Trip Report: Zanzibar Island: August 2016

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Staff Members: Robin Paschall & Dean Paschall
Travel Dates: August 9-15, 2016
Destinations Visited: Zanzibar Island, Stonetown

We have been to Zanzibar several times, and it never disappoints!

Activities

Stone Town Tour

The Stone Town Tour was about 2.5 hours long, walking through the narrow windy streets of old historic area of town.  It was a great way to get a feel for the local culture, get around town without getting lost, learn the history, and see local people.  Tourist sites we visited included:

  • Old Fort (free Wifi)
  • Outdoor Night Market (free Wifi)
  • House of Wonders
  • Slave Chambers (tip the local guide)
  • Fish and Meat Market
  • Jaws Corner (make free calls!)
  • Freddy Mercury’s House (lead singer from Queen)

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Spice Tour

On the Spice Tour, you visit a local farm where they grow a variety of spices and tropical fruits.  This was a fun activity and took about 2.5 hours.  There are 4 parts to the tour:

  1. Farm Walk — Your guide will show you all the spices and fruits grown on the farm.  A local guide will weave items for the group, so be prepared with a tip.
  2. Coconut Climber — A fearless guy will climb to the top of a tall, skinny coconut palm tree to get coconuts.  He then cuts them open for people to drink and eat.  He will need a tip as well.
  3. Fruit Tasting — There are tables to sit at to taste a variety of local fruits in season.  They have wash water for before and after, but you might want hand sanitizer as well.  On our trip, they had 3 kinds of oranges, watermelon, cucumber, banana, and grapefruit.  One more person to tip.
  4. Community Shop — They sell fresh spices, coffee, scented soap, perfume, and vanilla.  If you buy a lot, they are willing to bargain.

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Scuba Diving

We went scuba diving with Dive Point in Matemwe.  They had great equipment and great dive masters.  Drive 20 minutes to Sunshine Marine Hotel. Others include One Ocean, Spanish Dancer, and Scuba Fish.  Look for one near your accommodations.  Mnemba Island, off the northeast coast of Zanzibar, is the most popular destination.

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Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a great on Zanzibar — warm water and lots of fish.  Like scuba diving, the main destination is Mnemba Island, although there are many other spots as well.  You can pay $20/person for a cheap local boat, or $40/person for a professional group with good equipment, good guide, snacks, and drinks.

Zanzibar has very low and very high tides, depending on phase of moon, so often you swim only at high tide, and then walk the beach at low tide.

Eating, Drinking, and Shopping

Not all restaurants serve alcohol, so check first.

  • Forodhani Park outdoor market — Open every night with amazing food and a fun atmosphere.
  • 6 Degrees South — Good food, nice views, great cocktails
  • Livingstone Restaurant — Located next to the Tembo House Hotel, serves food and drinks with tables in the sand.
  • Rooftop Dining — Try 236 Hurumzi, Emerson on Huramzi, Jafferji House, and Maru Maru.  You will need reservations!

I always like Memories for shopping because it is air conditioned, they have a large selection, and they take credit cards.  There are a million shops, however, and bargaining is king.

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Accommodations

Villa Turquoise (Matemwe)

We had a big enough group that we rented a private villa for most of our stay.  I highly recommend the Villa Turquoise!  It has 5 bedrooms with 6 queen beds, private swimming pool, right on the beach, private motor boat, fast Wifi, TV with lots of channels, and great staff.  It is located in northeast Zanzibar near Mnemba Island, which is great for snorkeling and scuba diving.

We used the motor boat one day for a scenic tour south along the coastline.  The villa also had some bicycles and small sailboats, which were fun.  The beach was firm enough that you can bicycle or fun in the sand.  It was fun visiting the local fish market and watching the beach soccer games.  There were also restaurants along the beach, but we mostly just ate at the villa.  One of the women at the villa offered massages, which everyone took advantage of.

We used the services of the private chef for breakfast and dinner — awesome meals!  Then we just bought some lunch food and snacks on our own.  We stopped at liquor store in Stone Town that took credit cards.  They had a fairly good selection, but not with everything (only 1 kind of tequila, for example).  The grocery store is good for non-produce items, only some take credit cards.  An outdoor market is better for fruits and vegetables.

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Kisiwa House (Stone Town)

The Kisiwa House is located next to the Dhow Palace and conveniently located near everything.  There are queen beds in the standard rooms and king beds in the suites.  For a triple, they bring in a small rollaway bed.  Rooms also have a comfortable chair and table, desk, dresser, and TV.  There is a nice lounge area on the first floor.

As with almost all Stone Town hotels, you will park about 1/2 – 1 block away and walk into the hotel.

The rooftop restaurant was closed for lunch and dinner, but it is supposed to be open again now.  We were able to relax on the roof in the evenings with our own beverages and snacks.  Breakfast was on the roof and is very good.  Breakfast was a choice of eggs, pancakes, or cereal.  With the eggs, you get bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans.

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Zanzibar Airport

Arrival at Zanzibar Airport

If you are coming from outside Tanzania, you will need to fill out an immigration and get your Tanzania visa.  Otherwise, you just go through one of the immigration desks.  After you collect your luggage and go through customs, your driver meets you just outside the door.

Departure from Zanzibar Airport

It is about 15 minutes from Stone Town to the Zanzibar Airport with no traffic.  There is no exchange service inside the airport, so take care of that before you get there.

They check everyone’s e-tickets to get to the airport. All bags and people go through security to enter the airport (water okay, computer and shoes okay).  You will check in at the airline country.  If leaving the country, you got through an Immigration line.  Then go through security to get to the gate (no water, computers out, shoes okay).

In the waiting area, there are 3 shops, a snack bar, and a first class lounge (Dhow Lounge).  The waiting area can be crowded and hot.  The Dhow Lounge is only $24/person.  It is small but has good a/c, comfortable chairs, snacks, drinks, and toilets.  It can be hard to hear when flights are called, so listen carefully.

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