It would be easy to make a post about how idyllically beautiful Zanzibar is: the smooth, white sand beaches, the clear turquoise water, the coconut trees everywhere. However, the culture and history of the place make it fascinating to explore and led us to experiences beyond the usual island paradise.
Zanzibar was previously ruled by independent sultans who used the island as a trading hub between the Arab world, India, Asia, and Africa for many centuries. They grow many spices, teas, and coffee on the island, which were a major source of trade and continue to be found in local markets. The legacy of the sultans and the vigorous trading gave Zanzibar a fierce sense of independence apart from the Tanzanian mainland. You encounter this daily as a tourist, and will often hear Zanzibaris refer to the mainland in a negative light, whether they are referring to the sporadic power outages, soccer rivalries, or the beauty of their beaches.
We wandered the alleys of Stone Town (a section of Zanzibar) and admired the local appreciation of art and architecture. Zanzibar is famous for their handcrafted wooden doors, and much of the architecture reminded us more of Morocco than of anything else in Sub-Saharan Africa, which makes sense given that the population is more than 99% Muslim. There is also a burgeoning music and art scene, with annual film and music festivals. I could wander the alleys for days looking at the crafts, scarves and paintings that are in every shop.
After a few days in Stone Town (and some of our best meals of the trip), we headed to Jambiani, a beach on the southeastern coast of the island. It was amazingly beautiful, even on the days when it was overcast or cloudy. One of the most interesting things about this place, again, is how different cultures have influenced the place. There is the typical beach-rasta vibe with obligatory reggae music and Bob Marley flags. However, it's a bit strange to be on a beach in a swimsuit, when all the local women have their heads covered. Is it disrespectful? Or is it okay because they have become used to the weird habits of "Muzungus" and furthermore, make much of their living off these crazies?
See below for some more pictures from Zanzibar.
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