Saturday, August 9, 2014


Trip Dates: July 26th - August 3rd, 2014

The flight to Zanzibar was only an hour from mainland Tanzania.  We were stuffed into a small, 13-seater plane for the short flight over to the island.  Needless to say we were all looking forward to having a little downtime and to be on our own schedule for awhile.  We had nothing planned for the next six days, other than soaking up some sun and pure beach relaxation!

The island of Zanzibar is officially known as Unguja and is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.  The Zanzibar Archipelago sits between 25 and 50 kilometres off Tanzania's eastern shoreline in the Indian Ocean and is comprised of two large islands and numerous smaller ones.  Unguja is the largest island and is home to the capital, Zanzibar City.  The Zanzibar Archipelago, together with Tanzania's Mafia Island, are referred to as the Spice Islands, because one of the main industries is spices.  The archipelago is home to approximately 1.3 million people and the official languages are Kiswahili and English. 

The map on the left shows the location of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania and the map on the right is a more detailed view of the Zanzibar Archipelago

Bush 2 Beach had arranged a transfer from the airport in Zanzibar City to the Zanzibar Retreat Hotel on Matemwe Beach on the northeast coast of the island.  The drive only took an hour, so we were at the hotel before we even knew it.  Matemwe Beach is an idyllic spot with 25km of white-sand beach and clear blue water.  Unfortunately the water in front of the hotel was home to thousands of Sea Urchins, so swimming wasn't a friendly option.  

Local fishing boats are called dhows
Matemwe's endless white sand
The girls were quite jumpy when these guys were around!
One of countless Sea Urchins that were in front of our hotel
Walking to Seles Beach Bar as the tide's coming back in

Christine and I booked two dives with Scubafish, a local company on the island.  We would be diving at two locations around Mnemba Island; Kichwani and the Aquarium.  Both dives sites were beautiful and we saw numerous tropical fish including, Scorpionfish, Clown Fish, Lionfish, Trumpetfish, Moorish Idols, Leaf Fish, Moray Eels, Mantis Shrimp, and even several Green Sea Turtles.  We were really hoping to see the resident Dolphins that live in the area.  We were finishing our second dive when my sea sickness suddenly kicked in.  As Christine and I were surfacing I fed the fishes, several times.  Shortly after we got back on the boat the Dolphins decided to show up!  They didn't stick around very long, but I like to think that I helped lure them in.  Even though we weren't in the water, it was still pretty cool to see them that close to the boat!

A video compilation from our two dives

A couple of days later we booked a snorkeling trip with the same company.  We spent the majority of the day at the West Gardens, which was teeming with underwater life.  We saw Moray Eels, Clown Fish, Snake Eels, Mantis Shrimp, Octopus, Trumpetfish, Starfish, Urchins, Squid, and countless other species of tropical fish.  We also did a drift snorkel on the opposite side of the island.  The current was pretty strong though and the guides pulled the pin earlier than expected for safety concerns.  We also struck-out on seeing Dolphins while snorkeling, so that was a bit disappointing for us.  Other than that it was a great day out on the water.

On board the Caroline with Scubafish for our snorkeling trip
Mnemba Island is completely private and costs $1,500.00/night to stay there!
Sergeant Majors
Mantis Shrimp
Diving down for a closer look
Longfin Spadefish
A video compilation of our snorkeling trip

Our time at Matemwe Beach was thoroughly enjoyed by all of us, but the time flew by.  Before we knew it, we were back in the car and headed for Stone Town.  Our last two nights would be spent at the Emerson Hotel in the heart of Stone Town.  We would be doing some last minute exploring and shopping before starting the long journey back home.

Stone Town is the historic centre of Zanzibar City and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.  Stone Town was a prominent centre of both the spice and slave trade in the 19th century.  The name "Stone Town" came from the widespread use of coral stone as the main construction material and the architecture reflects the African, Arab, Persian, Indian, and European influences all mixing together.  

Stone Town is made up of these narrow, winding streets
The most well-known feature of homes in Stone Town are the elaborately carved wooden doors.  Some of them, like the one below, have big brass studs, which come from Indian tradition.  There are two main types, rounded tops, which have an Indian influence, while the rectangular ones are from the Arab culture.  The carvings are often Islamic in content and many feature scripture from the Qur'an.

A typical Stone Town doorway
While in Stone Town we visited the site of the former slaver market.  It was the largest slave market in Zanzibar and the last open slave market in the world.  The slave trade was reputedly started by the Portuguese, but grew immensely when Zanzibar came under control of the Sultanate of Oman in 1698.  Slaves were typically captured or purchased from the African mainland, chained together, and forced to carry ivory to the coast.  Those that survived were transported to Zanzibar where they were forced to work the spice plantations or were sold by Arab traders.  From Zanzibar most slaves were shipped to the Middle East, with some going to the former French colonies of Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Madagascar.  Some even made it as far as North America.  

By decree of the Sultan of Zanzibar on June 6, 1873, the slave trade was abolished.  This happened following the anti-slavery campaign spearheaded by famed explorer Dr. David Livingstone.  Another key opponent to slavery was Edward Steele, the third Bishop of Zanzibar.  To celebrate the end of slavery, Bishop Steele built the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral directly on top of the former slave market.  The church was completed in 1887 and the altar was placed in the exact location of the whipping post.  At the base of the altar inside the church there is a round circle of white marble that is surrounded by red marble.  The white circle depicts the location of the whipping post and the red marble represents the blood of the slaves.

The Christ Church Anglican Cathedral
There is nothing left of the market today, other than two subterranean slave chambers, one for women and children and one for the men.  Dozens of people were kept inside this small space.  Many of them died from starvation, disease, or drowning because the whole area would flood at high tide.  To give you an idea of scale, I'm 5'10" and I couldn't stand up straight inside this room.  

All that remains from the former slave market are two small rooms that were used to keep slaves
Outside the church there is a graphic sculpture created by Clara Sornas.  The monument depicts five slaves with chains around their necks, standing in a sunken pit.  Our guide informed us that the chains used in the monument are original.  The entire experience was really moving.  Unfortunately we felt rushed the whole time, so we were unable to reflect on the tragedies that occurred in this place until after we had already left.  

A nearby inscription reads, "Memory for the Slaves"
The Darajani Bazaar is one of the largest markets in Stone Town
It had everything from meat to fruits and vegetables, and of course spices!
Forodhani Park
Frangipani flowers in the park
Christine and I standing along the shore
The House of Wonders was a former Sultan's Palace, but is now home to the Museum of History & Culture of Zanzibar & the Swahili Coast
This is the Old Arab Fort that was built around 1700 to defend the city against the Portuguese
Christine and Sarah on a swing at our hotel
Our last dinner was a traditional Swahili meal on the rooftop of the Emerson Hotel...delicious!
Sun setting over Stone Town
This was definitely the trip of a lifetime.  Everything worked out better than we could have hoped for.  We saw everything we wanted to and more.  I can't count the times someone told us that we were "lucky" or that something was "rare" to see.  I definitely see myself returning to Africa at some point, but would like to experience other parts of the continent as well.  Now that we've checked this off of our bucket list it's anyone's guess where we'll end up next.  All I know is I can't wait for the next adventure to begin!


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    1. Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed the post. Feel free to share it as you see fit.