The beaches, cultural diversity and slave history of the 'spice islands' of Zanzibar
- Zanzibar-the very name conjures exotic labyrinthine streets, cobbled alleys and cool robed traders, heady wafts of nutmeg, cinnamon, mace and coriander, and azure seas lapping white sand beaches and the hulls of wooden dhows. Due to its proximity to the sea lanes of Persia, Africa and Asia, the ‘spice island’ has long attracted traders and plunderers of all cultures, and today it still offers much to travellers. Apart from the various spice and fruit plantations, the fantastical Stone Town, Persian baths and old slave market, there’s some of the finest snorkeling and diving going anywhere. Imagine dipping into equatorial Indian Ocean warmth and viewing the marine life of the third largest coral reef in the world – the east coast is a kaleidoscope of natural treasures and a haven for lagoon-based water sports. Zanzibar is the perfect place to soothe safari-weary muscles and bask in sublime African tranquility.
Exploring the cultural heart of Zanzibar, you’ll find sea-front Stone Town has changed little over the last two hundred years. A place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques, grand Arab houses and a gigantic banyan tree, the old town is seeped through with the island’s sultanate and imperial history. The extravagant Arab dwellings, with their enclosed verandas and heavy, decorated wooden doors, were displays of wealth one-upmanship amongst the traders. Spend a day wandering through the fascinating labyrinth of narrow streets and you’ll see many of the elaborately carved and brass-studded doorways. They speak of the riches Zanzibar residents once amassed, though little of the slave trade on which they were based; in the courtyard of theAnglican Cathedral you’ll find a modern sculpture of five figures in a rectangular pit, shackled together with a chain brought from Bagamoyo, the most notorious slave port on the mainland. The confines of the nearby slave markets are another humbling reminder of Zanzibar’s role in the brutal trade and, thankfully, in stark contrast to the modern, ebullient locals you’ll meet by the big Bayan.