Discover Zanzibar south of Stone Town

On the way from Stone Town to the south of Zanzibar you will drive through an alley of Mango trees (at the village “Bungi”). There is a weird story about these mango trees – I counted 120 Mango trees on either side of the road that grow close together. There are more though with some distance between them.  I’ve heard from many different Zanzibarians that Princess Bi Khole had these trees planted – you can view the ruins of her palace here, look out for the sign on the roadside. According to the legend, Bi Khole Binti Said bin Sultan was the most beautiful of all the Sultan’s daughters and used her beauty to bewitch men. The story goes that at an Arab Sword Dance at the palace, one participant was so enthralled by her beauty that he didn’t even notice that he had cut his knee. Princess Bi Khole then realized what effect she had on men and used it to still her seemingly unquenchable desire especially for beautiful young men. She kept many lovers and when she grew tired of one, she had him beheaded and ordered her slave to bury his head under a mango tree that was to be newly planted. Soooooo… each of these 240+ mango trees represents a lover of Princess Bi Khole… She is also said to have wanted to extend the alley of mango trees all the way to Stone Town…. Well, luckily for these young men she must have either run out of mango trees to be planted or she might have found THE PERFECT MAN (hey, it’s a story after all 🙂 )  This alley is very creepy though and I always slow down when I drive through it.  Lots of accidents happen there.  Talking about ghosts?

Bungi mango tree alleyBi Khole ruins

A few km after that, you get to a brand new traffic circle. If you turn right here, you are your way to Unguja Ukuu. This was the first village or city on Zanzibar. According to archeological findings there, the city dates back to the 8th or 9th century! You can see some ruins there. A very knowledgable man on Zanzibar, Mwalimu Chende, explained to me that Unguja Ukuu started to break up when people began to look for other areas to settle. During this period of exploring other suitable areas to live, some people went straight across the island to the south east coast and selected an area which they named “Bwejuu” as the perfect spot to settle (I cover Bwejuu further down on this page).

From Unguja Ukuu leads a very rough road through the Mangroves to Uzi island. You can only reach Uzi island at low tide! The road is completely flooded at high tide, watch out!

Info ex http://www.zanzibar-ecotourism.org:

“Little has changed in Uzi during the last centuries. Most of the island’s 5000 people are fishermen and farmers. Visitors to Uzi can experience pristine rural Zanzibar like it cannot be found elsewhere on Zanzibar’s main island Unguja.

The island is located in the Menai Bay Conservation Area which forms an important ecosystem of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, islands with fresh water forest, coral reefs and a large diversity of plants, land and water animals, including dolphins, African Sea Eagles, and protected marine turtles – a heaven for anyone enjoying nature.

A visit to Uzi might include a guided ecological tour to the Sea Turtle Lagoon and mangrove areas, and visiting Uzi village where traditional activities such as weaving, carving, henna painting, local crafts, seaweed farming and home cooking can be experienced.

sea turtle conservation on Uzi island

sea turtle conservation on Uzi island

Ecotourism and cultural tourism activities in Uzi are offered by Uzi Island Conservation Society, an initiative of proactive Uzians, Zenith Tours and World Unite!. Your visit to Uzi does not only help to create employment in Uzi, but all profits of the tours are being used for our conservation program which includes marine turtle conservation, environmental education and the creation of environmentally-friendly and sustainable income-generating activities for the local population of Uzi.

On your trip to Zanzibar, make sure not to miss Uzi Island! Its friendly people welcome you to experience their beautiful nature and rich culture!”
If you are coming from Unguja Ukuu and you want to skip the south coast (which would be a pity), carry on straight at the traffic circle onto a brand new road leading to the so-called Chwaka Road. This is the quickest connection to the northeast coast. (If you opted to first discover the south coast, take this road on your way back. There is no direct way from the southeast coast to the northeast coast, because of the Chwaka Bay Lagoon – you cannot cross the lagoon by car, there is no ferry).

To get to the southeast coast coming from Unguja Ukuu, turn right at the traffic circle. (If you skipped Unguja Ukuu, carry on straight at the traffic circle.) Just after the village of Pete, slow down for a long left curve. At the end of that curve you’ll see a sign Zanzibar Butterfly Center.  This is an interactive butterfly exhibit and consists of a netted tropical garden with usually hundreds of butterflies, all of them native species to Zanzibar.  The butterflies (in pupae form) are farmed sustainably by people from the villages around the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park and provides much needed income for the Zanzibarian women of this area.

About 1 km further on the tar road and after negotiating a few street humps you get to Jozani Forest National Park, home of the Red Colobus Monkeys.  They only live on Zanzibar, nowhere else in the world. I heard that these monkeys need a diet of 70 different leaves, berries etc to survive, which only grow at the Jozani National Park.  They live freely in this huge national park.  Some of them are quite cute actors, they pose for the cameras as if they were Beyonce or Jay-Z (no similarity in looks of course). A guide will show you the indigenous plants and trees and possibly even tell you about their medicinal purposes while you are surrounded by playing monkeys.

Red Colubus Monkey

At the same time, you can also view the mangroves on the other side of the tar road with the same guide, very interesting. They built comfy board walks over the water.  There is also a turtle and snake farm on the premises.

Carrying on towards the southeast coast, you get after about 5 km to the village of Kitogani.  Here you find two petrol stations, one on your left, and the other after a few meters on your right. If you turn left here, you will get to Paje at the southeast coast.

If you stay on this road (you will then get to Paje later after you completed the tour around the southern coast of Zanzibar), then you are on your way to the south-western most tip of the island, Kizimkazi. After about 5 km you will see the sign “Zala Park” on the right hand side. It is a haven for reptile lovers, a special local zoo that features snakes, lizards, chameleons and more. Guides there will introduce you to all these local species, and even teach you a little about local witchcraft, the “juju”.  This zoo is a great project, teaching especially local children about the wildlife of Zanzibari and how to protect it.

Kizimkazi was once the capital when the island was under the power of the pre-Omani Wawinyi Wakuu and is considered to be the oldest habitation on the island. It is located in the remote southwest corner of the island, a little fishing village which happens to have rather ancient “Shirazi” origins. This part of the island is very different from the broad palm-backed lagoons of the east coast. Here a coral rag cliff elevates the waterfront above the ocean and the beaches take the form of small coves rather than broad expanses of sand. There are relatively few lodges or resorts in Kizimkazi.

For many years Kizimkazi has been best known as a location to ‘swim with dolphins’. In reality 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. As the taxi arrives at the parking lot – that is packed with minibuses and with tourists flocking towards the beach –  tourists realize that this has nothing to do with a tranquil or magical experience with dolphins.  Often 20 or more small motorboats head out of the shallow lagoon to the open sea at a time. 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 over the pod of encircled dolphins, some landing on top of the 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 hotelsswim with dolphins and resorts in 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 behavior and to respect and protect the dolphins.  It’s 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 behavior. This is for the sake of the Dolphins!

Best is if you go there in the afternoons, tide permitting, when most of the organized tours are finished. Tell the boat owners to take their time and to keep a distance safe for the dolphins. Then jump into the water and leave it up to these amazing and beautiful creatures to swim with you, or not.

For those in search of a cultural experience Kizimkazi is where East Africa’s oldest mosque can be found, the Kizimkazi Mosque. Unlike any other, non-Muslims can visit this place of worship. Despite its name, it is located in Dimbani, not Kizimkazi, which is about 5 km away. According to a preserved kufic inscription, it was built in 1107 by settlers from Shiraz. Although the inscription and certain coral-carved decorative elements date from the period of construction, the majority of the present structure was rebuilt in the 18th century.

Kizimkazi mosque Kizimkazi mosque

Kizimkazi Miza wa Miza cave
There is a story told about this cave:  A local chief had two women, an old one and a young one. He also owned a cave with a well, where it was forbidden to call someone by the name. His two wives went to the cave to fetch water. The older wife (apparently not happy about the younger wife) got her water first and hurried out of the cave. When she was outside, she called the younger wife, Miza, loudly by her name: “Miza come out quickly!”. Poor Miza turned immediately into stone, the stone can still be seen in the cave today. After this the cave was called Miza Wa Miza.

Now you are crossing over to the eastcoast of Zanzibar.  Just stay on the tar road leading out of Kizimkazi.  You will drive through Makunduchi. The town comprises two distinct settlements, about 2 km from each other, “Old Makunduchi” and “New Makunduchi”. Old Makunduchi is a small fishermen’s village, while New Makunduchi has some modern buildings, shops, as well as  some block of flats that were built in the 1970s with the aid of East German funds and engineers.

Makunduchi is mostly known for the Mwaka Kogwa or Mwaka Koga celebrations (“show of the year” – see photo below) of Shirazi heritage, that take place in July/August to celebrate the (Persian) New Year. In Mwaka Kogwa, a ritual battle is fought, at the end of which a hut is burned. Then, predictions are made for the new year, based on the direction taken by the smoke of the burning hut. Tours are organised to visit the festival and to explain and point out the customs.

Makunduchi festival

Makunduchi has one of the two cottage hospitals on the island of Zanzibar, which should serve the whole population of the South District. The renovation and improvement of the Makunduchi Hospital has been chosen as the flag project by the Health Improvement Project: Zanzibar (HIPZ), a charity initiative founded in 2006 with the intent of improving healthcare in Zanzibar according to public/private-partnership model. HIPZ’s Makunduchi Project has received support for the Zanzibar government and has already achieved several objectives, including the construction of a new Primary Health Care building, the establishment of a blood transfusion service, and the training of a numerous staff.

After about 2 km toward the east coast, turn left onto a new tar road that brings you to Jambiani, home of Mambo Poa Tours.  I just discovered them; besides the usual tours they also offer “off the beaten track” tours.  Herewith some interesting ideas – for more, please check out their website www.mambopoatours-zanzibar.com

Swahili cooking
Zanzibar has a unique cuisine and the food is delicious – flavoured with the amazing aromatic spices that have made our islands famous. Instead of going to one of the many restaurants (which do offer lovely food!), why don’t we watch how food is cooked in Zanzibar and you can make your own lunch or dinner? The tour guides have been trained in food production – both at home and during their studies; let them show you how to cook kachumbari (Zanzibari salad), chapati, ugali (maizemeal) and Swahili curry. Once you’ve cooked your authentic meal, you can sit down and enjoy it Swahili-style.

Alternative Zanzibar
Zanzibar has some places that reminds one of “Robinson Crusoe”, some abandoned buildings, such as a deserted hotel at the beach at Mtende. MamboPoaTours can drive you through the bush, take you on a bike ride and you can explore the abandoned buildings, where there are sometimes impromptu parties held by Zanzibaris.  If you wish, they can prepare lunch for you on the beach before returning to Jambiani. This trip may not be for the typical Zanzibar tourist, but if you want to see another aspect of the island and love atmosphere, then go for it!

abandoned places

Kuumbi caves
A hidden treasure in Jambiani – just about 2 km inland from  the village – is the Kuumbi cave complex, which plays an important role in the lives of locals, in the past and the present. They’ll take you on a short bike ride to the caves where you will hear stories and legends about these caves, which are still used today for religious purposes but also for water supply to the village. Few tourists ever see this special place, so you will be one of a select few.

Kuumbi cave

Village tours: These tours are not to be missed! Jambiani is a lovely village where tourism has become a major part of the economy but has managed to keep its local charm. They will proudly show you around their village and invite you to get an insight into local life. A village tour that will show you about local life – seaweed farming, holy forests, coconut rope production, local schools, or anything you’d like them to show you. If you are interested in education, they can take you to local nurseries, schools and training facilities. If you would like to learn about how locals earn their living, you will be shown seaweed farms, agricultural farms and the production of coconut rope, used in furniture making and more. The tours are flexible – let them know what you are interested in, and they will put together a fascinating tour that will leave you feeling part of the local community.

village tours

“All Mambo Poa Tours are in English (with a bit of Kiswahili thrown in). All the profit goes to locals and stays in Zanzibar, so you can have fun with a happy conscience! Prices are available on request and are always as affordable as we can make them for you while making sure staff all get a fair salary – just send us an email with your ideas and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible with a trip tailored just for you.”
Back onto the tar road and carry on toward north. After about 10 km you get to the village of Paje. As you see the “Supaduka” building on your right, turn right onto the sand road. Thereafter you see on your left a pink double storey building, Kijiji supermarket is upstairs. After you passed the supermarket, turn left on the sand road and head straight toward the coconut trees.  That gets you to the center of the “action” of Paje: restaurants, kite surfing, diving, you name it.

Paje boasts one of the most beautiful beaches of Zanzibar.  It is the most popular village at the southeast coast and the preferred spot for kite surfing.  Just watch them from one of the many restaurants or while lazing at the beach.

Paje beach at low tide

Paje beach at low tide

Drive back to the tar road and turn right, go around the traffic circle and head toward north. (If you opted to skip the south coast at Kitongani, turn left at the traffic circle). After the second street hump, look out for the sign of the Seaweed Center. The Seaweed Center is a social responsible business that provides female seaweed farmers in Paje with opportunities to improve their personal standard of living and develop economic activities that benefits the entire community. The project comprises a factory and gathering site to produce soaps and creams from seaweed that are sold locally and beginning to be distributed throughout East Africa. Stock up on their soaps, scrubs and creams (they make excellent gifts) and support their project at the same time.

seaweed center soapsSeaweed_Center_Women_NEW

Bwejuu is a small village 5 km north of Paje or 15 km north of Jambiani. Bwejuu was founded centuries ago by brothers that were coming from Unguja Ukuu, looking for a new place to settle and to live. Bwe-juu means “stone” (bwe) and “on top” (juu). Mwalime Chende explained to me that the brothers came many times to this area to check it out. When one brother died, he was buried here and to mark the grave, they put a big stone on top of it that they could easily find the grave again. This grave can be seen today still, it is close to an old well; a small roof was built over it.
Quite interestingly, the Shiraz dynasty also built a mosque during the same period when the Kizimkazi mosque was built (12th century); I was told that the mosque was destroyed by accident.

Bwejuu also has a huge hidden cave. It is said that it can hold up to  1000 people. It has sweet water, special herbal plants and plenty of positive energy.  The cave is a Bwejuu shrine and only Zanzibarians may enter it.

Other than that, Bwejuu is known for its wonderfully quiet beaches, for fishing and the harvesting of seaweed. The people of Bwejuu are the most friendly people I encountered on the island. The lanky swaying palms induce an attitude of relaxation and utter peace.  The locals are adamant that a ghost ship “Meli ya shangaani” appears some nights in front of the reef opposite the Palm Beach Inn Hotel and then vanishes again opposite Baraza beach.

If you’d like to find out more about the history of Bwejuu or Zanzibar as such, you are welcome to contact Mwalimu Chende on +255 777 456 146. He is a retired school teacher/principal and speaks fluently English and also conversational German. I highly recommend him as a guide for a tour of the area. He can also answer any question on any topic related to Zanizbar.

Bwejuu beach3

Michamvi/Pingwe – The Rock Restaurant

Of course, you’ve seen this photo on most of the Zanzibar websites.  About 15 km north of Bwejuu is Pingwe/Michamvi.  Look out for the wooden sign “The Rock”. Built on top of a small rock, this restaurant is a “must” visit on Zanzibar.  At low tide, you can walk the few meters from the beach, at high tide a boat brings you there. This photo was taken from Upendo Beach Lounge opposite The Rock Restaurant.

The Rock seen from Upendo

Highly recommended: Do check out the shop of Jenga, at the beach opposite The Rock and next to Upendo Beach Lounge.  It is a Fair Trade initiative of Melanie Steggink, owner of Bellevue Guesthouse in Bwejuu, to support the locals by providing a venue to market their beautiful crafts: dresses, hand bags, shoes, jewelry, etc. The ideal place to shop for stunning souvenirs and gifts for incredibly low prices!

Jenga shop in Michamvi

 

As I said earlier, you unfortunately cannot cross the Chwaka Bay lagoon at Michamvi, there is no ferry. To get to the northern part of the east coast, you have to drive back to Paje. At the traffic circle turn right, after about 10 km at the T-junction of Kitongani, you turn right again. Follow that road through Jozani Forest and Pete. When you get to the traffic circle, turn right onto the brand new road (on google maps it’s called UNNAMED ROAD). This road leads you through the beautiful rice plantations. I was told they are most beautiful during rainy season (April/May) when they flower.

rice fields

rice fields

This road ends at a T-juntion. If you turn right, you get to Chwaka Bay and to the coastal road through Uroa, Pongwe, Kiwengwa and Matemwe. If you turn left, you first get to the turnoff to Tunguu, 500m later in Dunga, you get to the turnoff toward Mwera and Stone Town. If you keep on driving straight, you are on the road towards north through the central part of Zanzibar. It is a beautiful drive. If you turn left toward Mwera, you are on the road back to Stone Town.

If you want to visit a spice farm on your own: In Mwera, turn right onto the only tar road branching off the main road (a GAPCO petrol station is on that corner, although a bit hidden). After you crossed 2 small bridges, you will see several spice farm signs on the road side.

6 thoughts on “Discover Zanzibar south of Stone Town

  1. Thank you for amazing blog and so helpfull tips!
    Can you please advise how to find/reach respectfull boat owners, to enjoy with dolphins, in the way they want. 🙂

    Like

    • Glad to hear you enjoy my blog.
      There is no list of considerate boat owners. You can try to tell them that you don’t want them to chase the dolphins, that they must switch off the motor of the boat when the dolphins are close, and that you will pay half the cost when you go on the boat and the other half when the trip is finishrd and provided you are happy with his conduct. Don’t know though if this will work. It’s worth a try.

      Like

  2. Thank you for this very valuable insight. Would you happen to know when the Mwaka Kogwa celebration is this year?
    Thank you

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s