Zanzibar – an island of mystery. Spice. Slave trade. Muslim. Reef dives. These are the usual words you’ll hear associated with this fascinating island. I’d wager a guess that few from the US would be able to find it on the map. Sitting off the coast and officially now part of the Republic of Tanzania, this island has everything from hostels for the backpacking crowd to the highest end resorts. As Tanzania is primarily Christian, Zanzibar is primarily Muslim. I recommend to read up on the cultural norms of this so not to offend. I did not witness any ugly tourism, but we had been warned of women, even families that had been spit on in Stonetown for wearing inappropriate outfits. My advice: be respectful and curious.
After two amazing weeks of safari with Overseas Adventure Travel, I had planned a side trip before our 48 hour trip home (5 flights, 3 continents from Southern California). Not being avid divers, or into the European party scene (several resorts are owned by some crazy Italians apparently), we settled on the east coast of Zanzibar in the area of Bwejuu. The setting is Anna of Zanzibar.
Niccy, Michael, and the whole Anna staff were amazing. We had a beautiful villa for 5 days with a view of the ocean. I woke up early each morning, picked up a nice coffee from the kitchen and went out to watch the locals move quietly through the reef as the sun came up over the horizon. Spectacular.
A walk down the beach in the morning makes you feel like you are the only foreigner on the island. The men are either working on their boats, or heading to the outer reef and beyond to fish and gather octopus. The women wade through the shallows in their colorful dress looking for the best grasses. It is very easy to walk among the reef and there are sea stars (starfish) of many colors, sea urchins, fish of all kinds, and lots of places to explore. Be careful to not be too far out when the tide starts to come back in! It will come in quickly so try to keep a sand bar path in mind as you work your way around the pools and shallows.
Niccy also arranged for us to have a quick visit to the Rock for some fotos. The Rock is a restaurant that can be walked to at low tide, or a boatman will take you across the channel at high tide. The color of the water is a teal like you’ve never seen. Although the food is mediocre at best, having a drink here at sunset is an experience that you should not miss if you are on this side of the island.
One day, we hired a guide to drive us across the island to spend the day in Stonetown which was well worth exploring. There are several luxury hotels and chains moving quickly into Stonetown, and my hopes abound that this jewel does not turn into a bustle of drunk tourists spoiling the traditional muslim way of life here. A visit to the market should be one of the highlights. Markets in general have to be one of the recurring questions that I ask just about everywhere I stay. Ask for the ‘local’ market, night market, art or craft market, etc and avoid the tourist traps. The market in Stonetown has many alleyways filled with spices, fruits and vegetables, and fish. A small section for meat (thankfully for my vegetarian daughter) is off to the side. If you arrive in the morning, you can witness the fish auction where the fisherman display their catch on a large concrete centerpiece and bid for local restaurants.
Stonetown is also home to the land of beautiful doors. Numbering almost 1000, these doors are in various stages of renewal. The beauty and craftsmanship of the doors is incredible and said to be a business card and sign of wealth of the residents behind. The out-thrust brass fittings were taken from India where they were said to repel war elephants brought in to bash down the doors. I don’t think there were any issues like that in Zanzibar, so taking that they were merely decorative. There are many sites that detail the markings and symbolism on the doors, and all quite interesting to find out more about these gorgeous entryways.
A very interesting place to visit is the Catholic Church near the slave chambers, and also in near proximity to the Muslim mosque. The architecture, windy alleyways filled with children and the occasional motorbike make for a lovely stroll after the bustle of the market. You’ll find shops for kangas (headdresses), antiques, and colorful owners trying to encourage your attention for tours and gifts.
A 45 minute ride back over to Anna’s allowed us to see the countryside in full view. Food stalls in the small towns along the way, a monkey here and there, and cattle herded down the street. Also frequent were the rumbling open-sided mini buses called dala-dalas which were a lesson in color given the Muslim heritage of the island.
There was little downside to the trip. The bugs were few although we brought plenty of bug spray and sunscreen. The pool was delightful for a dip, and the ocean at high tide had 20-30 meters of swim zone. The only issue we really had with bugs was when a local creepy crawler, the caterpillar crawled across my youngest daughter’s foot at dinner one night. The next morning she was in incredible pain. The hairs from the little critter has a toxin which caused heavy swelling and pain for days. Niccy had some creme that we kept on and ibuprofen for the swelling. It put a slight damper from her side of things, but thankfully our diligence got it mostly cleared up by the time we boarded our first flight home.
At Anna, the staff are all superstars – attentive, friendly, 5 star service all around. Mr Lisa is the lodge cat, and will welcome you with purrs and rubs all day long. The food on both the daily menus and vegetarian menu were nothing short of spectacular every meal of the day. On one particular afternoon, one of the ever-present staff asked my daughter if she wanted anything to drink by the pool. He was perplexed by the notion of a smoothie, but promptly invited her to come into the kitchen and demonstrate. The chef and assistant took care of finding the ingredients and handling the sharp objects, whilst my daughter explained everything along the way. I’m confident if we were to return, we would surely find a variety of healthy smoothies have found their way onto the Anna menu!
I was not reimbursed for any of this review, and all opinions are mine alone.