Zanzibar is a beautiful island off the east coast of mainland Tanzania, and is made up of 52 islands, two of which are large, Unguja (Zanzibar) and Pemba Island, and the remainder small islands.
Muslims, Hindus and Christians live harmoniously in Zanzibar, though the majority of Zanzibaris are Muslims. Local attitudes towards tourists dress code is very relaxed. On sight seeing tours, such as boat trips and island tours shorts and vests are the norm. When walking through the city of stone town, tourists are respectful of the local customs, and whilst still comfortably wearing my usual holiday gear, you will not see tourists walking through the city in a bikini top. Beaches are very laxed, and typical beach wear is worn by all.
The locals are very friendly, and generally curious to understand where you are from, and the intrigue heightens as a black female of African origin, but from the United Kingdom, by way of Jamaica. I was made to feel very welcome, and at home, though the warmth I experienced extends to all visitors to the island.
Similar to travelling to places like North Africa, and Turkey the locals actively try to encourage you to purchase through light conversation, though there does come a point, where you have to politely smile and keep on walking, otherwise you could spend the day talking to dozens of sellers willing you on to make a purchase.
With a full two weeks on the island, we decided to spend one week in tranquillity, a place called Matemwe, which is the North East of the island. We stayed in a boutique bungalow in the middle of a village, and by the coast. The bungalows were beautiful, though the manager of the hotel was truly awful, so I wont say a great deal, beyond stay clear of the Kasha Boutique Hotel. Staying here allowed for far more relaxation than I would have liked, and a huge reliance on taxi-ing across town to do sight seeing, visit beaches and to go partying. Matemwe was wonderful, but for me Zanzibar came alive on the second week, which was spent in the city of Stone Town, which is the South East of the island, and we stayed in a central location, at the Hilton, Shaghani Street (which comes very highly recommended), which was a 10 minute walk away from loads of great restaurants, the beach and shopping areas.
There are a few reasons that I love to travel, the first is change of scenery, the second is change in climate, and the third and most important is for the food. For this reason I am going to share with you my best food and drink experiences, along with my reviews of some other great things to do on the island.
Zanzibar’s culinary scene is a reminder of how history impacts the present, and how all that we experience today whether architecture, food, and traditions, they all are firmly routed in history. The Arabs, Indians, Portuguese and the British have all left a trail of their presence in Zanzibar, an whilst in some instances it was under the negative circumstances of colonisation, slavery, and trade wars. What remains there today is an island that has clear culinary ties with its past, which led to a diverse and amazing culinary experience there today.
Hilton Hotel, Shanghani Street
Like many large hotel groups, the Hilton hotel serve buffet style breakfasts very well, catering for all tastes every day. My most enjoyable breakfast was a traditional Zanzibari breakfast, of Beef Sausages with Spinach, Arrow Root, and Maharage ya Nazi (kidney beans cooked in coconut milk), which is also one half of Tanzania’s national dish.
Not a breakfast for someone wanting something ‘light’, it reminded me of a traditional Jamaican breakfast including Ackee and Saltfish, Yam and Green Banana, which my dad would have on a Sunday when I was growing up. A heavy breakfast, but delicious and flavoursome.
Breakfast at the Hilton is priced at $15 US Dollars (£11.53) per day.
Beach house restaurant and bar, Shanghani Street
This restaurant embodied the multicultural history of Zanzibar in both the interiors and décor of the restaurant, and also on the menu. The menu uses a map to pin point key influences, with accompanying dishes e.g Oman, India and Zanzibar. The beach house lured me in as I walked to another nearby location for lunch, because of the pristine reception and breath taking views, visible from the street.
I ordered the “Pemba Island Bouillabaisse”, which was mix of seafood served in a garlic, and pepper based broth including Crab, Red Snapper, Cigale, and topped with croutons. It was delicious, the seafood fresh and the service pretty good. Priced at 18,000 Tanzanian Shillings (£6.00)
For Traditional food
Lukmaan Restaurant, New Mkunazini Road
I have mixed feelings writing about this restaurant, it definitely is a must to visit, with a large range of traditional foods, at really low prices, though the service and disorder left a slight sour taste. Upon entering the restaurant, two things were not explained. The first is that you are able to order at the counter, and collect/pay for your food there, or you can opt for table service. The second is that prior to prayer and 45 minutes afterwards NO food is served, and so we proceeded to wait 1.5 hours for food that was already cooked, and simply needed serving. The clued up diners were able to wonder into the restaurant after pray time, and get served within 10 minutes! So the service left something to be desired, but the food was good.
We ordered eight dishes between two, which was far too much….but it all of came to a total of 14,000 shillings (£4.68)!
Emerson Spice, Secret Garden, Tharia Street
I absolutely adored this secret garden, so much so that I visited twice during my week in Stone Town. It is an example of when all things wonderful come together, and create magic. The team wearing vibrant mustard Kanzu’s (which is the traditional male clothing) were warm, hospitable and gave 10/10 attentive service. The pop of colour continued throughout the garden to crockery, napkins, and artwork.
The garden was surprisingly quiet, given that it was located in the middle of the shopping area, The high stone walls allowed for a lovely lunch and a well needed relief from the sun. Last but not least, the lunch was simple, flavoursome, fresh and great value for money. We ordered the Fish cakes, thought I forgot to take note of the price..I assure you like everywhere in Stone Town, it was good value for money.
Lunch, setting and service were absolute perfection.
Beach house restaurant and bar, Shanghani Street
Zanzibar is otherwise known as a “spice island”, due to the number of spices farmed, used domestically and also exported across the world. This is evident, whilst eating and drinking around Zanzibar, and very apparent in what I can only describe as the most delicious gin based cocktail, that I have EVER drank.
Going by the name of ‘Ginger Kiss’, it ingredients included spiced gin (of course), cinnamon, ginger, and spiced ice cream. Priced at 18,000 Shillings (£6.00)
Emerson on Hurumzi Restaurant, Hurumzi Street
Emerson on Hurumzi is a part of the same group who run the Emerson spice, secret gardens and tea rooms. What this group does very well is creating beautiful and comfortable spaces, with great food. My final night was spent sat on the floor enjoying a selection of tapas style dishes including Changu parcel, fish cakes and goat curry. Serving a fixed five course menu for $30 dollars (£23.34), and was also the only restaurant that I needed to book a table for throughout the two weeks in Zanzibar. With limited capacity, and being in pretty high demand, it was a necessity, two days in advance. A $10 deposit was also required to secure the booking.
For a refreshing drink
No idea where, random street corner!
Now I appreciate that the below is diabetes in a cup, and at home, I do not actually drink soft drinks or any drinks with added sugar. However I made the exception for my holiday, I fell in love with two sugar filled drinks. The first was Stoney Tangawizi ginger beer, and the second was sugar cane juice with lime. It was a lot of work for the seller to produce the sugar cane juice, but the results were sweet and refreshing.
In all of the reviews that I read, this was described as a night market (which it is), and a hub of local street food served by dozens of vendors (which it also is). What the reviews fail to mention is that in the same way there is ‘encouragement’ to buy in the shopping markets, this is mirrored here. The main difference is that 90% of the food vendors are selling exactly same food, as the vendor before and after, which is laid out for hours, and heated upon you selecting your options. Whilst the food is cheap, there are no prices listed on anything similar to tourist shopping area.
Possibly because I work within the industry, I am really mindful of food safety, and so I limited my purchases to a traditional mango soup, which is usually drank for breakfast by the Zanzibaris. This breakfast is also commonly available on street corners around Zanzibar, so I would suggest
Zanzibar’s beaches are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, white fine sandy beaches, with crystal clear blue seas. Dependent upon the time of year you choose to travel, the tide can effect the amount of seaweed on the beaches, and this varied from beach to beach.
My favourite beach in Zanzibar, this beach was a large open space, beautiful and clean. Its the type of beauty that you could simply sit and take in for the entire day, and so we did exactly that. The openness does mean that there is no shade on the beach apart from the restaurants. As well as restaurants, there are hotels, stalls and water sports available on this beach. Located on the far north of the island, this beach was a 45 minute drive from Matemwe.
Nungwi was a further 15 minutes north of Kendwa beach, and was another beautiful beach, with white fine sand, this time of the year suffered high tides with seaweed along the beach.
Kwale Island Beach
I was able to visit this beautiful beach on the Safari blue tour, which includes a boat ride, optioning snorkelling, visiting a Baobab tree, lunch, and the visit to the most beautiful sandbank. This beach was a 45 minute boat trip from Stone island.
If you want to go to a club that feels remotely African in anyway, avoid this club like the plague. For the same reason I do not want to go on holiday to eat English food, I do not want to go on holiday to party somewhere that looks and feels like England, where African’s are the minority, and those present were entertainment for the European men/women. Its the kind of place I avoid at home, and so definitely would not want to experience this in Africa. The music was euro techno/house, so all in all my idea of hell.
Bwani is a traditional club, playing different types of music, but mostly afro beats. It is really casual, and I would have felt overdressed if I had worn a party dress. It is mostly locals with a few tourists, and all in all good vibes, and it is on until 5am most nights of the week. The one area of this club that should be condemned are the toilets, they were truly GROSS.
A tapas restaurant by day, a cool bar with live music by night, and we stumbled across this bar we could hear the live music blaring out into the street as we walked back from dinner. We returned to this bar three nights in a row to see different reggae bands perform, and mixture of locals and tourists dancing away on the small dance floor. Good vibes.
6 Degrees North
A relatively small roof top bar, playing music on a Friday night, this was the place to go as Taperia finished fairly early at 12am. Good DJ (for me a good DJ plays the music I like..so that included R&B, Reggae, Hip Hop, and some pop music) , nice cocktails, but a really small space, good vibes and again a mix of locals and tourists.
This was described to me as a bar, but I would describe it as a community hall serving drinks, with a stage with a traditional Zanzibari band performing. What was lovely is that its the type of place that people go to with families, friends and partners, some of which got up to dance, with a 100+ audience, its the type of venue that exists to keep the traditions of old school music alive. It was 99% locals, the 1% was my friend and I, definitely one to check out.
Is a huge market mostly used by locals for food, textile, and general household items. Interesting to visit to have a wonder, and on the weekend is very busy. I purchased some material, and was able to find a dress maker to make me some clothing items for £7 a piece.
There are hundreds of stalls in the centre of Zanzibar, running along Gizenga Street, and Kenyatta Road, you could quite easily spend hours wondering around shopping for jewellery, paintings, arts and crafts, ornaments etc. Similar to the bazars in Morocco, the sellers enjoy the haggle, and you can usually push your originally quoted prices down by 60%, not because your mean, just because the sellers starting point always seems to be an over inflated price.
There are tons of different sight seeing tours available, I strongly recommend using Trip advisor for tour guides, as many tend to share the contact details of the tour guides, which was mostly my reference. There are many spice tours available, as spices are one of Zanzibar’s biggest exports, I visited tortoise aquarium’s, prison island, and a Stone town tour by foot, which was great to learn the history, whilst seeing what remains of history in different guises, one of the most powerful being the slavery museum.
In summary Zanzibar was safe, affordable, hot, full of beauty and great fun. The only downside was that the bees were humongous, the mosquitos ate there way through my deterrent, and chomped at my skin, and the bats at night were scary has hell!
Asante Sana (Thank you very much) Zanzibar, you were amazing!!
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