I’m not entirely done with telling you about our last trip and things like how to survive a trip to Azerbaijan as a vegetarian. However, an Instagram user I follow (Poleabroad) reminded me about our trip to Zanzibar in December last year and I got nostalgic enough to write about it.
I certainly don’t need to convince people who love resort vibes or fans of sunbathing that Zanzibar is a good location to visit. The beaches there are really beautiful, the water is warm and luxurious hotels are exactly what you’d expect. A traveller who’s allergic to such vibes, like us, may need some working on to choose this location.
My verdict is that the island is worth a trip but a week is more than enough to do the exploring. You should also keep in mind that it’s comparatively expensive there. We paid more for our week in Zanzibar than two weeks in Azerbaijan. Even if you opt for cheaper accommodation and manage to get decent flights, trips, car hire, food and tourist attractions are quite pricey.
This list includes my subjective “best of” to see on the island and some humurous unrelated comments, because it’s me.
1. Prison Island
Prison Island or Chunguu Island is by far the best thing to do in Zanzibar. It’s an island with a tortoise sanctuary which was home to a prison, where slaves were kept.
Apart from amazing, giant, often pretty old tortoises that you can admire and feed, the prison building is worth to have a look at. Despite of its sad history, today the prison is an interesting building with tree branches on the walls.
The water around Prison Island is particularly beautiful and clear which makes it a perfect spot for snorkelling.
Getting to Chunguu Island is very easy. There are lots of boats on the shore of Stone Town ready to take you there so the easiest thing to do is just to strike a deal directly with a boat owner. Have a look at the names of some boats as well, just because they can be hilarious (e.g. Facebook).
The trip to and from the island costs 10-15 USD off season. If you buy it through a local licensed guy or a tourist office, it’ll cost you a bit more but the experience is exactly the same as a guide doesn’t go with you to the island.
2. Spice Farms
There are many spice farms in Zanzibar and many of them offer amazing tours for tourists. We visited the Jambo Spice Farm close to Stone Town by purchasing a deal including transport with a tourist operator.
It’s a super interesting trip because you learn how spices you use every day look like. We were given a cone to put various spices and fruit in as we were walking around. We saw cocoa, cloves, nutmeg, young avos, jackfruit, bananas and lots of other stuff.
We also ate different fruit and one guy even climbed a palm tree to get fresh coconuts for us to drink out of. I was overly full towards the end but “no” wasn’t an answer.
You can probably notice the tipbox on the picture above. At every stop on a farm people expected tips. This is true for Zanzibar in general because there’s not much work there and people are desperate to make income. Even if you pay for a visit in a museum and a guide, that guide will politely wait for you to get the idea why he’s still hanging around after the trip is done 😉
3. Stone Town
Stone Town is an old part of Zanzibar city and I could write a post about it on its own as that’s where we stayed. If you’re there, you’ll get surrounded by lots guides willing to offer you a city tour. We preferred to see things on our own but we ended up visiting most of the landmarks, anyway.
Of course, there are monuments and museums to see but that’s something you’ll find in any guide. Zanzibar has had a turbulent history so it’s worth spending some time in these places to find out more about it.
The island was an important slave-trading port and apparently even today people with slave heritage are looked down on by inhabitants of Zanzibar with different heritage.
If you’re not that keen on getting facts about Zanzibar rather have a slow walk around Stone Town and allow yourself to get lost. It’s a really beautiful area with a charm partially coming from the neglect and lack of maintenance (no, really).
From the things not to miss there’s definitely the Spice Market (official name: Darajani Bazaar), where you can shop for spices, fruit, fish and many other things. Stock up for the upcoming year and don’t forget to try red baobab sweets.
Don’t buy with the first vendor and check prices around. People are, of course, trying to get the most money they can for what they’re selling to you. This means that prices can differ significantly.
Another thing you shouldn’t miss in Stone Town is a sunset. Kitschy as it is, it’s still stunning.
Stone Town offers at least two great and not overly pricey food options (the luxurious options are really easy to find). The first one is the night food event, Forodhani Market. It takes place very close to the promenade, where people gather to watch sunsets. The food is really amazing and there are countless options to choose from.
Another one is called Lukmaan restaurant and is closer to the Spice Market. It was so good we went to eat there twice during just a week long stay.
They have a variety of local options with unusual dishes and drinks to try. It’s super busy and it’s hard to find a free table but usually you don’t have to wait too long for someone to leave.
Let me just make a general comment on food in Zanzibar here. It’s absolutely amazing! Our stay there was a constant moutgasm (mouth + orgasm). Yes, some restaurants we visited were very pricey, by Cape Town standards, but we didn’t dislike what we ate once.
4. Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
The so-called Jozani Forest is worth a visit as long as you don’t expect a lot. The most interesting things you’ll see there are mangrove trees, which are among very few trees that can grow in salt water.
If you’re lucky you’ll also spot some monkeys. The trip around the park is, unfortunately, quite short but the guides are very knowledgeable.
Nungwi was probably my second favourite adventure after Prison Island. It’s a perfect day trip from Stone Town. We rented a car and got a temporary permit for foreigners for around USD 30.
We started the day by visiting Fukuchani Ruins, which are Portuguese ruins dating back to the 16th century. When we arrived at the spot a guide appeared literally out of nowhere and started to show us around before we even said a word. He told us a bit about the ruins.
Then we visited a cave, saw a baobab tree and a nearby village. Local children seemed fascinated by us and many of them, along with our guide, assisted us back to the car, where in shame for we were trying to start the car. My husband was trying to figure out why it wouldn’t move for what felt like eternity, while I kept waving back and smiling at the cute children waiting for our departure.
In Nungwi itself, you must visit the Nungwi Mnarani Aquarium. It’s a bit disappointing in size but gives you one in a lifetime opportunity to feed turtles. They have fully grown specimen as well as baby turtles.
You’ll also learn more about how to protect the environment and why you should #refusethestraw. Last but not least, you’ll see a small collection of everyday use objects made from recycled materials.
Next to the Aquarium you can find a local village with a fish market. Don’t worry about finding a guide, they’ll find you before you’ll manage to say “What should we do next?”. Our guide was an honest and no BS kind of a guy who told us a lot about how difficult life in Zanzibar is for locals. He also showed us his home where I got beaten up by a little girl because we had not football ball with us as a gift.
We also visited a traditional Zanzibarian dhow boat in construction. It was quite interesting to see people making an actual boat with their hands, while I can barely make chocolate coconut bites.
We concluded our trip with a late lunch and a short visit to the beach. The water was warm and nice but I could have done without drunk and young Polish tourists I could unfortunately understand.
Zanzibar may look like a paradise but is not one for people who live there. Humans suffer because of unemployment and related poverty. You can also see starving cats everywhere.
It may be an overpriced tourist destination but by visiting it and being generous with your tips, you’re supporting the local community and the one industry that’s doing well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my list. If you’ve been in Zanzibar feel free to comment and add places I’ve missed but are worth seeing. If you’re planning a trip, let me know how it goes.