If there’s one thing I regret (even though I find it hard to actually write these words, as I don’t want to change any second of my stay on this gorgeous island) about my time in Africa it’s the fact that I only spent a weekend in Zanzibar. My time there was short, yes. However, it was filled to the brim with incredible activities, a lot of fun and so many experiences I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Here are five suggestions on how to spend an unforgettable weekend in Zanzibar:
- A trip to Prison Island
Prison Island has a surprising amount to offer for such a small island. It started out as an island for prisoners, although they actually never used it as a prison. Later on it was used as a quarantine station for people who contracted yellow fever. Now there’s a sanctuary for giant tortoises. This sanctuary started out with a few tortoises which were a gift from the government of the Seychelles, now there are more than 50 tortoises living there. For a small fee you can walk through the little park, pet and take pictures with them. Some of them are nearly 200 years old. Twice a day there will also be feedings which you can watch.
Close by, there are also a lot of beautiful spots to snorkel. If that’s not for you, there’s always the possibility to just lie on the (albeit small) beach and swim in the clear water there. It makes for a perfect day, or afternoon trip (depending on how long you want to snorkel).
- The Forodhani food market (only at night)
One of the biggest regrets I have about the very short time I spent in Zanzibar is that I didn’t have enough time to try all the great food this island has to offer. However, I went to this market twice and it’s just incredible.
The market is made up of lots and lots and lots of stands filled with food. Try the Zanzibar Pizza (savory and sweet), or the seafood (but take care and keep your eyes open to see if it’s still fresh and good). Try the sugar cane juice (though keep in mind that the taste certainly isn’t for everyone). Or maybe you want to try some soup? Have a Samosa too. And don’t miss out on the beef-wrap (kind of kebab) kind of things. There are just so many things, it’s almost impossible to eat and try them all.
Your best bet (and this goes for everything: restaurants, bars, cafés….) is to always go to where most of the locals are. If there are locals eating the food there it’s bound to be authentic and good.
This food market fascinated me not only for the vast array of different types of food and how they were prepared but also because of the location. During the day the park, close to the harbour is very quiet and peaceful. At night the area is buzzing and filled with people – tourists and locals alike and the next morning it’s again as if nothing happened.
[Above: Seafood galore! |Below: freshly made Zanzibar pizza.]
[Above: the kind-of kebab (Say: “Weka kila kitu.” This means “with everything.” and was one of the first phrases I learnt. It will also guarantee you a laugh (if not a high-five) from the person you’re ordering from). |Below: This lovely guy is Mr. Lecker Lecker. He learnt from an Austrian chef, knows how to make Semmelknödel and speaks a bit of German. He insisted on taking a picture with us (he also makes the most delicious sweet Zanzibar Pizza. Try Nutella-Mango. Or Nutella-Banana-Coconut).]
- Dolphin Bay
This was something I was super, super skeptical about. When I heard about “You will swim with dolphins” all I could think of was “Please don’t let them be in a tiny basin”. There was nothing worse for me than the thought of supporting the captivity of these animals.
I was lucky though. What people forgot to tell me was a single word that made all the difference: “wild”. They should have said “Kristina, you’re going to swim with wild dolphins.” That would have eased so many of my worries.
When we arrived at the bay, we were given diving goggles and flippers (which I refused because they annoy me to no end) and then boarded a tiny boat to drive out and look for dolphins.
In this place I have to say that we totally lucked out on this trip. A local guy who was with us and has been many, many times to this bay has told us that he’s never seen them as close and as many of them as he did that day. Needless to say that we went crazy. We chased the dolphins, jumped from the boat when we were close and then played and swam with them. It was incredible. Mind blowing. Unbelievable.
We swam and swam and swam until we barely had the energy to climb back into the boat anymore. Only then did we allow our boat driver to take us back to shore.
If you don’t want to, or cannot swim with dolphins the beach and sea at this place is also, almost too perfect. It’s the stereotypical white beach, turquoise water picture.
- A history tour through Stone Town
You will see various tours offered at about every corner. While I’ve heard only good things about spice tours (they show you different plants, spices and tell you about the process and so on) we decided on a history tour. We started out at one of the two churches where there once was the slave market. We went down to see the slave chambers before changing direction and strolling through the market. Then our guide led us through the labyrinth of Stone Town’s tiny streets and alleys – pointed out various historic landmarks and told us about the architecture, different types of doors and so on.
To me, this was perfect. I loved walking through the tiny alleys and getting some background knowledge made this experience even more special.
[Above: Morning mist over Stone Town. |Below: Our history tour started at the old slave market. Stone Town has a rich and long history. Some good, some horrid. As it is the case with all countries, I guess.]
[Above: cute places to eat lunch or dinner can be found everywhere. |Below: doors in Stone Town are breathtaking pieces of art.]
[Above and Below: the fish and food market is probably not for the faint-hearted.]
- Horseback riding (on the beach)
Yes, I’ve already hinted about this a few times when I posted some pictures.
However, this was one of the most incredible experiences I had during my time in Africa. Riding a horse on a beach has been on my bucket list ever since I started horseback riding when I was six years old. For this to come true in Zanzibar, at sunset – on the same day we also swam with wild dolphins? I can barely find the words. Even weeks after it’s hard for me to describe the feeling. I felt so free, happy and light.
Just a few things about the facility:
The stables we went to belong to a very nice couple from South Africa. They have four horses which are all very healthy and perfectly well looked after. Their temperament and character is great so that they can carry everyone from children to adults. The riding facility is attached to a resort, but you don’t necessarily have to stay there to go for a ride. You can take lessons or go for a ride through the coconut plantation and down to the beach.
They offer to take almost everyone, no matter their skills or experience, though you should have realistic expectations. If it’s your first time on a horse you will not freely canter through the waves and along the beach. However, if you do have some experience, it is very likely that you are able to do just that.
Also: helmets are mandatory. You can borrow one there at the facility.
On the day we were there we (once again) lucked out. While it looked like rain when we started, it cleared up as soon as we came to the beach and we were lucky to see the most incredible sunset. Plus, it was low tide, making it possible for us to canter through the water and along the beach.