Zanzibar is a jewel of an island, set in the warm clear shallows of the Indian Ocean and edged in pure white sand beaches and tropical flowers.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that sunbathing is the only thing to do here. But you’d be wrong. Yes, you can sunbathe for your entire holiday – the blue, blue skies are worth it – but you’d miss out on so very much more.
Viva Africa Tours have rounded up six non-sunbathey things that you can delight in during your time on this beautiful isle.
Explore Stone Town
Take the opportunity to have an adventure in Stone Town, Zanzibar City’s old town area with its long heritage of blended cultures and lively history. Its unique mix of architectural styles – Indian, Arabic, European, Persian and African – built with coral stone give it a complex flavour. You can take a guided walk or explore the narrow alleyways, past finely carved doors and balustrades and visit the mosques, churches and public buildings that tumble down to the harbour.
Of course, a visit to Stone Town wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Forodhani Gardens: by day a beautiful park, complete with flowers and sea views, and by night a lively, buzzing street food market. It’s best to check out the stands where the locals are queuing, sample what’s on offer but do take the usual food precautions. Finish your evening with a quiet drink – or a sweetly refreshing freshly-pressed sugar cane and lime – on the rooftop of your accommodation or in a little bar.
Spice it up
Zanzibar is also known as “The Spice Island” and you’ll soon see why. The growing conditions are perfect for a range of spices that in the old days, and now, were coveted by Europeans and the rest of the world. Zanzibar is famous for its spice trade, and it’s fascinating to take a spice tour to really get the feel of one of Zanzibar’s chief – and most fragrant – industries.
Zanzibar was once the world leader in clove production and had been a leading producer of cinnamon and nutmeg, too, from the 19th century onwards; many of these spices were imported initially from Asia and by the Portuguese but Zanzibar has made spice production its own and you can take a range of tours to see how the spices are grown and harvested.
Spice tours take usually take you outside Stone Town to a shamba (spice farm) where you’ll be guided through the scented crops and shown how the spices are harvested and prepared. The aromas are out of this world as you taste a variety of fragrant spices such as lemongrass, turmeric, vanilla, chilli and black pepper as well as the Big 3 – clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Tour of Prison Island
Prison Island, as its name suggests, has a sad history as a penitentiary for rebel slaves and as a quarantine area, but these days it’s a beautiful half-day out and certainly worth a visit. Also known as Changuu Island, it lies just off Stone Town and is a half-hour boat ride away. Prison Island is a nature reserve with an abundance of wildlife and it’s most famous for the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, and some of these wonderful creatures are over 100 years old.
Cruise by dhow
The only way to cruise around the beaches, sandbanks and islands of Zanzibar is by traditional wooden dhow, a small sailing ship with a centuries-old heritage of journeying across the Indian Ocean. Small enough to jump from for a quick snorkel in crystal waters, but large enough to have a little space to sit and enjoy the breeze, dhows are perfect to help you see Zanzibar. A trip by dhow is a snorkeler’s dream – especially if you visit the Mnemba Atoll Marine Reserve at the north east of the island, which has rich reefs packed with tropical fish and there are safe places to snorkel. You’ll see moray eels, stingrays, turtles and lionfish and there’s also a dive wall with even more sea life to marvel at.
It’s obvious that Zanzibar with its superb beaches and crystal waters is great for swimming, but did you know that the coastal topography and the wind patterns make Zanzibar the perfect place for a range of watersports, for beginners and experts alike?
If you’ve never tried kite surfing then head for Paje Beach on the east coast. The traditional Swahili-style village is strung out along the white sand beaches and the sea breezes. The warm water and wide shallows are perfect for learning the sport. At night, the beach becomes a social club with relaxed games of soccer for locals and travellers alike, and after a hard day’s kite surfing you can sit back at dusk at one of the many beachfront bars with a Kilimanjaro or Safari beer – or, of course, a freshly-pressed papaya juice – and watch the stars slowly emerge.
Head over to Nungwi Beach with its calm waters, great for wakeboarding and waterskiing. If you know that you have no talent for the “finer” watersports and just want to laugh yourself silly, then try a ringo – sitting in a giant doughnut skimming the water at 30mph, bumping your friend in their ringo and basically trying not to take a dip! From Nungwi you can also try your hand at parasailing. From 300m up in the balmy air you’ll get superb views of the coral reefs, the beaches and villages all around this area of coastline and all you have to do is relax.
Dine at The Rock
You only have to take one look at The Rock restaurant to realise that this is no ordinary restaurant. It’s perched on a little rock island, a short swim or boat ride from Michamvi Pingwe beach on Zanzibar’s south east coast. It’s a chilled-out place but with the class and style of a posh restaurant and of course, there are those unique views.
And perhaps amidst all this activity you’ll get a chance to sunbathe, too!