Zanzibar – Stone Town
Stone Town is an extraordinary place to explore; the ancient maze of narrow streets is a hotchpotch of historic old stone buildings, built close together for some respite from the tropical island sun; shaded by elegantly carved balconies, loggias and verandas that cling precipitously overhead.
Stone Town gives a glimpse of the essence of Zanzibar; the sights, sounds and smells of the market, restaurants, harbour and mosques; albeit a very real and un-airbrushed view! However, it is increasingly becoming a dedicated tourist centre, with masses of tourist tat flooding the markets. All visitors should be prepared for noisy street vendors, dirty pedestrian streets and a sense of crumbling glory.
A guided tour of Stone Town allows time to see the Sultan’s Palaces and experience the sights and sounds of this idiosyncratic centre. There are many fine buildings to see and some, such as the House of Wonders and the Arab Fort, have been restored to create areas for coffee and relaxation. Generally the best way to explore Stone Town is to meander the streets, window shopping and absorbing the atmosphere.
In the evenings a crowd gathers along the harbour front and in Forodhani Gardens, where smoke rises from barbecues at the assorted food stalls and the curio markets assemble by gaslight amid a hubbub of banter. It is a world apart, and well worth a visit.
Zanzibar – Beaches
The Northern beach area extends up from Kendwa to Nungwi village. Kendwa is an excellent beach, but traditionally the location for hippy ‘traveller’ style accommodation and reggae bars. Further up, but benefitting from the beautiful beach aspect here, are big hotels, such as the whopping Gemma dell Este, mainly populated by package tours and a large Italian clientele; not everyone’s cup of tea. Further on and you reach Nungwi village, a built up version of Kendwa and one of the few places on the entire island where there is any form of nightlife beyond your hotel. The Z Hotel is the best westernised lodge here and would suit a group of young professionals seeking a party. On the very northernmost pinnacle of the Island, 30 minutes walk from Nungwi Village, is Ras Nungwi beach, arguably the best on the island. This area has smaller, more discreet hotels and less people. Ras Nungwi is the best lodge here and a lodge that over the years has proved to offer reliably good service and accommodation standards. It is one of our favourites on the island, and the clear leader in its price bracket. The North East beach runs from Matemwe to Pongwe…
The beach is more deep set and properly shaded by palm trees. At either end of this stretch you’ll find beautiful, secluded areas and smaller accommodation. The central stretch is dominated by big hotels like the Fairmont, Ocean Paradise and the Kempinski. Right up the top end of the beach, Matemwe Bungalows and the exclusive Matemwe Retreat are the best lodges in the area and again, two of our favourite lodges on the island.
Further down the beach lies Mchanga Beach Lodge, a fairly new eight roomed lodge that has a beautifully laid back atmosphere and doesn’t permit children! All the hotels here head out to the Mnemba Atoll for Zanzibar’s best snorkelling and diving. At the other end of this beach region is Pongwe Beach Hotel, a highly recommended no-frills little beach lodge in a remote spot with a fantastic beach. In the middle section of the beach, perched on a cliff top is Shooting Star , another excellent mid-range hotel perched over a beautiful stretch of beach.
The South East beach is similar to the North East beach, but with slightly quieter extended sands. Stretching out along this coast are the managerially linked trio of Palms, Baraza and Breezes– three great options that each cater to different tastes from families to top-end honeymooners. These properties are literally right next door to each other but have reliably provided the best resort accommodation on Zanzibar for years. Breezes is the largest of the three and appeals to families; with about 80 rooms, Breezes has more of a mass-market feel than its upmarket sister Baraza, whose 35 rooms come complete with private plunge pools, and quite a hefty price tag! The exclusive six-roomed Palms hotel is nestled between the two. The other notable lodge in this region area is a real office favourite – Echo Beach. Run independently by Sue and Andrew, Echo has some of the finest dining in its price range – or anywhere on the island for that matter!
The South West is not blessed with beach. There are a couple of nice lodges in Fumba and Unguja and the snorkeling is pretty good. But for people after that picture postcard beach idyll and the promise of certain paradise….this is not where we’d recommend!
The Mainland offers 800 km of blindingly white beaches, coconut groves and mangrove swamps, but much of it is virtually undiscovered by modern tourism. Generally overlooked in favour of Zanzibar, the coast (away from Dar es Salaam) is rarely visited. With little development of any kind (tourist or otherwise), the coast has just a few farming and fishing villages dotted along its shoreline with nearby coral reefs and natural lagoons. Yet there are vivid reminders of the Swahili past to be found and the coast has a bloody and fascinating history. Palatial remnants of Persian and Omani kingdoms still remain and ancient mosques dating from the 12th century testify to the far-reaching roots of Islam. Bagamoyo was the last point reached by slave caravans before shipment and fortified houses still stand, as does the tree under which they were brought to be sold. There is also the fading grandeur of Tanga in the north, and the relatively undiscovered island of Mafia, location of the newly gazetted marine park and a wonderful place for scuba-diving. Towards the Mozambique border there is the historic ruined city of Kilwa.
Things are beginning to change, however, and there is now a clutch of upmarket beach resorts, and a new road from Dar es Salaam to Bagamoyo has recently been completed thanks to an EU grant. Also the beaches around Pangani have recently seen some tourist development and now offer some excellent rustic beach resorts, which you should enjoy while tourism there is still in its infancy. In the future this part of Tanzania could attract many more visitors.