Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili
Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago,
although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later.
Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone
Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s
palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the
merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city.
Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance
to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon,
and other spices that have made the island famous.
offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf
vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the
east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore,
and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and
anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the
tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days
in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast,
and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible
at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s
drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well
worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole
Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison,
Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and
a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai
Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered
species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast
coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s
rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small
Traditionally part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba
is fast becoming a unique destination in its own right. For centuries,
Pemba’s clove plantations and spice fields provided the Omani
sultanate in Zanzibar with money for trade and military dominance
over the surrounding areas.
To this day, the island is still a major spice
producer in the archipelago. Visitors flock to Pemba’s shores,
dotted with desert islands and throngs of coconut palms, for some
of the best diving in the Indian Ocean. The Pemba Channel drops
off steeply just off the west coast and the diverse species of marine
life and coral are truly exceptional. Because tourism is still in
its early stages, a trip to Pemba’s unspoiled shores and pristine
waters is the underwater adventure of a lifetime.
Mafia Island is a popular destination for visitors
to relax after their safari and the island’s relaxed and secluded
beaches offer privacy and comfort for discerning travellers. Mafia’s
incredible and unspoilt dive sites have remained a well-kept secret
of diving aficionados and beach recluses for years, but now the
island is fast becoming a preferred destination.
For centuries, the island was a trading stop for Shirazi
merchants travelling up towards Persia and under the rule of the
Omani sultanate in Zanzibar, vast coconut and cashew plantations
flourished. Today, all that remain of the island’s prestigious
past are the coral ruins on Chole Mjini, the small island just off
Hore from Mafia where the Arab landowners lived a sumptuous life
removed from their plantations and slaves.
These days, Mafia’s remote location means
it receives only the most selective visitors, but things are changing.
The recent gazetting of Mafia Island Marine Park – the largest
protected area in the Indian Ocean – to include surrounding
villages in its conservation efforts means that the millions of
fish and coral species that thrive in the warm waters of Mafia’s
beaches will survive for decades to come.