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Zanzibar Vacation - Places You Must Visit On Your Holiday In Zanzibar !

Jun 17, 2008
Zanzibar Island is Unguja to the local people. Along the East African Coast, Zanzibar Island remains the most enchanting and interesting places you would want to visit on your African Vacation. Zanzibar offers a mixture of beach holiday bliss and a glimpse into the past life of the eastern African Coastal people and their interaction with early explorers. Evidence of travelers from the Far East, and West can still be found preserved in the way of life and the local people. The ability of Zanzibar Island to absorb and blend in outside influences is fascinating.

Discerning travelers who are seeking a bond with the whole of African continent and experience an African holiday in full would spare a week or so for a relaxing tour of Zanzibar after they have enjoyed the wildlife safari for which African is also known.

If you fall in this category of travelers, who want to experience Africa to the full, make a point of visiting all, or some of these places while in Zanzibar.

The Stone Town

Located on Unguja's west coast, Stone Town is the cultural and historical heart of Zanzibar. It is where Africa meets the Orient. Known locally as "Mji Mkongwe" or "Old Town", Stone Town is a fascinating and atmospheric city. In many ways it resembles the medinas of Arabia and North Africa, with its maze of narrow twisting streets, bustling bazaars and markets, former palaces and grand Arab mansions permeating the town with a magical and otherworldly feel.

The Stone town is the most extensive and arguably the finest of the several trading settlements that can be found along the coast of East Africa. A tour of the old town gives you a glimpse into the pitiful life that slaves went through. Cells where the slaves were kept can still be seen. Two former palaces are now museums. There is an 18th century Omani fortress, 2 cathedrals and many others. Note that Stone Town was declared a World Heritage Site in December 2000.

The fusion of the varied cultures can be seen in the faces of its inhabitants - African, Indian, Arabian, European, and every possible combination in between. A wide range of contrasts can be observed in this town and yet, everything, even the tourists, seems to fit in. Motorboats alongside fishing dhows in the harbour; Internet cafés in old mansions; Women in black "buibui" veils with children dressed in baseball caps; Noisy scooters mingling with hand-carts; and hotels now flaunt satellite TV and air conditioning as well as traditional "semadari" four-poster beds.

One of the most well-known events that takes place here is the Festival of the Dhow Countries, also known as the Zanzibari International Film Festival.

South Unguja

Unguja's south coast is famous for dolphin tours. The most popular excursion, after spice tours, is off the fishing village of Kizimkazi where visitors have the opportunity to "swim with dolphins". Kizimkazi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Zanzibar, probably served as Unguja's capital until the 17th century. Apart from the dolphin tours and beautiful bay-side location, one of the other attractions is Dimbani Mosque - an 11th century mosque and the oldest in East Africa - found at Kizimkazi Dimbani, one of the two places where the dolphin tours depart from. The other place, 3 kilometres to the south, is Kizimkazi Mkunguni, also known as "Kizimkazi Mtendeni". The beaches at both places are beautiful.

A fine alternative to Kizimkazi for spotting dolphins is a boat tour from Unguja Ukuu, which also contains some of the oldest ruins in Zanzibar. The trip starts at Unguja Ukuu and heads off to the uninhabited islands of Miwi and Niamembe in Menai Bay, known for their unspoiled flora and fauna, delightful beaches, good snorkelling and dolphin-spotting opportunities.

Jozani Forest, with frequently-seen troops of endangered red colobus monkeys, and walks through a primeval forest, is another natural highlight of the area. It is the largest remaining patch of indigenous ground-water forest that once covered most of Unguja. Despite its tiny area, around 10 km2, Jozani contains several habitats including swamp forest, ever-green thickets, mangroves and salt-tolerant grassland, and is home to a variety of wildlife.

Makunduchi, located east of Kizimkazi, is a sleepy fishing community that comes alive once a year for the vibrant Mwaka Kogwa Festival in July.

East Unguja

With its magnificent white sandy beaches lined with coconut palm and casuarina trees, Unguja's east coast is a major tourist destination. The east coast retains a much more local, isolated and meditative feel than the north coast. The main beaches are Paje, Bwejuu and Jambiani.

Paje village, at the end of the road from Stone Town, is the most compact of the settlements, and boasts the most beautiful beach, and water deep enough to swim in at all tides. Bwejuu has a big choice of more upmarket accommodation and restaurants. The longest of the beaches is Jambiani, which starts 5 km south of Paje and whose sands roll on for another 5 km. Small affordable hotels are scattered all along the strip. Jambiani is also home to a cultural village tour, a community-run initiative providing a welcome glimpse into the real life of local people.

North East Unguja

Much of the north-east coast retains an attractively isolated feel, in spite of the fast road connecting it with Stone Town. As you approach from the west, the vegetation becomes scrubbier with coconut palms, baobabs and thorny thickets replacing the lush spice plantations of the interior, before giving way to a broad swathe of fine white sand backed by a line of waving palm trees and the turquoise expanse of the Indian Ocean.

The main beaches, from south to north, are Chwaka, Uroa, Pongwe, Kiwengwa, Pwani Mchangani and Matemwe. All these beaches have accommodation, and although the choice is not huge, there is enough to suit all tastes and pockets. A host of activities are offered by most of the larger hotels, to complement the beach lounging - including reef walks, sailing and watersports, while snorkelling gear can be rented locally and is superb in the shallow intertidal waters. The north east coast, especially off Matemwe, is a dream-come-true for scuba divers. Matemwe has 3 dive centres and easy access to exhilarating diving reefs around Mnemba Atoll.

Another place of interest is the ruins of Dunga Palace, the last seat of the traditional rulers of Zanzibar.

North Unguja

For tourists to Unguja's north coast, life centres on the beach at Nungwi, at the northernmost tip of the island. A favourite with backpackers, it combines beautiful beaches with Zanzibar's liveliest nightlife, some excellent restaurants, and snorkelling and scuba diving. The beach is narrower on the western side and gradually gets wider as you round the cape to the east, while the sea is magnificent in all directions, especially when dhows hove into view.

Nungwi has over a dozen hotels. The cheaper options, - mostly whitewashed bungalows with standard-issue "makuti" thatched roofs - are on the "Zanzibar Strip" on the cape's western flank, which is good for sunsets, eating out and nightlife. The eastern cape enjoys good sunrises and has a handful of more upmarket places, including a big resort. The eastern cape is generally quieter than the western cape. If Nungwi gets too "touristy", there is an equally beautiful stretch of beach a few kilometres to the south at Kendwa.

Pemba

The island of Pemba is located 48 km northeast of Unguja and 56 km off the Tanzanian mainland. It houses a wealth of attractions, including primeval forest, ruins, beaches, beautiful offshore islets and some of the best diving reefs in the Indian Ocean.

Pemba has 3 main towns, all on the west coast, and there is where visitors spend most of their time. The capital, Chake Chake, in the centre, has the Karume Airport; Mkoani in the south, is the main port and is where ferries land; and Wete, a dhow port in the north, is the most attractive of the three. These town have most of Pemba's accommodation and are good bases for exploring further afield.

Chake Chake contains a strange but attractive fusion of buildings that make it well worth walking around. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and people are generally pleased, and curious, to see tourists. Apart from a selection of herbs and spices, you can buy aromatic essential oils and tasty clove honey. Mkoani is where most visitors arrive, as all ferries from Unguja and Dar es Salaam dock here. The fish and produce market on the beach, south of the jetty, is worth a look. North of Chake Chake, the land is flatter but just as lush, with extensive patches of forest surviving between cultivated areas.

Although rice is the staple crop here, cloves are also grown here as the aroma will soon reveal. Wete is the friendliest and the most likeable of Pemba's main towns. Apart from being a dhow port, it is also a base for visits to Ngesi Forest, the beaches further north, and a number of fascinating ruins to the north-east.

The pungent but pleasant smell of cloves is an unmistakable characteristic of Pemba. Pemba's low hills, fertile soil and tropical climate are ideal for growing cloves, making the island a prime clove producing area. Before the introduction of clove cultivation, 60% of Pemba was covered by indigenous forest. Nowadays, the only sizeable remnants are small patches at Ras Kiuyu and Msitu Mkuu in the northeast, and the 1440 hectare Ngesi Forest, that straddles the neck of Kigomasha Peninsula in the northwest.

Pemba is also very rich in ruined cities - especially in the centre and north - from the 19th century Quanbalu - East Africa's oldest-known Muslim town - to a scattering of medieval settlements dating from the times of the Swahili trading civilization. Together, these cities tell the story of much of the Swahili coast.
About the Author
Solomon Okila Editor African Voyages Tours and Safaris. Reliable consultants on Africa Travel including Tanzania Travel and hotel bookings Information.
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