Zanzibar, the island that adds spice to a special holiday
21st May 2018
My husband had disappeared beneath the waves for such a long time I feared he would not come up again.
Finally he emerged, whipped off his snorkel and mask and spluttered. “I have never seen such fabulous fish,” and dived below again.
A morning snorkelling in the warm waters off the coast of Zanzibar is a pretty special experience. Even on a cloudy day.
But you don’t even have to swim to see the colourful sealife zig zag through the water. Just looking down while walking out to the boat was mesmerising enough.
I imagined how wonderful it would be to have the whole family here enjoying this magical experience together.
There is even a coral reef running along its eastern coast, so shallow in parts you can go on reef walks. Zanzibar is well known for its diving but just a few inches below the surface you can watch zebra fish, angel fish, clown fish and pipe fish dance among the coral.
There are few words that instantly evoke exotic spice and romantic paradise as Zanzibar does.
The island, six degrees south of the equator, off the coast of Tanzania, is probably not on your bucket list of must-visit destinations, but it should be.
Balmy, beautiful and fascinating, with a rich history and faded charm, Zanzibar is ideal for older travellers looking for a haven peppered with white sandy beaches and lots to do.
Just 60 miles long, 25 miles wide and 25 miles from mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar has a population of just over one million so it‘s not exactly crowded. But avoid visiting during the rainy season. Best times are: December to February or June to October.
The place to stay is one of the family-owned Zanzibar Collection’s four boutique hotels on the south eastern coast.
Breezes is more of a family resort built in an older style of dark woods – with large open communal areas, outdoor pool, and pockets of intimacy – such as a tiny dining space offering honeymooners – or couples celebrating a milestone anniversary – a romantic dinner for two. Prices from €95pp per day half board for a standard room. Book now.
While the countryside is rich, lush and fertile, Zanzibar is short on architectural wonders. But there are some handsome colonial-style hotels evoking a more opulent heritage such as The Emerson Spice Hotel, and watch out for old homes with carved chains in the wooden surrounds of the ornate front doors; they denote the homes of former wealthy slave traders.
A fascinating site to explore is the East African Slave Trade Exhibit – Zanzibar was a slave trading post (1800-1909) when it was ruled by the Sultans of Oman.
The exhibit traces the moving and harrowing history of the slave trade including photographs and a moving art installation of chained sculptures in the grounds. Slaves from Africa were shipped in to be sold to the Arabian market. And continued even after the British had abolished the trade.
Nearby is the cathedral Church of Christ which stands on the site of the former slave market.
You will hear a lot about the Anglo-Zanzibar War – a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The Brits instigated the war because the Sultan refused to end the slave trade. It’s significance is that it lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest war in history. A new Sultan was installed who abolished slavery in 1897.
Other attractions include the Jozani Forest – the island’s only national park. While Zanzibar boasts no big game, unlike its neighbour Tanzania, people come to see the red colobus monkey (native to Zanzibar).
As Zanzibar is synonymous with spice a visit to a spice farm comes highly recommended; although it is surprising to learn that all the spices were brought from India, Asia, Europe and South America.
Nutmeg came from Madagascar, cardamom, tamarind, lemon grass and turmeric from India; green oranges, red bananas, green and red cocoa trees from South America and avocado trees from Malaysia.
The spice farm, an hour’s drive from Baraza resort, has examples of spices and fruit grown on the island including pepper vines, vanilla, pineapple, Arabica and robusta coffee.
And if ladies forget their make up an alternative lip gloss is available – the bright red tandoori (lipstick) fruit.
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