Zanzibar Tanzania: Unplugged Paradise
When you close your eyes and think of ways to escape the perils of modern life, you probably conjure up images of a tropical island kissed with white sandy beaches overlooking turquoise waters. If you do – and nobody would blame you if you did – the images that run through your head may look remarkably similar to what you’d find in real life at Zanzibar.
This beautiful archipelago is roughly 20 miles off the coast of Tanzania, but once you set foot in here and truly unplug, you’ll quickly discover that it feels a world away.
Zanzibar at a Glance
Technically, Zanzibar is part of Tanzania. However, it’s known as a semi-autonomous region, meaning that it pretty much marches to the beat of its own drum. This means it not only has its own set of rules when it comes to food and culture, but it's also home to a few quirks that have been honed over time.
Zanzibar’s quirkiest aspect relates to how they handle time, which is based on the Swahili tradition of counting time at sunrise as opposed to midnight. They can do this because Zanzibar’s close to the equator, meaning sunrise and sunset times are consistent through out the year. Because of this, if a local refers to “1:00 at night,” they mean 7:00 PM – it’s confusing at first, but if subtract six hours from what your watch says, you’ll be fine.
Because Zanzibar is in the Southern Hemisphere, their winter months correspond with our summer months. Better yet, the “winter” of this tropical island paradise is remarkably pleasant – think daytime temperatures in the low ‘80s. Their winter also happens right after monsoon season, so won’t have to worry about your getaway being interrupted by massive rains.
One key thing to note as you make your way to Zanzibar – this place practically re-defines the concept of “island time.” The pace on the island is about as slow as paces get, which could take a little getting used to if you’re typically a slave to the clock or precision. However, if you allow yourself to truly be unplugged and take in Zanzibar’s exquisite beauty, this snail’s pace of a lifestyle will turn into a feature instead of a bug.
Take a Trip to Stone Town
Zanzibar’s white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant sunsets tend to dominate the imagery associated with the island. However, it can be argued that the most remarkable point of interest here is man-made rather than nature-blessed. Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site that captures the essence of the Swahili trading villages that dot the East African coastline, one that shines the spotlight on Zanzibar's unique cultural fabric.
Exploring Stone Town’s narrow winding streets weaves you past a wide swath of art galleries, cafes, shops, and fabric stalls. It also provides you with the chance to get up close and personal with Zanzibar’s genuine culture. This makes it a welcome escape for when you decide you need a break from its touristy areas.
Some of the places you’ll encounter in Stone Town include:
The House of Wonders
This gorgeous property was formerly the palace of Zanzibar’s sultan. It’s now the National Museum of Culture. Be sure to take the time to admire the massive traditional Swahili boa that dominates the venue’s central courtyard.
Old Fort of Zanzibar
Located next to the House of Wonders, this formidable fort was originally built in the 17th century to fend off Portuguese attacks. It was also used as a prison in the 19th century, and as a railway terminal in the early 20th century.
Old Slave Market/Anglican Cathedral
The church stands on the grounds of what was Zanzibar’s largest slave market. It’s a harrowing excursion, but it’s worth the visit.
This seafront night market is loaded with vendors offering freshly prepared seafood of all kinds. It may be the purest example of local cuisine you’ll find on the island.
Approaching Zanzibar's Beaches
Marked by pristine beaches and turquoise blue waters, Zanzibar’s beaches almost don't look real. They are real, and they're spectacular. The mere act of stretching out on their sandy shores is enough to make you forget modern technology exists.
Picturesque beaches dot Zanzibar’s coastline, where they peacefully co-exist with fishing villages. The most renowned beaches are Nungwi and Kendwa, and you'll do good to visit both. Each offers a glimpse into paradise, but they approach this aesthetic through different paths.
Nungwi’s sand has a slightly golden hue, which tends to juxtapose rather well with spectacular sunsets which are made even better by the site of boats in the distance. It’s a relatively quiet spot to soak in the rays and let your stresses disappear. However, it’s also a popular spot for locals and tourists to engage in water sports and other beach-fueled playtime activities, such as volleyball.
Kendwa is a large beach, but it is also more secluded than Nungwi. It also has far fewer activities than its sandy counterpart, making it the ultimate place on the island to get away from it all. However, be forewarned: this idyllic seclusion takes a pause once a month when the nearby Kendwa Rocks Hotel hosts its raucous Full Moon Party – schedule your visit accordingly.
Other Things to Do
Once you’ve soothed your soul with a day at the beach, you may be itching to engage in some life-affirming activities. To that end, Zanzibar has you well-covered. Not surprisingly, a lot of these activities involve getting immersed within the island’s surrounding waters.
If you want to see undersea creatures frolicking in their natural habitat, then a snorkeling trip to Mnemba Atoll is an absolute must. This day boat trip gives you the opportunity to wade into a colorful reef that’s teeming with turtles, eels, and various species of fish darting through vibrant coral. Along the way to the reef, you may be lucky enough to spot a dolphin.
Snorkeling opportunities also exist around Prison Island, located roughly 6 kilometers from Stone Town. The reefs here practically pop out from the near-impossibly clear waters, and you'll see your fair share of critters hanging out. The biggest attraction here may be on land, where you may have the opportunity to feed gigantic yet gentle turtles.
If you want to see more land-based wildlife, then you’ll want to schedule a trip to Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar’s lone national park. The spot is home to about 1,000 legendary – and endangered – red colobus monkeys, as well as 40 bird species and 50 butterfly species. Rumor has it that there’s also a leopard that roams around the park.
The park is also home to an abundance of breathtaking plant life. The park has a forest nature trail that, when followed, takes you past mangroves, massive trees, and other foliage you may expect to encounter in a tropical low-land setting. It shows off a side of island life not readily experienced on the beach.
Finally, sunsets on Zanzibar rival the best sunset spots in the world, particularly if you catch one at Nungwi or Kendwa. If you want to see the sun going down from a different perspective, you may want to consider taking a sunset cruise. These excursions typically take place on a traditional dhow sailing boat, adding another opportunity to connect with local island culture.
The Cost of Zanzibar
As far as island and beach resort destinations go, once you arrive in Zanzibar, it’s surprisingly affordable. If you’re going to spend time checking out the night market, you’ll want cash on hand, although ATMs around here aren’t as abundant as you may be accustomed to. It’s also wise to exchange your money into the local currency, as doing so makes transactions a lot easier to complete.
The supplemental activities in Zanzibar are also relatively inexpensive, as you can expect to pay around $70 to $100. However, there are some spectacular bargains to be had. For instance, the snorkeling trip to Mnemba will only set you back about $25 a person, giving the tour the reputation for being one of the world’s best tours of any kind, pound for pound.
Getting to Zanzibar is the most cost-prohibitive part. Be prepared to dish out at least $1,000 each for a round trip. However, if you’re bucket list is filled with places where unplugging is a priority, it’s worth saving up this kind of scratch.
A Quiet Paradise Awaits
Zanzibar is a magic place that’s close to the mainland yet seemingly far away from what we consider to be the reality of modern life. It’s beautiful beaches, unique culture, and unwavering commitment to living the “island style” life makes this a place where modern tech and its pitfalls feel like they’re forbidden to exist. If you’re looking for an escape from reality while being immersed in a really cool place, look no further.