Be under no illusion, if you are travelling from the UK it requires some patience to reach the island. I believe we were travelling for about 26 hours door to door. (Very much dependant on where you door is at home I know, I just thought I would put this out there). However there are hidden gems on the paradise island of Zanzibar which will make it completely worth it. Drenched in history, good and very bad, this island has something for everyone.
A Little Note:
Remember this is a poor country, very visible in the locals housing and also the really really terrible roads. Apart from Siem Reap, I have never encountered such enormous pot holes! I will also mention here that the island is not the cheapest for tourists, whether its the hotel or activities so just be prepared. It may be poor but everything is in credibly expensive.I do believe that it should be on everyones bucket list for the following reasons:
Get a Gem of a Hotel Right on the Beach
With so many hotels on offer, take your time and choose carefully to see what each one has to offer. Many hotels on the beach front have their own private beach areas for you to enjoy as well as a pool. Who wouldn’t want to be right next to the most amazing aquamarine coloured sea if it was on offer? The private part may not be completely down to the sea however as most of the beaches are public. Walking along the front all day are the locals selling you all kinds of things. See what bargains you can pick up whilst paddling in the gorgeous warm waters. We stayed at Diamonds La Gemma dell’Est which I chose mostly for the amazing sunset bar on stilts over the ocean. Check it out here.
Take a Snorkelling Trip
Amongst many others, one island off the coast of Zanzibar is owned by none other than Bill Gates. We were fortunate enough to have some local lads take us snorkelling in their boat off of these shores. The water was warm, clear and an abundance of fish swam around me….right on Bill Gates doorstep! When we had finished they had even got us fresh fruit to freshen our salty mouths with. A fantastic experience I shall never forget, mostly due to the stop off on the way back for star fish. Have you ever seen a red starfish? I certainly hadn’t, completely amazing especially as the guy free dived right to the bottom and came up with a handful! (All returned in good time back to the sea, have no concern). This was certainly at the top of my list of hidden gems on the paradise island of Zanzibar.
Go Dolphin Spotting
The seas are teeming with life, and whilst we had made the effort to travel alllllll that way we were going to be seeing as much as we could of this beautiful island. Back with the locals on their boat off we ventured, seemingly straight out to sea. Luck was with us as we pretty quickly saw two pods of dolphins and we were offered to jump in to swim with them. However, as we had gone straight out to sea, the waves were chopping, the current looked really strong so we decided to just watch them swim around our boat. What an experience!
Stone Town Streets
The capital of Zanzibar is a must see, although ladies, you will need to cover up, this is a strict Muslim country and if you don’t you may not enjoy yourself. You WILL need a guide if you are going here, not only to stay safe and get in to the attractions, but because it is literally a maze. Or even like a rabbit warren, as there are streets off of streets in to streets. One wrong turn and your bearings could go.
However there are far worse places in which to be lost as the architecture is simply stunning. Due to the influences of the many conquering countries over the decades, the buildings will amaze you. The contrast between the rich and the poor is quite stark here. One building may be immaculately maintained, signs etched in gold, situated right next to one which doesn’t even have all four walls intact.
Spot a Traditional Dhow Boat
If you are staying in a similar hotel to ours you will spot these all day long, however they look at their best with a sunset backdrop. Traditional fishing boats with a very distinctive sail zigzag across the sea performing any number of roles. From fishing all the way to tourist trips.
Freddie Mercury’s House
The incredibly famous Freddie Mercury is actually from Zanzibar, and this is said to have been his house. Let your guide guide you there as it is amongst the maze of passageways in Stone Town. Photo cabinets are placed either side of the main door depicting the famous singer. I am unsure if you can actually go inside, you definitely could not when we visited, so a quick pic of the door was all was got.
Visit a Local Market
Everywhere we go in the world we really enjoy going to the local markets to delve further in to local culture. Wow was I about to be immersed as we entered a very large one in the centre of Stone Town. The sights and smells smack you in the face as you walk amongst the spice stalls, but the real sights are in another section. The fish market. Wow, it was buzzing, not with flies, but with people bartering and haggling for todays catch. Grab yourself a snack if you are brave enough to try something local.
The Old Anglican Cathedral
This cathedral is built literally on top of the old slave market cellars. It was really quite shocking to see something so huge and opulent having been built on something so horrendous. The slave chambers below are open to visitors now who wish to experience just how horrendous the conditions were. I’m only 5 foot 4 and I had to bend down to enter these tiny stone caverns. Inside these ‘chambers’ were stone slabs for the slaves to sit on, a channel in the floor for the sewage to run through and a tiny slit of a window. I’ll leave it there.
Inside the cathedral is pleasant enough, much like any other Anglican place of worship. However as I sat on a pew my thoughts just kept turning to the slave quarters below.
Slave Market Memorial
The Worlds last slave market was closed in 1873, here in Stone Town, rumoured to have been amongst the most brutal. Slaves were kept in the slave cellars beneath the cathedral prior to being brought up to the market. A memorial statue was created in 1993 and was placed where the slave market used to be. Read more about the slave trade in Zanzibar in this article by the Guardian.
Take an Old Style Boat trip
So you have been on a luxury snorkelling trip and watched pods of dolphins in comfort, now it is time for something a little different. Whilst in Stone Town make your way to the harbour and try out the local form of travel. Cheap and somewhat cheerful in a bumpy wooden kind of way, this transport will get you to my next tourist suggestion. Our roof seemed to be made of an old tarpaulin advertising sign which I thought was genius.
Known locally as Prison Island, is actually called Changuu Island and is located 5km off the coast of Stone Town. Once used as a prison for rebellious slaves, a quarantine, and it has also been used as a hotel in more recent years. A disused swimming pool a sign this did not quite work and no one was thought it was a good enough idea to take over it seems. Nice to look around for a short while, there is another reason (below) why people flock to this island. It has unique inhabitants!
And this my readers, is the reason people will go in a rickety boat to ‘Prison Island’. Giant tortoises; some being the oldest in the world and are just huge! You obviously pay to enter, and you are allowed to collect a bag of whatever their food is that day. Pick your favourite tortoise and get feeding.
Dine in Style
Here is the reason why I chose this hotel, it had the most amazing bar and restaurant on wooden stilts over the sea. Sipping a cocktail at sunset whilst watching the dhows sailing past was very relaxing. We eat at the fish restaurant here too which served excellent food. Mr C tried the crab curry….which came with a whole crab literally in the curry he had to deal with. Needless to say he got a bit messy, but said it tasted amazing.
Experience a tropical storm
It’s going to happen, you are in a tropical paradise which requires rain to look so amazingly green and lush. So just find some shelter for half an hour and be entertained. What could be better than watching a storm pass by across the sea? Oh, the storm leaving fantastic sunshine for you to carry on relaxing in of course!