The Zanzibar Archipelago consists of four main islands of which, Zanzibar locally known as Unguja, and Pemba are the largest. Surrounding Unguja are a number of smaller islets , both inhabited and uninhabited. Located in the Indian Ocean on Swahili Coast, adjacent to the mainland Tanzania, the island covers an area of approximately 985 km2 and is separated from the Tanzanian mainland by a channel some 56 km wide.
Zanzibar was once known as the most important trading city in the whole of the Indian Ocean and the world’s largest producer of cloves. Today agriculture and fishing are the principal economic activity among a large percentage of the population, while major exports remain cloves, coconut products and spices.
What to See
- The Beaches
Well respected internationally as a celebrated tourism paradise, Zanzibar is well known for its powdery white sandy beaches located on the eastern shores and protected by a beautiful coral reef that stretch right across the length of the island from Nungwi in the extreme north to Pongwe in the southernmost tip of the island. In all, there are more than twenty of such beaches, some so small and remote that visitors are likely to be alone for miles on end with the only noise being the rhythmic gentle lapping of the waves on the beach. Tourism is the main foreign exchange earner but visitor numbers are still moderate by international standards making a holiday in Zanzibar a fairly un-crowded affair even during the peak season months of June to October when the climate is warm and dry and most favourable for a holiday. Another popular time to visit the island is from December to February when it’s hot and dry. If possible avoid a visit during the months of March – May which are monsoon months with a lot of rain.
In terms of popularity, Nungwi to the North takes the trophy for truly stunning beaches. Other popular beaches include Matemwe, Kiwengwa , Kimkazi, Bwejuu and Dongwe, to name a few.
- Stone Town
Stone Town, the capital city of Zanzibar, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built about 200 years ago, first by the Portuguese. Later with the arrival of the Omani Arabs, the whole archetecture of Stone Town was greatly influenced by the Muslim culture that became predominant then, as it still is today.
By the start of the 19th century, Stone Town was already a flourishing trade centre well known as a source for cloves, spices and, unfortunately, also as a source for slaves . At about the same time , many immigrant communities from as far afield as Oman, Persia and India also arrived in Stone Town to trade with the locals and in time they grew in number and settled, making for the rich cultures and varied architecture that characterize this interesting town. Today Stone Town is a melting pot of many cultures made evident in the perfectly preserved diversity of the cities architecture and way of life. A walk through the town will give visitors a close up view of how the inhabitants live and interact, very much as they have always done for nearly 200 years.
What to see
The best way to tour Stone Town is by using a local knowledgeable guide who will also be sensitive to the cultural values and the dos and don’ts of the local residents. Some of the must see monuments include the Old Fort, the House of Wonders ( Beit el Ajaib) which was built as a ceremonial Palace in the late 1880s complete with lights and a lift, the Palace Museum which once housed the Sultans family and which have interesting exhibits of the original furniture, utensils, clothes and artifacts.
Zanzibar has great historical importance in the end to slave trade, since it was the base from which its opponents, such as David Livingstone, conducted their campaigns. Because of this fact many visitors to Stone Town include in their itinerary, a visit to the Anglican Cathedral commemorating the work of David Livingstone in abolishing the slave trade and built on the site of the last slave market, as well as Livingstone House, where the missionary actually lived. Other interesting places to visit are the Old Dispensary located on the seafront and still used as a dispensary today, and St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Malindi Bamnara Mosque; the Royal Cemetery and the Persian bath. Last but not least a tour of Zanzibar Stone Town is never complete without a visit to the market, a vibrant place full of local people buying and selling their wares which acts as a focal meeting point of people from all over the Island.
Every year in the month of July, Zanzibar hosts the Zanzibar International Film Festival, a famous event that showcases the best of Swahili culture, arts scene, and music especially the famous Taarab. This annual multi- disciplinary arts and cultural festival is among the best of such events in the whole of Africa. Covering a period of 8-10 days, the Festival consists of local and international discussion panels, workshops, musical concerts and dance and screenings of the best local and international cinema. The festival draws to Zanzibar, an estimated local audience of well over 100,000 people with a wide range of interests, cutting across all races and religions. The festival also brings to Zanzibar nearly 8000 tourists from various world destinations, making this one of the most significant events in the Island, not only from a cultural perspective but also due to the considerable economic impact that comes with it.
How to get there
Flights to Zanzibar land at Zanzibar’s main airport, Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ) which accommodates scheduled airline services as well as charters of various capacities and serves up to 1.5 million passengers per year. Flights from Nairobi to Zanzibar operate from Jomo Kenyatta International airport Nairobi, and Wilson Airport, and include daily flights operated by Kenya Airways. Other airlines from Nairobi include Precision Air, Fly 540 and Safarilink ( operating from Wilson Airport). In addition the island can be reached by flights operated daily by Qatar Airways from Doha, Fly Dubai from Dubai, Oman Air from Muscat and Turkish Airways from Istanbul, which together with KQ provide important transit points for all visitors arriving from Europe and the Far East through these gateways.