Why is Zanzibar worth visiting?
The Zanzibar Archipelago (island chain) is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and a world famous travel destination. It’s also called the ‘Spice Islands’ (referring to its strategic importance in the historical spice trade), consisting of seven islands altogether. The largest island, Unguja, is what people usually refer to as Zanzibar itself interestingly. There are many reasons to check out this beautiful treasure:
Firstly it’s literally paradise (the stereotype holds true in this case); pristine, untouched, sandy beaches (probably considered to be some of the finest around the world), an unwavering tropical climate, world-renowned snorkeling and diving options featuring the coveted coral gardens; overall a special island feeling with warm, tranquil waters, even dolphins pods on the horizon!
Zanzibar Island, Photograph: Antony /Unsplash/
Secondly there's a lively multicultural vibe which can be found in cities such as Zanzibar City on Unguja, this includes unique Arabic, Indian, European and African architectural influences all coming together in one place. 90% of the population is muslim. However, among the Zanzibari people there is mixture of ethnic/cultural influences, including Persian, Arab and African. So in order to gain a deeper cultural experience go on a spice tour and appreciate the food, immerse yourself with the local people.. This can be accomplished by going on a village tour, which is a great way to gain insights into the locals’ lives and habits, including fishing which is central to their sustenance.
Zanzibari women fishing, Photograph: Agnieszka /Pixabay/
Fishing boats Zanzibar, Photograph: klimentgrozdanoski /Pixabay/
Thirdly, it is not just a single island, it's an island chain, where each island is unique in its own way and has something special to offer for visitors: Changuu island (also called prison island, referring to its violent past) is now a peaceful destination, a marine conservation area, also home to giant tortoises. Chumbe island has been declared a marine protected area, visitors can see the rare Ader’s duiker, turtles, whales and the endangered coconut crabs. Pemba island, definitely a less popular destination, however, has great diving options and coral reefs, also make sure to visit the sanctuary of the flying fox. While on Mafia Island visit ancient ruins of the 15th-century mosque, but also be aware it is a destination for nature lovers with beautiful trails to explore and outstanding scuba diving options!
Zanzibar wildlife Red Colobus monkey, Photograph: petto123 /Pixabay/
Unguja, the biggest island, is of course home to spectacular beaches, also features several cultural sites including the old Sultan’s Palace, the 15th-century Malindi Mosque (ornate architecture), the Hamamni Persian Baths and the old town area. Get lost in the labyrinthian streets of a UNESCO World Heritage Site old town called Stone Town and don't miss the Old Fort; Stone Town’s oldest free-standing structure.
Zanzibar Stone Town, Photograph: Kaspars Eglitis /Unsplash/
Further, for the adventurous types check out the magical caves of Jambiani including the Kuumbi cave which reveals prehistoric wall paintings from peoples dating back at least 18,000-20,000 years. The limestone caves were formed when Zanzibar was still connected to mainland Tanzania, approx. 250,000 years ago. Fresh water rivers and pools found within the caves attracted ancient tribal peoples who gathered, traded and mated, perhaps one can imagine a forgotten utopia. In fact animal skeletons have been found in the caves with impressions likely created by human tools/weapons providing a glimpse of the complex culture which existed here. Make sure to take a dip in the Kuza cave, it's like swimming in a jewel box frozen in time!
As mentioned above, these are just some of the treasures which are dotted along the coastline, waiting to be discovered for the fortunate few who leave mainland Africa and immerse themselves in the Zanzibar Archipelago! Go ahead, jump in and go waaaay back in time....