Exploring Zanzibar

playing on beach in Zanzibar

Zanzibar was on our bucket list for years! In January 2022 we finally had a chance to go there!

I had always been intrigued by this island, why? Well many like to go there on vacation, however, they don’t really consider it as going to Africa, so I was trying to understand how could this island be so different from the rest of Africa, which by the way we love! Finally last January we booked a flight out, leaving behind very cold Bulgaria for warm and humid Zanzibar! It was time to see for ourselves what this island was all about!

walking on beach in Zanzibar

How was the situation post covid?

We were very excited about this trip to Zanzibar. However, I cannot deny we were also a bit nervous! Like in most countries we visited after 2020, we were not sure what to expect with COVID-19 still being an issue in most of the world. As many might know, now-deceased president John Magufuli, was a COVID-19 skeptic throughout most of the pandemic. He claimed that Tanzania had eradicated COVID-19 through three days of prayer. He played down the pandemic and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy against Africans. However, in March 2021 he passed away from heart failure. However, some believe it was due to COVID-19. So at that point, we were not sure what to expect other than the fact that we knew we needed a test in order to enter the country.

Once we landed, after spending almost an hour melting from the heat while filling out visa forms and paying, we finally made our way out of the airport. Our taxi driver greeted us with a huge smile, mask-free! The first thing he told us was “Hakuna Matata, welcome to Zanzibar, now take off your masks!!!”. We were free again to be ourselves. For the next three weeks we completely forgot about masks, tests, and vaccines, it felt like it never happened.

on a beach in Zanzibar

Did you know?

Before I give you all the details about our trip, I want to share with you a few important things I learned about Zanzibar as soon as we arrived. 

  1. The word “Zanzibar” comes from Arabic which in turn comes from Persian and means “land of the Blacks” “the land of the Black people,” or “the coast where Black people live.” In reference to the skin of the inhabitants as referred to by the foreign traders that gave the archipelago its name. 
  2. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim. 
  3. Zanzibar is made of a number of islands. Many think otherwise because it is big but in fact, it is an archipelago of islands located in the Indian Ocean. There are several smaller islands and two larger ones; these are Unguja (also known as Zanzibar), and Pemba Island. Further south is Mafia Island, which is part of Tanzania’s Mafia Archipelago. 
  4. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. It also has its own flag, which is only 14 years old! The three horizontal lines of blue, black, and green are complemented by the inclusion of the flag of Tanzania in the top corner. Prior to the current flag, Zanzibar shared the Tanzanian flag, which was adopted in 1964.
  5. Zanzibar is famous for its main industries tourism, raffia, and spices. 
  6. Throughout history, the Persians, Portuguese, Omani and British have fought to control Zanzibar. It was seen as a gateway to mainland East Africa and was also inhabited by Indians. The Sultanate of Omani was the first to trade slaves, cloves, and ivory from the East African Mainland. The presence of the different inhabitants and spices where the main reason why Zanzibar has a unique architecture, cuisine, and culture that you can see, smell, and taste to this day!
Flags of Zanzibar and Tanzania

What was the plan here in Zanzibar?

Honestly, we stopped making detailed plans in 2020. Now we simply decide where to go, drive or book our flight there and then look into what to do and where to go once we are there. The whole pandemic took away from us the ability to have a fixed plan when all our flights were canceled back in March 2020. From that experince, we learned to adapt and we actually love our new way of traveling so much more, although it drives some people crazy when we tell them! In this case, we were a bit nervous on our arrival because we weren’t sure if they wanted to see a flight out (which we had not booked yet) in order to give us a visa, but they didn’t, so we got our 3 months visa and started our adventure. We booked only our first hotel for 7 days. Ourold temperatures so we wanted to give ourselves time to adapt to the change of climate and the new routine, plus we needed time to figure out what to do here!

holding a sea urchin in Zanzibar

For our first week, we stayed in Makoundici. We found out by reading online that this area was less touristy and a bit more peaceful. It was perfect! It is on the southern part of the island and there still aren’t many hotels here. We stayed at Clove Island Villas & Spa. A lovely boutique hotel right on the beach. They have 4 apartments and 2 villas so the environment is very intimate. The beach, especially on this side of the island, is rich in sea urchins, so when the tide is low you can walk out for kilometers but you have to be careful with all the sea urchins! We took long walks on the beach exploring all the sea life and meeting some Masai hanging around offering their products. If you want to learn more about it, make sure to check out the video!

Activities in the southern part of Zanzibar 

In this part of the island, there are a few things that you can do. Since we didn’t want to spend hours in the taxi we focused on the activities to do in each part of Zanzibar we were staying in. There are no highways and you cannot drive too fast so it would take hours to go from one part to the other otherwise.

  • Dolphin tour. Yes, there are dolphins in Zanzibar! We woke up at 5 am to go see them!!! It was a short drive away to the village of Kizimkazi, where we jumped on one of their little boats. This was not our first time seeing dolphins, but it excites us every time and it is also fascinating to see the different boats we go on each time! Every country has its own style! This was small and the waves were huge! After about 45 minutes we found a big group of dolphins playing in the water. It was amazing, we saw so many just jumping around and having fun. Mass and Cosimo had a chance to jump in and swim close by, no touching, of course, they are in the wild, but simply going underwater and listening to their sounds as they move in the water. Amazing! You have to watch this video to hear them! Words cannot express how magical it was.
  • Jozani Forest. Did you know that Zanzibar used to be completely covered in trees? Unfortunately due to deforestation most of them are gone, except for this last area. Jozani Forest is also very special because it is the last sanctuary in the world where you can see the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. In fact, the red colobus monkey is an endangered species, and its population is still decreasing. While we were on our walking tour through the forest, we learned a lot about the red colobus, great healing plants, and everything about the mangroves and how they grow. A magical and educational day in nature.
  • Lunch stop for a view of The Rock restaurant! Probably one of the best and most unique restaurants in Zanzibar! Why? First of all, it is built on a rock and depending on the tide you can reach it on foot or by boat, how cool is that? What makes it one of the best? Well, it is an Italian restaurant! Years ago a group of Italians saw this tiny hut on the rock and asked if they could rent it out to create a restaurant. After a long discussion with all the families that owned the property, here they are! Considering that it is almost impossible to eat there without a reservation their concept was clearly a success!!! This restaurant is in such a cool place with delicious food, but be prepared, a bit pricey, anyway keep in mind that it will be a unique experience!
The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar
  • Dhow boat tour. We decided it was time to adventure more of Zanzibar by finally going on one of their famous sailing boats, the traditional dhow, which is made in mangrove wood. The boat tour took us swimming in a mangrove lagune, on a sandbank that never disappears, and for lunch on another island where we had the best-grilled fish ever. Later on, we went climbing on a fallen baobab tree too! What a memorable day! The tour started from a little village, we hopped on our private boat and headed to Ufumbwi Bay for the day.

Activities in the Jambiani area 

We then moved to Jambiani beach and spent a week between two locations in the area. The first was the all-inclusive Reef and Beach Resort. It was a big change from the intimate hotel! I must admit it was bit more busy but still pleasant. One of our favorite aspects of it was the fact that there was a little jungle walk where you could see many Red Colobus! This resort was outside of the village so you needed a form of transportation to get around.

However, after a few days we moved to Ifa Resort, a much smaller hotel but right on the beach and in the heart of Jambiani village. While we stayed here it was easier to get around on foot and try new places or simply go for a walk in the village.  This is what we did in this area of Zanzibar.

our family at Zanzibar
  • Mwani Zanzibar. Did you know that here in Zanzibar there is a place where they make cosmetics with seaweed? It is called Mwani (Seaweed in Swahili) Zanzibar and it is amazing! We decided to take a tour of this place to see for ourselves what kind of business they created here, after all, creativity comes in many forms!!! When you are here in Zanzibar it is impossible not to notice the many seaweed farms very easy to see especially at low tide. The women pick the seaweed and then sell it for very little for exportation. Instead here at Mwani they help these women have more resourceful jobs, not only do they grow and harvest the seaweed but they then create all these beauty products directly here. No machines are used, everything is done by hand! It was a fascinating tour! Check out the video to learn more about the process. It is truly fascinating!
  • Kite surfing lesson. We stayed longer in this area because Mass and Cosimo decided to take kitesurfing lessons at ZanziKite. Without even knowing it we were staying in a great place for kite surfing. In fact, this area is world-renowned for its consistent winds and beautiful sandy beaches. Since it had been on their bucket list for a while, why not try? But how did we find the school? Simple, Mass was walking on the beach in front of our hotel, when he saw two kite surfers arriving on the beach. He got closer to them and heard them speak Italian, of course, he had to go say hi! One of them was the owner of the school so this was clearly a moment of synchronicity and it could not be ignored!
kitesurfing in Zanzibar

Activities in the northern part of Zanzibar 

Our final beach area to explore was on the northern part of Zanzibar island. We headed to Nungwi Beach and we stayed at The Zanzibari Boutique Hotel so we could easily explore that area. While we were in this hotel we met our friend Francis, who gave us a little drumming lesson. It was thanks to him that we later on headed to Bagamoyo to learn how to make our drum. Here is what we did in this area of Zanzibar.

View of Zanzibar
  • Nungwi beach village tour. Our hotel offered a few different tours. We were very interested in learning how they make their traditional dhow boats. Luckily this was included in the village tour. We were thrilled about the opportunity to see it! During those few hours, we went around with a local. We went through the little village streets, walked by the shops, and learned about how big hotels are taking over all the prime spots on the beach, taking away the authenticity of the village. We also stopped at a kindergarten where the kids sang for us and then crossed the street to meet some of the kids from the higher grades. It was a fun time just being part of the daily routine in the village. Of course we also spent some time with the men that were working on their boats.
  • Baraka Turtle Sanctuary. During this tour, we also had a chance to swim with sea turtles at Baraka Turtle Sanctuary. Sometimes when fishermen throw their fishing nets, sea turtles get caught too. The sanctuary buys the turtles from the fishermen and takes care of them, providing food and a natural environment to live in and then releasing them into the ocean once they are healed. While you are there you can enter the lagoon and feed them seaweed. It is a pretty incredible moment to be surrounded by so many turtles and of course, our kids didn’t want to leave!
  • Mnemba Island. Before leaving Zanzibar we wanted to do another experience on a traditional dhow boat and go snorkeling. Mnemba Island is 3km off the northeast tip of Zanzibar, surrounded by several miles of vast coral reef. Unfortunately on the day of our trip, the weather was not very good so we didn’t get to enjoy it at its best. What we didn’t like though is that Mnemba Island is a private island with access restricted only to guests of the extremely luxurious hotel. So you are not allowed to stop on the beach but have to stay at a distance. Oh, and if you try to fly a drone you will get in deep deep trouble. From what we learned the hotel is owned by Bill Gates…
Exploring Mnemba Island

Activities in Ston Town, Zanzibar 

Last stop of our adventires in Zanzibar was in Stone Town before catching our plane to the mainland. We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the seafront and at walking distance to all the main attractions in the area: Mizingani Seafront Hotel. However, our time in Tanzania wasn’t over, we still had a a Safari planned (you can read more here: Our incredible first Safari in Tanzania) and then a stop to visit our friends at Pamoja Leo. Let me share with you what we did in this part of Zanzibar!

giant tortoises in Zanzibar
  • Prison Island. We went from sea turtles to giant tortoises, how amazing is this?! Where are these giant tortoises? On Prison Island right in front of Stone town. They are not local species, in fact, four specimens of Aldabra giant tortoises were received as a gift from the governor of the Seychelles Islands in 1919. They found on Prison Island nice conditions to breed, so by 1955, the total number of giant tortoises increased to 200. When you go visit the island you can stop by and feed them some salad leaves. Luca did not want to leave!!! It was so much fun! In order to get to the island all you have to do is jump on a little boat, there are ma people offering rides.
Riding on a little boat in Zanzibar
  • Stone Town city tour. For our last days in Zanzibar, we wanted to do a city tour to learn more about its history! We wandered around town and enjoyed just getting a feel for this colonial town, by walking down its tiny streets, admiring all the decorated doors, and simply interacting with the people. Did you know that there are an estimated 560 doors around Zanzibar city and Stone Town and most of them are over a century old? They are fascinating to see because they reveal the clash of Swahili, Arab, and Indian traditions in their designs. However, the hardest part of our history walk was learning about Zanzibar’s slavery past. In the 19th century, as many as 50,000 slaves were passed through the slave markets of Zanzibar each year and about 80,000 new slaves died each year before ever reaching the island. We had a chance to see where the slaves were being kept for days before being sold, and the conditions where absolutely terrible. This aspect of Zanzibar’s past is hard to accept.
Streets of Stone Town
  • Street food market. Do you like to eat street food? Did you ever try it anywhere around the world? We have! Mainly in Thailand, so we were extremely curious to taste it in Zanzibar. Every evening they set up many stalls right on the waterfront and you can taste many different things, from meat, to fish to veggies and more. While there you will also be treated to a great free show: many boys diving in the water for hours, so fun to watch!

This is it for our trip to Zanibar!

After spending over three weeks there we can honestly confirm that we were so happy with everything we had a chance to experience. It was a migical time and we feel so blessed to have had a chance to explore as much as we did. The poeple are very friendly and always happy to help, we have felt extremely welcome everywhere we went. When are you palnning your trip to Zanziar?

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