, good worth, near all the things in Stone City. And supervisor Santosh is a relaxing, ever-obliging gem. 

From R880 per room pn

+255 242 230 457 

ZaVa Nungwi Resort 

In Nungwi, this unassuming inn has a great restaurant, useful workers and is correct on the seaside. 

From R1 760 pps pn

+255 655 469 837


By Dave Buchanan

A model of this text initially appeared within the July 2022 print situation of Getaway

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