Zanzibar has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. If you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday with very beautiful, pristine beaches, this is it! It is just a 3-and-a-half-hour flight from Johannesburg and so it’s an easy getaway to paradise.
Zanzibar is part of Tanzania and is made up of many small islands. The biggest and main island is Unguja and Pemba is the next biggest. These 2 are the main islands known for tourism.
It has a tropical climate. The heat and humidity hit me as I stepped of the plane. June to September is generally the dry season with temperatures around 25°C. The temperatures don’t drop much at night. From October to December there are generally short rains called ‘mwaka’ and temperatures often get into the 30s and it is very humid. January and February are generally drier and therefore the most popular time to visit. Temperatures reach average highs of 29°C with little chance of rain and the humidity is high. From March to May is when the heavy monsoon rains hit and the rain can last for days.
It is important when choosing a hotel to take note of where on the island the hotel is situated as the tide pulls back so far on some of the beaches that one has to walk quite a distance to get to the water. This may bother some travellers.
Nungwi Beach (North) is one of the popular beaches. It is on the north-west coast of Unguja Island, the largest island, and due to its location, it does not have the extreme high and low tidal differences as the rest of the island. The advantage of this is you can enjoy the beach and calm swimming conditions throughout the day. Kendwa, in the north west is also good at all times of day as the tide doesn’t pull back huge distances. Matemwe, in the north east, looks out to the small and exclusive island of Mnemba (great diving and snorkelling). It is relatively untouched and one can see why this beautiful and expansive beach has become so popular. The beach becomes very wide at low tide, however it’s still possible to swim here throughout the day.
The beaches in the East, Kiwengwa and Pongwe, have great hotels and beaches however the tide pulls far back and leaves one with a wide beach. When the tide comes back in, the waves come right up to the land and the sea is full of seaweed.
Zanzibar is very conservative and local ladies have their arms and legs covered as well as their hair, while outside. Tourists are not required to dress like this however one needs to remain respectful and not wear anything too skimpy.
Stone Town is the main town on Unguja. The best way to experience the town is to walk the streets and take it all in. There are winding alley ways and bustling bazaars. The old market is quite an experience with four sections – meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and spices. Walking around the town is quite an experience as everything is old and in great need of maintenance and repair. The doors of many building are very beautiful and seem out of place. There are lovely shops where one can buy souvenirs - kikoi’s, t-shirts, spices, slip slops, carvings and Bao (an East African game).
The Anglican Church is built on the site where slaves were traded in days gone by. You can go down into the chambers where the slaves were kept. They are tiny little rooms that had 50 men in one and 50 women with 25 children in the other. There is also a pit where there are statues replicating how the slaves were chained and then beaten. Those who were quietest were considered to be strong and therefore were sold to slavery.
The “House of Wonders” which was the first house in Stone Town to have running water, electricity and a lift. One can walk to the top where there is a magnificent view of Stone Town from the veranda which goes all around the building.
There are a few really nice hotels in Stone Town. Most have beautiful stained glass windows and beautiful doors. One I visited had a swimming pool in the middle and the hotel and its rooms built around it. Another one had a deck overlooking the sea with the most beautiful view over the sea. Another one had lovely beach and swimming pool. It was amazing to think that I was in the middle of Stone Town. I would suggest that visitors to Zanzibar spend at least one or two nights in Stone Town as there is so much to see and experience. It is a truly cultural experience.
The Spice Plantation is interesting and the locals are always excited to see visitors. They make “handbags” which are woven with the leaves of plants and then you can walk into the plantation where you will be given samples of the spices and explanations of what they are for. These can then be stored in your handbag!
A great excursion is a dhow safari from Stone Town. I visited the historical Prison Island, followed by some snorkelling off a shallow coral reef and finally a seafood BBQ on a remote beach island. Sound too good to be true? It was.
I had a fantastic time in Zanzibar and can’t wait to go back. It is a beautiful country with lovely places to visit and very beautiful beaches.