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 Zanzibaris 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 slaves. She kept many lovers and when she grew tired of one, she had him beheaded and ordered her slaves to bury his head under a mango tree that was to be newly planted. Soooooo… each of these 240+ mango trees represents a beheaded 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 tree seedlings or she might have found THE PERFECT MAN (hey, it’s a story after all…) This alley is beautiful but very creepy and I always slow down when I drive through it. Quite a few accidents happened there. Talking about ghosts?
A few km after that, you get to a brand new traffic circle. If you turn right here, you are on your way to Unguja Ukuu. This was the very first village on Zanzibar. According to archeological findings there, the city dates back to the 8th or 9th century! You can see still 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 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 by car 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.
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 their 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 south 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 Zanzibari 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.
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 south 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. There you have a choice of turning left to the south east coast, or carrying on straight to the south coast.
If you stay on this road (you will then get to the south east coast later after you completed the tour around the south 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 Zanzibar and how to protect it.
After a few more kms you get to Kizimkazi. It once was 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 at a time to the open sea. 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 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 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 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 east coast of Zanzibar. 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, small shops as well as blocks 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 structure 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 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 numerous staff.
After about 2 km toward the east coast, turn left onto a new tar road that brings you past Jambiani to Paje.
When you passed Jambiani, after about 5km you will see the “Supaduka” building as well as the brand new ice cream place on your right hand side – turn right onto the sand road. The ice cream place also offers delicious smoothies. I also had a very decent Tiramisu there. Opposite is the pink double storey Kijiji building, with a supermarket upstairs. Follow the sand road around the corner of the building 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 popular village at the southeast coast and the preferred spot for kite surfing. Just watch the kite surfers from one of the many restaurants or while lazing at the beach. My favourite spot there is Mr. Kahawa right at the beach. Great coffee, freshly made super healthy juices and good food, best place to put up your feet and chill. Check out their facebook page.
Drive back to the tar road and turn right. After 50m or so you’ll see a small pink walled shop ABBAS MINI MARKET on your right hand side. There you can buy utterly delicious freshly baked sourdough bread (white or wholeweat) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, usually available in the afternoons. Although the shop is tiny, they have a very good selection, at fair prices. The shop keeper speaks English.
(In case you need petrol, turn left at the roundabout, the petrol station is just after the police stop. There is also an ATM at the petrol station.)
Carrying on, you’ll get to a traffic circle, take the 2nd exit, heading north. (If you opted to skip the south coast at Kitogani, turn left at the traffic circle).
After the second street hump, look out for the sign of the Seaweed Center on the right hand side. This is a wonderful socially responsible business initiative that provides mostly 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 natural soaps, body butter, creams and amazing oils from seaweed that are sold locally, and beginning to be distributed throughout East Africa and Europe. Do yourself a favour and go on the tour that the Seaweed Center offers. Do stock up on their amazing products (I love their pure lemon grass oil, great to keep mosquitos away too), they also make excellent gifts.
Bwejuu is a small village 5 km north of Paje. 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.
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 Zanzibaris 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 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 take a guided tour of Bwejuu I highly recommend Mr. Mchenga (+255 777 465530), he speaks excellent English. He also organizes snorkelling in the Blue Lagoon. In case you want to hire a scooter you can also contact him, he will get the required driving permit too (please bring your original driver’s license from your home country).
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 regarded as a “must” visit on Zanzibar because of its unique position on a rock. At low tide, you can walk the few meters from the beach, at high tide a boat brings you there.
The photo was taken from the pool of Upendo Retreat, one of my favourite places, chilled atmosphere, well stocked bar and good food.
Highly recommended: Do check out the shop of Jenga, at the beach opposite The Rock, between Upendo and the parking area. It is one of the Fair Trade initiatives 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 – and you are supporting and uplifting the locals!
From here, the tar road leads to (Kae) Michamvi, a peninsula with a unique position that allows you to watch glorious sunsets – even though you are at the east coast. When I first visited this area 10 years ago I named it Robinson Crusoe beach: remote, untouched, enchanting. A few beach resorts were built there in the meantime. This is still my favourite beach for swimming.
As I wrote earlier, the road ends here. You cannot cross the Chwaka Bay lagoon, there is no ferry. To get to the northern part of the east coast, you now have to drive back to Paje. At the traffic circle turn right, after about 10 km at the T-junction of Kitogani, turn right again. Follow that road through Jozani Forest and Pete. When you get to the big traffic circle, turn right onto the brand new road (on google maps it’s called UNNAMED ROAD). This road leads you through beautiful rice plantations. They are the most beautiful during rainy season (April/May) when they flower.
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 further you get to the turnoff toward Mwera and Stone Town.
If you stay on that road (ignoring the turnoffs to Tunguu and Mwera/Stone Town) you are your way to the north coast through the central part of Zanzibar. It is a beautiful drive.
If you turn left at the intersection 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.