Zanzibar is that small Island off Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania's coastal city. It has been repeatedly ranked among Africa’s Seven Wonders, especially in the category of heritage sites and impressive island destinations. This begs the question: what are Zanzibar’s wonders? Here are seven of it's city's legendary attractions that will awaken your sense of wonder. Its name, Stone Town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is more like a museum of well-preserved buildings whose architecture is a mix of Arabic-Indian and African influences. But while museums are usually full of dead exhibits, Zanzibar is full of life and colour. This makes it a perfect holiday getaway.
1. Beit al-Sahel/Palace Museum
The palace Museum is a rich heritage site. I wish I had ample time to tour it slowly. It was the Palace of Sultan Seyyid and is said to have been the first building in East Africa to have a lift. In 1896, the three-story building was bombed by the British during the Anglo Zanzibar war of August 27, 1896. The war lasted less than 45 minutes and is thus rated as the shortest war in history
The palace which is open from 9am-6pm was rebuilt and currently serves as a museum, exhibiting the different items and royal regalia used by Sultan Khalifa bin Harub and Sayyida Salme. Located on Mizingani Road, History of the colonial age flows through its walls. Prime focus is on slave trade and its abolition, and colonialism.
Outside the museum, you will find tombs of various sultans. The ocean-side gardens in front of the palace are another gem that a visitor would love.
Entrance fee to the Museum is $3
2. Big body/Tangawizi Spice farm
When it comes to spices, Asia dwarfs many continents as it is home to people who do not settle for less when it comes to food spices. The Indians and Arabs are known for indulging in spices and Zanzibar has a rich historical connection with some of these cultures. In East Africa, Zanzibar has an unrivalled spice culture, and one of the tourist delights here is a visit to the Spice Garden. A 30-minute drive from the heart of Stone Town brings you to this jungle-like farm that features over 50 distinctive species of spices. And they are not only spices for the palate, but for a wide range of purposes, including spices for sexual prowess, beauty, perfumes, among others.
At this farm, you don’t just stop at seeing. You are free to eat and drink any spice of choice. Don’t be f fooled by the names; the spices with the most romantic names burn the tongue the most. Should you fall victim, do not worry, there is lots of fresh coconut juice to wash it down your throat quickly.
One of the most captivating moments here is when the guides climb to the top of coconut trees that are as high as sky scrapers to harvest ready fruits. No they don’t use ladders. They just clasp their hands and legs around the trees and start slithering up, even if the wind is blowing the tree from side to side.
At the end of the tour, you will be accessorised in beautiful handmade neckties and hats made of palm leaves. The ladies get simple but elegant wristbands and earrings, also made of palm leaves.
Getting here from the town centre is easy. Hire a driver for the day. This will give you flexible go and return options. There are lots of tour operators in Stone Town who can arrange this for you. If you prefer travelling public, bus service is possible, but may not deliver you directly to the farm. There is no entrance fee and neither is there a standard fee for the guides. Rather, you will need to tip them along the way. Be sure to go with extra cash to purchase local perfumes and spices on your tour.
3.Bird’s eye view of Zanzibar
You can never know how truly gorgeous this town is until you have taken it its views from the air. Seeing the islands and other beautiful ocean features from the air is an enchanting experience. To share this beauty with all, Coastal Aviation organises chartered aero tours around Zanzibar, with some flights costing less than $100. Scheduled daily flights between Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar offer the same experience, but at no extra cost than the ticket price. The beauty and nature of this part of the world is movie-like.
4. Dhow Boats
Try not to leave Zanzibar without taking a tour in a dhow boat if you want the complete experience. They look fragile, but be sure that they are tough to the core, thanks to the resilient hardwood they are made of. They can last up to thirty years if well maintained. A dhow cruise feels like you are living in the days of Vasco Da Garma the explorer, as they navigated from coast to coast to discover hidden gems. It costs roughly $20, as offered by most of the agencies stationed in front of the Palace Museum.
4. Local Market (Darajani market)
A visit to the Zanzibar market is a first class ticket to getting to know the locals better. It offers an opportunity to mix and mingle with them. They are very welcoming and always happy to teach guests a thing or two about their cultures and history. Like any market, it is split into different arenas. I highly recommend you drop by the fruits section if you have a thing for organically grown fruits. If you love fabric, you will find lots of authentic kitenge and Swahili leso materials on sale. The market also features art galleries and souvenir shops.
Tip: Like any market setting, the traders here will quote for you twice the price and expect you to negotiate it down.
Regardless of whether you are a novice or addict of sea food, Zanzibar has your back. You will find a variety of budget restaurants and star hotels specialising in fresh aquatic foods that taste like heaven. However, some meals are so beautiful that you will feel guilty swallowing them.
If you want to take back the local culinary skills with you when you return home, this is the right place. There are lots of beachfront eateries which allow guests to catch up with their chefs behind the scenes. One such is Forodhani, a garden like setting where lots of restaurants exhibit their best.
Are you mad about immersing yourself in the ocean and lying on beaches with powder soft white sand? In Zanzibar “life is a beach”. There are over 20 beaches that provide a great place to rest, enjoy the water and relax under the sun. From a distance, the water looks green, but when you reach it, it is remarkably clear. If you want somewhere more private, Serena Beach will treat you to an unforgettable experience. It is beautiful and has a romantic ambience with great views of the sunset. The fairly warm water makes for a fun swimming holiday.
Tip: Bring something to shelter you from the sun and do not forget sun cream. There are shops around most of the beaches where you can do last minute shopping for some basics.
The slave market deserves its reputation as an amazing bucket list attraction. It is one of the world's last open slave markets, as shut down by the British in 1873. It was founded and run by Arab Slave Traders. Countless slaves were imprisoned here for days in crowded cellars with poor ventilation. One's that didn't have toilets to be exact. There after, they were shipped to overseas markets in dhows.
Where to stay
If you are big fan of beachfront hotels with a rich history, Serena Zanzibar will treat you right (picture below). It is beautifully laid out upon a white sand beach. I would have loved to describe it as a hotel, but something about it is more like a spacious beachfront mansion with a rich history. Here is its link
As you visit Zanzibar, please bear in mind that it is a Muslim society, so respect the culture to have a comfortable trip. There are some areas that are sensitive to skimpy women’s dress codes, so be mindful to wear something decent. If gay, minimise on public displays of affection.
How to get to Zanzibar
Coastal Aviation, a domestic airline in Tanzania offers over seven daily flights to Zanzibar. A return ticket costs between $60 and $100, depending on the tourism season. The cost for children is slightly lower.
Flights are closed 15 minutes before departure time , so do not be late, otherwise you will be deemed to be a no show.
Travelling from Uganda? Precision Air Now offers direct flights from Entebbe to Julius Nyerere International Airport, from where you can catch a connecting flight to Zanzibar. A return ticket costs roughly $320 inclusive of taxes.