"Aaaah ... Zanzibar !!" Zanzibar Island by maharaja_joe

Zanzibar Island Travel Guide: 418 reviews and 948 photos

As the ferry leaves Dar Es Salaam, you can the color of the water turn from grayish green to turquoise blue. 2 hours later, the same color greets you as you approach the island of Unguja, called wrongly by outsiders as Zanzibar. Actually the Zanzibar islands comprise of Unguja and Pemba. The main city of Unguja is Stone Town, right next to the port. As you walk the streets of Stone town, you are immediately transported to a land of Omani Sultans, Indian merchants, African slaves, and Dr. Livingstone. The fresh catch from the sea includes barracudas, sharks, octopuses, squids, mussels, and many others. One can see the fishing boats and the dhows move slowly along the waters, the view obscured only by the coconut palms on the sea shores.

Zanzibar first attracted the Shirazis from Persia, followed by the Germans and then the Omani Arabs who took full advantage of the resources of the region to supply the East with spices, ivory and slaves. It sickens the stomach to read literature and see monuments related to the slave trade. It is said that nearly fifty thousands slaves were traded in Zanzibar every year. They were hunted along with the elephants from inland Africa, sometimes as far as Lake Tanganyka, near the Tanzanian border with Congo. After carrying the ivory and goods across the savannah, they were kept in slave chambers. The ones who could not make the journey were left to die. I stayed at the site of the former Zanzibar slave market, now converted to an Anglican church and hostel. The hostel is built right above the slave chambers, and one can visit the chambers. The conditions were abysmal .. surprise surprise ! On market day, the slaves were tied to a post and whipped to prove their resilience to potential buyers. Once the transaction was over, they were “shipped” in slave ships to the plantations in Zanzibar, Madagascar, and parts of Arabia. The British finally stopped the slave trade, much to the disappointment of the Sultan. This was due to the monumental efforts of people like David Livingstone, and due to the fact that slave labour from Zanzibar was helping the French colonies become richer. Clearly, the British could not have any of that.

In the mean time, Zanzibar became a famous trading port, attracting business from the west coast of India, parts of Indonesia and Arabia. Zanzibar was once known as the clove capital of the world, and it was rumoured that sailors could smell the cloves from way out in the sea. Other spices and fruits were grown too, mostly brought in by traders who came in by the droves. As people settled here, the language and culture of the land began to change. Arab settlers from the coast (sahil) mingled with the Bantu people from the interiors to form the language of Kiswahili. This went through further metamorphosis as Indian traders arrived from the West coast, and finally the language of Swahili. The name of the language literally means: of the coast (Sahil). The language spread to the interiors, and finally after independence, it became the official language of the land.

When the British finally left Zanzibar, the Shirazis of Zanzibar formed a political party, overthrew the Sultan and during the unrest of 1964 they killed about twelve thousand people Indian and Arab ethnicities in a single night. Things have become better, and Zanzibar merged with the neighboring country of Tanganyka to finally form Tanzania.

Now Unguja island attracts people because of Stone Town, with its winding alleys of houses, mosques and churches. Many of the old houses have now become hotels, and the ones on the coast offer breathtaking views of the sea. The beaches in the remote corners of the island beckon with their pristine sand and beautiful coral. I spent most of my time in a tiny fishing hamlet near Kismkazi with three really cool German dudes: Eike, Thorben and Marian. People here fish for a living, and the only market they have is made up of 5 wooden boxes under an acacia tree, lit with kerosene lamps. Four out of the five sold fried fish, and the fifth one sold Chapattis. I could see the milky way during my walks back to the campground.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful beaches, great sea food
  • Cons:Stone town is touristy
  • In a nutshell:A great end to a backpacking trip through East Africa
  • Last visit to Zanzibar Island: Mar 2007
  • Intro Updated Mar 29, 2007
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  • DAO's Profile Photo
    Mar 29, 2007 at 8:10 AM

    Thanks for visiting my Zanzibar page MJ. Your tips are really well written and informative. All the best!

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