Travel In Zanzibar

From old Stone Town to the Jozani Forest, spice plantation tours to deep sea diving, Zanzibar island is more than your average island get away.

Imagine this: azure blue waters lapping against sugar white sandy beaches, tall, slender coconut palm trees rustling in the warm tropical breeze, and fiery sunsets streaked across the sky. No wonder Arab sultans in the 19th century chose Zanzibar as their home from which to oversee their vast ivory and slave trading empire. Zanzibar, today is no longer controlled by Arab sultans but the past still lingers on this island, making Zanzibar an ideal vacation get away whether you want to immerse yourself in the island's history or dive through her clear blue waters.

Zanzibar is the official name of a small group of islands situated off the coast of East Africa. The main island is named Unguja and the two smaller islands are called Pemba and Mafia. Unguja is popularly referred to as Zanzibar and is the only island with significant tourist accommodations. The three islands of Zanzibar are governed by their own independent legislature, but maintain strong political ties to Tanzania. The United Republic of Tanzania includes these three Zanzibar islands.

One of the best places to start your tour of Zanzibar is in old Stone Town.

Stone Town is the historic downtown of the island and served as the seat of

government for Arab sultans. Narrow streets shaded by the multi-story stone

buildings weave a complicated maze that opens onto bustling markets or slinks past quiet Arab souks. The House of Wonders, Dr. Livingstone's House and Arab forts are all located in Stone Town. The most remarkable feature of Stone Town are the huge wooden doors of many of the residential homes. During the construction of these homes, the doors were the first to be erected. The massive wooden doors represented the wealth of the family, the more ornamental the door the more money the family had. If you look closely at any of the doors, you'll find carvings of animals, vines, trees, and fish, all of which convey meanings such as power, long life, and fertility. Many doors also have Arabic script carved above the entryway. The script usually refers to Arabic blessings to be bestowed

upon the house and its occupants. Many of the doors are also studded with large brass knobs. These knobs, it is believed, are used to prevent entry by ramming elephants. For many years, Zanzibar was full of elephant herds that have long since been extinct on the island due to poaching. The beauty of Stone Town is literally crumbling to death and many of the residential homes are dangerously close to collapsing. To preserve the unique architecture and beauty of this town, the United Nations has named Stone Town a World Heritage Site.

Those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city can venture to the Jozani Forest for a day with the island's wildlife. Although Zanzibar can hardly boast to have the safaris of the mainland of Tanzania and Kenya, plenty of interesting birds and monkey species abound on the island. The Jozani Forest is full of thick trees, climbing vines and up close, uninhibited views of monkeys, small bucks, and bush pigs. An elusive Zanzibar leopard is said to call the Forest its home, but the last official sighting was several years ago. The Forest even has an incredible collection of the most interesting butterfly species. Keep an eye out for the popular Kirk's Red Colobus monkey. With their punk rocker red and black stripes streaking down their white coats, the Colobus monkeys are not hard to spot. But the Jozani Forest is the only place to see them, as the Red Colobus monkey is endemic to the Zanzibar island.

The visual sights of Zanzibar are stunning, but perhaps some of its best

offerings are found by following your nose. Zanzibar is home to thousands of clove trees, which constitute a large part of the island's economy. The great Busaid Sultan Said is credited with the vision of planting the island with these fragrant trees. During his reign in the 1800s, the height of Zanzibar's importance as a trading entrepot, the Sultan forced landowners to plant two clove trees for every palm tree on their property or risk the confiscation of the territory.

Although Zanzibar does not produce three quarters of the world's supply of

cloves like she used to, cloves still are an important part of the

agricultural industry. Many of the island natives gather together during the harvest season to pick the cloves and lay the flowers out for harvesting. The budding cloves during the harvest season are so pungent that their smell envelops much of the island. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper are also grown in large quantities, too. Tours of the major spice plantations are a big tourist attraction and can easily be arranged with reputable agencies in Stone Town.

Perhaps one of the most stunning aspects of Zanzibar is what lies beneath it. Miles of coral reefs surround Unguja and Pemba harboring an abundance of marine life. The clear waters mean great visibility and their average temperatures of 75 degrees make for comfortable year round diving. Deep-water dives are great for viewing barracuda, kingfish, tuna, and wahoo, while shallow water dives yield schools of tropical fish. According to ZanzibarNet Dive Adventures, the best diving is off the northeast coast where large Napoleonic Wrasse is over two meters long. Diving in Zanzibar is not restricted to advanced divers. Many diving centers in the area specialize in international scuba certification. Internationally certified divers are able to dive anywhere in the world.

When all of the adventure has you ready for a nap, consider one of the many

nearly secluded beaches along Zanzibar's coastline or those of the smaller

outlying islands where your only visitor may be the large land tortoises. Again, reputable travel agencies in Stone Town will have details on the best spots for sunbathing, and the best methods for traveling to the smaller islands whether by ferry or by more traditional boats called dhows.

Zanzibar and her Spice Islands are a nice change from your typical island

adventure. The Arab history is still alive and well here and walking past the ancient mosques or well-covered women on their way to the market can make you feel as though you stepped back in time. The tourist accommodations, though, have nicely kept pace with time. But as you trek to the Jozani Forest or dive past the coral reefs, be sure to listen to the wind rustle the coconut palms and watch the last streaks of orange from the African sunset, and you'll realize why the Sultans chose to call Zanzibar their home.

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