As far as exotic holiday destinations go, Zanzibar offers it all. The archipelago has a rich history that is evident wherever you go. There are Arabic, African and European influences at play, intermingling effortlessly to make Zanzibar truly unique.
The main island is Unguja. Here you will find Zanzibar’s capital, Stone Town. It is said that shetani (spirits) wander the city and can be seen in every corner. No nook or cranny is safe from them. In fact, they share the streets of the city with its living residents as if they have every right to do so.
The city streets are long and winding narrow paths that lead you past a multitude of mosques and homes. The Arabic influence is strong, as evidenced by the heavy wooden doors with Quran quotations engraved in brass. All the streets of the city finally converge on the Darajani Bazaar, Forodhani Gardens and the House of Wonders. These magnificent and quaint local attractions are to be found on the Old Town’s seafront.
Cultural influences in Zanzibar
Zanzibar’s history is richly interspersed with many cultures and religions. There is a 20,000-year history of human habitation of these exotic islands. It was once used as a trading outpost for the Arabic traders who plied their wares to East African countries. The influence of the Muslim religion brought by the traders is richly ingrained in the culture of the country. Arabic continues to be an official language in Zanzibar.
The Swahili language that was developed as a result of the Arabic traders’ association with the region still exists today and is widely spoken across the islands. It is also an official language. The colonial influence of the Portuguese, who ruled the islands from 1499-1964, remains as well. Today, it is a semi-autonomous region of its nearest continental neighbor, Tanzania. The culture of the islands is a distinctly unique mix of Arabic and African influences, making it an interesting place to visit.
The Spice Islands
Aside from tourism, Zanzibar’s principal export is the spices grown on huge plantations. These plantations are hundreds of years old. Many of the methods of farming have remained unchanged and untouched by technological advancement. The staple diet in Zanzibar consists largely of the fresh fish caught off its coast. Fishermen in traditional boats called dhows make their daily catch and sell it at the market.
The dhows are also a popular tourist attraction, taking parties out to some of the islands’ diver paradises. Zanzibar has received the World Travel Award for being a leading diving destination. The pristine beaches allow visitors to soak up the sun in tranquil settings. There are watersports available at some of the beaches for adventurous spirits in need of an adrenaline injection. One of the best beaches Zanzibar has to boast is Bwejuu. It has been named one of the world’s best beaches more than once. It’s busy but still offers visitors serenity.
Some of the best restaurants on the islands include the Livingstone Beach Restaurant. Here, you can sample some ‘dawa.’ Translated from Swahili, this means magic potion. It is a citrus- and honey-flavored delight. Better yet, you can enjoy it as a cocktail with a shot of vodka. It’s a delicious drink that will transport you back to the magic of Zanzibar whenever you taste it. However, be warned: It’s potent!
While you’re dining out, you must sample some of the delicious local dishes. The local cuisine has Middle Eastern, Portuguese and Indian elements in it. Combined, they make for a special flavor profile few people can resist. Seafood features strongly in most traditional dishes in Zanzibar. Octopus is especially popular.
Traditional Zanzibarian music is called Taarab. Rooted in Swahili culture, it is played by an orchestra of special instruments and incredibly entertaining. One of the best places to visit is the Culture Music Club. Here, you can see Taarab at its very best.
The Darajani Market sells traditional foods. You can buy fresh seafood, vegetables and spices there. Another place that is a must-see is the Forodhani Night Food Market, which is found at the Forodhani Gardens. All of Zanzibar’s cuisine is on offer here, with ample opportunities to sample it in all its glory.
A visit to Zanzibar would be incomplete without going to Jozani Forest. This is a well-known national park in Zanzibar. The endangered red colobus monkey calls this place home. You can observe these amazing animals in their natural habitat. There is plenty to see when it comes to plants, wildlife and birds. A nature lover’s paradise, Jozani Forest will keep visitors returning again and again.