Close your eyes and imagine a heaven of white sandy beaches glimmering in the sun, various shades of blue and turquoise and crystal clear water, rows of palm trees, a rich and vibrant undersea world and a plethora of spices and exotic fruits – Welcome to Zanzibar!
The island of Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of Africa. It is considered to be a part of Tanzania but it is a semi-autonomous region with its own president. In previous centuries it was governed by the Portuguese, and later by the Sultan of Oman who used it for slave trade that were brought from the African continent. As a result, Zanzibar became a country with a diversity of cultures and flavors.
The majority of the locals are Muslims, simple and hospitable folks who speak Swahili. Anywhere you go, you will be welcomed with the traditional “Jambo” (hello) and “Hakuna Matata” (no worries), and there is no better way to start your day than imagining Pumbaa and Simba humming the famous Lion King song. So what to include in your perfect Zanzibar itinerary?
The Perfect Zanzibar Bucket List
Enjoy the stunning Zanzibar Beaches
There’s no better place than Zanzibar to enjoy a leisurely beach vacation and to be mesmerized by the white sand and the rainbow of turquoise and aqua colors. So how can you find your perfect Zanzibar beach? You can choose either the North Coast or the East Coast. The North Coast – Nungwi is the more touristic coast with crystal clear water, many hotels to choose from and breathtaking sunsets.
The East Coast is less traveled by tourists and more authentic and there you can experience the wonderful sunrises. The high and low tides in Zanzibar are quite extreme (depending on the season) especially on the East Coast. The East Coast is protected by a coral reef and during the low tide you can walk for hundreds of meters in shallow water and be captivated by the local coastal ecosystem. These are the hours when small crabs peek out from their hideaways – small holes in the sandy beach that can be seen everywhere. The locals use these hours to search for sea treasures such as seaweed, mussels and octopuses.
Wander Around Stone Town’s Alleys and Learn About Zanzibar’s Long History
Explore the ancient city (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and admire the unique architecture and traditional stone buildings (in the past they were built with corals – a technique that is forbidden nowadays). Stroll around the narrow and picturesque alleys and look for the beautiful carved doors that Stone Town is famous for. Visit some of the historical buildings and don’t forget to visit the Palace Museum and the old slave market to learn more about the painful history of the island.
What can you do in Zanzibar in the evening? At night time, go and see the local Night Market at Forodhani Gardens – a great food market that showcases better than anything else the wonderful mixture of cultures of Zanzibar. During the early evening, dozens of colorful stands suddenly appear in the compound filled with the best produce and flavors Zanzibar has to offer. It is a great opportunity to meet the locals and enjoy a delicious dinner accompanied by live music and lively atmosphere. Get intoxicated by the rich enticing smells, cornucopia of flavors and infectious lively atmosphere. Don’t forget to try the local beverage – fresh sugar canes, ginger and lime that are squeezed in the traditional way.
Treat Your Taste Buds with the Local Fusion Delicacies
Experience the local variety of flavors and spices the locals use in Zanzibar’s fusion cuisine. This is the place to enjoy excellent dishes made from fresh raw materials and traditional spices and inspired by a mixture of cultures such as Indian, Portuguese, Persian and Arabic. So what to eat in Zanzibar? You can try the local shish-kebabs made from meat or chicken or the variety of seafood made with African spices and served with the local sauces. Try the local rice dishes which the island is famous for, such as the Indian flavored Biryani rice, or the Persian Pilaf rice, both are delicious and offer unique flavors. Make sure to have a taste of the different local curries made from meat, chicken or octopus. We tried a few excellent vegetarian curries made from bananas, okra or the local breadfruit (its texture is quite similar to bread). Don’t forget to try the Naan Bread or Chapati (Indian influences) which will be the best wing-man for any curry you choose to try. Also a must is the local Zanzibar “pizza” which is a kind of pastry with either sweet or savory flavors. The savory version is made from either cheese or meat and the sweet version is served with chocolate or banana.
Go Sailing in Zanzibar's Dhow Boats
Visit the picturesque fishing village Nungwi in the North of the island and learn about the unique colorful Dhow boats that are spread all over Zanzibar’s coasts. Even today the wooden boats are still carved by hand and the locals use them mainly for fishing and sailing. Sailing in one of these boats along the magnificent coast of Zanzibar is the perfect way to appreciate the unique beauty of the island and a wonderful way to enjoy the breath-taking sunsets of Zanzibar.
Visit a Spice Farm and Learn about the Famous Spices of Zanzibar
Zanzibar, also known as the spice island, has so many spices to offer and it is one of the main sources of income for the island. To thoroughly deepen your knowledge about spices and see for yourself where do the spices you buy at your local store come from, you must pay a visit to one of the spice farms of Zanzibar. With the help of our knowledgeable guide we tried to guess the names of the various spices we tasted and smelled. We learned about Vanilla, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg and more, and of course the Clove which is one of the major exports of Zanzibar. It is a great opportunity to buy spices directly from the source with better quality and better prices than in your local store. Not to mention an opportunity to bring special tea blends or soap made from natural materials as gifts for family and friends.
Take a Dive into the Crystal Clear Water
Even if you are not big fans of water sports, scuba diving and snorkeling in Zanzibar must be included in your Zanzibar bucket list! Dive in and witness for yourself the rich undersea world of the island. Among the coral reefs you can quietly watch sea turtles cross the ocean, a variety of fish and sea creatures in their natural habitat and groups of dolphins teasing you playfully while swimming along side your boat.
However you choose to spend your time here, whether lying in the sun, enjoying the view with a cocktail in your hand, or perhaps exploring the island from morning till night, you will not be immune to the charms of this dreamy island. The mixture of cultures, history, picturesque beaches, warm and friendly people and lively atmosphere will surely spice up your holiday.
If you are looking for more destinations where you can experience a different culture, stroll around colorful markets and taste unusual flavors (not to mention max out your camera’s memory card), check our Exotic Destinations category.