Zanzibar: The Jewel of Tanzania

A 20 minute claustrophobic flight from main island Tanzania, brought us to the turquoise bordered island of Zanzibar.  With a little negotiation on taxi fares, we were headed across the island to the east coast.  Towards what I hoped would be paradise!

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Gazing out of the taxi window I felt like I had just arrived on a tropical Caribbean island, palm tree after palm tree swaying in the warm breeze with coconuts, bananas and mangos, ripening under the shadow of the enormous palm leaves.

History

Historically, Zanzibar was once ‘owned’ by Portugal,  but after slowly being overruled by Arab settlers, the Sultan of Oman took control of the island during the 16th century.  During this time the ruler of Oman, Said bin Sultan, moved his capital from Muscat, Oman to Stone Town the capital of Zanzibar, and therefore converted the island to Islam.  For most of the 17th century the Omani’s created an economy from exporting spices, and ivory to the Middle East.  The ruler’s son, Majid, later focused his attention on taking over the East African Slave market, where he successfully created one of the largest slavery exports anywhere in the world.  Up until the late 18th century when the British Empire took control of Zanzibar, its estimated that over 50,000 slaves passed through the islands port from Africa to Asia each year. Although the Omani’s have not ruled these waters for over a century, the majority of the population has remained Muslim, and the cultural influence is clear to see through both the style of dress and architecture. If someone asked me to describe Zanzibar, I would probably say its a tropical island with an Arabic twist.

Next Paradise Resort & Kiwengwa Beach

Pulling up to the Next Paradise Resort, we were greeted by a Maasai warrior guarding the hotel gates with an enormous wooden spear in hand – he was certainly someone not to be reckoned with! Thankfully, the resort manager, Daniella, was not so intimidating and were given a warm welcome before being shown to our chic, beach-facing villa.   The four poster bed was decorated with pretty flowers, and I was extremely happy to see the enormous jacuzzi-style tub in the bathroom!

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We dumped our bags and walked out onto the powdery white sands, and the view was nothing short of heaven…

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The Next Paradise resort is situated on Kiwengwa beach, a small part of a long stretch of sandy coastline that runs the entire length of the east coast.  We toyed with the idea of staying in the north of the Island, at Ngunwi, where apparently there is a greater choice of nightlife and entertainment, but after reading some reviews on Tripadvisor, we decided a quiet spot would suit us fine for the relaxing three days we had in mind.

It was high tide when we arrived, and although the waves were crashing on to the beach, the aqua waters still glistened in the afternoon sun.  We were told that low tide would be at the crack of dawn the next morning, and it was a sight not to be missed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent bathing in the sun, sipping on fairly pricey but delicious cocktails, and dipping into the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean.  It was exactly what we’d hoped for – ultimate relaxation.

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We had paid for a half-board stay, and the four course set dinner menu was posted on the resort blackboard each afternoon. Local seafood was the theme of our stay – something that myself and James (a huge seafood fan) were relishing the thought of. However, in all honesty, the culinary offerings weren’t the best, and you would have expected more from a ‘Top 5’ TripAdvisor resort.  It wasn’t horrendous by any stretch of the imagination, but there was definitely room for improvement. We were left to wonder just how good the place could be if they were to bring in a top chef, as the room, service and hotel amenities were otherwise perfect.

Bright and early the following morning, James dragged me from my cocktail-induced coma and onto Kiwengwa beach to see the incredible low tide. Before traveling, we had read testimonials from other visitors describing just how spectacular it was, and  it certainly didn’t disappoint.   We watched as the sun broke its way through the morning cloud, before sparkling on to the mirrored waters.

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Local fisherman waded through ankle high waters looking for the day’s catch, while women and children sieved through the sands to collect seaweed from the shores.

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After watching the breath-taking sunrise, we decided to walk out as far as the eye could see. For what felt like an hour we waded through the idyllic waters, with the level barely reaching knee height – an incredible experience.  We came across a number of seaweed plantations in the shallows, carefully constructed by local farmers using driftwood and string, and designed to withstand the punishing higher tides.

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The hotel offers tours around the island, and you can choose from snorkeling, diving and spice expeditions to name just a few. As tempting as it was, we decided to give these a miss as our days were limited on the island. However, I would definitely suggest giving at least one of them a try if you are planning on staying for a week or more – snorkeling with dolphins came highly recommended by other guests we met.

Having lazed away the next two days, we just about mustered up enough energy to borrow the hotel bicycles, and take a ride along the beach.  I hadn’t ridden a bike for almost ten years, so was slightly amazed to come through the whole experience unscathed… They always say you never forget how to ride a bike!  One afternoon, I suggested a sandcastle competition between James and I, and despite being 26,  I felt no shame in spending 45 minutes building probably the greatest sandcastle Zanzibar had ever seen.  I even managed to rope in half of the local village population to help me. Safe to say I was definitely a clear winner!

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On our last evening, the resort went out of their way to surprise us with a beautifully prepared candle-lit dinner for two on our very own private beach, with bright pink flowers decorating a veranda in the sand. It was a really lovely surprise and we were very touched by their efforts.  Eating dinner whilst feeling the sand running through my toes was the perfect way to end a blissful holiday!

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Stone Town

With a few hours to spare before our flight home, we decided to stop off in Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar.  We paid a local man $20 to give us a tour of the area, which took approximately two hours.  I would say that Stone Town is like Marmite – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it!  If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t a huge fan.  It was very much a locals town, where they could buy local produce and bring their animals to be slaughtered.  I have a bit of a weak stomach, and the dirty streets filled with litter, animal skins and rats didn’t make for a particular enjoyable tour.   The only highlight was visiting the old slave market. Very interesting, but also desperately sad.  The tour guide told us that 50 men were kept in small underground chambers for up three days without food, drink or sunlight.  Those who survived were taken upstairs to be sold at the market, considered to be the strongest, having survived the torturous conditions.  The market was closed down in the late 18th century by the British Navy, and David Livingstone.  An Anglican church now stands in its place to remember Livingstone and those who helped put an end to slavery in Zanzibar, and indeed Africa.

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If you have some time to spare whilst holidaying in Zanzibar, go and visit Stone Town. However, if like us your time is limited on the island, then in my opinion there are better ways to spend your time.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Zanzibar. The beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, and if its relaxation you’re after, the peaceful serenity of an east coast resort will tick all the boxes  If you are looking for a slightly cheaper version of Maldivian heaven, then I would highly recommend this Tanzanian jewel.  Also, if you have visited Tanzania for a safari or planning to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s definitely worthwhile tagging on a few extra days at the end of your holiday to pop across to Zanzibar – you won’t be disappointed!

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Liberty’s Tips:

1. It’s quite common in Zanzibar to pick up a tummy bug, which may give you an upset stomach for a few days.  Try to avoid ice in your drinks and eating salads, as they tend to be made with/washed in local water.

2.  A romantic stroll may be interrupted by friendly local boys on the beach selling trinkets or snorkeling trips. Just be assertive from the start and say that you are not interested, and they will soon leave you alone!

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