Zanzibar, the spice island, whose name leads your thoughts to tropical surroundings, exotic fruits and spices, legendary sultans, palaces, harems, and adventures taken from 1001 nights. The history of Zanzibar is fascinating. For thousands of years, it has been a central trade center for Portuguese, Arabs, Egyptians, and Phoenixes. In the 17th century, the Arabs of Oman came to power, and imported spices to Zanzibar and its neighboring island Pemba, making these two islands the world’s, greatest exporters of spices. The slave trade contributed further to Zanzibar’s importance, and by the 1830′s, Zanzibar’s influence was so strong that the sultan of Oman decided to move his entire staff from Oman to Zanzibar.
In the same period, famous missionaries and discoverers came to the island to buy supplies and hire porters, and get permission from the sultan to continue their travels into unknown Africa. The most distinguished, David Livingstone, did not have high thoughts of the people of Zanzibar. His impression of them was that they were lazy, not willing to do much more than eat, get drunk, and sleep. He came up with another name for the island,” Stinkibar”, due to the poor sanitary conditions.
In 1964, the sultan was thrown out of power by a bloody revolution, and the same year the island went into union with the mainland, Tanganyika, and formed the united republic of Tanzania with the late Mr. Julius Nyerere of the CCM party as the President. Zanzibar has its own parliament which controls the island. In the past years, people are expressing their wish for a different ruling system within the union, with 3 separate parliaments for Zanzibar, Tanganyika, and Tanzania, and we remain to see what will happen. The opposition is strong in the coastal areas and the islands, but so far the CCM is still ruling.
Stone Town: The main attraction here is without a doubt the old Arabic area. Stroll around the narrow streets with old architecture, which is characteristic of the Swahili towns on the East African coast. After getting the feel of the town and visiting the attractions, the next thing you should do is to head up along the coast, find your paradise and relax for a while.
A range of hotels and luxury lodges are set up along the coast, where you can enjoy white sand, gentle waves, fishing villages, and swimming with dolphins and coral reefs. Most hotels organize snorkeling, diving, and boat trips among others. The best time to visit Zanzibar is between June and mid-March, with the hottest months from January. From Dar es Salaam you can take an express boat to Stone Town, the trip takes about 1.5 hours. The flight from Dar es Salaam takes 25 minutes, from Arusha the flight takes 1 hour.
- Tours in Zanzibar
Spice tours – Muscat, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, were and other spices and fruits so exotic that they don’t have an English name, can be explored in the many plantations.
The slave chambers – The underground slave chambers in Mangapwani were the center of the illegal slave trade up until 1909.
Persian baths – On the highest point of the island, Kidichi, the sultan Sayyind Said built Persian baths in 1850, one for him and one for his wife. They are still in a good condition with splendid Persian architecture, so a visit here will be more than worth your time.
Prison Island – In the middle of this island, you will find the remains of an old prison built-in 1893. Half an hour by boat, you pay a modest fee to enter the island, which is ideal for snorkeling and watching giant turtles, imported from Seychelles at the end of the century.
Jozani Forest – The only remaining natural forest on Zanzibar, where the rare red guerexa monkeys habituate. The best time to go to Jozani is in the early morning hours when the monkeys are active.
Swimming with dolphins – Taking place in the southern part of the island, the boat ride is long, and you are not guaranteed to find dolphins, but when you finally do, and if you get the chance to join them in the water, it will be an extraordinary experience.
Deep-sea fishing – Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia are excellent islands for sports fishing. Do as Ernest Hemingway and catch sailfish, mackerel, kingfish, and marlin among others.
Diving – Coral reefs, tropical fish, and clear water make this area ideal for scuba diving. Take a diving course, get your certificate, and jump in the Indian Ocean.
Sailing and water sports – Windsurfing and sailing are popular activities and can be organized in many places.
ZIFF – The Zanzibar International Film Festival was established in 1997 to promote the art and culture of the Dhow region. The Dhow region consists of the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent, Asia, Africa, and the Indian Ocean Islands.
Zanzibaris speak Swahili (Kiswahili), a Bantu language that is extensively spoken in the African Great Lakes region. Swahili is the de facto national and official language of Tanzania as well as Kenya.
The dialect of Swahili spoken in Zanzibar is called kiunguja. Kiunguja, which has a high percentage of Arabic loanwords, enjoys the status of Standard Swahili not in Tanzania only but also in other countries, where Swahili is spoken.
Three distinct varieties of Arabic are in use in Zanzibar: Standard Arabic, Omani Arabic, and Hadrami Arabic. Both of the later varieties are falling out of use, although the Omani one is spoken by a larger group of people (probably, several hundred). In parallel to this, Standard Arabic, traditionally associated with the Quran and Islamic faith, is very popular not only among ethnic Arabs but also among Muslims of various descent who inhabit Zanzibar. Nevertheless, Standard Arabic is mastered by very few people. This can be attributed to the aggressive policy of Swahilisation. Despite the prestige and importance the Arabic language once enjoyed, today it is no longer the dominant language.
Zanzibar has a tropical monsoon climate. The heat of summer (corresponding to the Northern Hemisphere winter) is often cooled by strong sea breezes associated with the northeast monsoon, particularly on the north and east coasts. Being near to the equator, the islands are warm year-round The rainfall regime is split into two main seasons, a primary maximum in March, April, and May in association with the southwest monsoon and a secondary maximum in November and December. The months in between receive less rain, with a minimum in July.
The main island of Zanzibar, Unguja, has a fauna reflecting its connection to the African mainland during the last Ice Age. Endemic mammals with continental relatives include the Zanzibar red colobus (Procolobus kirkii), one of Africa’s rarest primates, with perhaps only 1,500 existing. Isolated on this island for at least 1,000 years, this colobus is recognized as a distinct species, with different coat patterns, calls, and food habits from related colobus species on the mainland. The Zanzibar red colobus lives in a wide variety of drier areas of coastal thickets and coral rag scrub, as well as mangrove swamps and agricultural areas. About one-third of them live in and around Jozani Forest. The easiest place to see the colobus is farmland adjacent to the reserve. They are accustomed to people and the low vegetation means they come close to the ground.
Rare native animals include the Zanzibar leopard, which is critically endangered, and the recently described Zanzibar servaline genet. There are no large wild animals in Unguja. Forested areas such as Jozani are inhabited by monkeys, bushpigs, small antelopes, African palm civets, and, as shown by a camera trap in June 2018, the elusive leopard. Various species of mongoose can also be found on the island. There is a wide variety of birdlife and a large number of butterflies in rural areas.
Pemba Island is separated from Unguja island and the African continent by deep channels and has a correspondingly restricted fauna, reflecting its comparative isolation from the mainland. The island is home to the Pemba flying fox.
Tourism is the top income generator for the islands, outpacing even the lucrative agricultural export industry and providing roughly 25% of income. The main airport on the island is Zanzibar International Airport, though many tourists fly into Dar es Salaam and take a ferry to the island.