Zanzibar: The Ultimate African Island


There is an undeniable mystique about Zanzibar. At the time of planning our trip to Africa we admittedly didn’t even know much about it except we had to go. Technically it’s a part of Tanzania and shares the Swahili culture that extends down to Mozambique, but we quickly realized it’s a world unto itself. With its history as the hub of the spice route,  Zanzibar Island has been shaped by those on all sides of the Indian ocean. The mash-up of cultures, architecture, and cuisine, mixed with white sand beaches and vibrant reef makes it one of our favorite destinations in Africa.

To this day there are no definitive maps of Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town. The narrow streets seem to wind into knots and fray in every direction.  With that we started an easy exploration of the waterfront with a trip to the House of Wonders, a very informative museum on Zanzibar’s history, and the old Omani fort.

Braving the backstreets we got lost in the beauty of Zanzibar’s architecture…with its doors as the crowning feature of each facade. The doors were a the cultural expression  and status symbol of the family that lived there. Arabic doors have elaborately carved rectangular frames, Indian are paneled and with bronze spikes (said to keep elephants from charging), and the European stand out for their simplicity.

Between the winding streets and elaborate history, we decided it was time we got a guide to help us navigate Stone Town. Eddie showed us all the hidden gems and historic sites, including the Slave Market. Up until 1873, millions of people were bought and sold at this market and as reminder of this tragic past, the frightfully small holding cells have been turned into a museum. It was chilling but eye-opening visit.

Whenever we go to a new town we like to head to the market for a dose of real local culture and Zanzibar’s market is amongst the most dynamic. .. especially come sundown of Ramadan. By dusk the place flooded with people, an army of ladies were hawking their home-cooked meals, the fruit carts were spilling over with mangoes and lychees, and schools of fish were strewn across the counters.

On the waterfront by the House of Wonders, a night market also emerges.  Lobster, crab, calamari, and any fish you dream of is ready to order and eat on the spot. More a food fair than a market, artists set up their paintings along the fringes, musicians play Swahili rhythms, and residents and visitors mingle in search of the freshest catch.

To fully appreciate the diverse landscape of the island–and to come to face to face with spices you may never see outside of jar–a visit to a spice plantation is a must! Walking through the lush forest and rolling farms, we got to touch (and taste!) fresh cardamom, curry, lemongrass, jack fruit, and about 15 other spices and produce growing on the grounds. After our tour, we even enjoyed a lunch of traditional pilau (spice rice) and grilled vegetables grown right on site.

Stone Town, check. Spice tour, check. Beaches…were next on the list of the great Zanzibar trifecta. And lucky for us we received an invite from Breezes Resort to stay at their Baraza and Palms  hotels on the southeastern coast. For the inside scoop on the most fabulous honeymoon spots on the east coast of Zanzibar, check out our next blog.

Much love from Zanzibar,
Anne & Mike

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