Spotlight: Zanzibar, the Spice Island

Introduction

Zanzibar is a truly fascinating island just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Its location has been extremely important to Zanzibar and has made it a rich island at times and always a popular one. It is really a kind of crossroads in the Indian Ocean as its location means it has been an important stopping off point for trade routes between Africa, the Middle East, India and the Far East.

History

It has been inhabited by so many different races and peoples that it is a cultural melting pot even to this day. In ancient times it was the Sumerians, Assyrians and Egyptians who came toZanzibarand used it as a port and trading post Then later came the Indians, Chinese and Persians who all traded and lived on the island. Then over the past couple of centuries and in more recent times the Arabians and British vied for control. During the colonial era the British establishedZanzibaras an important stopping off point for trips to the furthest outposts of theBritish Empire. It was onZanzibarthat they could stock up with food and fuel to make the long journey eastwards. It was also a starting point for many British explorers including David Livingstone and Richard Burton.

Stone Town

HistoricStoneTownis protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so as it encapsulates the fascinating and diverse history of the island. The architecture in some parts is particularly grand with huge ornate wooden doors studded with metal bolts in decorate patterns. The architecture is a legacy from the days when rich Arab traders lived here and made their money from slave and spice trading. Much of Stone Town feels very Arabic rather than African with winding tiny alleyways more reminiscent of Morocco than Cape Town and there are bazaars dotted around as well still selling the famous spices that the are grown on the island. You can stay in some beautiful hotels inStoneTownmany of which have fantastic roof terraces where you can watch the sunset over the sea and soak up the evening atmosphere. There are also some great tours of the city whose past will come to life as the guide talks you through its colourful and characterful history.

Beaches

Most people come to visitZanzibar to relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches and to swim in the warm, turquoise waters of theIndian Ocean. The coastline ofZanzibar can compete with some of the better known islands such asMauritius and theSeychelles for truly spectacular beaches.Zanzibar has different coastal regions which have different types of coastal habitat and beaches. The beaches here are just as you would imagine a perfect tropical paradise. Tall coconut palms shade the edges of soft white sandy beaches that slope gently down into crystal clear warm waters abundant with colourful marine life. Most ofZanzibar is surrounded by coral reefs which protect the island from rough waters and create calm waters for bathing. The reef is also home to all sorts of colourful fish and dolphins, rays and even whales can be seen in the area. It is a perfect place for scuba diving and there are many resorts which offer PADI courses.

If you are looking for a remote and quiet beach then Mangapwani is the place for you or you can head to the remote and rugged beaches on the southern tip of the island including the Menai Bay Conservation Area which is an excellent place to see dolphins. If you are looking for coral lagoons and more options then the Nungwi Peninsular to the north is the place for you although this is more popular.

Accommodation

Most of the best beaches can be found on the east coast of the island which is around an hours drive or so fromStoneTown. It is here you will find the more established beach resorts with lots of facilities including watersports, fishing, spas and all-inclusive packages. If you head away from the better known areas you can find places that are truly tranquil with quiet beaches and small, boutique style hotels. These tend to be small with only a handful of rooms and minimal activities. However they are also often very stylish, with friendly hosts and the remote location means you almost have the place to yourself. These are a great option if you are choosing to honeymoon onZanzibar. However for families and sporty types then the bigger resorts are a better option.

Zanzibar is a great option for a beach package on its own or as an extension to a safari holiday in nearby Kenya or Tanzania.

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