Ahh….. Zanzibar. The name rolls off your tongue like honey and sounds as sweet as the cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, guava, and mangos that have put this Tanzanian treasure on the route of traders, sultans, and farmers for centuries. The intoxicatingly beautiful island is just 22 miles from the mainland and is a wonderful, relaxing cap for languid safari-goers who just relax and enjoy the white sandy beaches and aquamarine waters.
Also known as ‘Spice Island’, Zanzibar evokes images of an exotic paradise with white palm-fringed beaches and turquoise coves, dreamy dhows with billowing white sails, and ancient Islamic ruins. It combines Arabic alleyways and historic monuments with coral reefs and excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities. Today’s idyllic beach resorts belie the island’s haunting history of slavery.
The island’s varied history has brought with it seafarers, explorers and traders, and it became a major centre for the slave industry. During the 19th century the island became the world’s leading producer of cloves; its plantations still produce more than 50 different spices and fruit, and guided spice tours are a Zanzibar specialty.
For centuries Zanzibar has enticed those in search of business; today it remains an irresistible attraction for those seeking a heavenly beach holiday or an exploration into its exotic heritage – or a bit of both.
On arrival, you’ll end up in one of two places — the narrow, winding streets of Stone Town’s old quarter, or the glittering beaches of the coast; both very, very exotic. The people of Zanzibar have been welcoming strangers to their country since the first Phoenician ships blew into the harbor on the northwest monsoon of 600BC. They’ve seen Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese, American and British ships anchor offshore in the centuries since, so not much can faze them.
Ancient visitors to the island came to trade — gold, silks, ivory, spices, animal skins and, most notoriously, slaves. But many stayed, intermarrying with the locals to form a culture that’s uniquely diverse, and producing a race of people who regard hospitality to strangers as a sacred duty.
The word you’ll hear first, and most frequently throughout your stay, is Karibu (welcome in Swahili). And astonishingly, considering a colorful history of conquest, slavery and revolution, they mean it.