The moment you step off the ferry, you are hit with a wave of warm air and humidity. This is Zanzibar’s signature welcome and that’s when you know you have arrived.
Already, I’m surrounded by the hustle and bustle of island life, the sound of clanging containers being offloaded, vendors hollering, porters asking to carry your bags, children screaming with laughter and tourists haggling for transportation.
My guide Hassan was there to meet me, with my name on a sign-board and a smile on his face. As he loaded my bags in the car and set off, I knew he would guide me on an adventure through this beautiful island that I would never forget.
First stop on our tour was Stone Town, it is the heart and soul of the island, with its marvelous stone buildings and intricate doorways that tell a story of a bygone era of the slave trade, spice farms and early Indian, Arab and European settlers.
This little town is rich in history and culture, and a walk around it with a guide will help you take it all in. I was placed at two ideally located hotels (Tembo Hotel, on the seafront, perfect for the budget traveler and, Serena Hotel in the centre of Stone Town, for the more discerning traveler). Both these lodges are within walking distance of all the major attractions.
The Forodhani Food Garden is one of these, said to be one of the liveliest food markets in East Africa, is a treat for the senses. It is a haven for foodies, with an array of fresh seafood and a wide variety of cuisines and delicacies of Arab and Portuguese influence.
The Old Fort is the oldest building in Zanzibar, built in 1698 by the Omani Arabs, it is quite a spectacle.
The fort has had many functions over the years including an army barracks, a prison, a railway terminal, a ladies club and now serves as the entertainment centre and home to Zanzibar’s Film Festival! Adjacent, you can find the House of Wonders, once the residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar, it is now famous for being the first building in the whole of East Africa with electricity, running water and a steam elevator.
It currently houses the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast so if you’re a history buff, definitely make the effort to visit.
After Stone Town, we travelled north, where the sand is a dazzling white and the waters a sparkling aqua. With no tides, these pristine beaches are perfect for swimming and other water-based activities. Hassan and I set off from Stone Town on our two hour journey, passing through small villages and trading centres along the way, there is always something to see and is a great opportunity for you to witness the day to day lives of the local Zanzibaris.
With my nose still pressed against the passenger window, we arrived at our destination. I had the pleasure of staying at two of the trendiest hotels in this part of the island; Zuri hotel and The Z Hotel.
Zuri is a little paradise which provides a modern take on Tanzanian hospitality. They exude an atmosphere of peace and serenity so leave all your cares at the gate (to be collected on departure!). Only a year old the hotel is 5-Star, with exquisite food, attentive service, plenty of amenities and of course a beach that will stun even the most experienced traveller.
After the hubbub of Stone Town, I was ready for a day of recuperation so I spent my time wandering around the perfectly trimmed gardens and relaxing on the beach watching the African sun dancing off the warm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. It is a perfect getaway for the traveler hoping for some peace and tranquility.
My second night took me to The Z hotel, only twenty minutes away from Zuri. We drove through the small village of Nungwi where we saw local life in action; fishermen returning from a night on the ocean, children playing, vendors selling brightly colored clothing and small shops with traditional Zanzibar trinkets and exquisite paintings.
As we pulled into Z Hotel, I was greeted warmly by Naima, one of the hosts, who took time to show me around and get me settled in. Inspired by the vibrant London culture, it hasn’t been given the award for the trendiest hotel for nothing. The design is notably contemporary with a casual feel but with a nod to their African roots with beautiful timber themes and traditional khanga fabrics.
The highlight of my stay was their top floor restaurant, Cinnamon. With an enticing menu that delivers what it promises and more it is definitely worth going to, even if you’re staying elsewhere. The high quality and plentiful food and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach as your backdrop will lull you into a comfortable trance that will have you leaving here with a full tummy and a smile.
Leaving the gorgeous beaches of the north, we went east, this time for a visit to the striking beaches of northeastern Zanzibar.
Afflicted by drastic tidal changes, the beaches in this part of the island are able to provide a variety of activities at different times of the day. At low tide you can walk in reef shoes to the reef, peek inside the rock pools and admire the striking sea urchins and star fish that litter the sea bed. At high tide, this area comes to life and you can swim and snorkel, appreciating the abundant marine life.
Matemwe is a stunningly peaceful retreat with a relaxed island vibe that blends into the surroundings with it’s beautiful carved wood furniture and colourful drapes. The rooms all have an exquisite view of the ocean and in this less crowded area, the beach is perfect for an undisturbed evening stroll.
Matemwe is the ideal place for a secluded getaway or honeymoon. For days when you want to get out of hiding, right opposite is Mnemba Island, to which the lodge offer a range of activities such as snorkelling and swimming with the resident dolphins. Another creature that will get your attention are the bush babies that come to socialise in the evening by the bar.
After Matemwe, still in the north east, I went to Shooting Star. Shooting Star is an owner run establishment delivering fantastic service and stunning design. The simple but tasteful combination of colours and patterns envelops its guests in charming elegance and the overhanging trees veil the lodge perfectly, it’s the perfect hideaway.
WiFi is limited to specific public areas, which helps to keep us off our mobile devices and more present in the serene environment we all come here for.
The next day we headed south, eager to experience even more of this unique part of the world.
We soon found ourselves at Baraza, a breathtakingly luxurious hotel by the Zanzibar Collection, which has three other properties not far from it in its portfolio. Right next door you have the Palms, the Breezes and lastly a little way up the road, Zawadi, their latest addition.
The minute I arrived at Baraza, I felt like I had stepped into the Aladdin movie. There is a gorgeous fusion of Arabic, Swahili and Indian designs which display Zanzibar’s heritage dating back to the Sultans. With pieces that include hand carved white stone and beautiful antiques, they offer unparalleled standards of luxury.
Everything is designed to resemble a modern interpretation of a Sultan’s palace, with private cabanas by the pool and beach, an abundance of food and an array of delicacies at meal times, top class service tending to your every need, big or small, without hesitation.
It was hard not to feel like royalty here (surely this must be how the Sultans lived!), a week there and you would be rolling me out the door. Everything here was perfection, and with temperatures in the mid 30s a nice bonus was the private plunge pool in the villa, my own little piece of heaven.
Fumba Lodge, located near the village of Fumba in the South West of Zanzibar was a 1 ½ hour drive from Baraza.
I had the tremendous privilege of staying in one of their Baobab suites. These rooms are stunning and quite different to your typical hotel or lodge rooms. Boasting outdoor bathrooms built into a 900-year-old`(and still growing) Baobab tree. The private deck and access to the beach makes it easy to go from the bed to the beach so you don’t have to be vertical for too long.
Right outside my room were a troop of monkeys scampering about, so if you are curious about nature, like me, you will also love this part of Fumba. I also came face to face with a
which is primarily found in the Jozani Forest, a new and exciting sighting for me!
The beautiful sunset had me in awe, the golden rays filtering through the sandy curves of the beach, and the bold orange sphere sinking into the sea cast silhouettes of fishing boats dancing on the water. What a sight at the end of a beautiful day.
On the last stretch of my trip we continued further south to The Residence. My final stop.
The ride to Kizimkazi, where The Residence is located, was a short 1 hour, and the final 10 minutes of the journey was dirt road – charmingly referred to as an African bush massage. (I didn’t mind at all coming from Malawi which has its fair share of African bush massages).
Set on a whopping 32 hectares of tropical gardens, this was the biggest resort I visited on the island. Its perfect blend of modern and traditional Zanzibari-Arabic style was reflected in their 66 beautifully designed luxury villas, each complete with a generous living room, bedroom, enormous bathroom and your own private pool right outside the villa. These pools measure roughly 9 x 4 meters and 1.2-meters deep, which means whether you want to take a dip or do some laps, you can do it in the privacy of your own garden.
Though it feels nearly impossible to describe in words my time in Zanzibar, I hope this little snippet has given you a taste of the wonders that await you on this amazing island resort.
As you explore different parts of Africa, make it a point to venture out here because this slice of paradise will truly blow you away!
Would you like to visit Zanzibar? Get in touch and we can create your trip!