At the end of November last year, I had the opportunity to spend 3 nights on Zanzibar for a work trip. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island within the United Republic of Tanzania and located about 25 miles off the mainland. It is about 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. Zanzibaris predominately speak Swahili (though English is widely spoken, at least in the tourist areas) and more than 99% of the population is Muslim. We were based in the historic Stone Town and while most of the time was spent on work, we did get a bit of free time to get out and explore.
We stayed at the recently opened Doubletree Hotel, located right in the heart of Stone Town and close to many restaurants and attractions. The rooms were beautifully decorated and spacious and included free WiFi. The only drawback is the lack of a view from the rooms (my view was of a stone wall) but there is a lovely rooftop terrace for drinks or a meal.
View from the Doubletree Rooftop
Stone Town Rooftops
View of the Zanzibar National Museum of History and Culture from the Doubletree
Even though there wasn’t enough time to actually visit any sites or museums, I did manage some free time to wander about, exploring and taking photos. Sometimes I was alone, and sometimes I was with colleagues, but I always felt very safe. I found the people of Zanzibar to be extremely welcoming. I received a friendly wave and a cheerful Jambo (Hello in Swahili) from almost everyone I passed on the streets. I did receive a few offers from guides to take me around but when I explained that I was just on a work break they did not persist and wished me a nice walk.
Tangled Web of Wires-I wish I had taken more photos on the narrow streets. It was fascinating to see a totally refurbished building sandwiched between 2 that were falling down.
Stone Town Beach and Fishing Boats
Stone Town Beach
Local boys having a swim
National Museum of History and Culture
Stone Town Harbour
I like the perspective of the freighter and the fishing boats
Palace Museum-former Sultan residence
Stone Town Architecture
Stone Town Harbour
Museum of History and Culture
Due to its multi-cultural heritage, Zanzibar cuisine takes its influence from many cultures including Indian, Portuguese, Chinese and British. As you might imagine, seafood is fresh and abundant but as a vegetarian I was happy to indulge in some traditional Swahili curries.
One evening we went to Forodhani Park to have dinner at the night market. They had plenty of veg options but overall I found the experience very touristy and the food just so-so though it is probably something to be done once. Most of the stalls sell pretty much the same variety so it seems to be just a crap shoot to choose one. You make your selections from the offerings and the cook will grill it all up for you. The big trick here is that you absolutely must negotiate the price of your plate before they start cooking it or you may be in for an expensive surprise at the end of your meal. Some places had a menu with the (tourist) prices listed but we just ignored that as my coworker negotiated the deal for us (he had been there, done that…). You find a place to sit and when your dinner is ready, it will be brought over to you. Payment is taken when you leave.
While the food wasn’t great (but no one got sick, always a plus), I did really enjoy their special ginger and sugar cane drink (freshly squeezed and made to order), which was surprisingly refreshing and not overly sweet as I had feared.
Squeezing sugar cane
Squeezing sugar cane
Freshly squeezed ginger-sugar cane juice
Zanzibar is also known for its breathtaking white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. You will need to head out of Stone Town to indulge in these and we were fortunate that our clients arranged an evening of dinner and dancing at The Rock, the iconic, postcard-perfect restaurant featured in many a travel guide for Zanzibar. We arrived before sunset for a chance to dip our toes in the clear, warm Indian Ocean. If I had to guess, I would say the water temperature was a very inviting 27°C or so.
The unique feature of the restaurant is that it sits on, well, a Rock, just off the beach. As it was high-tide, we were taken to the restaurant in shifts by boat; talk about making a grand entrance.
The Rock at high tide
Our ride to The Rock
Kids on the beach, they loved taking photos and seeing themselves on the camera afterwards
Upon arriving on The Rock, the evening commenced with glasses of Sparkling Wine (from South Africa) and dancing on the terrace to a variety of African rythmes as the sun slowly disappeared into the horizon. It took many promises of more dancing after dinner to get everyone seated inside as everyone was just having so much fun.
We were a large group (booked out the entire restaurant) and there were 2 choices each for the starter, main and dessert. The manager made a special effort to ensure that I, as a vegetarian, was well looked after and verified twice with me if the veg choices were ok for me. While the food was quite good, it was really the whole ambiance of The Rock shared with some really fun people from all over Africa that made for a totally amazing evening.
Around midnight when it was sadly time to head back to Stone Town, we were surprised that there would be no boat necessary to get back to the beach. We would be walking back, which turned out to be not as easy as one might imagine (think sharp rocks, flip flops and a little too much wine…). The restaurant staff took great care to see us all safely back and even made a stunning flip-flop rescue en route (not saying whose it was…).
The Rock at Sunset
The next morning was my flight home. Even though it was a quick work trip, I had a blast and I can’t wait to get back sometime with the Frenchie in tow for a proper holiday trip and do more in-depth exploring (and scuba diving!) of the most intriguing island of Zanzibar.