Destination of the day: Zanzibar


prformer coffee plantation_9847 slave chain_6323 Zanzibar_6250 Zanzibar_6498 Zanzibar_9939Photographs, TV programmes do not ever convey what yu experience in Zanzibar. All of the senses are engaged. One one sense more than any toehr, the sense of smell..

I wondered do Africans miss this when they travel. It is derived from everything, vegetation and the dust and heat. Urban and rural, it is always there.

They bussed us past a fleet of small private aircraft all resting in between their Safari runs.

The island, or rather cluster of islands, is 50km off the coast of mainland Tanzania, and are best known for spices, coral reefs and their fringes of white sand beaches.

This is where the hotels are to be found in necklace clusters hugging the sand. Location is important here, the east coast is extremely tidal, the north is not. Which is the most beautiful beach? Opinions vary.

The seat fashioned from a canoe, heavy thatched roofs over the big restaurant palm trees tamarines and the gentle incline down to the ocean. All of these hotels have big space in which to spread the rooms.

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At first sight the island of Zanzibar is not as exotic as the name would suggest. It is crowded with 1.3m people and has that broken-road, red earth, traffic jam chaos that honeymooners would like to avoid.

The thing is, avoid it they do, and now they hide in the plush, wonderful hotels that have sprung up over the past 40 years.

In the 1980s there was one hotel. Now there are 300 hotels.

At Beaches resort, our home for the first three nights, the characteristic sound is the rustle, the low rumble of the Indian Ocean beyond the beautiful palm trees. Indian Ocean Islands follow similar set of seashore characteristics. It applies to the Seychelles, Maldives and Mauritius. About a mile offshore there is a reef. The west coast of Zanzibar is particularly tidal. At low tide you can walk to the ref. The helpful hotelier will rent you shoes to protect your feet from the sea urchins and the jagged coral.

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The nearby Palms hotel has 130 acres to that means lots of landscaping. It would keep the honeymoon couples who come flocking from Italy fit to walk the rows of steps.

The reef nurses a natural playground between it and landfall. But it does something more holistic, it comes with its own sound track, a song of coral that never stops so when you wake in the morning, throughout the day, until you sleep, and through your dreams, the dark and mysterious Indian Ocean is providing the background music.

In Zanzibar it is particularly soothing, because this is distinctively Africa. If you stop and fill your head with the background music, the weight of slavery, colonialism, and the muscle flexing of counter colonialism in its political, economic, and social dimensions, all there to be heard in that sound.

In the evening the sound is merry hum of the mosquitoes emerging to feast on fresh guests, the colour is the blue, blue sky becomes grey. But it seems a more passionate, deeper grey. The light green palm trees seem greener. The red burning roof seems redder. The sand seems sandier and yellower. It is as if everything has a statement to make, like loud bird song.

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Amid the labyrinth of coral stone alleys of Stone Town is where you find the world famous doors. The Portuguese established a trading post as early as 1503 and Omani Arabs completed the town’s fort in 1701, but the fabric of the town dates from the height of Zanzibar’s commercial power as a trading centre in the 19th century.

The island of sun and sand was then a haven for spice and slaves. One of the darkest places you will visit on the planet is the slave chambers where the captives were held, without food or water, for up to two weeks, having been transported from Eastern Congo.

Jailansaid Shafi brought our small group into a suffocating chamber where 75 women and children were held, flushed by tidal waters: “Most of the slaves died from cholera, typhoid and oxygen deprivation. It was very bad business.”

Once there were 15 slave chambers, now only two remain.

Clara Somas monument to the slaves is equally chilling. The slaves are in a pit, so the tourists look down on the figures. The chain is real, from slave trading days. The past is not another country after all.


Eoghan Corry flew to Zanzibar with Ethiopian Airlines, who commence a 3w service from Dublin to Addis Adaba on June 19 2015 and onwards to 21 domestic and 70 international destinations, 40 of them in Africa.

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