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Zanzibar - A view from our expert author
Whether it’s a quick cultural fix you’re after, scintillating diving, or just a palm-lined beach where you can laze away the day, some time on Zanzibar is the perfect way to round off a dusty safari on the Tanzanian mainland.
Zanzibar is one of those magical travel names, richly evocative even to the many Westerners who would have no idea where to start looking for it on a global map. Steeped in history, and blessed with a sultry tropical climate – warm to hot all year round and often very humid; it receives more rainfall and is windier than the mainland – and a multitude of idyllic beaches, Zanzibar is also that rare travel destination that genuinely does live up to every expectation. Whether it’s a quick cultural fix you’re after, scintillating diving, or just a palm-lined beach where you can laze away the day, some time on Zanzibar is the perfect way to round off a dusty safari on the Tanzanian mainland.
A separate state within Tanzania, Zanzibar consists of two large islands, Unguja or Zanzibar Island and Pemba, plus several smaller islets. Zanzibar Island is about 85km long and between 20km and 30km wide; Pemba is about 75km long and between 15km and 20km wide. Both are flat and low-lying, surrounded by coasts of rocky inlets or sandy beaches, with lagoons and mangrove swamps, and coral reefs beyond the shoreline. Farming and fishing are the main occupations, and most people live in small villages. Cloves are a major export, along with coconut products and other spices. The capital, and by far the largest settlement, is Zanzibar Town (usually known as Stone Town) on the west coast.
Zanzibar used to be hard to reach, and had a reputation for being expensive and unfriendly. Not any more. The island now positively welcomes tourists, and it offers facilities suitable to all tastes and budgets, though unrestricted development in some areas, especially around Nungwi, is becoming an issue.
For many, the highlight of a stay is the old Stone Town, with its traditional Swahili atmosphere and wealth of fascinating buildings. For others, it is the sea and the coral reefs, which offer diving, snorkelling and game fishing to compare with anywhere in East Africa. And then there are the clove and coconut plantations that cover the interior of the ‘Spice Island’; the dolphins of Kizimkazi; the colobus monkeys of Jozani; and the giant sea turtles of Nungwi. And above all, some will say, those seemingly endless tropical beaches.