Zanzibar, known also as Unguja, is a small Tanzanian island located on the Indian Ocean, famous from its beautiful white-sand beaches and colorful coral reefs. Next to Maldives and Seychelles, it is for many people the synonym of a paradise island. I got a chance to visit that amazing place back in July 2011, after a longer safari adventure in Kenya & Tanzania. Read further if you wonder what long-lasting memories can you make there.
We were staying in the Mnarani Beach Cottages – 4* hotel located on the Nungwi Beach in the northernmost tip of Zanzibar island. The hotel’s name “mnarani” comes from the Swahili word meaning “place of the lighthouse”. So as you can guess, the main landmark of Nungwi village is the lighthouse, although as its a government building it’s officially illegal to photograph it.
Ocean or beach?
The biggest issue with our hotel was that the presence of the beach highly depended on the tides. During the high tide, the water and waves were reaching the promenade and you could only access the Ocean going down the ladder. On the other side, the low tide was revealing a spacious beach, covered with shallow puddles. The low tide was also a time when locals where coming out to collect the sea fruits and other gifts of the sea.
Swimming with turtles
In the closest surrounding, there is also the Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond. A community-based NGO where you can not only admire endangered turtles but also try swimming with them in the Sea Turtle Pond! The pond actually is a natural lagoon separated from the Indian Ocean by old reef rocks. The guides and other volunteers share with their knowledge about these animals, their conservation and Zanzibar island. Besides taking care of turtles, they are also engaged in beach patrols and cleanings.
Active or lazy?
First of all, I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of beach destinations. In general, I love active holidays with lots of sightseeing and outdoor activities and easily get bored when staying on the beach.
Our main activity on Nungwi beach was snorkeling. Zanzibar offers lots of beautiful coral reefs and colorful fishes. If you’re lucky, you can even spot some dolphins! For our snorkeling boat trips, we were using the service of local guides from Nungwi village. They were not only taking us to some less popular and better-preserved reefs but also offering a choice of fresh, local fruits and sharing knowledge about their island.
After snorkeling and swimming, we were mostly relaxing. Taking walks around the beach or enjoying our hotel area – swings, hammocks, sunbeds, and tasty local food. You could even ask a staff member to harvest for you fresh coconut!
Besides walks around the beach, offering amazing ocean views and insight into marine life, we were also visiting the Nungwi village. The vicinity of the second biggest town in whole Zanzibar gives a great opportunity to learn about the life of the locals. Mostly fishermen and farmers.
What I didn’t like the most was the attitude of some locals. Zanzibar is a highly touristic area and many natives are used to begging for money and acting very obtrusive towards visitors. I wasn’t feeling very comfortable walking around alone, as there were always some guys trying to pick me up in a very persistent way. On the other side, all of our local guides were very friendly and welcoming.
Around the Zanzibar island
Zanzibar’s overall area is over 1,500 km², so it’s good to see also other parts of the island. We decided to do it on a one-day trip, covering the three most popular destinations.
The first one was the only national park in Zanzibar – Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park (Jozani Forest). Its main attraction
And the ones who prefer flora to fauna can enjoy a walk on the boardwalk through the beautiful mangrove forest, full of swamps and evergreen thickets. What can be done either with a guide or alone, as it’s difficult and forbidden to go off the path.
From the Jozani Forest, we headed to Stone Town, the old part of the capital city of Zanzibar. The former center of flourishing spice and slave trade is a unique mix of different cultures. Thanks to its architecture, reflecting the influence of Swahili, Arab, Indian and European elements, Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We visited some shops with local spices, fruits and materials and strolled across the narrow streets of the city.
One of the most famous elements of Stone Town’s architecture
Zanzibar is known as “The Spice Island“, not only as a former important trade center of the Indian Ocean but also from its spice plantations. No surprise, that the most popular excursions in Zanzibar are Spice Farm Tours. Accompanied by the guide you can see how different spices and herbs grow and look in their “natural” (fresh, unpowdered) form. And also get some funny palm-leaf souvenirs made on the way by your guides.
Besides described attractions, Zanzibar island has much more to offer. Amazing beaches and snorkeling spots, Prison Island with giant tortoises colony, Cheetah’s Rock where you can get in close contact with wild animals and many other less popular places. It’s definitely a place where I would love to come back, despite not being a fan of typical beach destinations.
Ever been to Zanzibar? Share your impressions and memories in comments!