Hakuna matata, swahili for ‘no problem’, should be the phrase you prepare yourself with as you drift into this oasis known as Zanzibar. Known by many as the setting for the hit musical ‘The Lion King’ this place lives up to its reputation. The only problem is, there are no lions in Zanzibar! Anyway, we will not harp on that fact. Zanzibar is a place where rushing is unheard of and where beaches surround this once prominent slave port, ivory and spice exporter. Zanzibar, comprises of many islands in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, but the main two are Zanzibar (often called Unguja) and Pemba . Although now part of the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar still elects its own parliment and, as such, is semi-autonomous.
The history of Zanzibar is steeped in romance and bloodshed as Arab traders in the 9th and 10th century conjured up the foundations for a thriving slave trading port. Ivory and spices were also exported in large amounts. The capital of Zanzibar is Zanzibar City and the old Stone Town within is of great historical significance, so named because of the sheer number of multi-storey stone buildings and Stone Town has been designated as a ‘World Heritage Site’ by the United Nations. The buildings are actually made of coral and morter, not stone. Its age has been widely debated, ranging from five or six thousand years ago, built by indigenous Africans who inhabited the whole of this region around that time, to more recently by fishermen or Arab Slave Traders. The Arab influence is very strong and consequently, 97 percent of the population are now Muslim. The remaining 3 percent are a mix of Christian, Hindu and Sikh.
See boatbuilders in Nungwe along the northern coast where traditional designs continue to live by the hands of the descendants of age old African shipbuilders that some how make the process look easy and enjoyable. I, on the other hand, cannot even build a paper boat, with full instructions and diagrams.
There are so many things to see in Zanzibar, from the natural wonders of thousands of marine life, to the historical sites and buildings that have combined to make Zanzibar the hidden jewel of Africa.
Home to the Red Colobus Monkey. The Red Colobus Monkey, numbering only 1500, are known locally as ‘Kima Punju’ – ‘Poison Monkey’ in english, because local myths speak of the poisonous effects of their ingredients and dead trees or crops are thought to be evidence that these monkeys have been feeding in a particular area. Jozani Forest is also home to other species of monkey, small antelope and the flora and fauna found in this tropical paradise.
Snorkling and diving in Zanzibar is world renound as you enter an underworld paradise full of tropical fishes, coral reef, turtles and dolphins. Beachside barbecues in the evenings are not to be missed and what I learnt most about this island is that you need to want to relax. This is not a place for extreme sports or extreme anything. This is exotic pleasure, not designed for those with the insatiable apetite to risk their lives. Unless, of course, you want to hunt unprotected for sharks, with your eyes closed and an open wound. Suicide.
Stone Town tours are very popular where you can stroll through a town that has remained unchanged for over 200 years. Wander through its winding alleys and spend hours pondering over the many bazaars. Marvel at the Arab houses that their owners tried hard to make more elegant than their neighbours. You will see how the doors of these houses appear to be part of an extravagance competition, the carved wood adorned with gold studding. With more than 500 examples of this craftmanship one becomes aware of the one-upmanship practiced by these proud Arabs.
Prison island (Changuu) is just a relaxing 20 minute boat ride away by traditional Dhow (shipping boat), from Stone Town. This tiny paradise is just half a mile long and 250 yards at its widest point. It was originally used as a detention centre for reluctant slaves, but now, one would pay to go there. The old prison ruins have been converted into dwellings for tourists and the island is praised for its snorkling opportunities and, of course, its giant tortoises.
These giant tortoises can live to over 200 years old and many have. Imagine what they have witnessed! Any tortoise whisperers would have a field day. The larger ones can easily carry a grown man on their backs with ease, if not with speed.
To conclude, Zanzibar is definetly worth visiting. It would normally be a destination that you would add to your itinery during a stay in Tanzania and is a perfect addition to any east African tour. For further information about available tours and holidays visit:
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Until next time