The spice farm tour is highly recommended. They are only about 15km east of Stone Town. If you take the road to Mwera, turn left at the petrol station of Mwera. There are several spice farms to choose from, please check Tripadvisor for current reviews. You will walk through the spice farm with a guide who points out the plants, shrubs and trees of cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, lemon grass and all kinds of natural flavors and scents that everyone adores! You must try out the lipstick fruit, see photo below.
IN CASE YOU USE A TOUR OPERATOR: You will most probably be told that everything is included in the price, such as entrance fee, tour guides, transport, and possibly traditional lunch. I heard from different tour guides that it is quite common that the tour operators often “forget” to pay the tour guides, even when the tour guides remind them that they need to get their well earned money! That’s why they have to ask for a tip hoping to at least get some money. The tour guides are freelance, they are not employed by the spice farm. The tour takes about 2 hours, one hour longer if you booked a lunch. Often the tour guides go home after a long day’s work with no earnings at all because the tourists of course believe that they already paid for their service.
If you didn’t rent a car you can easily organize your own spice tour trip, it will work out cheaper too. Just negotiate with a local taxi driver the fee for bringing you to the spice farm and back. Check google maps to get an idea of the distance from your hotel.
The entrance fee to the spice farm is usually $10 per person. The tour guide should get $8-10. He has two assistants: one guy climbs up a palm tree to get coconuts, 2nd guy brings fruit and berries, makes hats etc of palm leaves (great gifts to bring home with), provides fruit to taste; they should get $3-5 each. Do your maths and then decide what’s the best option for you.
On your drive back to Mwera, do visit ZAASO, a non-profit NGO horse and donkey sanctuary. They also provide general animal clinic services. They do great work for the animals on Zanzibar by providing the community with education on Animal Rights, encouraging the affection and love of animals, initiate development projects to encourage the active participation of the community in the process of self empowerment and establish care, support and animal protection services to suffering animals in Zanzibar and Pemba.
Say hello to their donkeys, cows, horses, cats and dogs of all sizes. They are entirely funded through donations, they don’t get any support from the government. ZAASO is on the same road as Tangawizi spice farm, a bit closer toward Mwera, look out for the ZAASO sign on the roadside.
Now carry on towards Mweru. Turn left at the t-junction and stay on this road for about 8 km. As you can see you are now in a very fertile area, it gets the most rainfalls on Zanzibar. Here you get the freshest fruit on the island. I usually stock up at the roadside stalls in Dunga, just before the street bumps.
When you get to the t-junction at Dunga, turn right. Shortly afterwards, stay left and ignore the turnoff towards Tunguu, you are now heading towrds Chwaka Bay. After about 10 km you get to Jendele. A few km further is the area of the Ufufuma Forest Conservation Area with its spirit caves. This is a protected area that you can only visit by prior booking.
The Ufufuma Forest is a unique and little known attraction off the beaten track. You have the rare opportunity to explore the natural forest and its three sacred caves. This is also the area where the Zanzibar Leopard was last seen. Evidence of footprints and droppings where last found in the early 90s. Sadly, it is presumed that the Zanzibar Leopard is now extinct. If you are lucky you will see a dik-dik, a tiny Zanzibar antelope of only about 30cm tall. There will be a few Red Colobus monkeys playing in the trees and I’ve seen the most beautiful butterflies there.
I went on a tour with Mr. Makame, the son of Mr. Mustafa Makame, the founder of the Ufufuma Forest Conservation Tourism Project, a NGO for the protection and preservation of the history and culture of this area. Mustafa and other villagers asked the government many years ago that the inhabitants of the Ufufuma forest are granted ownership of the area in order to protect it from future development. Their request was successful. Tourists are very welcome to visit the area. Any income goes straight to the inhabitants but unfortunately it is not enough to stop them from cutting down trees for firewood.
Makame explained that each of the three caves are inhabited by a spirit (shetani). The caves are under the care of the local healer (medicine man) who needs to be asked for permission to visit the caves. The caves are used for traditional healing ceremonies and for worshipping. The locals who go to the healer for their ailments will first be given natural medicines. If all these healing efforts fail, the healer takes the patient to the caves to ask the residing shetani to assist. They start at the first cave, if the shetani cannot help, they proceed to the second cave. Before the third cave is entered special ceremonies must be performed and thereafter all participants move into this cave where the most powerful shetani resides.
We walked a while through the forest and some open ground and then approached the first cave. It is accessed via a short rocky path – rather wear some good sandals or shoes, flip flops are not suitable. Sets of white and red pieces of cloth hang from the outer edge of the small cave, as a symbol of peace and love. You will see these red and white cloths at the other two caves too. At the top of the path is a small fire place – it is lit in case the cave is occupied for healing as a “don’t disturb” sign.
The second cave is only a short distance away and has a steeper rocky access path than the first cave. This cave is larger than then previous cave and has two sections: The first area is for healing or worshipping, the second larger area is accessed through a quite narrow and low passage. It is used as a resting area since it is an amazingly cool space as if it was air-conditioned.
A further walk past a beautiful tall “silky cotton tree” – also on the photo collage below – leads to the third and final cave. This is a cave that is very deep and in my opinion very difficult to access. I saw quite a few bats flying in the cave which are said to protect the cave and also act as messengers for communications of the “King” (most important and powerful of the shetani) to other shetani. I did not explore that cave.
This is definitely a worthy experience, very much off the beaten track. The entrance fee is US$ 10 per person which goes straight towards the preservation of this area. The tip for the tour guide is extra. If required they can also organize transport for you.
For bookings please contact Mr. Makame on +255776664113 (also whatsapp) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
After this you can carry on your trip along the north east coast via Chwaka Bay, Uroa and Pongwe to Matemwe:
From here you can take boat trips to the Mnemba island reef. I heard from scuba divers that it comes close to the Barrier Reef. You can either snorkel or scuba dive.
Mnemba is owned by the government (reminds me of an old James Bond film) except for the part that’s occupied by a private resort. One needs a confirmed booking at the hotel in order to step on the island.
For many years Kizimkazi at the south east coast has been the best known location for ‘swimming with dolphins’. At Matemwe you can try your luck too. Sadly, also here this activity became a rather distasteful tourist trap which offers little chance of decent sightings. The tour coordinators assure tourists that this is an eco-conscious experience, indicating that operators take animal welfare and ethics into consideration – only to successfully sell the tours to unsuspecting tourists. Tourists only realize too late that this has nothing to do with a tranquil or magical experience with dolphins. Many small motorboats head out towards Mnemba island. There are quite some safety issues: the boats are quite small for the sometimes rough Indian Ocean and only a few of them have life jackets or other flotation devices on board. But the greatest concern is that the boats chase the dolphins. They then cut off a few of the pod by enclosing them in a small circle of boats, with the boat propellers running to keep the dolphins in the circle!!! It gets even worse: In some cases, tourists are encouraged to jump in right on top of the encircled dolphins. All of the boats keep their propellers spinning in the water as they herd the dolphins around and some tourists spotted what looked like propeller scars on the backs of a few of the animals. Complaints of tourists are ignored.
Many of the hotels and resorts on Zanzibar do not recommend these Dolphin tours anymore to their guests and also tell the boat owners why they don’t send them any guests anymore. This is the only way to force the boat owners to change their attitude and behaviour and to respect and protect the dolphins. It is a long way to go and I sincerely hope that the boat owners get the message soon and realize that neither tourists nor us residents accept this shocking antics. This is for the sake of the Dolphins!
I just was told that apparently the dolphins had enough of the mayhem and left the area. Good for them. If you want to have a chance to swim with dolphins – if they choose to do so – rather book a trip with Safari Blue (not to be mistaken with Blue Safari which is a cheap copy!). http://www.safariblue.net