A cluster of islands nestled in the Indian Ocean just off the east coast of Tanzania. The two principal islands in the group are Zanzibar and Pemba. Smaller islands are scattered around these, which range from mere sandbanks to those with their own ethnic grouping and a fierce sense of identity.
A cliché it might be, but Zanzibar is one of those words, that conjure up adventure, remoteness and excitement. And Zanzibar really does have something for everyone. If your idea of heaven is to lie on the most perfect of perfect beaches, undisturbed by anything more than the occasional hermit crab, you’ll find tiny, abandoned coves where you can forget the rest of the world exists, and stir only to flop into the bath-warm sea, or if your burning desire is for colorful local traditions, crumbling picturesque ruins and dim, fascinating markets, Zanzibar has all this in spades, too. And if, you’d prefer a bit of both, the small size of the islands and proliferation of places to stay in all price ranges makes Zanzibar the ideal destination for touring.
For water sports enthusiasts, the coral reefs and open sea between Zanzibar and Pemba are justly famous for the quality of their snorkeling, diving and big game fishing.
Most accounts of Zanzibar in travel literature and fiction begin with a description of the port of Stone Town, the island’s capital, from the sea. It’s certainly an unforgettable sight. Minarets and graceful, curved towers rise above the turquoise waters, the smell of cloves wafts on the breeze, and Arab dhows with sails the shape of the crescent moon bob gently in the harbor.
On arrival, you’ll end up in one of two places – the narrow, winding streets of Stone Town’s old quarter, or the glittering beaches of the coast. Everything seems very, very exotic. The Swahili people of Zanzibar have been welcoming strangers to their country since the first Phoenician ships blew into the harbor on the northwest monsoon of 600BC, or thereabouts. They’ve seen Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese, American and British ships anchor offshore in the centuries since, so not much can faze them.
Ancient visitors to the island came to trade — gold, silks, ivory, spices, animal skins and, most notoriously, slaves. But many stayed, intermarrying with the locals to form a culture that’s uniquely diverse, and producing a race of people who regard hospitality to strangers as a sacred duty. The word you’ll hear first, and most frequently throughout your stay, is Karibu (welcome in Swahili). And astonishingly, considering a colorful history of conquest, slavery and revolution, they mean it.