Zanzibar has a long history the memory of which begins already with Yemenites roaming the area around 2,500 b.c.e. Throughout their history, the islands of this archipelago at East African coast have been visited by different nations from all over the world, whether as an important center of trade or for its strategic importance. Visitors have come and gone, some have stayed and left their traces in the culture and blood of Zanzibaris: Indians, Chinese, Omani Arabs, Phoenicians, Sumerians, Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Portuguese, British… All these cultures were absorbed with the typical African hospitality and mixed into a unique culture of its own: the Swahili culture, of which Zanzibar forms one branch.
This culture has another amazing trait, probably inherited through thousands of years of contacts with different traditions and cultures: tolerance. Mosques, churches, Hindu temples and even a Zoroastrian temple are found within only a few meters of each other, and all people live in peace and harmony with each other.
The Arab tradition is predominant in urban design and architecture of Stone Town, but even here we find some Indian, even Balouchi and Chinese influences. The traditional Zanzibari doors are of special interest, as there are two basic shapes: the round doors with the pointed spikes are of Indian origin, whereas the square ones with the rounded spikes are of Omani Arab origin.
On our city tour, which is a walking tour through the narrow streets of Stone Town that lasts approximately three hours, we will visit the House of Wonders (unfortunately only from the outside, as it is under reconstruction), which was the first house in Zanzibar to have electricity and current water, the first in all of East Africa to have an elevator, and where the shortest war in human history – 38 minutes! – took place. While absorbing the atmosphere of the narrow streets, admiring some of the most beautiful doors, up to four hundred years old, on the way, we pass by the Hamamni Bath, stroll through Darajani Market. We will also get in touch with the sadder part of Zanzibar’s history as a sales point on the slave route and visit the old slave market. In the end of the tour, we will enjoy a cup of excellent coffee at the Zanzibar Coffee House or other.
This tour is a half day tour and can be done in the morning or in the afternoon. A combination with the spice tour, which is another half-day tour, is ideal for a full day’s excursion.
Stone Town (1/2 day)
Spice farms on Zanzibar are not generally commercial growing operations with single species cultivation, but rather gardens with trees, shrubs and grasses all grown together in the shade of mango and jackfruit trees. It can be quite surprising to see the range of different plants from which spices are obtained, and the different methods by which they are extracted.
The popularity of spices has its origin in ancient times when one of the most common means of preserving food was that of drying it, especially meat and fish. Spices were needed in order to add flavor to meals, and in this way turned into a major trade as most spices grew only in South-East Asia. When the Omani Arabs made Zanzibar part of the Sultanate of Oman, they assumed that the climate in Zanzibar would be favorable to spice plants and decided, instead of importing spices from South-East Asia at very high cost, to try and grow them in Zanzibar. The experiment turned into a large success – although, unfortunately, at the cost of nearly all original rain forests on the islands.
Especially the cloves became famous – in particular those grown on Pemba – but also other spices grew, such as vanilla (which, not being an indigenous plant, up to this day has to be pollinated by hand!), turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and many others.
On this half-day tour through our chosen spice farm you will not only find out how different spices grow and from which part of the plant they are made, but also that all spice plants are medicinal plants, as well.
The tour can be done in the morning or in the afternoon. Please enjoy the lovely spice tea there and taste a variety of fresh fruit. Recommendation: Near the spice farm, Bi Maryam, a fantastic cook, prepares an excellent typical Swahili lunch buffet!
Spice Tour (1/2 day)
About 130 years ago, the original couple of tortoises was given to Zanzibar as a present from the Seychelles. Their offspring, and even one of the original couple, have lived on Changuu (“Prison”) Island ever since. The island’s original name is Changuu (named after a type of fish), but a prison for runaway slaves was built there. Fortunately, slavery was abandoned before the prison was completed, and the building was later used as a quarantine station for Yellow Fever. Today, there is a restaurant in the prison building.
Prison Island "Changuu" (1/2 day or less)
Until the Omani Arabs gave order to cut all the rain forests so as to plant spices, the islands were covered with swamp forests, evergreen thicket and mangroves. The last leftover of this original vegetation on Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, is Jozani Forest, located between the bays of Chwaka and Uzi.
Inside the lush forest with its warm humidity, its thicket below and its tall rare trees, you may well encounter a giant snail, a black monkey, a coconut crab or even a python. A little further, there are Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkeys swinging through the branches of trees, grooming each other or eating. They are good friends with the Black Monkeys – because theט do not compete for the same foodץ Again a few meters ahead we enter an amazing mangrove forest with roots that hold the trees like stilts in the water and branches of the sea entering the forest like rivers.
On the way to Jozani Forest, we will pass by the nearby Butterfly Farm which is trying to preserve the indigenous butterflies and at the same time to use them commercially. The villagers raise butterflies at their homes and in this way make some extra income, whereas the butterflies are sold for diverse purposes. Only few are kept in a big garden, protected by a net, so as to guarantee their continuing existence.
This excursion can be combined with a visit in a nearby beautiful cave that contains amazing stalagmites and stalagtites, as well as some amazing creatures such as bats and a large type of spider. Wear good shoes, as the cave requires a little climbing. After visiting the cave, we will see a local medicine man and get aquainted with the different herbss, roots, etc. that he uses to cure different ailments.
If the tour includes the cave and the medicine man, we will have a picnic lunch en route, and the whole excursion will last for one full day.
Jozani Forest and Butterfly Center (half day)
Including Cave and Madicine Men (Full day)
Zanzibar has a rich and ancient history. Many nations set foot on the islands, some stayed and mixed with the local population, others left or were driven out. All left their traces in the culture, language, and even faces of the people. On our tour of the ruins of Zanzibar (Unguja) we will explore different epochs and their history. For those who wish to see all the ruins, a second day is recommended, on which we can do the south and center of the island. Further ruins are found on the neighboring islands of Tumbatu and Pemba and visits to them can be booked on separate tours.
Ruins of Zanzibar (north or south, each full day)
For lovers lof the sea, the sun and of amazing nature… We begin at the peninsula of Fumba, visit the sandbank, snorkel and swim, possibly meet dolphins or whales on the way. In the end, we visit the old Baobab tree and then enjoy a lovely grilled seafood lunch.
Safari Blue (full day)
Pemba is the second largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago. Its culture is still largely unspoilt, as is its nature. Visit the historical ruins of the Masrui dynasty; get acquainted with the Pemba Fox, indigenous only to this island, which is a bat of 2 m wingspan; walk through Ngezi Forest, the last remaining indigenous forest on Pemba, enjoy Vumawimbi Beach, and visit Kisiwa Panza with its amazing five-branched palm tree; participate in a local ceremony, have a look at the Chake Chake museum.