Beaches Full of Beauty and Mystique

Zanzibar

Zanzibar’s lasting mystique has attracted travelers around the world for centuries. From its early day as a Swahili port, Zanzibar has done a thriving business in the cargo of the day. In generations long past, ivory, slaves and spices were transported on the large wooden sailing dhows across the Indian Ocean to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Although spices remain a main export, these days Zanzibar’s main attraction is the beauty of the island itself.

An afternoon strolling through the narrow streets and winding alleys of historic Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, is not to be missed. You will get lost – everybody does – but do not worry you will emerge from the cool, shady lanes into the blinding sunlight of the seafront eventually.

Until then, you will find something of interest around every corner – an Arab archway leading into white-walled square, with the sound of prayer coming from behind the walls of a mosque. Or perhaps you will stumble upon the Darajani Market, with symmetrical piles of oranges, baskets of spices and enormous chunks of fresh fish arranged under palm-thatch shelters. As evening falls, the sea front comes alive with stalls selling fried seafood and chicken on skewers, hurricane lamps illuminating piles of squid and octopus and mounds of chips (French fries). Sugarcane is pressed through an antique mangle and funneled into glasses – cool, sweet and instantly refreshing.

As well as the magic of the streets, Stone Town has a number of historical buildings that worth a look. The palace museum and the Old Fort on the seafront both house collections of furniture and clothing from the days of the sultans. The Anglican Cathedral, built on the site of the old slave market, has a crucifix made from a tree under which the explorer David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Nearby are the underground chambers in which slaves were kept, forced to crouch on stone shelves less than two feet high.

Spice Tour The spice tour is probably the best way of seeing the country side outside Stone Town and meeting the members of rural community. Guides will take you on walking tours of spice farms at Kizimbani and Kindichi, picking bunches of leaves, fruits and twigs from bushes and invited you to smell or taste them to guess what they are. Pretty much all the ingredients of the average kitchen spice rack are represented – cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilies, black pepper, nutmeg and vanilla – the list goes on and on. Local children follow you all the way round, making baskets of palm leaves and filling them with flowers to give to you. At lunch time you will stop in a local house for a meal of spiced pilau rice and curry, followed by sweet Arabic coffee and lemongrass cake. Many spice tours include a visit to the Persian baths built by sultan Said for his harem, and stop at Fuji beach just outside Stone Town for a swim on the way back.

Jozani Forest

Jozani forest about 20 minutes drive outside Stone Town on the main road towards the east coast is a conservation project aimed at preserving some of the last indigenous forest on the island. The forest is home to unique species of monkey, Kirk’s Red Colobus, as well as the forest antelope, Ader’s Duiker and many species of birds. A guided walk through the mangrove trees that form part of the forest takes about an hour.

Offshore islands

Zanzibar has many offshore islands, which provide a stunning location for a day trip or a longer stay. Boats to any of the islands off Zanzibar or Pemba can be hired easily from local fishermen.

Prison Island

Prison Island is one of the nearest islands to Stone Town – just 15 minutes or so by boat. It is also known as Changuu and its original use was a prison for renegade slaves punished by their master, an Arab land owner. Later it was taken over as quarantine station by the British army and another prison was built but never used. The large house on the island was built by the British general Lloyd Mathews, commander of the army of Sultan Bargash. Today people visit Prison Island to see the giant tortoise some of which are reputedly over a hundred years old. The Island has some excellent coral formations just offshore, providing a good opportunity for snorkeling.

Chapwani Island

A slightly more up-market choice than Prison Island, Chapwani or Grave Island, is the site of a luxury hotel, but day visitors who come to eat drink in the bar and restaurant are permitted. Chapwani is a site of a British naval cemetery, the final resting place of sailors who perished while serving in Zanzibar. The victims of the World War One attack on the HMS Pegasus by German warship Konigsberg are also buried here. It is interesting to wander around the grave yard and decipher the ages and causes of death of the servicemen – many died from tropical disease, or were killed in skirmishes with local slavers.

Chapwani also has a beautiful white sand beach and a small population of duikers (a type of miniature antelope), as well as interesting birdlife.

Bawe Island

Bawe Island is further away from Stone Town than Changuu or Chapwani, a good 45 minutes by motorboat, and consequently less visited. It has no facility of any kind so bring enough food and water with you the whole day. The beach is excellent at low tide, with unusual stone formation, and there is good snorkeling to be had on the island’s reef.

Chumbe Island

Six kilometers south of Stone Town, surrounded by pristine coral reef, Chumbe Island Coral Park is one of the world’s newest and most successful eco-tourism projects. In 1994 the reef surrounding Chumbe Island was named Tanzania’s first Marine National Park. The Island itself, covered with mangrove forest, is a designated forest reserve. Chumbe Island Coral Park won the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award in 1999, in recognition of seven years conservation work carried out in cooperation with local fishermen, now retrained as marine wardens. Chumbe Island contains a light house built by the British and still operational, a ruined mosque and a light house keeper’s house now converted into a spectacular-built education center and restaurant.

Visitors can come for the day to snorkel over the incredible coral reef, which contains over 90% of all coral species ever recorded in East Africa. The reef declared the world’s best shallow water coral reef by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, is home to over 370 of fish, turtles and dolphins. Guided walks are also available through the Island’s coral rag forest, interspersed with intertidal pools and huge baobab trees, which supports a unique flora and wildlife population including the rare – and enormous – coconut crab.

Shopping

Zanzibar and especially Stone Town is a shopper’s paradise. The narrow winding streets are lined with stores selling local crafts, antiques, jewelry, clothes and spices. The Zanzibar Gallery, on Kenyatta Road, Shangani, sells a huge range of printed fabrics and clothes plus silver jewelry and locally made massage oils and perfumes, as well as a range of handmade bubble baths in glass bottles. The Gallery bookshop along Gizenga Street, stocks a range of books including local history, plus coffee table and photographic books, guide books, novels, address books, calendars and postcards featuring photographs by the shop’s owner, well-known photographer Javej Jafferji. The Zanzibar Gallery also sells batiks, painting and antiques from all over Africa alongside printed t-shirts and other clothes.


Pemba

Alternatively, leave the better known of Island of Unguja behind set sail for Pemba, which is smaller, lusher and hiller than its neighbor. Few tourists come here, and the beaches are beautiful, unspoiled and otherwordly.

At night the wind that whispers through the clove plantations which cover most of Pemba might bring the sound of distant drumming. But do not be tempted to set off toward the noise – in the 1930s Pemba was famous the world over the power of its sorcerers and magicians, but visitors will be unlikely to see any hint of the occult. Instead you can float across spectacular coral reefs, laze on those untouched beaches and explore the winding hills and dense vegetation of the interior.

The tiny number of visitors to Pemba each year means that the island has little in a way of tourist infrastructure – which for alternative travelers is the main attraction. Small guest house are dotted around the island, and there are couple of upmarket diving hotels and resorts.

Visitors may be surprised to find that bullfighting is a popular local sport, supposedly imported by Portuguese invaders in the 17th century. The Pemba version, however, simply involves testing the skill of the bull in a series of bold moves by the matador, after which the bull is loaded with flowers and praise, and paraded around the village.

There are many historical sites and ruins to explore on Pemba including a number of old mosques and tombs and the old town fort of ChakeChake. The Pujini ruins south-east of ChakeChake are the remnants of a fortified town built around the 13th century.

The beauty of Pemba is bewitching. The epitome of tropical paradise, Pemba has green valleys with rice paddies, palm trees and clove plantations that shade the roads. Vistas of the Indian Ocean are breathtaking as they appear through the peaks and depths of Pemba’s terrain. It is a sight not to be missed.