Our Amazing Zanzibar Experience
The local language in Zanzibar is Kiswahili and Arabic, although some of the locals speak a little English. Like most African countries, visa can be obtained on arrival. A Tourist Visa for a three-month single entry and a three-month double entry is US$50 and US$100, respectively.
The currency here is the Tanzanian Shilling (TZS), which is being exchanged at a rate of around USD1 = TZS2232 in most places. Although US dollars are accepted almost everywhere on the Island, it’s at a poor exchange rate. If you plan to exchange your US$, we’ll advice to do so at the bureaus, as they have better exchange rates than banks. We exchanged some amount on arrival at one of the bureau in the airport.
As per ATMs, there’s only one outside the arrival airport, however, it’s mostly out of service. Other ATMs are only in Stone Town, none outside Stone Town, not even at tourist centers, and the maximum withdrawal is TZS 400,000.
There’s a lot to see and to do on the Island. The best part for us was the Seafood, which is the main delicacy on the Island, from Lobsters, Crabs, Prawns, and tuna, to mention a few. We ate to our heart’s satisfaction.
Stone Town is the main city on Zanzibar Island, with a number of historically important buildings like The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort (also known as The Old Fort). The House of Wonders was the former palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar, and also the first house in Stone Town to have electricity, running water, and an elevator. While, The Old Fort is the oldest building in Stone Town, located on the main seafront, adjacent to The House of Wonders, and facing the Forodhani Gardens.
The Stone Town inner city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African traditions and architectures, it is possible to spend days winding through Stone Town's labyrinthine alleys. That said, we explored the city in a day by foot, and we had a lot of insight. Though, most buildings have been converted to boutique hotels, clubs, or restaurants, while others are in bad shape as a result of the rough sea climate.
Stone Town is a one-stop shop for souvenirs. You can find beautiful textiles, handmade jewelry, intricate wood or stone carvings, spices, knick-knacks, and the list goes on and on. However, we never bought the first things we saw. We always took a walk through the market, to see more variety and get a feel of the actual price. And just like most African countries, do haggle! It’s always better to start with half the price they ask and work your way up to a price you find acceptable.
If you want to hire a guide, ask your hotel to recommend one. However, you can choose to go with one of the many guides offering their services in Stone Town. Just make sure you agree on the fee upfront. And yes, best believe the tour guide will take you to the shops where he gets a commission.
Another historic site is the Former Slave Market. The museum only consists of slave chambers, a memorial, and an Anglican Church built on the site of the tree that served as whipping post. Apparently in those times, when it was time to auction a slave, s/he would be tied to the whipping post and whipped severally. The less s/he cried, the more valuable s/he is, thus increasing the individual’s auction price.
We also visited the slave quarters below, which are small dark dungeon-type cells. About 50 men to a tiny cell and one for 75 women and children. These cells had no toilets or beds. They barely had windows even. The men, women and children defecated right there amongst themselves. One can only imagine how terrible the conditions were back then.
The museum is adjacent to the church and is on the original grounds of the Slave market. A sculpture outside also shows a representation of slaves going to the actual market, chained to one another. This is definitely a tour you want to go on, either on your own or with a tour guide. It serves as a sobering reminder of how people were sold into slavery.
On a brighter and refreshing note, we went on a few sea adventures. No doubt, this was one of the best adventure on our trip. We took a sail boat to a little island called “Changuu Island” a.k.a. Prison Island, which is 5.6km North-West of Stone Town. This Island was built as a prison complex by the First Minister of Zanzibar, who was British, Lloyd Mathews in 1893. However, this island soon became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases and no prisoners were ever housed on it. Apparently, the station was only occupied for a few months in the year, and for the most part, it was a popular holiday destination.
More recently, the island has become a government-owned tourist resort and houses a collection of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises, which were originally a gift from the British governor of the Seychelles.
Our second sea adventure was the “Blue Safari” boat cruise, which leaves from Stone town. Oh just take me back already! I can’t emphasize how gorgeous and clear the ocean was. We saw many variety of fishes while we cruised the ocean. We fed the fishes, even caught some starfish at the bottom of the ocean. Yea, it was neither I nor Chef Stone who did, we ain’t about that life, thanks but no thanks. Our tour guide did the diving and the catching. However, Chef Stone was brave enough to swim in the Mangrove swamp. Someone had to do the recording, so I took several seats.
The Beaches on the South East coast are popular among travellers. The sand is a brilliant white, and has the consistency of castor sugar. The waters, very clear and a deep teal color. Our favorite beach has to be the Nungwi/Kendwa beach. It was obvious that many tourist also loved it on this beach. Kendwa beach offers lots of accommodation, as well as beach bars and restaurants serving everything from seafood, pizza, to local curries. This beach is also famous for the Full Moon Party, arranged Saturdays just before or after a full moon, which attracts many tourists. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience this.
We also visited the popular Spice Island, which was an important stop in the Spice Trade, centuries ago. Today, it’s one of the few places in the world where Saffron and many other Middle Eastern/Asian spices are grown. Without a doubt, this was a sight for sore eyes for our one and only Chef Stone. He wished he could take all the plants home to grow. Even I was intrigued by many of the herbs and spices, and the way they were uniquely grown. By the way, they were all fresh and we got to taste most of them.
My favorite was the “Nutmeg” Fruit. It looks a bit like the plum fruit, but yellow. Inside it is a seed, a beautiful brown seed with streaks of red. And inside this seed is the fresh nutmeg. The locals hold nutmeg in high esteem, it’s considered the female Viagra.
Another interesting spice is “Ginger”, which is grown from the root. This is another aphrodisiac. Because their men have several wives, they believe that the regular consumption of ginger gives them the “ginger” needed to satisfy their wives. Literally.
Another land adventure is the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, which is the only National Park in Zanzibar. This forest has excellent nature trails, and very exotic, large trees and plants. Even more interesting are the Red Colobus Monkeys that live here on the Island. Apparently, these monkeys can’t survive anywhere else in the world, since they need a diet of about 70 different plants, berries etc. An interesting fact about the Red Colobus Monkeys is that they are very curious and playful and will likely pose for a picture.
In the past, the farmers killed the Monkeys because they destroyed their crops. But since a majority of tourist entrance fee now goes to them, they feel compensated for their losses, and the killing stopped.
Besides touring, our holidays’ largely focused on eating around and enjoying all sorts of delicacies. One of our favorite spot is the “Africa House”, which is located in Stone Town. It used to be the old English club and explorers relaxed in the bar and billiards rooms before touring the main land. It’s a roof top restaurant, with a huge balcony overlooking the ocean. The restaurant and bar serves a typical a-la-carte menu. We enjoyed our meals here whilst watching the sun set. It was incredible. While predominantly a Muslim community, bars can be found everywhere in Zanzibar.
Forodhani Gardens is another amazing spot, with probably the cheapest food you will find on the island, and value for money too. It’s a set up just by the waters from 5pm, and gets busier after the sun sets. There’s a variety of food ranging from local delicacies, grilled seafood, plantain, to plain old chips done in big woks. The fresh sugarcane juice and fresh coconut milk are drinks you don’t wanna miss. The beauty of eating out here is, you watch ur food being grilled and your sugarcane being juiced. It’s an amazing experience I tell you.
Zanzibar doesn’t offer much cheap accommodation. However, if you’re on a low budget, Stone Town offers a few cheaper options. But be aware, you’ll get what you pay for in terms of quality. In our opinion, you can either go low on the accommodation budget if you plan to be out more, exploring. But if the opposite is the case, where you’re looking for a relaxed chilled time, invest in your accommodation. Preferably, the accommodations on Nungwi/ Kendwa Beach.
We stayed at The Island Beach Resort in Stone Town. The staff were friendly and always smiling, which I later realized is the norm on the Island. The locals are very welcoming and always ready to say hello and teach you new words. Here are some of the words we learnt;
-"Hakuna matata" which means No worries.
-“Karibo” which means You’re welcome.
-“Jambo or Yambo” which means Hello.
-“Asante” which means Thank you.
-“Shilingi ngapi or bei gani” which means How much?
-“Ndiyo” which means Yes.
-“Hapana” which means No.
-“Yule” which means That one.
-“Kwa heri” which means Good-bye.
Sincerely, words aren’t quite enough to describe our beautiful experience throughout our time in Zanzibar. You just gotta come out here, see, and feel for yourselves. Hakuna Matata. Til’ we meet again. Asante.