I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but I’m looking at a graying sky that will soon turn to rain. Fall is here in Seattle, and soon, we’ll be in the dark, depressive days when when we question our choice of home. Meanwhile, off the coast of Tanzania, the dreamlike islands of Zanzibar await. Surely, you don’t need convincing to head off to the Spice Islands, but if you do, here are five reasons you should stop what you’re doing and book a flight to Zanzibar International Airport right now.
Stone Town is freaking cool. Oh, sure, it’s bit touristy and there are overpriced cocktails and mass produced souvenirs. But there are little alleys to wander, and the famous and beautiful Zanzibar doors with their intricate carvings and metal details. There are cafes where you can get brightly colored tamarind drinks and there’s a lively central market with fish mongers and butchers and produce vendors and oh, wow, saffron is really cheap here. Hey, this is where Freddy Mercury came from, it’s the kind of place that breeds THAT kind of crazy cool.
I’d been told that Stone Town can be sketchy and the locals aggressive towards tourists — I found this was absolutely not the case, people were kind and friendly and helpful and almost absurdly welcoming — I wondered if I hadn’t lived in Stone Town in a previous life.
The beaches are gorgeous. Soft golden sand, turquoise waters, shockingly picturesque dhows (boats) anchored just off shore… the northern beaches are lined with palm trees and kids playing soccer and oh, you’ll share the space with Speedo wearing Italians, but it doesn’t feel crowded and the water is fine, come on in! The tropical waters make for good snorkeling and diving, too.There’s delicious seafood. It’s an island, of course there’s great seafood. Whole fish grilled on open fire. Tuna on skewers with chili dipping sauce. Giant prawns with garlic. Great big crab claws. Dine seaside on a torch lit patio or, if you’re crazy for street food, head to the Forodhani Gardens night market and get the seafood pancake, a crispy fried crepe-like dough with fresh fish, veggies, and an egg mixed in to bind it all together. Yum.
It’s affordable. You can spend 300/night in one of the island’s chic resorts or you can spring for a room in one of Stone Town’s cool renovated buildings (right now, it’s 215 for high season in the best room at Africa House). You can spend that, but there’s no need. Your biggest expense is going to be your plane ticket. Once you’re on the ground, you can also get a double with a shared bath a mere two minute walk to the beach for 20/per person. A nice dinner will set you back 10 dollars, and that includes beer. Again, you can spend more, and certainly Zanzibar has its share of high end tourist offerings. But you don’t have to. Shop around for hotel deals, you’ll find stays that are priced to offset the sting of the airfare.
It’s Zanzibar! Do you need more reason than that? Even the name — Zanzibar — has the pull of the exotic. This is the Spice Islands, for crying out loud. For the change that’s in your pockets right now you can buy fragrant vanilla pods and packets of saffron and coffee seasoned with ginger and cinnamon bark. Zanzibar was a trading post for the Arab world, the Persians were here, and the Sultan of Oman and the Portuguese. David Livingstone had a home here, yes, THAT Livingstone, as in “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” There’s the tragic history of the slave trade and the footprints of great explorers.
Situated at the edge of Africa in a cultural crossroads of African, Persian, Indian, Arab, and European influence, Zanzibar is irresistible. Go because it’s Zanzibar!
My travels to Tanzania, including the excursion to Zanzibar, were hosted by Intrepid Travel. My shiny opinions, however, are really and truly my own and if I could go back to Zanzibar tomorrow, I would. Photo, mine, shortly before sunset at Nungwi.