I had no idea what to expect from this island in the Indian Ocean, 35 km off the coast of east-central Africa. Apart from Egypt and Tunisia, I had never been to Africa. To tell the truth, I felt a bit queasy before going there. My concerns dispelled as soon as we put our feet on the ground of the international airport. Well, „international“ – you can imagine. 🙂
Since the very first moment, I didn’t know where to look first. Zanzibar is so different from everything I have seen so far. Shanty towns, rusty roofs, shabby buildings. The country is poor and people’s lifestyle has nothing to do with the European habits. Local people are sitting at their doorstep, doing n-o-t-h-i-n-g. They are just outside, watching the street, sometimes maybe having a chat with their neighbors, but their overall inaction impressed me :). This was new for me.
Chaos, way to many people and cars at one place, disorder, noise – everything at once – but it somehow worked. I especially liked the local public transportation. Hop on – hop off 🙂 I didn’t dare to try it on my own, though.
Life behind the hotel resorts wall is like from a different planet. Everything is so cleaned, tidy, peaceful. What a striking difference. As much as I loved lying on the palm-fringed beaches with sunset cocktails in my hand, I actually preferred going outside the hotel and exploring the real Zanzibar.
Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City with lots of historical buildings that reflect its particular culture of the Swahili coastal trading towns. It used to be the capital in the era of the Zanzibar Sultanate and flourishing centre of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century. This cruel part the history when the slaves were brought to Zanzibar in chains to be sold is commemorated today by Slave Market Memorial. Very powerful to see it.
We also visited local fresh food market – killing and carving fish, blood and viscera everywhere, no hygienic conditions – welcome to Africa 🙂 A trip to a very small island that used to be a prison and now giant tortoises live there was 100% worthy. I just LOVED to be all around these big creatures.
Anyway, I felt very safe to walk around in small picturesque streets in the town. There is no hassle from shopkeepers and passers-by. If you want to start a conversation, the Zanzibar people are friendly, but nobody will bother you. Also, their mother tongue is Swahili, English is not automatic.
All in all, Zanzibar is for all romantic souls, idyllic never-ending white sandy beaches, balmy weather and warm and clear waters, but also for culture vultures and adventurers.