Few countries have such romantic connotations as the Spice Island of Zanzibar, a slumbering paradise where green cloves, bread leaf, rice, cinnamon and coconuts still grow wild. Then hidden around the coves or along its stunning beaches are some excellent hotels.
The old Stone Town of Zanzibar is a fascinating warren of narrow streets, overhanging balconies and huge, intricately carved wooden doors. The bustling Suk (bazaar), where traders frantically bargain, is full of the pungent perfumes of exotic spice. This is a town where the famous 19th century explorers such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, Speke and Grant began their fateful journeys into the ‘dark’ interior.
Outside the town there are many places of historic interest, including the Maruhubi Palace, formerly the Sultan’s harem, and Mangapwani Village, the former site of the notorious slave pits. Access to Zanzibar is by air from Nairobi, Mombasa, Arusha and Dar es Salaam.
THE SURROUNDING ISLANDS
CHUMBE ISLAND CORAL PARK
A six-mile boat journey from Stone Town, the secluded island of Chumbe offers an award-winning nature reserve with many fascinating forest and marine trails, a protected reef, a historic lighthouse built in 1904 and an old mosque. The biggest attraction is the peaceful walking trails with some great birds. Snorkelling is amazing, as the corals harbour thousands of colourful fish. Turtles and dolphins also regularly visit the reef.
Accommodation here needs to be booked in advance, as there are only a handful of simple but comfortable bungalows on the edge of the forest, looking out to sea.
Mafia Island lies some 128km south of Dar es Salaam, approximately 40 minutes away by air. The Arabs grew plantations of cashew nuts here, while the British used its deep waters as a naval base during the First World War. It is recognised as a deep-sea fisherman’s paradise, where marlin, sailfish, shark, kingfish, barracuda, wahoo, and some of the world’s biggest tunny are found.
Mneba is a private island, barely touched and tropical. Amazingly, it is only a few kilometres off the north eastern shores of Zanzibar. Mneba is claimed by some to be a ‘therapy for the spirit’. Pristine beaches wrap around the island’s small circumference, while an outer protection zone surrounds the island, conserving magnificent coral reefs where giant turtles, ghost crabs and spectacular tropical fish drift through the lagoons.
Pemba lies to the north of Zanzibar, about 20 minutes by air. It was famous for its production of cloves, but tourism and fishing have now become specialities. Its beaches are pristine, and today an 800m deep channel splits Pemba Island from the continent, making this one of Africa’s greatest deep-sea fishing destinations. On the island itself, the walking excursions through forests are interesting, revealing many native species including spectacular ferns and giant trees. There are also cycle rides, dhow trips and many other archaeological sites to explore, not to forget fresh lobster, fish and other tropical and spicy delicacies.
DAR ES SALAAM
Southern Tanzania and its islands are all reached from Dar es Salaam, a natural deep-water harbour, named the Haven of Peace. It is simple to understand why, as from here there are miles and miles of white sandy beaches, rocky coves and every watersport imaginable.