The Island of Zanzibar

In a modern world, Zanzibar still manages to retain the exotic image it earned in the heyday of the spice trade. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Zanzibar was controlled by the Omani Arabs, who dominated the trade in both spices and slaves. In 1890, the island became a British protectorate and in 1963 it joined with the mainland, Tanganyika, to form the country of Tanzania. Zanzibar sits in the Indian Ocean about twenty-two miles from the mainland.

My time in Zanzibar was very limited. I spent half a day touring Stone Town, a maze of narrow streets, small shops and Arab influences. I visited the area of old slave market, which today offers only a monument and small basement room where slaves were held prior to sale. Nevertheless, it was a moving experience. An Anglican church now sits on the grounds of the old market. I also visited a small museum that offered a number of exhibits about the island's history (though unless you are a serious history buff, don't plan to spend the day here – there's not that much to see).

For me, the most fascinating part of Stone Town was just walking through the narrow streets and watching the people (and dodging the motorcycles that often came roaring along). One could very easily get lost for hours in this labyrinth. A trip to the market also offered lots of local color. While in Stone Town, I stayed at the Tembo Hotel ("tembo," by the way, means "elephant" in Swahili). The hotel's location on the western beach gave me a good vantage point for watching the boats come and go, including quite a few traditional dhows (a sailing vessel), and the beautiful sunset.

After my all-too-brief time in Stone Town, I drove across the island to the eastern shore for a couple of days of relaxation on the beach along the Indian Ocean. I stayed at the Mapenzi Beach Resort, a wonderful place that I highly recommend. You won't get much exotic Zanzibar flavor here – the resort is actually owned by and caters to Italians – but when it is time to kick back and relax, this is the place. The resort was located on a beautiful beach in a forest of tall palm trees. The rooms were comfortable enough and the food was excellent. During low tide, the water recedes more than half-a-mile from the waterline at high tide, creating a large flat sandy area dotted with shallow pools of water. Hundreds of locals come down to dig for clams and other animals. It is a very colorful and fascinating sight (but, regrettably, I didn't have my camera with me on the beach and I was too lazy to go get it).

Related page: Tanzania