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Zanzibar Island is locally known as Unguja. This is one of two main islands that make up the semi-autonomous state of Zanzibar. It is a partner state in the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania is the largest country in the east coast of Africa. Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean. The distance from the island to the coast of Tanzania mainland is about 35. Zanzibar lies in a Longitude of 39 degrees East and Latitude 6 degrees south of the Equator. The highest point of the island is 150 meters above sea level.
The Island’s capital, also known as Zanzibar, is one of the oldest cities in Africa. It is a World Heritage Site with a collection of some of Africa’s most valuable ancient architecture. Zanzibar was established and for centuries ruled by Omani Sultans who reigned supreme in the east coast of Africa before the Portuguese and later the British came calling. Zanzibar is also well renowned for its spices. Excellent quality cloves, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg are available in the city and the primary economy in Zanzibar is based on these spices. These spices are exported to other countries for earning foreign exchange. Zanzibar is still the pre-eminent spice market in eastern Africa hence the name ‘Spice Island’.
Zanzibar also has beautiful beaches, palm-fringed islands and extraordinarily beautiful coral reefs as tourist attractions. Various water sports are also popular in the city. The Stone Town is a historical heritage site. The ton has colorful markets, meandering roads and extravagant bazaars. The city has a rich and varied culture. Zanzibar is very rich in both flora and fauna. There are rich diversities of animals and birds found in the various forests of Zanzibar. People of Zanzibar come from a mixture of ethnic backgrounds with Islam as the main religion of the city. Apart from Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are also followed in Zanzibar. Swahili is the mother tongue of Zanzibar.
Zanzibar beaches are the places where one can unwind and surrender oneself to nature carelessly. A wonderful holiday at the beaches in Zanzibar will shed all the anxieties and breathe new life into an individual. The beaches of Zanzibar are clean and tranquil and help to reach a blissful state. Strolling on the quiet beaches while sipping exotic cocktails, takes one to paradise.
The turquoise waters of the sea welcome one to explore the depths of the sea. There are also awesome coral reefs that make the beaches more beautiful. Watching sunrise or sunset from a Zanzibar beach can become a memorable experience for lifetime, which can be cherished long and forever. The sun-kissed beaches in Zanzibar are places for relaxation. Many people are seen sun-tanning themselves on the beaches, while children enjoy beach football and beach-volley.
There are around 25 exotic white sand beaches in Zanzibar, which have small fishing villages in close proximity to the beaches. Some of the well known beaches in Zanzibar include Nungwi, Mangapwani, Pwani Mchangani, Uroa and Jambiani. Most of the beaches have extravagant beach resorts, which offer world-class facilities to the tourists. Various water sports activities are common in the Zanzibar beaches. There are options for diving, scuba diving and snorkeling along with deep water fishing options. Swimming in the warm waters of the sea is also a pleasant experience. The peace and solitude with the un-spoilt beaches will keep calling tourists for more.
Sports & nature
Prison Island is only a 20 -30 minute boat trip from Zanzibar. This island is steeped in history; it was once used as a place where slaves were detained and after this period, it was turned into a camp where people with deadly diseases were sent. Nowadays, however, this stunning little island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and a place to see the ruins that once functioned as the prison. Prison Island makes for a fun and cheap day trip from Zanzibar.
Zanzibar’s eastern beaches are amongst the world’s best. These quiet, beautiful and pristine beaches will not disappoint! The top 5 beaches to visit are as follows:
Nungwi is a village located at Zanzibar’s North West tip. It is a popular stop for backpackers though it has no-where near the same floods of tourists as many other backpacker spots, namely South East Asia and therefore enjoys Zanzibar’s trademark tranquility. Nungwi beach is a beautiful spot and is an excellent choice for swimming due to the tide which doesn’t venture out too far.
This village is located next to Nungwi and is within walking distance. Kendwa has pristine white beaches and azure waters with an excellent selection of bars and restaurants on the waterfront.
A picture perfect beach located south of Kendwa and Nungwi; this is a quiet beach exempt from the backpacking crowd of Nungwi and Kendwa.
This beach is located on the South East of Zanzibar and also draws the attention of travelers. Paje is a popular beach for water sports.
A stunningly quiet beach which offers a small selection of cafes and guest houses. Palm trees sway in the Zanzibari breeze and local villagers go about their daily lives in this sleepy beachside sanctuary.
With stunning white washed buildings and culture galore, Stone Town is the heart of Zanzibar and is thought to be the only functioning ancient town left in East Africa. With its multitude of historic sites, markets and tours, Stone Town will see that every day you spend there is packed with activities! When in Stone Town check out Mercury’s restaurant; this restaurant pays tribute to Freddy Mercury who was born in Zanzibar in 1946. There are interesting relics from the Queen Band member scattered throughout the bar.
The slave market is located in Stone Town. This ancient site is a sad, poignant yet interesting place to visit to learn about Zanzibar’s history of the slave trade.
The Darajani located in Stone Town is famous for its vibrancy, colorfulness and range of vendors. This exciting market is well worth a visit and will give you a great taster into local life.
Snorkeling and diving
Zanzibar is excellent for its diving and snorkeling. There are many different locations on the island where you can take a trip; a recommended snorkel trip is to Pemba Island from Nungwi. You will sail to Pemba on a typical Zanzibari dhow boat which is an experience in itself. The beautiful little island of Pemba makes quite the picture is you sail close to it. You will snorkel close to the shores of the island; most trips will include lunch and light refreshments.
Located in Stone Town, the Forodhani Gardens are situated right on the coast and make for a perfect evening stroll; here, locals prepare tasty local dishes and there is a great atmosphere as locals and backpacker’s alike come to taste the delights of the local cuisine.
Palace Museum & House of Wonders
The palace museum is also known as Sultan’s Palace, and is referred to as Beit-el-Sahel and it is one of the most prominent historic buildings in Stone Town and well worth a visit. The Palace Museum is situated in the waterfront; it was built in the 19th century to house the Sultan’s family. After the 1964 revolution the site was used as a Government building and re-named to “The People’s Palace.” Nowadays it serves as a museum and showcases relics of the past Sultan family. The House of wonders is also a very prominent building in Stone Town and functions as one of the main landmarks. It is a fascinating exhibition of Zanzibari and Swahili culture.
Zanzibar is famous for its spice industry, and therefore spice tours are readily available. Don’t miss out on a spice tour when in Zanzibar – it’s a great way of learning more about one of the Island’s major industries.
The Old Fort
The Old Fort is Stone Town’s oldest building. This historic building is located on the seafront opposite the Forodhani Gardens. The Old Fort was built in the 17th century and its purpose was to defend the island from attacks from the Portuguese. Today, The Old Fort is a place to see the remains of the former fort, and the courtyard in the center sells local merchandise and there is also an amphitheater where events are held most evenings.
Zanzibar is strongly influenced by Muslim culture and therefore has a fairly subdued nightlife. There are however a couple of places, especially in Stone Town, where visitors can go to enjoy a holiday sundowner, and even a bit of dancing! Blues, at the Forodhani waterfront, and Pichy's Pizzeria and Bar are good for drinks with an ocean view, while the roof-top bar at Africa House and the Serena Inn's Msasani Bar are also quite popular. Serena Inn puts on a great 'Swahili Night', with Taarab music and an African buffet, and the Old Fort is also good for local music performances. Trendy late-night venues include the Starehe and Garage clubs on Shangani Street, and the Bwawani Hotel's Komba Disco.
Restaurants in Zanzibar are a true culinary adventure. In Stone Town Restaurants offer many opportunities to enjoy a nice day or evening while having great sea food and sundowner cocktails. Around the island major hotels and local restaurants offer food and beverage services.
Africa House hotel Each evening Africa House Hotel in Stone Town fills up with people overlooking the ocean as it is certainly nowhere better for the requisite sundowner to watch the magnificent sunset.
Forodhani Gardens Every night, as the sun goes down; the food stalls in the Forodhani Gardens opposite the old fort starting to prepare all kinds of local food in the open air.
Mercurys Located a five minutes’ walk from the Old Fort, named after Zanzibar’s most famous son Freddie Mercury, this place has a fine setting on the seafront, overlooking a small beach, the bay, and part of the new port. Sometimes there is live traditional music or other entertainment.
Monsoon Restaurant Near the Fort and the seafront it offers selection of Mediterranean and Zanzibari food, accompanied by live taraab music some days.
Mtoni Marine / Zanzibar Sports Café Five minutes from the hustle of Zanzibar’s historical Stone Town is the Mtoni Marine hotel. With its several Restaurants and Bars it offers a range from fine-dining experience of classic continental cuisine by candle-light under the stars right on the beach, with traditional live music to Beach- and Sport bar with TV and entertainment.
Some Italian restaurants can be found as well, Archipelago, Amore Mio or La Taverna.
Bars and some hotel discos can be found in Stone Town and in hotels and restaurants around Zanzibar Island. For the nightlife in Stone Town the only popular disco can be found on weekends at the former Bwawani Hotel, in a dark and equally seedy room under the swimming pool the party starts normally not before 2 am. During the evening it is possible to start the party on the open roof top.
The Dharma Lounge, a popular bar in Stone Town is open until the early hours. It offers a modern club with a dance floor and a good selection of music & drinks.
North coast Nungwi’s and Kendwa’s nightlife is Zanzibar’s liveliest, with plenty of music bars to choose from. Most hotel restaurants are open for visitors like Langi-Langi Beach Bungalows just to mention one of them.
East coast Nowadays Paje and the neighboring area offer a variety of bars, evening hangouts, restaurants and nightlife. Still not as much as in the north but there are definitely opportunities to swing your hips or just to relax with some drinks and good music.
Also in this area most hotels are open for visitors like for example the Blue Oyster Hotel Restaurant in Jambiani. Bigger hotels sometimes don’t allow outside guests to enter the premises, especially the Italian resorts.
Local spirit konyagi is Zanzibar’s answer to gin and is best sampled in a dawa cocktail with honey and lime. A range of Tanzanian beer is available; Kilimanjaro is the most popular, alongside Tusker beer from Kenya.
Culture and history info
Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers to its shores for centuries. The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English have all been here at one time or another. Some, particularly the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly Islamic (97%) - the remaining 3% is made up of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The earliest visitors to Zanzibar were Arab traders who are said to have arrived in the 8th century. The earliest building that remains on Zanzibar is the mosque at Kazimkazi. This dates from 1107, and is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed with the Monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices. The two main islands, Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs. This was because the island was relatively small, and therefore fairly easy to defend. From here it was possible for them to control 1,000 miles of the mainland coast from present day Mozambique to Somalia. Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid Dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate from Muscat, which was perhaps more difficult to protect, to Zanzibar where he and his descendants ruled for over 130 years.
Most of the wealth lay in the hands of the Arab community. They were the main landowners, kept themselves to themselves, and generally did not intermarry with the Africans. Unlike the Arab community, the Shirazi Persians who came from the Middle East intermarried with the locals. The story goes that in AD 975, Abi Ben Sultan Hasan of Shiraz in Persia (now Iran) had a terrible nightmare in which a rat devoured the foundations of his house. He took this as an omen that his community was to be devastated. Others in the Shiraz Court ridiculed the notion. However Sultan Hasan, his family and some followers obviously took it very seriously and decided to migrate. They set out in seven dhows into the Indian Ocean but were caught in a huge storm and separated. Thus, landfalls were made at seven different places along the East African coast, one of which was Zanzibar, and settlements began.
Widespread intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans gave rise to a coastal community with distinctive features, and a language derived in part from Arabic, which became known as Swahili. The name Swahili comes from the Arab word sawahil which means 'coast'. The Zanzibar descendants of this group were not greatly involved in the lucrative slave, spice and ivory trades. Instead, they immersed themselves mainly in agriculture and fishing. Those Shirazis that did not intermarry retained their identity as a separate group. Two smaller communities were also established. Indian traders arrived in connection with the spice and ivory trade, and quickly settled as shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans, and professionals. The British became involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa, and attempting to suppress the slave trade centered in Zanzibar.
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