With an early morning departure from Mikumi National Park in Tanzania’s highlands the safari headed toward the warm Indian Ocean and coastal city of Dar es Salaam. After an overnight there we ferry to Zanzibar and spend three days enjoying the exotic, tropical island!
Referred to as “Dar” by locals Dar es Salaam was named by Sultan Seyyid Malid of Zanzibar. Dar es Salaam means “house of peace” in Arabic. Although Dar is Tanzania’s economic center and the home of the central government, the city of Dodoma is the official national capital.
With a population of over 4 million, Dar is the biggest and richest city in Tanzania. During the 1800s and 1900s the German East Africa Company played a key role in Dar es Salaam’s development. The Company helped establish Africa’s Central Railway Line. By designating Dar the administrative and commercial center of German East Africa they contributed greatly to the city’s economic and industrial growth.
Dar es Salaam is close to the Equator and the tropical climate is hot and humid. The average annual rainfall amounts to almost 43 inches! There are two separate rainy seasons. The “long rains” fall during April and May and the “short rains” during October and November. Our visit was in late February and early March when the weather was hot but pleasant.
After a quiet evening we boarded an Indian Ocean ferry to Zanzibar. The ferry was packed but the sea was calm and the trip smooth. Upon arrival we drove to the northern part of the island passing long-horn cattle, lush tropical vegetation, colorful artist displays, spice farms, and seafood markets.
Everyone was happy to begin a three-day respite on Zanzibar’s beautiful beaches. We left most of our luggage in Dar and traveled light with only day packs, sun screen, swim suits, sandals, and a few clothes.
Islam is Zanzibar’s main religion and our guides advised us to dress conservatively. “The Islamic religion frowns upon the showing of arms above the elbow or legs above the knee. Shoulders should also remain covered and revealing necklines are not acceptable.” Men’s clothing is less restrictive. On the beach and at our resort – Amaan Bungalows – there was no dress code!
Zanzibar is incredibly beautiful and that’s truly an understatement! At times the combined beauty of the sea and sky are quite unbelievable and almost overwhelming – as if your eyes are playing tricks on you. Our time on the island was not as structured as the rest of the fast-paced safari. It was fantastic to relax and unwind in the easy-going atmosphere and tropical climate surrounded by nature’s spectacular gift of Zanzibar!
Highlights for me were the delicious local cuisine, walks on the beach, touring Stone Town and a spice farm, and a day of snorkeling near a small island. The snorkeling was a little disappointing compared to my earlier Zanzibar experience five years ago, but the day on the water was rich and beautiful. I snorkeled for hours and my backside got severely sunburned. As the day progressed our small group enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by the crew on a traditional wooden boat called a dhow. It was a perfect day!
Zanzibar is a semi-independent part of the United Republic of Tanzania located about 30 miles off the mainland. The Zanzibar Archipelago consists of many small islands and two big ones – Unguja (the main island called Zanzibar) and Pemba. In the past Zanzibar was a separate state with a strong trading history in the Arab world.
Zanzibar City on the island of Unguja is the capital of Zanzibar. The historic center of Zanzibar City – Stone Town – is a remarkable World Heritage Site. I spent part of a day walking Stone Town. The locals were friendly and surprisingly it was quiet and uncrowded with few tourists. The weather that day was dramatic – stunning blue skies interrupted by short monsoon-like storms that came and cleared quickly.
In 1964 Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika creating Tanzania. Zanzibar maintains a high level of independence within the union and conducts its own elections. Zanzibar’s 2016 local elections were in October.
As in most of Africa, the political situation in Zanzibar is complex. The people rejected results from the October 2016 election. The re-run election was to occur later in March. I talked to locals around Stone Town and each one viewed the disputed election in a different way. For those interested, this link provides basic information about Zanzibar’s 2016 elections.
The word “Zanzibar” was derived from the Persian term ‘zangi-bar’ meaning ‘coast of the blacks’. However it’s believed that the name could have also originated from the Arabic ‘Zayn Z’al Barr’ meaning ‘fair is this land’. Zanzibar trades in spices and raffia and has a flourishing tourism industry. It’s home to an extremely endangered species, the Red Colobus Monkey.
It was sad leaving Zanzibar and I revisited memories from an earlier trip in 2011 feeling pulled back to the island and wanting to spend more time in paradise. After the ferry ride back to Dar es Salaam we head to Bagamoyo whose name means “lay down your heart” in Swahili and goes back to the dark days of slavery.