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Destination inspiration: Zanzibar, Tanzania

Stone Town's waterfront is a feast for the eyes

Stone Town's waterfront is a feast for the eyes

Why go?

Zanzibar conjures up exotic images of castaway-style beaches, where fine coral sand meets the azure Indian Ocean and the scent of spice and mangoes perfumes the breeze. It’s true that this archipelago is a tropical oasis, with more than its fair share of snorkelling, sunset watching, and luxury hotels. But it also makes a captivating escape for the curious traveller. Inhabited for over 20,000 years, these islands have a long and tumultuous history, the culture a beguiling mix of Arabic, African and European.

Rice and beans sold at a traditional food market

Rice and beans sold at a traditional food market

The lemongrass-scented squares and alleys of Stone Town (Zanzibar City’s old quarter) make a great base for exploring the island’s history. Narrow alleys, once walked by slave traders, snake past peaceful mosques and the crumbling ruins of the sultan’s palace. At Darajani market, baskets of cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg perfume the streets. It’s a place to sightsee slowly, drinking in the relaxed pace of island life – and sampling plenty of Zanzibari dishes along the way. Freshly caught fish, lobster, and prawns are not to be missed, nor the bustling market stalls with their fried cassava, beef biryani, and charcoal-grilled kebab.

Like the island’s famous octopus curry, Zanzibar’s spiritual world often simmers behind closed doors. Locals believe that shetani (spirits) wait and watch in every shadow, and with many of the city’s houses built on top of old cemeteries, they may have a point. In town, herbalists open their shops to cleanse the souls of unwanted guests, while mganga, or witch doctors, commune with spirits from the coastal rocks.

Fishermen bring in their catch as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean

Fishermen bring in their catch as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean

When to go?

Zanzibar has two rainy seasons – mid-March to late May and again in November, so be sure to avoid these months. The best time to visit is from June to October, when the weather is breezy and diving off the north coast is especially good. If you don’t mind a bit of heat, December to February is sunny and clear (ideal for midnight stargazing).

Where to stay?

Forodhani Park Hotel – Zanzibar City, Tanzania

This hotel is all about location. It’s within a few minutes walk of the beach, the House of Wonders, and the Forodhani night market – the place to be for local food. The double and twin rooms have balconies looking out on the Old Fort, and the roof terrace has a pool.

Golden Tulip Zanzibar Resort – Zanzibar City, Tanzania

Golden Tulip offers guests a resort experience at good value. Located 7 km from Stone Town, it’s a bit out of the way – but it’s relaxing and just a short trip from nearby islands and the sand bank. Many of the double rooms and suites have sea views, and the large pool and Dhow Restaurant are great spots to unwind.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar – Zanzibar City, Tanzania

One of the best hotels on the island, this resort is located right on the beach and within walking distance of Stone Town’s top sights. The plush sea-view rooms are accompanied by the sound of the waves. There is a big pool and a delicious restaurant on the terrace overlooking the sea.