Sunday, March 17, 2013

Zanzibar - "The Spice Islands"

Just a short flight from the Arusha airport is the beautiful Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Nestled in the tropical waters, 36 km off the East Coast of Africa and 6 degrees south of the Equator you will find the many islands, over 50 in total. The main inhabited islands are Unguja, Pemba and Tumbatue.

The historic centre and capital city, Zanzibar City is located on the main island Unguja, which is informally called Zanzibar.  The islands are lined with white sandy beaches and coral reef, a beach lover’s paradise.  Many people visit the island for diving (best on the North Coast and Pemba), snorkeling, to learn the ancient history and to enjoy the spices and flavors of the many cultures.  

Over the centuries, Zanzibar has been visited and occupied by explorers, traders and settlers.  Persians, Arabs, Indian and Europeans have had their time, and left their impression- if not offspring.  The introduction of clove plantations and the flourishing of the notorious slave trade made Zanzibar a strategic trading center for many around the world.  

Zanzibar enjoys a tropical climate; the cooler season is July- October when the average temperature is 26 degrees Celsius, this is the most favorable time to visit the Spice Islands. 

One of the most exciting things about Zanzibar is its collection of cultures.  You can witness this in the cuisine, clothing and architecture.  Zanzibar’s Stone Town is the largest settlement of its kind in the world and has been designated a UNSECO World Heritage site. There are over 1000 coral stone buildings which have architectural significance and more than 200 carved doors.  Despite the quaint crumbling architecture, Stone Town is still very much alive with busy labyrinth like streets, linking homes, shops, workshops and schools.

Zanzibar is predominately Muslim; this is obvious in dress code, greetings and the call to prayer five times a day. Please respect that in town or local village’s offence may easily be given by immodest dress or behaviour.   Zanzibar offers a wide variety of dishes, with prices to suit every visitor’s budget.  I thoroughly enjoyed eating the local dishes and seafood in the Forodhani Gardens, an open market under the starlit sky and a refreshing sea breeze. Shrimp on a stick, samosa, lobster, fish and the most famous Zanzibar pizza, there are so many dishes to choose from, then enjoy ice cream for dessert!

There are several islands to explore during your visit to Zanzibar, some with accommodations and some used for daily tours, mainly for amazing snorkeling and relaxation. Chumbe Island, Bawe Island, Pemba, Changuu (Prison Island) and Grave Island are a few that are popular with tourists. 

Many of the high end beach resorts can be found along the North Coast of Zanzibar (Unguja Island), while the South Coast is for those looking for a break from the busy tourist areas.  Accommodations range from beach villas and huts, luxury boutique style resorts to large resorts offering all-inclusive services, there is something for every budget on the island of Zanzibar.

I had a hard time leaving this ancient island, the warm hospitality and people made my eight night’s on the island of Zanzibar one of the best experiences in my life.  The island is very safe and friendly, and the “hakuna matata” is definitely a way of life on the island.  

If you are planning a trip to East Africa for safari, to climb the mountains, to volunteer or for mission work, you must add a stop to this tranquil island. There are so many activities to choose from and you will wish you had just one more day! Oh, and you must not forget the shopping!

Zanzibar Do’s and Dont’s
By Gallery Publications- Zanzibar

Don't buy large shells, turtle shells, or pieces of coral from street or beach vendors. These are mostly taken from endangered reefs and marine species and buying them only encourages the destruction of Zanzibar’s ocean farms.

Don’t walk around Stone Town or other towns and villages in Zanzibar dressed in bikinis, miniskirts or similar clothing.  Modest dress is requested of all tourists in keeping with the Islamic faith of most of the island’s inhabitants.  Women should cover their shoulders and wear trousers or skirts that reach below the knee.  Men should not walk around top-less.

Don’t go topless on the beaches of Zanzibar. Bikinis and swimwear are acceptable on tourist beaches, but not if there are fisherman or seaweed harvesters nearby.
Do take caution with the hot sun and protect yourself with lotion, hat and avoid sun at peak times and be sure to hydrate with bottled water.

Don’t carry valuables on the beach.

Do remember that you are not at home in your own country, please respect the local laws and customs, drunken behaviour in the streets is forbidden.

Don’t accept tours or transport from unlicensed “beach boys” in the Shangani street, their services are illegal and unreliable. Only use reputable tour agencies or official guides.      
Do remember that during the month of Ramadan, while Muslims are fasting it is considered the height of bad manners to eat or drink on the street or in public places.

Do remember to ask permission before taking pictures of people or private houses.

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