Dreamland, Zanzibar by Rachel Gill
Any lover of culture shock will appreciate a visit to Zanzibar. Cameron and I immersed ourselves in the unique experience of the Spice Isle, and let the adventure unfold before us. Read on to follow our journey through this exotic, Indian Ocean paradise.
We started with Stonetown, to get straight into the fascinating history and abundant culture of Zanzibar. Our arrival was greeted with the call to prayer echoing through the tiny alleyways. In the spirit of trying to ignore the initial intimidating feelings of culture shock, we threw our map in the trash before hitting the streets. Following it here is only frustrating, and we knew it’s better to just let yourself get lost and enjoy the experience.
This Unesco World Heritage site is painfully beautiful, yet also sadly crumbling away due to continual expose to the elements with little restoration ever performed. Get in quick before it’s gone forever.
A wander around Stonetown treated us to views of women in beautifully coloured robes and headscarfs hurrying by, and children playing in the narrow lanes. Local men invited us into their shops, or seemed too engaged in some kind of local board game to notice our presence. The intoxicating small of spices and meat hung in the air. Fruit and veg was arranged out front of ornate doorways adorning crumbling buildings.
While this type of self discovery of the old town is something I would absolutely recommend, it’s good to devote 2-3 hours to a guided tour on one of your days here. Avoid the guys on the street offering to show you around and go with a hotel organised guide, as it’s worth the few extra bucks.
A guide helps to inform you about all the history, and enables you the opportunity to see things you might not have the courage to explore on your own, such as the huge local market, which is both an amazing and terrifying assault on all senses!
In Stonetown, I like to stay at Tembo House Hotel. Tembo is a great local establishment that remains polished and comfortable while still retaining an authentic flavour. The rooms feature gorgeous Swahili beds and wonderfully detailed Arabic finishings.
The entire hotel is breathtaking with it’s Arabic architecture and it spills out the front straight onto the beach.
The breakfast is to die for and the view of the water while waking up with a strong Zanzibari coffee is an experience to savour. A note of caution, the water is contaminated on this side of the island, so save the swimming for your time exploring the north and east of the island.
At sunset in Stonetown, do not miss the chance to watch the locals kid come down to the water in droves and play until the sun goes down. A perfect place to be part of the action is Livingstone, a lovely beach bar and restaurant just next door to Tembo House.
Savour an ice cold Kilimanjaro while you dig your feet into the sand and watch the boys and occasional girl splashing around the shoreline in the golden light. It’s a sight to behold and never have I seen more smiles, heard more laughs or seen happier children than here, as they leap off boats into the water, splashing joyously. The older boys fling themselves from the nearby dock, each trying to outdo the other with flips, dives and twists. As the red African sun sets, I’m pretty content with the scene, as the sky lights up my eyes, and the sound of child laughter fills my ears. This place is special.
After sunset, Cam and I head to to dinner at The Silk Route, which is just around the corner from Tembo. Do not miss this place if you like Indian food! The service is exceptional and the food is out of this world. Since Zanzibar has some of the best spices in the world, it’s only fitting that the chefs put it to good use here, and the flavours in the food are just sensational. We loved it so much we went back every subsequent night we were in Stonetown! Last hot tip… order the sizzling brownie!
After four action packed days wandering around Stonetown, we headed off to Nungwi, on the northern tip of Zanzibar to pack in some quality beach time. The 1.5 hour drive to Warere Beach Hotel is worth it for the spectacular vista from the hotel that greets you on arrival.
My eyes soak in the view of ocean and reef at low tide, a stunning array of turquoise shades mixed with long white sandbars just begging to be discovered.
Cam and I stashed our belongings and pulled on some reef shoes in time to explore the many exposed sandbars and tidal pools along the coast, stopping only to hang with some locals out looking for their daily catch.
We barely saw another soul, and filled hours searching for shells, playing with starfish and running all over the smooth, white sand. We blissfully lounged in the warm shallow water until the tide came in and forced us back to shore.
To end your perfect day, I would recommend a sundowner at The Jetty. If you happen to be there on a day when the tide is high at sunset and the waves are big you will be treated to a visual spectacular of massive waves rushing by under you only to crash onto the shoreline cliffs in massive fireworks of water.
There is something slightly daring about sitting out there, at the end of a long jetty with the angry sea just a meter below. After the jetty, take a taxi a short ride to Langi Langi restaurant for dinner. The food here is great and the aspect, elevated on a short jetty over the beach, even better. It’s also a great spot for a sundowner, and a 30 minute walk around on the beach from Warere at low tide.
I also have to recommend afternoon cocktails and dinner at The Rock. Please keep in mind that from Nungwi the Rock is quite the excursion and something I would recommend planning your day around.
A reservation around 3 pm is perfect, as it gives you time for a couple of cocktails before dinner. The setting is unbelievable, and setting eyes on The Rock for the first time was certainly memorable.
A couple of friendly Masai Warriors came over for a chat and we indulged them in brief conversation before heading off the snag the perfect seat for cocktail hour. Cam and I enjoyed an Aperol Spritz before enjoying their beautiful dinner service featuring Swahili food with a twist.
Final mention for a must-do in Zanzibar is the Baraka Natural Aquarium in Nungwi. This beautiful, natural lagoon is home to around 30 green turtles. The guys here run this little gem of a place as a turtle conservation project, rehabilitating and protecting injured seas turtles who are accidentally caught up in fisherman’s nets.
For a small fee of $10 you can enjoy the privilege of swimming with these incredibly gentle creatures for as long as you please. The money goes to a great cause and the experience really can’t be beaten. The turtles are so curious and friendly, and I could have spent hours with them. One little guy even tried to steal a kiss!
I hope you might be inspired to head to Zanzibar and experience this unique place for yourself. I promise you won’t quickly forget those children’s smiles, the beautiful sound of the call to prayer, the smell of the spices, the feeling of powdery while sand between your toes, and the insatiable first taste of a place you have just fallen madly in love with.
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