Known as the Spice Island, the beautiful island of Zanzibar on Africa’s east coast is bursting with culture and history, seemingly at odds with its idyllic geography of white-sand beaches with palms swaying lazily in the sea breeze. Together this makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar Island (Unguja) and Stone Town
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The best time to visit Zanzibar and Stone Town is during the hot and mostly dry December to March period or in the more comfortable months of June to October, which offer the driest weather and cooler temperatures. Rainfall is heaviest in April, May, and November.
Temperatures are highest from November to March.
With 99% of the population Muslim, Zanzibar is a real Muslim community, where local residents live and work. Although the people are accustomed to Western ways, sensitivity and respect for their culture should be demonstrated by observing some of the following courtesies:
- Women and men should make an effort to cover their legs and arms when in town.
- It is disrespectful to show affection in public.
- Be discreet when drinking alcohol.
- During Ramadan—the month of fasting—travelers should avoid eating and drinking publicly during the daytime. Also, be sure not to smoke or chew gum in front of people, and avoid talking about the meal you just enjoyed.
Stone Town, one of the most distinctive and enchanting locations on the entire Swahili Coast, is the historical capital of Zanzibar Island, and is awash with ancient palaces, mosques, bazaars, and markets. For visitors interested in Swahili cultural or those who have an interest in history, we recommend you spend some time here, preferably at least one overnight. You can spend many hours exploring the labyrinth of narrow alleys and streets, either on your own or as part of an organized walking tour. We recommend, and can arrange, the services of a specialized guide for your walking tour. It is easy to get lost among the winding streets and alleys, and a local guide will ensure that you experience the highlights of the area. Once you are more familiar with the area, you will feel more comfortable setting off on foot. Contact us to help you with these arrangements.
What to see and do on Zanzibar Island:
- Spice tours
- Walking tours of Stone Town
- Jozani Forest
- Palace tours (Maruhubi, Mtoni)
- Old Arab Fort
- Mangapwani slave chamber
- Zanzibar Butterfly Centre
- Old Customs House
- Forodhani Gardens
- Persian baths (Kidichi, Kizimbani)
- House of Wonders (Beit el-Ajaib Palace)
- Swim with the dolphins
- Water sports—diving, snorkeling, sailing, fishing, dhow
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