If you still haven’t taken your summer vacation, or booked your Eid Al Adha getaway, why not consider booking a trip to the heavenly island of Zanzibar? The island has an abundance of things to see and do, from white sandy beaches, unbeatable nature reserves, rich cultural history and delicious food; there’s no reason why Zanzibar shouldn’t be your next destination.
Located in the Indian Ocean archipelago off of Tanzania, the then-mysterious island was given the name Zanzibar (zinj el barr) by Arab traders in the 19th century to describe its chiefly black population. Today the island is most notorious for its dreamy beaches, but Zanzibar still stands in the shadows of its dark history as one of the main ports for the Middle Eastern slave trade. Consequently, Omani Arabs have had a huge influence on the island (Sultan Seyyid Said made Zanzibar City his capital instead of Muscat), which has created an interesting marriage of East African traditions mixed with Middle Eastern Muslim practices.
So whether you’re into luxury beach hideaways or culture-rich vacations, Zanzibar has it all.
Explore Stone Town
Zanzibar City’s old town—which is a UNESCO world heritage—will probably remind you of the winding medinas of the Arab world. Influenced by its Arab, Indian and European history, Stone Town is a typical East African trading town, which embodies its diversity whilst also retaining its indigenous identity.
The House of Wonder
This iconic palace, which is also known as Beit Al Ajaib, is situated right on the seafront and was initially built by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial house. The building was also one of the most avant-garde, modernist buildings in the whole region during the 19th century. Aptly named the House of Wonders, it was the first building to have electricity and running water, and until today, it’s still the tallest building in the harbour. In collaboration with the Palace Museum, the House of Wonders now hosts exhibitions on Swahili culture and Zanzibar’s Omani history.
Get lost down the narrow and buzzy labyrinth lanes of Stone Town and stop at the crowded Darajani Market to buy rare spices and jewellery. Be sure to visit the market first thing in the morning if you want to experience an authentic (and hectic) experience.
The Spice Tour
Known as the world’s “spice island”, spices are an essential part of Zanzibar’s trade economy. As a result of its culturally mixed history and tropical climate, Zanzibar is also home to various spices such as chilli and cacao, and most importantly cloves – the island’s most popular domestic product. Spice tours, which include lunch, are easily available and not to be missed, especially if you’re a foodie.
The Slave Market Site
Commanded by Arab traders until it got shut down by Sultan Bargash in 1873, under the influence of the British, Zanzibar’s slave market was one of the world’s largest open slave markets in the world. The island can be so idyllic that it can be easy to forget the island’s violent and controversial history when you’re busy enjoying its paradisiacal beaches. Be sure to take a break from your tanning session and take some time to understand Zanzibar’s tragic history.
Open 9am-6pm daily, UAED 20 / USD 5
Diving and Snorkelling
With some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world, Zanzibar is a great spot for snorkelling and discovering otherworldly coral gardens beneath its crystalline waters.
Approx. UAED 480 / USD 130 for a day.
Eat at The Rock Restaurant
Eating at The Rock is an experience in itself. Literally perched on top of a large rock in the middle of the ocean, The Rock is where you go if you love seafood. Supplied by local fishermen, the restaurant offers fresh, simple, delicious food – as well as a breathtaking panoramic views. Be sure to try their insanely big seafood platter which is piled high with lobster, prawns, king fish and marinated vegetables.
Where to Stay
Park Hyatt Zanzibar
If you’re looking for an elevated experience (while still embracing the local history of Stone Town) book a sweeping sea-view room at the Park Hyatt, which is said to serve the best breakfast in town.
A Park King room at Park Hyatt starts from UAED 1520 / 414 USD per night.
Baraza Hotel & Spa
Zanzibar’s most exclusive five star property is home to 30 spectacular private villas, each inspired by the opulent architecture of the Omani sultan’s villas of the 19th century. Located along Paje beach (which Condé Nast Traveller deemed of the world’s 30 best beaches), a room at Baraza is perfect if you’re looking for serenity and an inimitable luxury beach experience.
Prices for an Ocean Front villa at Baraza Hotel & Spa start from €3,100 per night.