Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania located just South of the Equator, approximately 35km off the Eastern coast of Africa. Thanks to Zanzibar’s location, it boasts some of the world’s most renowned tropical beaches, stunningly diverse ocean reefs, and a rich tradition steeped in the history of slavery, empire, and revolution.
The peaceful Zanzibar archipelago consist of three large islands: Unguja, Pemba, and Tumbatu, as well as a number of smaller islands and truly amazing sand banks. Unguja, commonly referred to as “Zanzibar”, is by far the largest of the three islands and is the heart of the archipelago’s economy, providing an abundance of tourist activity from diving and cultural workshops to golf and luxury beach resorts. Pemba, on the other hand, lies 30km north of Unguja where tourism and economic growth have not flourished as much, leaving Pemba with a distinctly undisturbed natural environment including untouched beaches like Vumawimbi and a large conservation area in Ngezi Forest. Tumbatu is the smallest of the main islands, hosting a more conservative population unaccustomed to foreign tourists. In fact, travelling to Tumbatu is not encouraged or advised.
Thankfully, however, from Unguja you can see almost everything Zanzibar’s location has to offer. Not far from Pongwe Beach Hotel is Jozani Forest where, for a small fee, you can see the remaining native forestry of Zanzibar coupled with wildlife such as the endemic Red Colobus Monkey, the Servaline Genet, and, if you are extremely lucky, the possibly extinct Zanzibar Leopard.
A rich wildlife can also be found in Zanzibar’s beautiful tropical waters where coral reef surrounds most the islands and gives life to hundreds of species of fish. These can be seen through snorkeling or diving trips which vary in price and quality but are almost guaranteed to give the best abundance of colourful life you will ever see.
The Zanzibar location is sometimes referred to as the “Spice Islands” after the multitude of spices exported to the world from the location. These include turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, and of course clove, which served as Zanzibar’s chief export until very recently and heavily influenced the region’s economic and political history. Like snorkeling and diving, there are many spice tour operators who can show you the ropes and vines of Zanzibar’s plant life.
Due to Zanzibar’s location it is also steeped in human history, containing an abundance of ruins and preserved buildings that serve as relics of the Omani sultanate, African slavery, European colonialism, as well as African revolutionary independence.
Weather: Zanzibar’s location boasts a predictable equatorial climate consisting of a rainy season from March to May and a dry season for the rest of the year, with some quick showers to be expected. Temperature in the dry season can reach up to 40°C in December but average at about 32°C with a considerable humidity factor. However, this heat is countered by the Indian Ocean breeze that provides a welcoming relief, especially felt on the East coast in places such as the beautiful Pongwe beach where people come to cool off.
In February of every year, the Sauti za Busara (Swahili for “Sounds of Wisdom”) Zanzibar music festival brings an explosion of East African music and culture to the shores of Zanzibar. Since 2003, Sauti za Busara has grown to be one of Africa’s top 5 music festivals, according to CNN, and is the crown of Zanzibar’s tourist year: eagerly anticipated by locals and tourists alike.
The Zanzibar music festival takes place across the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town, the cultural centre of Zanzibar, and itself a must see attraction of the archipelago. What’s more, the festival’s main venue is in Stone Town’s Old Fort: a stunning piece of Omani colonial architecture which has stood for over 200 years and remains the oldest surviving building in town.
This amazing setting for the Sauti za Busara Zanzibar music festival brings up to 20,000 people together every February in celebration of the wealth and diversity of music and culture from the East Africa region. The festival has built an enviable reputation, regionally and internationally, for its quality of music and programming, friendliness, and peaceful atmosphere.
A rich and vibrant mix of styles from the region is showcased each year, including 25 groups representing traditional ngoma, taarab, kidumbak, muziki wa dansi, hiphop, spoken word, comedy, and dance. The lineup comprises established as well as undiscovered talents, with a 50:50 balance of East African “traditional” and “modern” music.
“There the music blended and grooved, dancers felt moved to do spontaneous improvisations, drummers went flying in search of new rhythms and the singers explored new harmonies and sounds together. There were a few of those really magical moments, when different musicians find that common place where it ‘clicks’ and everything works in harmony to produce a truly exciting new sound”. (http://news.bbc.co.uk)
As well East African music, a further 15 groups representing other areas of the African continent and diaspora perform for a diverse audience from all walks of life, religion, and nationality, coming from all corners of the globe.
The Zanzibar music festival kicks off with a blazing carnival and street parade through town that is expected to be even bigger and better in 2017 – in addition to a beni brass band, you will get to see an entourage of drummers, clowns, mwanandege umbrella women, stilt-walkers, and acrobats joining the must-see parade.
The parade kicks off a four-day bonanza showcasing more than four hundred musicians and artists, with a continuous daily programme of music from 4pm to 2am including themed competitions, such as the Songs of Bob Marley competition (new to the 2017 edition), and a stunning variety of fringe events. The festival closes with a grand finalé party with music until dawn at one of Zanzibar’s fantastic beach locations: a must-attend party that rivals Zanzibar’s famed Full Moon parties.
The Sauti za Busara Zanzibar music festival is the most anticipated event of the year, bringing out the best of Zanzibar, and is not one to be missed. Admission for Tanzanians is free until 5pm, and thereafter $1 to ensure locals can afford to enjoy the events while tourist and foreign resident rates range up to a standard festival price of $110 for a full four-day pass. For more info on the Sauti za Busara Zanzibar music festival see: www.busaramusic.org, www.facebook.com/sautizabusara
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.
Diving on Zanzibar is one of the island’s greatest attractions. The Zanzibar archipelago hosts some of the worlds most diverse and finest coral reefs that sustain an abundance of thriving fish life, creating a fascinating underwater experience of untouched reefs surrounded by baracudas, marlin, turtles, countless tropical fish, and sometimes even a reef shark or pod of inquisitive dolphins.
Diving on Zanzibar
is a diver’s paradise with an average water temperature of 27°C and, at times, a visibility of up to 30 meters, which makes Zanzibar one of the best dive destinations in the world with an abundance of hard and soft coral, a variety of nudibranchs, scorpion fish, lion fish, star fish, and seahorses to mention only a fraction of the life to be seen by diving on Zanzibar. Aside from exploring the colours of life, the channels between Zanzibar and the mainland also contain aa number of shipwrecks that can be explored by certain operators.
Some of the best diving on Zanizbar is to be found in conservation and Marine Protected Areas such as Chumbe Island and Mnembe atoll where the conservation efforts ensure a wide diversity and presence of life. Don’t despair though, if you are not a qualified diver, snorkeling can also be arranged for these areas or you can learn the basics of diving through the many dive operators who also offer training.
There are a number of dive operators in Zanzibar that cater for all ranges of experience. Buccaneer Diving operate from Paje, which is just South of Pongwe Beach. One Ocean operate from Matemwe village which is closer by, just North of Pongwe Beach. One Ocean is the first PADI 5 star dive centre in Zanzibar and the biggest dive operator in East Africa. They offer a wide range of diving experiences including training for beginners and kids, and they also have offices in Stone Town and elsewhere on the island. Other operators include East Africa Diving, Scuba-Do Zanzibar, and Diving Zanzibar, who all offer a wide range of diving depending on your own experience and even language.
But rest assured, whomever and wherever you choose, diving on Zanzibar will be an unforgettable experience. While Tanzania is famous for safaris on the Serengeti grasslands, diving on Zanzibar is where you will find the best safaris under perfect tropical waters. See one of the dive schools we work with