Locals sometimes joke that Zanzibar is the only place in the world that has a ‘bar’ in its name, but very few bars. If not for its largely conservative Muslim population, Zanzibar could have become an African equivalent of Southeast Asian islands, with full-moon parties, culinary delights and reggae music scene. Its Stone Town also has the house where Freddy Mercury was born. Whether you are arriving by ferry or by plane, first glimpses of Zanzibar will differ much from the grey shapes of Dar-es-Salaam and other mainland cities.
Influenced by both Arabic culture and European colonial powers, Zanzibar has a nice Middle Eastern ring to it, and the narrow streets of Stone Town are full of lovely stray cats and ancient buildings. Zanzibar is famous for its produce of saffron, ginger, nutmeg and other spices, and one of the highlights of the journey to this island is an arranged spice tour around the plantations. Lively Stone Town of Zanzibar is one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, full of food markets and spice bazaars. Learn to distinguish between a dozen types of bananas and learn how to cook them at a local culinary school. At the seaside, Forodhani Gardens turn into a bustling food market in the evening, when you can try all sorts of local delicacies and hone your bargaining skills.
Outside of the city walls, away from the old fortifications and buildings, you will see the real Swahili Zanzibar, with dense jungle, traditional houses with clay stoves, white-sand beaches and seaweed plantations. Jambiani village in the southeast is a great place to sip your coffee and watch local life pass by in its relaxed pace. Nearby Paje is good for kiteboarding, a boat trip with snorkeling or diving along the coast of the island. Jozani National Park is a fantastic place to search for Zanzibari colobus monkeys: extremely colorful species that have been isolated on the island for so long that they would probably fail to recognize their mainland relatives as one of their own.