Zanzibar: Introduction

Powdery white sands and crystal clear waters

Zanzibar Introduction Zanzibar Introduction Zanzibar Introduction

Zanzibar Island has a much better known brother Island to the north, Mombassa, off the coast of Kenya. Anyone having read Karen Blixen’s novel “Out of Africa” or seen the movie of the same name, can attest to knowing about Mombassa. Zanzibar Island is directly south of Mombassa and is situated about 23 miles (37km) off the east coast port city of Dar Es Salaam, considered the commercial capital of Tanzania. The name ‘Zanzibar’ geographically accounts for the main island of Unguja, Pemba Island, and about 50 smaller surrounding islands and coral reefs. When people say ‘Zanzibar’ on most accounts they mean the main island, Unguja.

Zanzibar Island is also called 'Spice Island', with good reason; a number of rich spice plantations surround Zanzibar town. The name ‘Zanzibar’ itself elicits images in most informed travellers’ minds, of an island paradise with coconut palms lining the white sand beaches and of peaceful translucent blue bays, of dugouts and dhows with wind-hungry triangles for sails, and of historical ruins from the height of its slave trading past era. Zanzibar town reveals its Arabic alleyways and allows travelers glimpses into its past through historic monuments. Undisturbed Coral reefs provide excellent diving and snorkelling. The beach resorts seen today in Zanzibar and built for the business of tourism are juxtaposed against the island's not so ancient history as a center for buying and selling human beings as slaves.

Seafarers, explorers and traders, have all had interest in Zanzibar throughout it’s history because it is conveniently located. The reason it became such a major centre for selling and buying slaves was because it was the last stopping point to take people for slaves out of Africa and sell them of to Arab and Indian merchants on their way back not only to Arab and India but also around the cape of good hope and off to both Europe and the new world to sell the slaves. During the 19th century, the island became the world's leading producer of cloves. Zanzibar’s many plantations today produce 50 plus spices. Also there are several fruit grown here indigenously, including ‘yogurt fruit’. Spice plantation tours are a Zanzibar Island tourist staple.

Stone Town is Zanzibar's capital. It is an alluring town built by Indian and Arab merchant seamen from the 19th century on. Interestingly, the primary building material they used was the island’s readily available coral stone. The Middle East and Asian penchant for using landmarks for direction rather than relying on a logical layout of living space, is readily reflected in the disordered twisting alleys. Islam’s influence is seen as well in the stately, ornate, heavy wooden gates serving as ‘doors’ to inner walled private home courtyard sanctuaries, each intricately-carved. Ornate balconies, a perpetual lingering scent of spices and Arabic and oriental perfumes in the air all pointing to the rich mix of cultures that built Stone town. Architectural ruins, grand old mosques, an ancient bathhouse, a nothing-less-than-necessary Arab style fort, and distinctly boisterous markets are the remaining evidence of the time of the Persians and the Omani Arabs who established themselves as the ruling power here. For centuries Zanzibar has drawn those in search of business; today it remains an irresistible attraction for those seeking a heavenly beach holiday or an exploration into its exotic heritage - or a bit of both.