Zanzibar’s history has been defined by the importance of the spice trade to its economy, giving it the nickname “the Spice Islands”. Sultans rose and fell based on how they controlled the lucrative supply of cloves to the world, and the Zanzibari people continue the grow all kinds of spice for day to day eating and trading as well as many other uses. Spice packets are easily available from sellers in Stone Town, any local market, and even people walking the beaches. However, to get a true sense of what spice really means to Zanzibar you have to take one of the famous spice tours.
If you are starting from Stone Town, the spice tour usually begins at the busy Darajani market where the guide will pick up some meat and vegetables for your later cooking lesson. When you get to the spice farm, a guide talks you through the spices plants and explains their many uses: from food ingredients and medicinal treatment, to painting ceremonial dresses and henna tattoos for women. The knowledgeable guide will have your senses in overload as he offers you the raw taste and feel of everything from cinnamon, coffee, and clove, to baobab sweets and some of Zanzibar’s exotic fruit selection such as mango and coconut. Meanwhile, locals will decorate you with hand crafted ties, hats, glasses, and jewelry made from palm leaves: try guess what they’re making while they walk around with you! They will even weave a little palm leaf cone to carry your collection of spices and smells.
In fact, the spice tour is a great way to see the Zanzibar country side and explore the local culture, meeting the people behind the spice trade. Here, you will see the truly hospitable nature of Zanzibaris who are delighted to have you visit their farms and who are equally fascinated by you as you are of them. Many spice tours will also let you sit down with a local Mama who will teach you how to cook good Swahili food, including coconut milk for a curry made of spices you have just collected. Of course, you will then dine on the delicious meal before ending your time on the spice farm.
The spice tour in Zanzibar is one of the great local experiences and highly recommended. The best way to organize the spice tour is to talk with staff at the Pongwe Beach Hotel who will be happy to arrange a trusted guide. Be sure to request the cooking lesson if you want it as this adds cost and time to the tour. With a cooking lesson, you can expect the spice tour to last 3 to 4 hours.