Zanzibar island

Who hasn’t heard of Zanzibar? It could almost be fictitious, one of those mythical names that conjure up exotic spices, tropical fruit and magnificent Sultans.

Zanzibar is the fruit borne of the marriage between Swahili, Arab, English and many other cultures. This wealth of influences has created a mythical island, source of many legends from bygone days.

All the islands of the archipelago are ringed by dazzlingly white beaches, turquoise waters and colourful corals…

Size and situation: The total surface of the islands is 2,332 km² (1,651 km² for Unguja).

Zanzibar is an archipelago consisting of Unguja commonly referred to as Zanzibar, Pemba and several small surrounding islands. It is located in the Indian Ocean, some 40km off the coast of Tanzania, a few degrees south of the equator.

History: Ancient pottery demonstrates existing trade routes with Zanzibar as far back as the ancient Assyrians. The islands offered then a good point from which to make contact with the towns of the East African coast.

European influence began in 1499. The Portuguese established control over the island in 1503 until 1698. In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultan of Oman. During this period, the Sultan of Zanzibar also controlled a substantial portion of the east African coast.

From 1887 to 1892, all of these mainland possessions were subsequently lost to the colonial powers of Britain, Germany, and Italy. The British Empire gradually took over, and Zanzibar became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in 1890. The death of Sultan Hamed bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 saw the usurper Seyyid Khalid bin Bargash, the cousin of Hamed take over the palace and declare himself the new Sultan. This was contrary to the wishes of the British Government since the rightful Sultan should have been Sultan Hamoud bin Mohammed. This led to a showdown on the morning of 27 August when ships of the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit al Hukum palace having given Khalid an ultimatum to leave. He refused and at 9 am the ships opened fire and a cease fire was declared 45 minutes later. The bombardment subsequently became known as The Shortest War in History. Sultan Hamoud was declared the new Sultan and peace was restored once more. Hamoud brought an end to Zanzibar's slave trade.

The British granted independence to Zanzibar in June of 1963. Constitutional independence was established on December 10th, 1963 and control of the islands was passed to the constitutional monarch.

The new monarchy didn't last long, however, because on January 1964, just a month later, a violent revolution resulted in the emergence of the People's Republic of Zanzibar and on April 26 of that year Zanzibar merged with the mainland state of Tanganyika to form Tanzania.

Wildlife: Just off the southernmost tip of Unguja is the favourite playground for a large population of dolphins, and it is usually possible to dive or swim with them. A few minutes away from the west coast is the island of Changuu, home to a natural reserve for giant tortoises, and the former location for an unused gaol.

Activities: Stone Town alone, with its maze of narrow winding alleys, will render the journey to Zanzibar worthwhile. This ancient town, built of stone as its name indicates, is a mixture of Indian and Arab influences. It is full of charming balconies, painted glass, engraved window frames and above all, the ubiquitous sculpted doors of Zanzibar. But don’t forget that you will find ruins...and still more dilapidated ruins, such has been the lack of preservation work undertaken on these vestiges of the past.

But Zanzibar is more than a historical site... it is also home to so many fruits and spices, hence its old name of the Spice Islands. A two-or-three-hour tour inland will delight the taste buds of all food lovers, as you discover a myriad of exotic fruits and observe the delicate growing process of natural spices, planted on the edge of Zanzibari villages.

The beaches in Zanzibar are amazing thanks to the very fine white sand and the exceptionally clear turquoise sea. This also makes the diving (as well as snorkelling) among the best in the world.

Climate: Zanzibar enjoys a tropical climate that is largely dominated by the Indian Ocean monsoons. The long rains, known as mwaka, arrive in March and last until late May or June.

January through March is generally hot and dry with little rainfall. April through June is wet because of the long rains which start to taper off in May. July through October are ideal months for visiting Zanzibar because the average temperature is 25 C, the air is dry and breezy and there is little rainfall. November and December are when the short rains appear.

Zanzibar island Accommodations