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TANZANIA STORY
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Air Safari - Mafia,
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Explorer's Club
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Imax Part 1
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Zanzibar

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ZANZIBAR - SPICE ISLAND BUT ALSO SO MUCH MORE
 
BY PROF. DR. WOLFGANG H. THOMEDEC 06, 2015
 

A visit to Zanzibar, or in fact Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibari archipelago – the other larger island is called Pemba – is never one dimensional, nor should it be. On this Indian Ocean island, just 20 minutes flight from Dar es Salaam and of course a bit longer by ferry – the advantage of the ferry is the shorter transit from the port into the CBD of Dar es Salaam and of course the scenic view on arrival in Zanzibar – are several tourism attractions wrapped in to a nice package, worth exploring each and every segment.

Here comes history, heritage, birdlife, wildlife and marine life together like in few other locations across the United Republic of Tanzania and then add the recent arrival of championship golf for extra measure.

All these components will be featuring here as I have wrapped up a five day visit to the island of which three and a half were dedicated to criss crossing the rather large island from West to East and from North to South.

It will very likely be three parts of my travel report before I can turn to the rest of my itinerary, a trip to Arusha – aka East Africa’s safari capital – and on to the Serengeti, also for five days, where I will be able to meet key staff of TANAPA, the Tanzania National Parks Authority and also see the Chief Warden at Seronera in the heart of one of the world’s best known national parks.

Zanzibar, often referred to as the ‘Spice Island’ has always had a magic ring to its name and tourists from around the world in recent years, in part fueled by the challenges the Kenya coast faced, kept flocking in ever larger numbers to this island off the Tanzanian mainland.

The history of Zanzibar takes one back to the early days of civilization when coastal seafarers used the prevailing trade winds to sail their dhows from the Arabian peninsula along the African coast, establishing trade routes where the trade winds took them and beyond. Much of this history and heritage on the island is centered in and round the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Stone Town’. It is here that museums are found, where buildings have been turned in to monuments and where in the heart of it once a thriving slave market traded captured Africans from the mainland for either the currency of the day or by barters for merchandize brought in by the Arab dhows.

Names of buildings like ‘House of Wonders’ this one sadly in decay due to a partial collapse of the building and in urgent need to be restored, the Palace Museum, the Malindi Mosque and the Aga Khan Mosque, The Old Fort, the two Christian cathedrals, St. Joseph for the Catholics and Christ Church for the Anglicans, both built in the last decade of the 19th Century are part of every organized tour. So of course is the house where Livingstone stayed before his last expedition into the interior of Africa. The Forodhani Gardens are providing the background for many snapshots taken, selfies too of course these days and the Jafferi House’s rooftop is once again open after a recent refurbishment.

Stone Town is an architectural treasure chest for those interested who will find the influence of Persian, Arabic, Indian and European styles most intriguing. Streets are narrow, walls are thick and ventilation is ingenious to keep the buildings cool at the inside during the often oppressive heat of the day.

If there is one downside it is the rise in traffic levels seen since my last visit a couple of years ago. Tourists need to be nimble on their feet to jump out of the way of scooters, tuk-tuks and cars and are at times more likely to get hit by a car, even if only feeling a gentle touch, than catching one good picture when, lost in thought and trying to get the right angle, they step back into the road just by a foot or two.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, election posters have no place on walls of ancient buildings nor do cars these days. The core area of Stone Town should be kept free of vehicles with restricted access for deliveries perhaps once or twice a day and no doubt would tourists be ready to pay a fee to enter the pedestrian area as long as that part of the old town is well maintained and shows itself as the ancient historical treasure it could and should be.

A range of hotels await visitors, some very small and others larger, and the Zanzibar Serena Hotel is bang on the waterfront offering spectacular sunsets from the wide terrace overlooking the ocean. This is arguably the best place to see classic artifacts and collectors’ items assembled while the rooms are furnished with the traditional Swahili beds and chests. Opposite the Serena across the square has a Doubletree by Hilton sprung up, without however offering that priceless waterfront and sunset views while a Park Hyatt opened near the Serena in 2014 – as reported here at the time. Views over the harbour and out across the Indian Ocean and rooftop vistas across the Stone Town are the hotel’s main plus points. Well-appointed rooms – TV’s in the bathroom above the free standing baths included – and still sparkling from bottom to top, will this modern hotel with an exterior blending into the water front, given some time, no doubt also add a venerable patina which provides the touristy flair and sought after ambience in the more established hotels. 

I travelled to Zanzibar with Fastjet out of Entebbe into Dar es Salaam – the flight has a short stopover along the way in Kilimanjaro / Arusha and from there took Coastal Aviation which offers almost hourly services on their Cessna C208B Grand Caravans between Terminal 1 of Julius Nyerere International Airport and Zanzibar. Fastjet will launch Zanzibar flights from the 11th of January from Terminal 2 but the very short processing time of the smaller airlines from Terminal 1 remain a strong incentive to fly with them. Of course, as mentioned, is there the ferry option and many visitors do take the trip out to the island across the ocean before then flying back to the mainland. Transport on Zanzibar can and should be prebooked for peace of mind, for airport transfers as well as for excursions to the spice farms, the slave caves, the almost mandatory guided tour through the Stone Town and of course when visiting the Butterfly Centre and the forest national park in the middle of the island. I used ZanTours, Zanzibar’s leading DMC and my driver for the five days, one Jamaly Abdallah Mohamed, was one of the best I ever had drive me around a destination. Not one hectic maneuver, not one hard step on the brake, not one hard step on the accelerator pedal, everything was carefully measured and his manners were exemplary.

In fact, Zanzibaris came across as a happy and friendly people, inspite of a contentious election which was cancelled half way through at the end of October. It is to be re-staged at a time still to be announced by the Electoral Commission and while the tourism industry feels it should be after the Christmas and New Year holidays, no one is certain when it will take place. My verdict though is not to worry. I strolled the streets of Stone Town and across smaller markets elsewhere on the island and there was not a whiff of the two main opponents taking their differences from the voting station to the streets. Perhaps political maturity has at last come to Zanzibar and it would be for the better as tourism revenues account for nearly 75 percent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings and tourism is responsible for a fast growing number of job opportunities in the hospitality industry and the transport sector. This is not something politics should dent or damage and by the look of it this is understood by the main protagonists in their battle for State House.

Part Two of at least Three will feature here soon, with the remaining articles then looking at the arrival of several branded hospitality names on the island, as well as the natural beauty and excursions a tourist visitor can undertake without getting bored for even a day during a weeklong stay. 

Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors- Zanzibar's New Association

Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (zati)was registered on 5th February 2003 and has since begun to show its value to both the private and public sectors with such influence on marketing the destination and how to address current world issues. ZATI's aim is to achieve excellence in hospitality, leadership in marketing, and sustainable growth in tourism, for the benefit of its members, and the wider Zanzibar community. ZATI is grateful to have the full support and cooperation of the government.

Already several projects have been established, some with the assistance of the European Union, all with the goal of improving the local economy and tourism investment. Membership represents more than US$ 50 million of the investment in tourism facilities of Zanzibar and includes Hotels, Tour Operators, Air Operators, Dive Operators, Restaurants and Retail.

For further information contact:

Nikki Priestley
Association Manager
Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors
PO Box 2578, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tel: +255 (0)747 475065
E-mail:
info@zati.org

Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI)
PO Box 2578, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tel: (0747) 475065 , Fax: (024) 2233039

 

Tanzania Adventure, Arusha, Zanzibar