Zanzibar is a magical sounding place. It’s a scuba diver’s Mecca and boasts some of the beast beaches in the world. It’s also rich in history, culture and tradition, and if you want further validation, Gonzo, from the Muppets, considered Zanzibar his ideal destination. Zanzibar is an archipelago consisting of two main islands, Zanzibar and Pemba, and a number of smaller islets and is located some 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast.
Most people flock to the white sandy beaches and warm water with colourful coral reefs and marine life. The ocean temperature around Zanzibar seldom varies from 27°C, visibility averages 40m and you can see anything from the small tropical fish that play around the reefs to big tuna, kingfish and barracuda. Popular dive sites include:
- Mnemba Island Atoll offers diving for experienced and novice divers. The wall of the atoll houses green turtles and whale sharks and sites such as “The Aquarium” are good for snorkelling as well as diving.
- The Great Northerner is a prime wreck diving site. The ship is around 12m below the surface and is a popular abode for clown fish.
- Sand Bar Island is great for snorkelers because the reef is relatively shallow (it starts around 1m below the surface). It is a 30 minute boat ride from Sand Town and has a maximum diving depth of 20m.
- Prison Island is popular among novice divers because it isn’t beset by strong currents, reefs are relatively shallow and there is plenty of coral and marine life.
The Jozani Natural Forest Reserve showcases the archipelago’s relatively limited wildlife. The reserve is home to the endangered Red Colobus Monkey, which is only found on Zanzibar. It’s advised that you keep on your toes when around the little creatures because they tend to pee on people when they are startled and they move very quickly, so you have to have a quick trigger finger or all your photos will be out of focus.
Stone Town is highly recommended to tourists. It is named for the coral stone from which most of the buildings are made. It is a World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest surviving cities still in use today. Stone Town is the capital city of Zanzibar and is characterised by winding alleys, ornately decorated doorways and friendly, hospitable people. There are a number of guided tours available, but many travelers recommend that you simply wander the streets without a guide. Apparently, one has to work hard to get lost and even then the residents will soon have you headed in the right direction.
The dominant religion in Zanzibar is Islam (although significant portions of the population are Hindu or Christian), and while the people are polite and used to tourists, it’s respectful to ensure that your knees and shoulders are covered whenever you venture off the beach (men and women).
Recommended attractions include:
- The Arab Fort
- Palace Museum
- Peace Memorial Museum
- Daranjani Bazaar and Dala-dala Station
- The Old Dispensary
- Hamamni Persian Baths
- Beit-el-Ajaib (House of Wonders)
The sites, attractions and wonders of Zanzibar are too numerous to list here. There is the food (delicious fresh seafood every day), other islands and islets, spice plantations, incredible beaches up and down the coast, giant tortoises (rumoured to be the oldest in the world), exquisite shopping and a host of festivals. If you want a taste of what heaven is like, book your flight and head off to Zanzibar.