Written by: Christopher Mitchell
As the plane made its way over the light turquoise waters towards the famed East African archipelago, the pilot came over the intercom and with unbridled enthusiasm belted, “Welcome to Zanzibar!” In his voice, the word “Zanzibar” sounded like the final ingredient to a potion I never knew I was making. As my girlfriend and I found out, it was the first (but not last) indication that this place had a fair bit of character.
The natural starting place for any trip to Zanzibar is a stop in Stone Town, which is the old section of Zanzibar City, the main city on the island of Unguja. In many ways, Stone Town is the place to explore the history of the island, for better or for worse. On the one hand, the Old Fort and Sultans’ palaces and mosques are a sign of once intense prosperity and wealth, but on the other hand you’ll visit sites like the Old Slave Market that will quickly inform you of just how the island came to be prosperous in the first place. It’s an intense place at times, which is in direct contrast to much of the rest of the island, but it’s a necessary stop for the traveller who is looking to dig a little deeper.
Stone Town is intriguing in many respects, but it’s in Jambiani that you’re going to find that picture perfect, “immediately-send-a-postcard-home” style scenery (or, at the very least, you’ll scramble to open Instagram.) Things are laid back in Jambiani, and the beach is a place for the community to gather and interact with those staying at the relatively unknown hotels. In a sense, it’s almost surprising to see a place so gorgeous, yet relatively underdeveloped. Jambiani Beach is a white sand beach that stretches for a small eternity, with a healthy amount of cooling wind to boot.
If you didn’t get enough paradise in Jambiani, then head straight on up to Matemwe, which is a touch more developed, but remains authentic and vibrant. My goodness, I’ve never seen such a change in tides in my life. In the morning the waves come crashing into the shore, but by the early afternoon, the tide has gone out as far as the eye can see, and the boats lay dormant, as if they can’t figure out how they got there in the first place.
You can walk out and mingle with those listless boats, then retreat back to the shore as the tide chases your heels. The food in Matemwe is fresh, the water is shades of blue that even Crayola has yet to behold, and many locals would say it’s one of the top kite-surfing spots on the planet.
I suppose it’s easy to find paradise through your favourite booking agent but, for me, an all inclusive doesn’t provide the depth of experience I need. If you want to dive into a history worth understanding, then, right after, proceed to dive into the ever-alluring Indian Ocean, then it’s got to be Zanzibar.