After spending time in the bush, switch gears by heading to the Zanzibar beaches for a few days of beachside luxury and serenity.
By Haley Beham
The famed islands are easily accessible from Dar es Salaam by boat or plane, but you can also grab a direct flight from Johannesburg or Nairobi. Between Zanzibar’s culture, spice trade history, beautiful beaches, and lush forests (home to several unique creatures) it’s a worthy add-on to your next Ker & Downey safari.
Substantial populations of Arab, Persian, Indian, Portuguese, and local African tribal cultures have been traveling to Zanzibar since the start of the first millennium, though it’s possible sailors and traders from Arabia visited the islands even earlier. The influence of these converging cultures is most apparent in Stone Town (Zanzibar City), a UNESCO World Heritage Site characterized by its winding lanes, ornate wooden doors, and beautiful mosques.
The spice trade has greatly influenced the vibrant culture of Zanzibar, commonly referred to as the Spice Islands. While the Portuguese imported various plants and spices from South America and India in the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the Omani Arabs made Zanzibar the spice-producing entity it is today. Herbs and spices are still a vital part of life in Zanzibar. On a taste-and-see tour, you will discover how the spices are harvested and used in traditional dishes, sampling local fruits of mango, jackfruit, and papaya with spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper along the way.
The palm-fringed coastlines of Zanzibar are renowned for their white sandy beaches, year-round warm, clear waters, and coral reefs teeming with diverse marine life ideal for snorkeling and diving. From Matemwe Lodge, you can snorkel straight from the beach, or head out on a diving excursion to see larger underwater species like turtles and playful dolphins.
For the ultimate underwater experience, book a stay at Manta Resort’s Underwater Room, a three-level floating structure anchored to the seashore in the middle of the reef. Above water, there’s a cozy lounge for sunbathing and watching the stars at night. Below the surface, you’ll find a bedroom enclosed with panes of glass to give a breathtaking view of the sea and its colorful creatures swimming by. At night, spotlights around the floating abode attract nocturnal sea life like squid, octopus, and vibrant red Spanish dancer sea slugs.
Zanzibar’s only national park — the Jozani Forest on the island of Unguja — is home to the endangered red colobus monkey, one of the rarest primates in Africa. It is believed there are about 1,000 of these endemic primates residing among the tropical plants and mangroves. Their markings and calls are different from those of its mainland colobus cousins. You can also find Aders’ duiker (a very small duiker found only in Zanzibar and Kenya), sea turtles, and clusters of colorful butterflies throughout the forest.
One thing you most likely will not see, however, is the Zanzibar leopard. The extinction of this elusive creature is highly debated. In 2018 a film crew caught a glimpse on a camera trap of what they believe could be one of the rare animals. DNA testing has yet to prove if it was a Zanzibar leopard or one brought over from the mainland. Regardless, keep your eyes open when visiting Unguja Island — locals swear they still roam around.
Pro Tip! Spend an afternoon sailing on a traditional wooden dhow. It’s one of the most relaxing ways to take in the coastlines and aquamarine waters surrounding Zanzibar. – Devon, Designer
Start planning your journey to Zanzibar by contacting a Ker & Downey designer.