It is ok to dream. To imagine palm trees, an azure ocean with wavelets lapping on the beach, colourful cocktails in hand and a place where a momentary lapse of reason is a welcome escape from the barrage of negatively, we have all had to deal with over the past fourteen months of pandemic. Zanzibar is open and a three and a bit hour hop across southern Africa lands you in paradise for about the same price as a holiday at home.
What is different from most other island holiday destinations is the great variety of accommodation that is available. From el-affordable backpackers’ accommodation through to the luxury of five- and six-star resorts. And even those are not priced out of a South African Rand budget.
Now is the best time to go, as the global dearth in tourists has caused pricing to drop significantly. Budget airline operates between Johannesburg and Zanzibar twice weekly now with whispers of another carrier joining the route soon.
There is nothing better than a beach holiday and with Zanzibar’s almost year-round great weather, even monsoon season between May and August is worth it, the only question really is which hotel, for how long, and how much! It is recommended to head to the north of the island where the beaches are best and the tidal retract not as pronounced.
The east coast beaches see the ocean withdraw quite a bit during low-tide, but this is an awesome for exploring a still relatively untouched shallow seabed. Just mind the sea urchins, it hurts like hell if you step on it.
The water is warm, it is clean, and you can spend hours on the beach. Most hotels and resorts have a bar and snacks nearby and unlike at home, deck chairs are usually well scattered and socially distanced on every beach, many with a side table and umbrella.
You can spend a day on the beach tanning, reading, swimming and just switching off with the consistency of white noise from the sea blocking out thoughts of bills, traffic jams and its ilk.
Do not go to Zanzibar for fewer than 4 days. There is a lot to do beyond lazing on the beach. Recommended is a day trip to Chumbe Island and Coral Park, a tiny islet off the east coast with incredible snorkelling, a private chill hut for the day, and great locally inspired meals.
Otherwise, go and see the endangered red colobus monkeys in their natural habitat, take the Spice Tour and learn about the island’s taste-history. The Kuza Cave Centre has people living in caves, like they have done for millennia, for a different kind of cultural experience.
Safari Blue is another popular snorkelling trip with your base, a giant sand bank in the middle of the Indian Ocean’s blue. The Rock restaurant only has a handful of tables, must be booked in advance and is built inside a giant rock in the ocean. For an authentic seafood experience, fresher than fresh, this is your destination.
Zanzibar’s capital Stonetown is a World Heritage Site and was first described in Greek texts around the second century. It later became settled by local tribes and was colonized many times over by the Omani’s, Germany and the British. Architecturally, the Arabic influence is dominant.
Stonetown was both an important holding area for the middle-eastern slave trade as well as a large exporter of spice. This gave rise to its reputation as the Spice Island. Must-visits are the Sultan’s Old Fort, his House of Wonders residence and the Slave Museum.
The central market will take up a morning on its own and at night, opposite the Old Fort, a local food market serves up delicious and cheap local fare. Music legend Freddy Mercury was a Zanzibarian, and his childhood home has become a shrine to the singer.
Food to try in Zanzibar must be the Zanzibar pizza, a rice flour-based dough, thinly fried and more like a pancake is filled with savouries or, deliciously, some Nutella and ice cream.
Cassava made properly does not have to taste like a dusty gravel road, and here, locals cook it lekker. Hotels serve it frequently and its well worth a bite or two. Mandazi are triangular looking doughnuts, not too sweet, and sometimes slightly spiced with cardamom.
Pilau rice, a traditional east African way of cooking it in stew-juice, so to speak, is a delicious side to almost anything. It is also a traditional festive accompaniment and a staple delicacy in Tanzania.
For package and accommodation options it is possible to explore and book direct via many sites.
Recommended from a lower budget perspective are the Amaan Bungalows in Nungwi, on the north coast. In the east, Uroa Bay is popular with South Africans and starts from as little as R 850 per person per night. Most resorts offer full (drinks included) and half board options (no drinks included and 2 meals daily).
Airlink flies between and Johannesburg and Dar Es Salaam, with a short hop to Zanzibar via any of the island carriers like Coastal Airways.
Mango (dependent on continued operations) operates direct flights between Johannesburg and Zanzibar twice a week.
Note: South Africans are required to produce a negative PCR test upon return. It is advised to check for updates regarding travel with your travel agent before booking.