In late January I travelled to the island of Zanzibar for the first time in seven years. In the past this is somewhere I have spent a lot of time and have a huge soft spot for. So I was enormously pleased to be back, not least so that I could have some much needed winter sun!
Zanzibar is actually an archipelago comprising of many small islands and two larger ones, namely Pemba and Unguja, the latter being the main island. Thoughts of Zanzibar generally conjure up turquoise waters and endless white sand beaches, both of which it has in abundance… however there’s a lot more on offer here too. There are plenty of water-based activities: diving, snorkeling, dhow boat cruises and kite surfing to name but a few. Zanzibar also has a rich cultural and natural history, with African, Omani, Portuguese, British, Indian and German influences all woven together to give the island a wonderfully exotic feel. Spice tours and historical tours make an interesting variation to time on the beach, as does a visit to Jozani Forest where you can see the endangered endemic red colobus monkeys.
After landing at Zanzibar Airport on the west coast of Unguja, I hopped in my transfer vehicle and headed to the far northern tip of the island. This is home to Nungwi and Kendwa beaches, both of which are very popular. While there is no doubt that Kendwa in particular has one of the best stretches of beach on the island, I was surprised by how much this area has developed since my last visit – it is much busier than I remember and a number of large hotels have popped up. There are still some wonderful places to stay here, but you do need to be careful where you pick, and it is perhaps not best suited to those looking for somewhere quiet with a lot of privacy.
From the north I made my way down along the east coast, around Chwaka Bay and the beautiful Michamvi Peninsula, before continuing further south to Paje Beach. Generally speaking, this area is quieter, and the properties tend to be smaller. However, before choosing where to stay on Zanzibar it is important to understand the affect that the tide has on the beaches here, as this can be a bit of a surprise to the uninitiated! In the north (particularly Kendwa beach) the tide has little to no impact on swimming; you can swim in the ocean at any time of the day with no problem. But once you head to the east and the south of the island, this changes; at low tide the ocean recedes significantly (more than a kilometre in some places), therefore swimming is only really possible at high tide. This does not mean that the east coast is to be avoided, most hotels on the island will have daily tidal charts for their guests, so you can plan your day accordingly. When the tide is out it provides a great opportunity to grab your reef shoes and go and explore what the low tide has revealed – reef walks are a popular activity in this area. There are also plenty of properties with beautiful swimming pools where you can spend a few hours admiring the view with a cocktail in hand!
From the east coast I then headed back to the west and spent a night on Chumbe Island. This is a beautiful private nature reserve, about nine kilometres offshore, that encompasses a coral reef sanctuary and forest reserve, a small visitor centre, some wonderful historical buildings and a small eco-lodge, Chumbe Island Coral Park. This is by no means a luxurious place to stay, but it is comfortable, well managed and offers some excellent snorkeling. A personal highlight for me was meeting the island’s resident coconut crabs; they are huge and somewhat scary looking, but so nonchalant and unintentionally comical that I quickly became a fan!
My last stop on Zanzibar was Stone Town (the historic centre of the island’s capital) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and a place that both delights and fascinates me. It’s hard to describe Stone Town… organised chaos springs to mind, but it’s so wonderfully friendly and vibrant that you somehow get swept along in the hustle and bustle of the place. It is essentially a labyrinth of ancient alleyways that feature some beautiful architecture. It is well worth doing a guided historical tour here to fully appreciate its history.
All in all, Zanzibar is as I remember it: friendly, unique and very beautiful. It is extremely relaxed in places and somewhat frenetic in others, but for me that is part of its charm!
Kelly stayed at Gold Zanzibar Resort, Next Paradise Boutique Resort, Pongwe Beach Hotel, Breezes Beach Club & Spa, Zawadi Hotel, Chumbe Island Coral Park and Zanzibar Palace Hotel.
Kelly inspected Essque Zalu, Royal Zanzibar, Hotel Riu Palace, Zuri Zanzibar, Sunshine Marine Lodge, Shooting Star Lodge, The Residence, Konokono Beach Resort, Matemwe Lodge, Boutique Hotel Matlai, Kisiwa on the Beach, Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, Xanadu Villas, The Palms, Baraza Resort & Spa, Kisiwa House, Emerson on Hurumzi, Emerson Spice, Park Hyatt and Zanzibar Serena Hotel.