Two large islands and several smaller ones collectively form what has come to be known as the idyllic Indian Ocean hideaway of Zanzibar. Once the capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate, and now part of the United Republic of Tanzania, it has never lost its associations with spices and, sadly, slavery. Thankfully, only the former remains as an ongoing institution, although today's visitors may wish to visit the slavery memorial in Stone Town on the west coast of Unguja (the main island).
Surrounded by brilliantly blue waters, the islands remain primarily a beach destination. They offer sheltered seas, excellent diving and picturesque harbours. Dhows, the traditional Arabic fishing vessels, still go out to sea from the shores, while the winds that blow across the islands carry the rich scent of spices.
Things to Do
Although rightly known for its beaches and the warm waters of the surrounding Indian Ocean, Zanzibar has plenty of other attractions. The old tag of "the Spice Island" is as relevant as ever -- visitors can make a trip to one of several working spice plantations.
Visit Cheetah's Rock
This rescue and conservation centre on the west coast promises visitors up-close, respectful and utterly mesmerising encounters with rescued wild animals. Cheetahs, hyenas, zebra and a white lion (called Aslan) are just some of the animals that have found sanctuary here. Only advance bookings are accepted.
Stroll around Stone Town
Forming the old part of Zanzibar City, Stone Town's narrow, winding streets are filled with mementos of the past. Arabic mansions, one-time palaces and the old Arab Fort share space with bustling bazaars and a poignant memorial to the victims of the slave trade. Just outside Stone Town, the Tangawizi Spice Farm welcomes visitors to the plantations where it grows vanilla, cloves, cardamom, ginger and many more spices.
Relax on the beach
Few people can visit Zanzibar without spending at least some time on its beaches. The best beaches are on the east coast, where a long reef protects them from the surging ocean. There is a good selection of accommodation here, particularly along the stretch of beach running from Chwake to Matemwe.
Calendar of Events
Stone Town hosts various festivals and events throughout the year. However, smaller events occur in almost all the villages and towns in Zanzibar.
Festival of the Dhow Countries. Lasting for 16 days in July, this is one of East Africa's most important cultural events. It grew out of the Zanzibar International Film Festival, which still forms an important part of proceedings. However, the event also encompasses theatre, music, dance, artwork and photography. Events centre around the Arab Fort in Stone Town.
Mwaka Kogwa. This one-day festival, originating in Persia, celebrates the start of the New Year (according to the Shirazi calendar). Normally held in July, it takes place in several villages around the island. It is a village in the south, Makunduchi, which marks the occasion most enthusiastically, in a celebration that includes the villagers lashing each other with banana stems.
Sauti za Busara. This African music festival shakes the old walls of Stone Town for four days each February. It showcases new and emerging African music artists alongside more established acts. It is hugely popular, so booking well in advance is sensible.