While performing volunteer work in Tanzania, I took the opportunity to visit stunning Zanzibar just off the east coast. Daily flights from Dar es Salaam facilitate travel to this attractive location which consists of two large islands, Pemba and Zanzibar Island plus several smaller islands. Leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania at 7 am, we arrived in Stone Town on the largest island, Zanzibar Island, half an hour later on a small but very safe Precision Air 20-seater. Many opted to take the hydrofoil which cost less but takes 2.5 hours.
Farming and fishing are the major occupations with many small villages scattered throughout the countryside. Known for exporting coconuts as well as cloves and other spices, Zanzibar is flat and surrounded by coasts of sandy beaches and rocky inlets. The largest town is Stone Town, birth place of Freddy Mercury of "Queen." Here, we stopped for a buffet breakfast at the
Serena Hotel. What a feast! Bacon, eggs, omelettes, smoked fish, fresh island vegetables and herbs, quiche, bread, cheese, seafood, locally grown fruit, Zanzibar honey and hot strong coffee. Then, off in our private van for a spice plantation tour.
The sultan of Oman introduced these plantations to the island in 1873. We visited several with our guide, Said. Touching, smelling and tasting were encouraged. We
sampled different spices such as cloves, ginger,
turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla and black pepper. We tasted a variety of fruits ranging from rose apple to guava, custard apple, star fruit and jack fruit. Soon, we learned to distinguish tangerine trees, lemon grass and mangosteen.
Many spices contain medicinal properties and remain used today by locals to cure certain maladies. Some rare plants such as henna, perfume tree and lipstick tree are used to prepare cosmetics. We were accompanied on our walks by several young boys who expertly wove palm leaves into grass jewellery and baskets as gifts for us.
Lunch was traditional Swahili with rice cooked with coconut milk and served with chicken and vegetable stew as well as fresh grilled fish. This included locally-grown vegetables (egg-plant, okra, and spinach), and spices (cloves, cardamom, pepper). Dessert was passion fruit, red bananas, mangoes, pineapple and jackfruit. Sweet tea with milk was also served.
The rest of the day was devoted to a driving tour of the island. We saw the small fishing villages of Zambiani and Paje in the east as well as the Jozani Forest, home of the famous but rare
red colobus monkeys and the location of the Mangrove Boardwalk. Later, we stopped at a beach to test the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
We finished with a short walking tour and some shopping in Stone Town. One might spend hours exploring the labyrinth of narrow streets, but we chose to visit The Palace Museum, House of Wonders, Old Arab Fort, People's Garden, Upimaji Building, Tembo Hotel, Tippu Tip's House, Memorial Museum, Hammani Baths and Khoja Shia Dispensary. An unforgettable sight was the
former slave trade market, Darajani.
After our too-brief sensory immersion, back at the airport, a 30-minute flight returned us safely to Dar es Salaam.
Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a volunteer to Europe, China, Tanzania and South Africa living the life of the local people.
Tourism Zanzibar: www.zanzibartourism.net ; http://www.tanzaniatouristboard.com/
When to Go
The principle rainy season or the 'long rains' last during March, April and May. Afternoon tropical downpours can be heavy at this time with high humidity and daily temperatures in the mid 30's C. The long dry season lasts throughout June, July, August, September and October. Temperatures are usually pleasant with a clear sky and sunny weather. During November and December there's another rainy season: the 'short rains,' much lighter than the main rains but weather can be wet just the same.
If you go
(From Canada): Air Canada, K.L.M., Lufthansa, Air France, Egyptair, Swiss Air, Emirates Air;
Air Tanzania: http://www.airtanzania.com/ Phone: +255 22211 8411;
Precision Air: http://www.precisionairtz.com/ Phone: +255-27-2506903/ 2502836/2507319;
Coastal Aviation: http://www.coastal.cc/ Phone: +255 78 SAFARIS
Ferries: Phone: +255) 022 2111244
Taxis or Dalla-Dallas (minibuses) link all major towns on Zanzibar Island. The main 'Bus Station' is on Creek Road just beside the Darajani Market on the edge of Stone Town.
Tour operators: Said Suleiman Mohammed: Elsaidznz@yahoo.com specializing in city tours and spice tours
Official Language: Swahili, but English is spoken everywhere