Stone Town is the only functioning historical city in east Africa that is much the same as it was 200 years ago and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
This Place Is Unique
It is not clichéd to label this island as unique. Zanzibar had the first steam locomotive in East Africa, was the first region in Africa to introduce colour television in 1973, and incredibly, has an airport where one queue on the sidewalk to check-in for your flight — quite unique.
Stonetown was also the birthplace of one, Farouk Bulsara, who would later become the iconic lead singer, Freddy Mercury, of the band Queen.
A Short History of Zanzibar
Almost most importantly though, is Zanzibar’s aphotic history as a major port for slave trading. Slave trading occurred for centuries in Zanzibar, first under Arabic rulers and then later under western colonisers.
Naturally all this historical movement of beings through the island brought rulers, religions, and cultures from a mysterious blend of Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian and African traditions.
These varied influences have all contributed to this human melting pot on the archipelago of Eastern Africa and much of this cultural heritage is evident in the daily life of modern Zanzibaris. It is the culmination of these eclectic geographical influences that have helped forge an image of Zanzibar that repeatedly captures the imagination of the modern traveler.
Relatively small in size, the island itself stretches for 90km long and 30km wide, scattered with powdery, white sand beaches and some of the purest ocean waters the earth has to offer. Also known as the “Spice Island” for its importance in the spice trade centuries ago, Zanzibar will definitely spice up your life.
Although Zanzibar is mostly a Muslim country by religion, alcohol is easily available and there are many beach bars to choose from for a night on the town, although prices here are not up for negotiation.
Visiting, And Photographing, Ras Nungwi
The Eastern beaches are popular among travellers. There is plenty of opportunity for scuba diving, swimming with Dolphins, rides on a Dhow (carved wooden boats), or just sit and stare at the magnificent ocean with its gem-like colours on display.
We are in Ras Nungwi on the Northeast coast of the island and the gods of timing are on our side. There is a monthly Full Moon party being advertised at the beach bar nearest to the plush beach huts that we call home for the night.
After a tough first day soaking up the sun, sea, and sand, our group, along with revellers from all corners of the world, find themselves bumping and grinding on the sandy dance floor.
The moon is reflecting off the now blackish ocean water and lighting up the beach. It is still comfortably warm, even though we are well into the night. As the moon orbits above, the members of our Shoestring party fade off one by one and it seems I am amongst the last men (and women) standing that night.
Exploring The Crystal Clear Ocean Waters
The dhow comes to a gentle halt and as the water laps against the side of the dhow with a soft clap, I roll over the side and fall backward into the Indian Ocean. Instantly refreshed, I adjust my mask and then manoeuvre into a “duck” dive straight into the crystal clear brilliance of the island water.
A school of tropical fish split in two as I descend among them like a large sea predator searching. I feel the squeeze of carbon in my lungs and shoot back to the surface. A friend of mine is snorkelling for the first time and is feeling too anxious to breathe through the snorkel. Before long we have him snorkelling around.
I explore the reef and ocean bed like a B52 bomber hovering over the aquatic world below. I spot an Octopus, a Moray Eel, a Ray, and plenty of colourful tropical fish. I am overjoyed with the array of sea life on show in this natural aquarium.
When I finally raise my head from the water, the skipper on the dhow makes the call for lunch. The sputtering engine is jerked to life and we cruise back towards the coastline.
Adventure First then Lunch, Please
Fine, soft sand that feels intriguingly like powder greets us as we anchor up on the beach. By this time of the day, the sun is cooking hot. The sun is not the only cooking going on as we arrive at a disheveled little sunshade, which, along with the tree stump benches, is the setting for lunch.
A large fire-cooked Tuna fish is revealed from within the tinfoil on the table. The Tuna has clearly been prepared with some of the local spices that Zanzibar is famous for.
It is not long before the wiry remains of the skeleton are the only signs of fish on display. Lunch is brief, yet pleasant. After a short rest we thank and compliment the chef, and make our way down the beach back to the dhow.
The lazy skipper raises his head from within the dhow and we set off again.
The sun is high above and relentless. I am on the top deck sunning myself, with a belly full of seafood and a mind full of reef inspired thoughts. I nod off to the crack of flapping sails and splashing ocean waters.
It is a gentle, relaxing sail along the Zanzibar coastline, a cool breeze created by the moving dhow rolls over my exposed body and I drift away in my mind, but only until arrival at the next tropical beach filled with an island of pleasures.