The thing to remember about Zanzibar is that it is not very big. You could race around the whole of Unguja (Zanzibar Island) in a day, so short are the distances. On the other hand, there is so much atmosphere and culture to absorb, that you could take months.
Similarly scaled down are many of the places of interest. When we talk of a zoo in Zanzibar, it only has a few animals, there is no entry turnstile and the guide is also the owner, vet, barman and ticket collector. When we visit a ruin, there are not acres of spectacularly towering remains, a cafeteria and museum. More likely there are just a few crumbling walls, set up on a beautiful promontory, around which you can stroll alone or accompanied by local children. Even the East Coast beaches, which run for mile upon mile, are not on the whole lined with hotels, bars and restaurants – just simple, family-run guesthouses and coconut villages where seaweed lies drying by the roadside and local people pull water from wells by hand.
Here in Zanzibar you soon learn to appreciate the detail. You can travel halfway across the island to visit a village, to find on arrival that the only life there is the goats and ducks by the roadside. Only once you have strolled around the little bay, found the shade, nattered with the local fishermen and watched the boats bob up and down on the lagoon do you start to think it may not have been a wasted journey. Later, after having a drink at the local shop, watching a boat unload its exotic catch of shark and octopus and marvelled at some enormous baobab trees, you finally depart to arrive back at base having had an excellent day out.
Similarly, as evening draws on at the guesthouse or lodge, the locals produce their bao and draughts boards and the night passes gently with a drink and a laugh. There seems no need for any greater entertainment.
There are those who do not see this Zanzibar. Those who fly in from distant countries and are whisked away to resort hotels. For these people, Zanzibar is a picturesque back-drop for their holiday, but its sights are unspectacular, its infrastructure poor and its people are nameless faces. These unfortunate visitors never gain the benefit of slowing to Zanzibari life and absorbing the Zanzibari style.
It is out around the island of Unguja that you will meet the real Zanzibar. The country people, as is commonly the case, are genuine, modest and reserved towards strangers. But for those visitors who make the effort to break the ice, they will be met with incomparable hospitality and a wonderful sense of humour. For this reason, it is invaluable to travel with a Swahili speaker, for although the barriers of language can be partially overcome, a deeper appreciation can only be obtained through idle conversation.
Unguja is easy to get around, whether on a public bus, by bicycle, hired car or minibus. All journeys are easily navigated and negotiated with the assistance of a good map. There is some excellent accommodation in a few small pockets on Zanzibar, but it can take some finding in amongst a fair amount of mediocrity and booking in advance is essential for the best places, which are usually full all year round. Whether looking for a few days on the beach or an intense traveller’s itinerary, it would be very difficult not to have a good time on Unguja.
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ZANZIBAR ISLAND : NORTH : 01 : Fuji Beach to Bububu >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : NORTH : 02 : Mawambini and Mangapwani >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : NORTH : 04 : Kendwa and the north west >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : NORTH : 03 : Nungwi and the northern cape >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : CENTRAL : 07 : Chwaka & Uroa >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : CENTRAL : 06 : Kiwengwa >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : CENTRAL : 05 : Matemwe and Mnemba >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : SOUTH : 10 : Stonetown to Josani >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : SOUTH : 12 : Kisimkasi >>>
ZANZIBAR ISLAND : SOUTH: 8 & 9: The south-east coast >>>