Beach image © Shutterstock – Kjersti Joergensen
Market image © Shutterstock – Magdalena Paluchowska
It’s been 27 years since I last set foot on the island of Zanzibar and it has changed a lot. I think there was one hotel when I was originally there, and now there are closer to 500! I started off in Stone Town and, with an amazing driver, headed around the island, staying at hotels of different styles and sizes over 10 nights.
Here are my top ten highlights, in no particular order.
Image: Swahili House, Zanzibar
© Shutterstock – pearl_diver
“The Stone Town tour – one of my top ten.”
Everybody needs a comfortable bed! After 15 hours of travel all I wanted was a shower and to sleep. Thankfully The Swahili House in Stone Town was very welcoming. The staff were great, and the bed the most comfortable I slept in for the ten nights.
Stone Town tour
Seeing the Slave Market and the position of the Anglican Cathedral gave me food for thought. Don’t miss this in Stone Town; it’s a chilling reminder of the slave trade. My guide Mohamed was excellent at explaining the history and the impact this slave market had. We also saw the Old Fort, The Palace Museum and the House of Wonders (which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment).
A little monkeying around
The island is home to Black Tail monkeys and Red Colobus monkeys. The Red Colobus monkeys are quite shy. As you drive through or around Jozani forest you get a chance to see them, but in the hotels it’s the Black Tails that cause mischief! Don’t put your drink down as they will try and steal your fruit, don’t leave your rooms open as they will play with the contents of your suitcase and run off with them, and don’t stand under a tree wearing a baseball cap where they are playing as you may just lose it off your head… as I nearly did!
Red Colobus monkeys, Jozani Forest. © Shutterstock – Ralf Liebhold
A true beach paradise
There are some really beautiful beaches on Zanzibar. The west side of the island is less tidal than the east. On the east, the tide goes so far out you can walk to the pink coral reef and look in the rock pools at sea anemone, star fish and octopus waiting patiently for the tide to return. In the south of the island the waters can be a little rough. But in the north, Kendwa has a beautiful beach. The tide doesn’t go too far out so it’s perfect to go to take a swim. Gold Beach House & Spa sits right on this pristine beach, a perfect place to relax and recharge.
A Taste of Zanzibar
All the hotels use local produce to support the farmers and fisherman of the island. At Tulia Zanzibar, there is always a catch of the day on the menu, and the chef certainly does it justice. Beautifully prepared and served, I had barracuda for the first time. While at Fumba Beach Lodge, lobster was on the menu. It’s an additional cost to their half board menu, but be prepared… the biggest lobster I have ever seen arrived on my plate. It would have fed two… but I wouldn’t let it defeat me!
Image: Gold Beach House & Spa, Zanzibar
Image: Tulia Zanzibar
Image – Tulia Zanzibar
“For a relaxing massage the spa at Tulia Zanzibar came out tops.”
Shop like a local
The main market in Stone Town is Darajani market and close by there is the fabric market. In Darajani everything is for sale. Watch as the locals barter for chickens or fish and vegetables, all sat alongside household good and electronics. Just a five-minute walk away is the fabric market. Head here to buy the traditional Kangas worn by the woman of the island, at a fraction of the cost of those you will see in the resorts. The sounds, smells, colours and choice in these markets will astound you!
All the hotels I visited had spas, some small, some large, so of course, in the name of research I had to try out some treatments. For a relaxing massage the spa at Tulia Zanzibar came out tops, for a deep tissue massage I had to award tops marks to Essque Zalu. They found knots on knots that I didn’t know I had. They also offer a unique Masai ritual that is about 2.5 hours long.
Be as active as you want
Or in my case, as inactive as you wish! This island makes you want to forget about TV and being hooked up to technology. There are plenty of places to stroll to. Most hotels offer the opportunity to visit the local villages that they help support through various initiatives, and some offer the opportunity to take a bicycle and head to the village. My favourite for this is The Residence, a stunning luxury hotel in the south of the island, which assigns bikes to every suite. And they have all sizes, for ladies, men and children.
© shutterstock – SAPhoto
Feeding the Bush Babies
I knew nothing of these strange tiny creatures with bushy tails, big eyes and big ears, until staying at Matemwe Beach Lodge and wondered what was jumping around in the bushes while I ate dinner. These are shy nocturnal animals but can be persuaded to come and say hello with the offering of a banana or two and at Matemwe Lodge there is the opportunity to see them up close in the evenings. They also like playing in the rafters of the rooms here in the evenings, so don’t be alarmed!
Get away from it all
Across the island there are some stunning properties. At the top of the list is Elewana Kilindi on the north western side of the island and The Residence at the southern end. Gold Zanzibar is beautiful and offers something for everyone, and Tulia Zanzibar is intimate and a fabulous location for couples. But is you want something traditional, that’s a more authentic Zanzibari experience, then Unguja Lodge is the place! Makuti roofs on large airy open bandas that open to the sea or the surrounding forest… No TVs, no local shows, limited wi-fi, this is the place to relax. There’s beach access, diving from an onsite dive shop, a small pool, restaurant and bar and local food. With only six guests when I was there, the menu was put away and the chef cooked to order.
My only thought now is where to stay next time I go! This is a great destination for after a safari and highly recommended, but with its location in the Indian Ocean this is a standalone destination, with friendly islanders who just want to please. Until next time Zanzibar, asante sana!
Let us whisk you away to Zanzibar!
Tribes and our sister company Tanzania Specialists have some amazing Zanzibari itineraries for you to choose from, including a classic, six-day Zanzibar beach holiday
Combining a beach holiday on Zanzibar with a safari adventure on the mainland makes for a fantastic vacation, with the beach element the perfect way to recharge your batteries after the excitement of safari. After all, if you’ve flown to Tanzania, why wouldn’t you make the most of it?!
Safari and beach itineraries include:
- A 10-day Tanzania Safari Family and Beach holiday
- Selous, Safari, Sand and Spice (a great value safari/beach combo)
- Chimps, Serengeti and Spice
- Selous, Wilderness and Zanzibar
- Mara, Crater and Zanzibar
- Serengeti, Ruaha and Zanzibar in Style
And, of coure, we can always tailor-made the perfect itinerary just for you, whether that’s a total chillax-fest on Zanzibar or something a little more active – with or without safari!