Zanzibar See And Do
Chumbe Island , Zanzibar
Tel: 255 24 223 1040
A pristine, coral-ringed island off the south coast of Stone Town, Chumbe is the site of one of Zanzibar's most ambitious—and successful—conservation projects. The island and its surrounding reefs were designated as a marine sanctuary in 1994 to preserve an incredible variety of marine life, including more than 350 species of fish. The virgin coral-rag forest is busy with birds and other tiny critters; keep your eyes peeled for giant coconut crabs scuttling up the tree trunks. While mostly uninhabited, Chumbe holds some interesting ruins of past inhabitants—including a small mosque and still-functioning lighthouse, both dating from the early 1900s. You can stay on the island at Chumbe Island Coral Park, a luxe eco-lodge, or take a day trip from Stone Town through One Ocean Dive Center's snorkeling tours (255-24-223-8374; www.zanzibaroneocean.com).
Zanzibar's dive scene is striking and diverse, from sunken ships off the coast of Stone Town to dramatic, plunging walls ringing Pemba and colorful coral gardens surrounding idyllic Mnemba. Even if you can't swim, dive operators will be happy to outfit you with a life jacket and snorkel to explore the islands' aquatic wonders.
Diving is possible throughout the year in Zanzibar, though it's not always ideal. The strong monsoon winds that dictate weather patterns around the islands mean conditions can vary dramatically. Generally speaking, September through November offers the calmest seas, though conditions are typically good from July into March. Fierce storms and notoriously erratic weather make the monsoon season from late March until June the worst time for diving.
With five dive centers around the island, One Ocean is Zanzibar's leading dive specialist, offering a wide range of trips across the archipelago (255-24-223-8374; www.zanzibaroneocean.com). If you're staying at any of the exclusive lodges on neighboring islands such as Mnemba, Chumbe, or Fundu Lagoon, you'll not only have a first-rate dive center on the premises but you'll be just minutes away from some of Zanzibar's best dive sites. Long transfer times make visits to the more remote sites prohibitive from Stone Town; your best bet is to explore the nearby wrecks and coral reefs while based in town, then move on to the beach resorts to do some serious diving.
A leafy oasis about an hour's drive from Stone Town, Jozani is a good place to break up the monotony of long, lazy days on the beach. Hard-core hikers might be disappointed by the forest's diminutive size, but an amble along Jozani's nature trails makes for a pleasant stroll and can be covered in about an hour. The park is best known for its resident red colobus monkeys, a rare primate species that can be spotted scampering through the lush canopy; visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the best chance of sightings. Jozani is a popular day trip from Stone Town—it's frequently offered along with dolphin tours off the southern coast near Kizimkazi—and visits can be arranged through any hotel in town or travel agencies such as Zan Tours (Malawi Rd.; 255-24-223-3116; www.zantours.com).
A short flight from Unguja—the island commonly referred to as "Zanzibar"—will bring you to this tropical gem, a lush, hilly emerald isle where time moves at a snail's pace. Pemba has seen a mere fraction of the development of Unguja; just a single luxe hideaway, Fundu Lagoon, sits along a cozy crescent of beach on the island's eastern side. Drive along the main (and only) north–south artery, and you'll pass villages all but untouched by the modern world, where farmers lay out the latest harvest of cloves and black pepper to dry in the sun. The island is ringed by a dramatically plunging sea wall that offers some of East Africa's top diving. Because of the time it takes to cover the distance in a dive boat, few people make the trip from Unguja, and you'll probably have most of the sites to yourself. Fundu Lagoon organizes everything from dive trips to spice tours to village visits for its guests, though all come at an additional price.
If you're exploring on your own, you'll find facilities on Pemba basic, with just a handful of tourist-friendly hotels and a range of restaurants best described as modest. Ferries from Unguja arrive (erratically) throughout the week; a better bet is one of the daily direct flights (around $70 with Coastal Aviation; www.coastal.cc) from Stone Town to Karume Airport, a short taxi ride from Chake Chake, the island's largest town. From there you can arrange to rent a car or motorbike to get around the island—a better option than the unreliable dalla-dallas that ply the main roads. The Old Mission Lodge is a good place to start for local info on transportation and island tours, and it also offers excellent dive packages (255-24-245-2786; www.swahilidivers.com).
In the 19th century, when Zanzibar was at the height of its economic prominence, its sprawling plantations dominated the global spice market—as well as the islands' economy. Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla are still grown in abundance around Zanzibar; during the harvest, when villagers lay out blankets of freshly picked cloves on the roadside to dry in the sun, the pungent smell stings the nostrils. Spice tours are offered as popular half-day trips from Stone Town, typically including a visit to a plantation, spice tastings, and a traditional Zanzibari lunch, often wrapping up with some beach time before returning to town. All of the island's upmarket hotels offer tours, or you can book through independent operators such as Zan Tours (Malawi Rd.; 255-24-223-3116; www.zantours.com).
Stone Town , Zanzibar
During the 19th century, when its Omani rulers were at the height of their powers, Stone Town was home to a colorful collection of scheming sultans, greedy merchants, conniving colonial powers, and notorious cutthroats who prowled the alleys after dark. Slaves, spices, and ivory were exported to the deserts of Arabia and to markets in Europe and America; dhows cluttered the chaotic harbor, their upright sails carving the ocean's waves like shark fins, destined for foreign ports.
Today's Stone Town is as colorful and clamorous as it was a century ago, though colonial officials have given way to camera-toting tourists. Its narrow streets are a tumult of temples, churches, mosques, and the crumbling remains of Arab palaces. Make time to visit iconic sights like the Old Fort, built by the Portuguese in the late 17th century; the House of Wonders, used by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial palace after its construction in 1883 and today housing a history museum; the Anglican Cathedral, erected on the site of the old slave market; and St. Joseph's Cathedral, built by French missionaries in the 19th century and buried deep in Stone Town's labyrinth.
Local companies such as Zan Tours (Malawi Rd.; 255-24-223-3116; www.zantours.com) offer walking tours of town. Much of Zanzibar's history has been preserved through oral tradition, making a guide useful, but you'll be amply rewarded by strolling the streets yourself, watching the locals haggle for fish at the market, or hearing the cries of schoolchildren reciting their lessons in a madrassa.
Thanks to the warm Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is the perfect spot to frolic in the water. You can windsurf, water-ski, sail, or fish (this is, after all, one of the world's top game-fishing destinations). If you wish to explore the spectacular coral reef beneath the waves, you can snorkel or scuba dive. Dive sites include Turtle City, where you may see as many as ten turtles in an hour's dive, and a sunken ship, the Great Northerner, between Pange and Bawe Islands.