In general: Zanzibar is an archipelago made up mainly of “Zanzibar” – the local name is “Unguja” but it is internationally known as Zanzibar – and Pemba Islands, as well as over 50 small islands. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 40 km from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. The island is roughly 85 km long and 39 km wide.
You will find here picture postcard beautiful white sand beaches lined with coconut trees. Sports activities include scuba diving, kitesurfing, SUP, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, wind surfing; golf (only at Sea Cliff Resort and Spa, 18 holes); cycling, volley ball, beach soccer. Only in Nungwi/north coast: fly boarding, parasailing, water skiing, jet skiing.
Especially the east coast of the island is protected by coral reefs that make swimming safe – no sharks or huge waves. NB: At low tide you cannot swim in the Indian Ocean at the east, south and west coasts. The beaches at these coast lines are very flat, hence the ocean recedes at low tide out to the coral reef, which is anything between 1 and 1.5 km offshore. You can walk out towards the coral reef at low tide. Watch out for the black sea urchins, spiky things that you don’t want to step into. They are clearly visible so watch your step and use special shoes. Also don’t pick up cone shells – see page To do and not to do. You can check the time table for low and high tide for Zanzibar on http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/calendar/year/7156.html
At the north coast, you can always swim even at low tide since the beaches fall off deeply after a few meters. Therefore, the north coast is very popular with tourists. In December and January (high season) the beaches are packed with tourists there and it is quite noisy. If you are looking for a quiet holiday, this ain’t the place for you.
My favourite part of Zanzibar is the south east coast. It is quiet, tranquil, the locals of the south east coast are extra friendly (genuinely friendly, they smile with their eyes). You have approx. 20 km of white sand beaches stretching from Jambiani via Paje and Bwejuu to Michamvi. Paje is the main village at the south east coast; it is very popular with kitesurfers, divers, SUP etc.
Besides the beautiful white sand beaches and delicious food, Zanzibar has quite a lot to offer. There are quite a few lime stone caves scattered all over Zanzibar and it is believed that in ancient days people lived in these caves. Some of the caves (like Tazari in Nungwi) are believed to have been used as hiding places for slaves in the pre-colonial Zanzibar era of the slave trade. Most of the caves are home to African bats. You can watch them at sunset flying out of the cave entrance. In Bwejuu at the south east cost is a large cave big enough to hold up to 1000 people. It is still used as a shrine. I have listed a few of the caves on the pages “discover Zanzibar”.
There are a lot of stories and tales that villagers insist are true. One of those talks about a phantom ship that appears and vanishes in front of the Palm Beach Inn reef off Bwejuu (see Discover Zanzibar south of Stone Town).
Some other info:
Culture/history: The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the west coast of the island. Its historic center is Stone Town and it is said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. There are three buildings that I know of that have underground tunnels leading out to the ocean; these were built after the slave trade was prohibited by the British; that way the poor slaves were smuggled at low tide from the boats through the tunnels into these buildings. Stone Town’s architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture. Stone Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Zanzibar’s main industries are spices, raffia (products made from raphia palm trees), seaweed and of course tourism. The islands mainly produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. For this reason, the islands are also known as the Spice Islands. Please do try to go on a spice tour, the plantations are about 20 km north of Stone Town, it is definitely worth your while.
Language is KiSwahili but English is widely spoken especially in Stone Town, also Arabic and Italian and lately there are quite a few tour guides in town who speak German.
It is lots of fun if you try to speak some words in KiSwahili, greetings for example. You will for sure be rewarded with a bright smile. Most important word is “Jambo” which is a friendly greeting – you just reply also with “Jambo”. Thank you is “ahsante”. For the English word “cool/okay” you can use “poa”. For more phrases, please read “To do and not to do”.
As per the last consensus in 2012, approx. 1.3 million people live on Zanzibar island. Population growth annually is just over 3%.