Zanzibar’s uniqueness has many facets and two of them, in particular, are its cuisine and culture. A mecca of Swahili and Islamic tradition, Africanism, heritage and history, if one does not imbibe the culture, one cannot succeed at indulging in everything this island has to offer. The pure magnificence makes it rather difficult to decide on a firm favourite but allow us to try.
Descending off the East Coast of Africa is this Tanzanian archipelago. Flying over the country, the mass of water swells into the horizon as the raw, natural beauty mesmerizes you. The crowning glory of the island is, of course, the azure waters. Glorious, crystal blue and completely translucent, it’s utterly intoxicating. You’ll never in all your life witness such a dreamy sea and as the waves gently crawl to the shore, you’ve landed.
A quick and easy three-and-a-half-hour flight from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, allows you to witness unspoiled beauty and the ultimate holiday indulgence without tedious travel time. Remembering your best beach holiday just got a whole lot easier.
WHERE TO STAY
For the best view on the island
This is what we like to refer to as barefoot luxury. In the finest arc of the Zanzibar Island lies this exquisite hotel. As the scarlet rays from the sunset begin to deepen and you arrive at this maritime oasis, you’ll instantly be swept off your feet. It is everything the website promises and more, your expectations will be met, and we have no doubt you will want to return as much as we did.
Arriving at this exclusive location with all-encompassing views of the striking ocean, you’ll soon realize why Zanzibar has reached the top of everyone’s “if only list.” The hotel boasts nine villas all abundantly spacious, all alike in size and design and all with breathtaking views. Because the hotel is situated on top of a cliff, you’ll gingerly prowl the area as you marvel at the plump hillsides. Each villa is named after an animal, in Swahili, and so Pweza the octopus was our residence – a sanctuary beyond measure, with cascading ceilings, warm grey tones and furnishings contrasting the exterior landscape and a private plunge pool. Plus, we were extremely pleased to discover that the hotel is extremely serious about creating a plastic-free zone. They use only paper straws and you will not find bottled water anywhere in the hotel, except in the rooms.
There are moments when a lie in is mandatory, but this is not the place. We recommend setting the alarm for 6:00 am, brewing a warm cuppa and relishing in the mornings sunrise as the welcoming baboons swing from the palm trees. Then put on your sneakers and head to their bountiful vegetable and fruit garden and try fit in a run through the rolling banana fields. They have created this inspiring 1km flat track, which caters to your every whim and wheeze. It is an extraordinary adventure and as you run past the chicken coup you’ll feel deeply conjugated to Zanzibar and all its glory.
As time thickens so does the humidity and so do the hunger pangs. Time for breakfast and yes you guessed it, overlooking the awe-inspiring landscape of the white bleached beaches and cobalt blue waters. Breakfast is a culinary journey of the juiciest fresh fruit, freshly baked croissants, eggs any way you choose and a rich cup of caffeine to go with it. If none of these tickles your tastebuds, request anything you like, your wish is their command. The staff and chef will ensure each meal and every bite is just as you like it. Dinner is a five-course adventure with the freshest seafood, caught the very same day; grilled red snapper enhanced with fresh herbs, smoked carrot coulis and vegetable millefeuille, it’s simply orgasmic. And whilst your taste buds are tingling so are your ears because you’ll enjoy traditional Taarab music, started by a Sultan in 1870 and known as the soul of Zanzibar. Influenced with musical traditions of the African Great Lakes, North Africa, The Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
This all-inclusive experience is what dreams are made of…
For all-inclusive luxury
Baraza Resort and Spa
This unique resort is exactly how life would be if the sultans never left the island. Set in another realm and certainly allowing for the ideal escape for ordinary mundane city life. You are transported to a world where smoking shisha is routine, bathing in Sultan baths is commonplace and indulging in the five-star Frangipani spa (with incomparable therapists from Bali, Thailand and India) becomes mandatory.
In the reception area sits traditional, Swahili and Arabic architecture, serenaded by classical pieces, luxury woods and brass lanterns. The interior is exotic and unfamiliar; it’s a fusion of Arabic, Swahili and Indian design transforming and elevating your vacation the moment you arrive. It is clear that the overall intent is tranquillity, especially in all the villa styles. There are thirty villas with options of an oceanfront villa, a Sultan villa and a garden view villa, all with the choice of one or two bedrooms, ideal for a family getaway or a romantic escape. The Sultan’s lounge bed, dramatic arches and the plunge pool are highlights and so is the freestanding bath with deluxe products that they create themselves.
It would be easy to think the Baraza Resort and Spa is just another commercial all-inclusive resort, but it is not. It is so much more. Days are spent in luxury, alongside stellar service and the most superb dining with an offering of three restaurants. There is an adult pool to dip into after your spa experience as well as another pool in the main area, a beachfront view, daily Hatha yoga classes, sweet-smelling cocktails at Hova Bar, cooking demonstrations, Swahili bands playing in the background, beach bike rides and high tea served daily in the tea lounge. Oh, did we mention they have their own watersports centre and all activities (not motorized) are included. Also, just 300m from the resort is the water club where you can learn to sail or kite surf.
However, the cream of the crop has to be the seaside luncheon.
In the afternoon we were treated to a self-indulgent three-course lunch, under the palm trees, beside the surging waters, in fact, you couldn’t possibly get closer to the sea. With dishes that included crab and avocado salad, coconut three ways; panna cotta, Crème Brule and freshly made ice cream. The grand finale though, had to be the grilled cigal dish and fish fillet with Creole sauce, dauphin potato and crisp vegetables. cigal is of the lobster family and famous in Zanzibar, it goes down sleekly with a glass of Chenin.
You couldn’t ask for anything more…
For a five-star gastronomic journey
The Palms Zanzibar
This is a beachfront sanctuary with six private villas. The hotel, which opened in 2002, is so authentic you’ll instantly get that holiday sensation. Pop on over for a beautiful fine dining experience and eat what you want, when you want. That’s the beauty of this restaurant; they cater to your every fantasy because you make the rules at The Palms. You’ll be wined and dined with deliciously marinated slipper lobster with tart Zanzibar grapefruit, grilled and succulent red snapper fillet cooked with precision and, the bell of the ball, exquisitely self-indulgent, their pumpkin cheesecake. Not only is the setting exceptional with vibrant coloured silks and fancy white linen but the service is unmatched too.
For a lazy beach luncheon
Breakers by the Beach at Breezes Beach Club and Spa
They should be called Breakers on top of the Indian Ocean because you cannot get any more intimate with nature. Snuggled by the seashore, this lunch spot should not be shared, it’s that special. The space evokes that all-encompassing vacation vibration and the food is nothing short of wonderful. Is there anything better than sipping on a glass of chardonnay and nibbling on freshly caught crispy salt and pepper calamari? Or why not taste their coconut crusted prawns or green papaya salad or their legendary seared tuna niçoise salad with a frothy sweet passion vinaigrette. A 10/10 dining experience.
For a selfless selfie
The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar
It is unforgivable to visit Zanzibar and not visit the Rock, especially as it is known as the worlds most acclaimed restaurant. Firstly, you need a selfie in front of it, secondly, it is the coolest location suspended on the Indian Ocean and thirdly you should go when the tide is high because the only way there is via boat. It’s a cherished experience, definitely not to be missed. So, while you’re downing a traditional Dawa cocktail (local Konyagi gin, honey, tonic and water) don’t forget you’re on a floating restaurant.
The only thing you’ll regret after leaving this delicious destination is that you didn’t do it years ago.
This article by Bianca Spinner appeared in Hello Joburg magazine and is available online here