The shores of Zanzibar / Adobe Stock
The shores of Zanzibar / Adobe Stock
Island dreaming? Us too…but before your brain lets you escape to faraway places, where crystal blue waters and ever-stretching white sand beaches beckon, let’s make a pact to remember that local is most certainly very lekker this summer and your travel plans (and associated budget) need not necessarily extend only to the Mediterranean.
We’ve got Mamma Africa to thank for island getaway options aplenty, and with the allure of warm water, deep histories and a generosity of spirit that transcends borders, it is no wonder that Zanzibar and East Africa, as a whole, are being looked to more than ever before.
A famous British explorer once dubbed the spice isles as a “cocoa-fringed shore of purest white; the sea blue as a slab of lapis lazuli” and Zanzibar is all this, as well as so much more.
Sun lovers and divers are able to revel in the changing of the tides and tranquility on offer at the beach hideaways scattered around the main island, where unlike all of Europe’s coastline, you are able to turn over, without rolling onto your neighbour’s towel.
Best described as a ‘non-cookie cutter’ beach destination – one of my favourite things about the East coast of Africa and the beaches it boasts, is that you don’t need to do a resort or package deal to feel like you’ve got more bang for your buck.
In fact, South Africans have a rare chance to holiday and not wince with the usual, and inevitable, quick math conversions. With tourism as a huge focus area and money-maker for all locals, they take great pride in showcasing the best of their hometown and wherever my adventuring has led me to, I’ve never felt anything but secure and safe while wandering the streets of this melting pot.
East African people are also well known and loved for their legendary hospitality and genuine warmth, so don’t be surprised to be a bit taken aback by how far those randelas can stretch, for those willing to side-step some tourist traps and befriend a “Zanzibari” for some hot insider tips and secret finds.
Spend time wandering the streets of Stone Town, the cultural heart of Zanzibar and now also a World Heritage Site, or take a few hours out of your day to visit Kzimbani Village to discover the weight behind the island’s spice namesake.
Winding lanes in the historic trade centre are made all the more intriguing due to the exotic blend of the Swahili and Islamic influences. 19th-century landmarks and beautifully carved doors abound at every corner.
This blend of culture and “chill” are part of what makes Zanzibar so unique in its tourism offering. Getting around need not be expensive and you’ll find whatever you choose, be it luxury beachfront hotel, private villa or Airbnb self-catering accommodation, locals will make an effort to make their services known to you.
The range of holiday type on offer caters for all budgets and preference, so whether you prefer a sit-down silver service, complete with blue yonder beach view or would rather snack en-route your adventuring, with some roasted peanuts from a street stall and close in the day with an ice-cold beer and seafood braai on the beach, you’ll find it all here.
Dining options aside, the accommodation offering is as diverse and really depends on what you’re after. With the entry of Airbnb to the market, locals can now “play” host far beyond the usual activities of Jozani forest visits, spice tours, and blue dhow safaris.
With such a diverse coastline, Zanzibar also lends itself to those wanting to explore a bit more and linger a little longer.
From the authentic culture on offer in the south, to the insta-worthy barefoot luxury of the north – the choice is ultimately yours and in line with your own expectations.
My advice is for those wanting to escape it all — perhaps in search of some extra privacy and more inclined for a little added romance — look to the islets off the main island. The North-East coast seems to earn the “prime” title with a vast majority of the islands high-end accommodation offerings and with famed excellent diving opportunities.
The east coast of Zanzibar is also home to a vast array of lodges, hotels and private villas and some of my favourite beaches.
When in doubt, stick to the guideline that the further north you adventure, the more remote and private it becomes with the opposite being true for the south, which in itself offers a healthy dose of culture, vibrancy and the chance to best connect with the locals.
Airbnb search results list more than 400 self-catering options from R200 upwards and a Google search of private villas and other bespoke options are not in short supply either.
From my perspective, the beauty of travel remains in how it’s able to show us our differences but also always seems to highlight any common ground. Thumbs-up and smiles are the universal language, accepted and always appreciated here.
Your perfect hideaway in Zanzibar could be at either one of the two extremes, or somewhere in the middle, the point is that for a quarter of the flight time, price and effort required, you’re guaranteed to find an escape from the norm and your own slice of tropical heaven where you can kick back, sip on something chilled and watch the sailing dhows go by.