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The Snows of Kilimanjaro
To hear someone merely whisper the word Zanzibar conjures up impossibly romantic images combining the magical adventures of Sinbad the Sailor and the erotic tales of Scheherazade's Thousand and One Nights.
Not so far off the truth - Zanzibar has a very special kind of magic! Zanzibar has a fascinating and often bloody history, an enchanting Arab Kasbah, impossibly white beaches, turquoise seas, rustling palm trees, friendly people and the scent of coffee and spices on the balmy evening breeze!
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania consisting of Zanzibar Island, Pemba Island and many smaller islands. Zanzibar is a mere 35 km off the African coast, reached in 20 minutes by air or by fast ferry from Dar es Salaam in about two hours.
The climate is tropical but tempered by cooling breezes from the Indian Ocean. Traditionally there are two rainy seasons each year, the Masika, or long rains, lasting more or less from March to May, and the Mvuli, or short rains, lasting from October to early December. However, even during the rains the sun still shines on most days.
The history of Zanzibar would be incomplete without the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and many other spices which brought the Sultans of Oman and the beginnings of the infamous slave trade. They can be seen in the plantations just outside Zanzibar town.
Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers to its shores for centuries. The earliest visitors who are said to have arrived are the Arabs in the 8th century. For centuries they sailed with the monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices.
Stone Town is the vibrant somewhat enchanting capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most unique cities in the world. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian and African traditions and architecture there are a number of historical and beautiful buildings.
The Old Fort is a heavy stone fortress built in the 17th century by the Omani and adjacent is the House of Wonders formerly Sultan's residence. The former Sultan's Palace is now the Palace Museum and is located on the seafront. Built in the late 19th century it now hosts a museum about the daily life of the Zanzibari royal family.
Africa House was the old English club and explorers like Livingstone and Stanley relaxed in the bar. Livingstone's House is a small palace that was originally built for Sultan Majid bin Said but later used by European missionaries. David Livingstone lived here while preparing for his last expedition to the interior of Tanganyika. The Old Dispensary was built to serve as a charity hospital for the poor but later used as a dispensary.
The site of the old Slave Market is quite an experience. Go into the holding chambers to see how this wretched piece of history played itself out in small dark dungeon-type cells. The Anglican Cathedral sits atop the world's last slave market. The altar is said to be built over the market's whipping post.
Jozani Natural Forest Reserve is located in the central east region of Zanzibar Island and is home to the rare Red Colobus Monkey which is endemic to Zanzibar. The elusive Zanzibar leopard last sited several years ago, is said to feed here at night, which is perhaps why the reserve is only open during the day!
At the northern tip of the island is Nungwi, a small sleepy fishing village, approached by a road lined by banana palms, mangroves and coconut trees. This is the dhow building capital of Zanzibar Island, so it is a good place to see traditional craftsmen at work. At sunset about 50 boats leave from Nungwi, all of them with white sails at a certain angle, to go deep sea fishing at night, a beautiful sight.
Situated on the southern point of the island, Kizmikazi fishing village is home to several schools of bottle-nosed dolphins which can often be sighted following a short boat trip from the village. Kizmkazi is also the site of a 12th century mosque, the earliest evidence of Islam in east Africa.
The beaches in Zanzibar are a paradise, interspersed with picturesque fishing villages, where the people live a simple way of life, unchanged over the years. There are more than 25 fantastic beaches in Zanzibar, and some are so peaceful and remote that the only noise breaking the silence is likely to be the ocean.
Paje is a small, sleepy fishing village on a beautiful strip of seashore on the east coast. Built in traditional Swahili style, Paje is a famous kite surfing centre. Evenings are dedicated to football. If the lazy atmosphere of Paje is not for you venture an hour along the coast to Jambiani or Bwejuu where the pace of life is a little quicker.
Pemba is Zanzibar's sister island situated about 80 km from Zanzibar, directly east of Tanga on the Tanzania mainland. Despite many years of isolation from the outside world, Pemba is receiving a small but growing number of foreign visitors. Pemba has lovely beaches, world-class scuba diving, historical sites, natural forests and plantations.
Dhows have remained a constant throughout the history of Pemba and to this day they ply the run from Wete to Shimoni in Kenya and when the winds are favourable they plough through to Northern Mozambique. Ngezi Forest Reserve is a beautiful place to visit, as is Misali Island, off the east coast, is idyllic and excellent for diving. Captain Kidd is reputed to have used Misali as a hide-out in the 17th century.
For those seeking an adventure Pemba is a fascinating and beautiful island. In the countryside, villagers are eager to talk to passers-by. In town, market stallholders call you over and sit you down to try their different fruits, laughing hysterically at your reaction.
Zanzibar also boasts several small offshore islands. Prison (or Changu) island is the most popular with tourists because it is only a short trip from Stone Town. Originally, it was used by Arabs to detain recalcitrant slaves, and then a jail was built by the British, but it was never actually used. Instead it was used as a quarantine station for the whole of East Africa. The island is fringed with a beautiful coral reef, ideal for snorkelling, and has a lovely white beach for sun-bathing.
Bawe Island is also close to Stone Town and offers good snorkelling and a nice beach, but is visited less by tourists. Chapwani Island known also as Grave Island because a small part of it has been used as a cemetery since 1879, mainly for British sailors. The reefs around Chumbe have been designated as a Marine National Park and the island itself is a Forest Reserve. There is excellent snorkelling and the island is home to the rare giant coconut crab, able to climb palm trees and eat young coconuts.
Tumbatu Island, off the north-west coast of Unguja is one of the largest off-shore islands but has no facilities for tourists. Mnemba Island is a private island with luxury accommodation located about 3 km off the north-east coast and is encircled by a large coral reef, great for scuba diving and snorkelling.
Although Mafia Island officially forms part of mainland Tanzania and not Zanzibar, it's near to Zanzibar and classifies as an Island in the Sun! It lies close to the Rufiji Delta, just a short aircraft flight from Zanzibar. Chole Bay and its surrounding forests and islands are now within the protected Mafia Island Marine Park.
Surrounded by forests and islands, Mafia is little changed from ancient times and retains a traditional, friendly culture. The reefs offer a great range of corals and fish, excellent for diving and snorkelling. Large areas of the island are planted to coconuts and the locals grow cassava, rice, pineapples, pawpaws and beans.
As with every country sampling local cuisine is part of the travel experience and Zanzibar is no different. From the Indian sub-continent the Zanzibaris got chapattis, biriani and pilau, a famous spice rice, was brought by the Arabs, the Yemenis are famous for their halua and bokokoko the Comorians have enriched banana eating traditions of Zanizbaris, whereas the other Swahili neighbours from the coast of East Africa have added a number of dishes that are now part of Zanzibar cuisine.
East Africa have added a number of dishes that are now part of Zanzibar cuisines. A typical meal is not complete without using coconut milk either in the main dish, the sauce or the dessert. Seafood have also made their impact into Zanzibar cuisines. King fish pilau is as good as the meat or chicken ones, oysters, clams, octopus and squid are just delicious. Last but not least, all the delicacies in Zanzibar are seasoned with nice collection of spices.
We hope this has given you a yearning to visit these Islands in the Sun where you will be made to feel very welcome.