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A mere 30 nautical miles off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa is the archipelago of Zanzibar, a place whose very name evokes images of a golden age of travel — of gentlemen explorers in pith helmets and khaki hauling steamer trunks plastered with stickers from around the globe.
Even in the 21st century, Zanzibar still feels far away. But here’s the thing — when on a safari in either Tanzania or Kenya, clients will never be closer to Zanzibar. With direct daily flights from Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania or Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, they are only about an hour away.
Considered by many to be the very heart of East Africa’s Swahili culture, Zanzibar can feel like another world. The archipelago actually consists of many small islands and two large ones, Unguja and Pemba. For centuries, Zanzibar was a crossroads for global trade. Persians, Arabs, Indians and Portuguese have all weighed anchor here at one time or another. Those influences can be found in everything from Zanzibar’s unique cuisine to the exquisitely carved wooden doors of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On a recent trip, I decided to visit Zanzibar’s eastern coast. On this side of the island, the trade winds brought constant cooling breezes, and the stunning turquoise hues of the Indian Ocean fringed spectacular white-sand beaches. I stayed at the Red Monkey Lodge near the village of Jambiani. Situated on a small bluff overlooking an idyllic stretch of beach, it blended in seamlessly with the environment, providing terrific views.
Not surprisingly, activities here centered around the water. Swimming, snorkeling and sailing on a traditional dhow ship have long been staples. But there was something new in the breeze: kite boarding. The warm shallow waters of the Indian Ocean and steady trade winds have made Zanzibar’s east coast a kite boarding mecca.
Jambiani’s other advantage is its proximity to Jozani Forest, a refuge for Zanzibar’s endangered red colobus monkey. Found only on Zanzibar and Pemba, these monkeys are a unique species that evolved in isolation here, much like the lemurs of Madagascar.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with just lounging in a hammock and savoring the sea breezes. The east coast of Zanzibar will treat you right no matter what. In the end, I stayed an extra week. Some people stay even longer. And some, like Kristine and Mark, who own the Red Monkey Lodge, are still there. As far as I know, they’re not planning on leaving any time soon.
Zanzibar is an ideal add-on to a Kenya or Tanzania safari. // © 2013 Bob Demyan
The endangered red colobus monkey is found only on Zanzibar and Pemba. // © 2013 Bob Demyan
Many visitors opt for a ride on a traditional dhow ship. // © 2013 Bob Demyan
Zanzibar is known for being a quiet retreat, away from the hustle and bustle. // © 2013 Bob Demyan
The chance to interact with locals is a highlight. // © 2013 Bob Demyan
Things to KnowAs in much of Africa, credit cards are not widely accepted in Zanzibar. There are ATMs in Stone Town that dispense cash in Tanzanian Shillings. U.S. dollars and euros can be used at most resorts and restaurants.
When to GoJust about any time of year is fine, though the rainy season from March through May is, well, rainy. Many of the east coast resorts are closed during this time. November through February can be hot and humid, but the resorts are much less crowded and room rates drop. June through October is considered high season.
Getting ThereThere are daily flights from Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi and Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. Daily ferry service is also available from Dar es Salaam. U.S. citizens can purchase a Tanzanian visa upon arrival at Zanzibar’s airport.