Top 5 Destinations
When you think of Zanzibar, you are probably thinking of crystal clear waters, pearly white sand and swaying palm trees. However, Zanzibar is more than just a pretty face. The historical and cultural centre of Stone Town is a maze of quaint alleys and old buildings just waiting to be explored. Its rich and diverse past has seen people from all over the world move to Zanzibar and this cultural blending can be seen in full force in Stone Town where African, Indian, Arab and European influences seamlessly intermingle, giving the island a completely unique vibe that will permeate your soul and stay with you forever. Take a wander through the Darajani Bazaar and check out the fresh produce or learn a bit about Zanzibar’s history by visiting the former slave market to make the most of your time here.
Rivalling its beaches for worldwide recognition, spices from Zanzibar have really made a name for themselves in the global market and no trip to the island would be complete without taking the time to get properly acquainted with them. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and pepper are just some of the spices that can be seen during a tour of one of Zanzibar’s many spice plantations. Tours are usually led by a knowledgeable local guide who will not only teach you about the culinary and medical properties of whichever spice you have stumbled upon but will also explain each spice’s historical context and its significance in the spice trade route. Taking a tour through Zanzibar’s spice plantations, however, is not just about getting familiar with turmeric and chilli, it is just as much about seeing the rural side of the island and communicating with its locals. The spice industry is the bedrock of the local economy alongside tourism, and it would be a shame to visit the island without delvinginto the industry!
Prison Island (also known as Changuu Island) might not sound like the most appealing place in the world but this tropical paradise is the perfect place to escape the crowds of main Zanzibar and relax in the sunshine. Taking its name from the fact that it was a former prison for slaves, this patch of natural beauty holds all kinds of delights, not least the numerous giant tortoises that wander freely around the island. The island can be reached from Stone Town in about 30 minutes by boat and once there you won’t be able to resist jumping in the water. It is best to come with snorkelling equipment in tow as the water there is crystal clear and teeming with exotic marine life. Once you’ve made the most of the shoreline, head to the interior of Prison Island and look out for butterflies before exploring the ruins of what was once the prison building. It easy to book a transfer from Stone Town locally.
Beauty queens of the insect world, Zanzibar’s Butterfly Centre has realised the true potential of these glorious creatures. The butterflies at the centre are not just there to be admired, they form an essential part of the organisation’s poverty-alleviating mission. The centre works with members of the local community and provides them with butterfly farming training. These new farmers will then be paid when they bring butterfly pupae into the centre as these create part of the exhibit that is displayed for the benefit of visitors. The funds to pay these farmers come from the profits generated by entrance fees to the gardens so by visiting the Butterfly Centre, you are directly contributing to the local community. It is possible to have a guided tour through the gardens or through the local village to see the butterfly farmers at work and learn about their farming techniques.
Nothing highlights the strong Arabic influences in Zanzibar better than the elegant Dhows that sail around the island. Taking a ride in one of these boats is a truly magical experience and gives travellers the perfect chance to get intimately acquainted with the water. Usually, passengers will be taken around 1km from the shore of Zanzibar before the motor is switched off and the sail is erected. Peace and tranquillity then flood the dhow as you silently cut through the gentle ripples of the Indian Ocean. It is recommended that you time your excursion with sunset as the vivid oranges, pinks and purples that tinge the sky create some of the most beautiful scenery you will have ever witnessed. Some cruises will stop at one or two of the reefs along the way and allow you to snorkel, making sure you see the best that Zanzibar’s waters have to offer.
Check out the following useful resources to help you plan your Zanzibar beach break:
Best Time to Visit - Zanzibar's climate and seasons
Tourist Visas - what you need to know before travelling to Zanzibar
Top Travel Tips - information about money, food and vaccinations