Before starting our Zoom Vacations tour of Kenya and Rwanda, where we get up-close to Mountain gorillas in the wild, we added a short stay in Zanzibar, to soak up some sun and ocean breezes, and leave our jet lag behind.
Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa, in the Indian Ocean. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, a historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Its winding lanes present minarets, carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide beaches lined with hotels.
Second only to tourism, spice farming forms a major part of Zanzibar’s economy. The islands are sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands, due to the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper that are grown there. The island is also rich in African and Arabic history. Sadly, the rapid expansion of the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, caused by the demand for plantation slaves in North and South America, made Zanzibar central to the slave (as well as the ivory) trade routes into the interior of Africa.
In the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passed through the slave markets of Zanzibar each year. (David Livingstone estimated that 80,000 new slaves died each year before ever reaching the island.) Eventually, the British Government forced Sultan Barghash to abolish the trade, and the slave market was closed on June 5th, 1873. Following abolition, many freed people changed their mainland names to disguise their origins, as these ethnic indicators identified them as former slaves.
These days, people go to Zanzibar for a beach, marine, cultural, and historical vacation. Zanzibar is the quintessential destination that affords wonderful historical, cultural, exploratory and eco-tourism beach experiences in East Africa.
I arrived in Zanzibar, and settled into my ocean front pool villa for a night at White Sand Villas, a Relais Chateau property, on turquoise colored water shores of Paje beach, and my jet lag quickly dissolved into the sunny warm ocean breeze.
The next day I went to Kilindi Resort, where I welcomed my Zoom Vacations travelers. Designed by Benny Andersson from ABBA, this luxury boutique hotel is a gem and the perfect home for our Zoom guests for the next few days. Our villas were equipped with a swimming pool and plunge pool with views of the Indian Ocean that became truly magical at sunset.
We enjoyed a stunning sunset cruise on a wooden hand-crafted dhow, constructed with the same traditional techniques that have been used for a thousand years, and sailed along the coastline of north-west Zanzibar, enjoying drinks, canapes, and laughter.
The next day we visited a local spice farm in Zanzibar and saw why traders from afar would travel the oceans to reach this magical isle. It was a spectacular opportunity to see, smell and taste a variety of fresh spices like cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, nutmeg, and vanilla, as well as tropical fruits and tropical plants.
With our knowledge of Zanzibar spices intact, we then enjoyed a cooking party, hosted by the chef of Kilindi, who taught us how to make several common Zanzibar dishes.
Lastly, no visit to Zanzibar is complete without a tour of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered to be the gateway town with great weather almost all year round. Characterized by its labyrinth of stone alleyways, ancient architecture and massive beautifully carved wooden doors, Stone Town is one of the last remaining authentic cities in Africa.
Upon leaving Zanzibar, there was one thought that pervaded my mind: I’d be back.