Zanzibar actually consists of two islands, Pemba and Unguja, though Unguja is now commonly known as Zanzibar. Just 96km long and 35km wide, the island has an antiquity difficult to define. Life is simple there, yet at the same time very ornate. Elaborate Arabic architecture, Swahili women swathed in black with covered heads, others in brightly-coloured prints, spicy food, sumptuous seafood, carefully crafted dhows and vibrantly friendly people make the island and interesting fusion of East meets West meets Africa.
Getting lost in Stone Town of Zanzibar is the best way to see the place, and this is remarkably easy to do — even with a map. One worn, quaint street leads to another, Swahili women shuffle past with henna-painted hands and feet, always covering their faces for fear of being photographed, stray cats sniff around the streets and zig-zag between market stalls, hawkers sell a myriad of wares, and bicycles weave between the lot. Always there is noise and bustle synonymous with Africa, distant chanting, rhythmic music and the smell of spices.
Cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, cumin, nutmeg, vanilla, black pepper, lemon grass and peppermint add an exotic air to the place. The spices are used in medicine, soaps and creams, food and drink, and are also hing in homes for natural perfume. It’s a heady mix.
If spices are your weakness, there are tours from Stone Town into the ’field’ where all the spices can be spotted, picked and tasted — along with succulent tropical fruits like mangoes, papaya, guavas, ltichis, pomegranates and tiny bananas. Along the way you can snack of coconut donuts and sweet black tea, sold by locals.
The very name Zanzibar conjures images of balmy days and sultry nights, exotic food and idyllic scenery. And that’s exactly what you’ll find on this tantalising island, just off the coast of Tanzania. But be warned, Zanzibar will completely seduce you.
Article adapted from Keri Harvey's All Things Sultan & Spice in 2002 Good Taste Magazine.