Zanzibar’s lasting mystique has attracted travellers from around the world for centuries. From its early days as a Swahili port, Zanzibar has done a thriving business in the cargo of the day. In generations long past, ivory, slaves and spices were transported on large wooden sailing dhows across the Indian Ocean to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Although spices remain a main export, these days Zanzibar’s main attraction is the beauty of the island itself.
Remnants of the hey-day of Swahili civilization in Zanzibar still remain, vestiges of a vanished past that people still look to with a sense of heritage and pride. In Stone Town, the House of Wonders greets visitors arriving by sea, a grand building used by the sultan for his administrative duties. His town palace stands adjacent to it, the walkways that connected the two buildings still in dilapidated existence. Nearby, the Portuguese Fort recalls the brief occupation of the island by foreign rule, while the Anglican Cathedral built over the site of the old slave market soothes the wounds of a sobering past.
Today, Stone Town is as much of an attraction to visitors as Zanzibar’s beaches, world-renowned for their idyllic seascapes and island charm. Guests have their pick of beaches famed for their temperate climate and soothing waters. Swahili fishing villages, snorkelling, diving, or just beachcombing offer perfect choices of relaxing itineraries.
For cultural connoisseurs, it’s best to time a visit around one of Zanzibar’s many festivals. Vibrant occasions occur throughout the year, days of celebration when the island and its people truly come alive. The annual Zanzibar International Film Festival and the Swahili Music Festival are the main attractions, with the Swahili festival of Mwaka Kongwe not to be missed.
Yet there’s more to Zanzibar than the main island of Unguja. To the north, Pemba Island offers world-class diving in pristine surroundings. Accommodation ranges from the most basic to the utmost in barefoot luxury and visitors agree that a visit to Pemba is well worth the effort. To the south is the little-known Mafia Island, its reefs affording perfect diving in tranquil surroundings. Covered in coconut palms and abandoned fruit groves left by Arab merchants centuries before, Mafia’s charm is unique to the Swahili Coast, its shores untouched by development or change. Other smaller islands surround Unguja, the main island in the archipelago, and make pleasant day trips for visitors from Stone Town.
Come to Zanzibar and you will experience the hospitality of the Swahili people, the beauty of the island, and the lasting mystique of its regal history. Visit Zanzibar, and you will understand why century after century, travellers have come to its shores in search of magic and romance.