I’ll tell you a secret: when I was younger I used to think that Zanzibar was a made-up place. It sounds so exotic, I thought it came straight out of a fantasy novel or children’s storybook or something! How embarrassing. But what joy it brought me to learn as an adult that it was real, and that after I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, its beaches would make a perfect place to rest my weary limbs.
After the life-changing trek up Africa’s highest peak, I had three weeks until my flight home. Once I had recuperated, I envisaged moving on from Zanzibar and exploring more of east Africa. However, as usual, my travels didn’t go to plan. I fell head-over-heels with this otherworldly island. The beaches are right up there with the best I have ever seen, but I found so much more than sand and sunsets, and ended up staying for the full three weeks.
Most people come here for the pristine white sand, calm waters and dazzling sunsets. If that’s what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. This is one of those “Wow, is this real?” places, and you’ll probably come away feeling like the dictionary definition of paradise should simply be followed by the word: Zanzibar.
Top spots are the northern beaches of Nungwi and Kendwa, and if your visit falls on the full moon, you’ll get the chance to party on the beach till the early hours. Don’t worry, this is unlike any Thai full-moon party. It is frequented by islanders and the soundtrack is local African beats rather than Western pop, so prepare to pit your dancing skills against the talents of the locals. They will enthusiastically invite you to the dance-floor and not take no for an answer!
Like most islands, the pace on Zanzibar is slower than on the mainland. You will never feel the need to rush here, and you will have to get used to the fact that no one else will either. “Pole, pole” means “slowly, slowly”, and you’ll hear it as frequently as you’ll hear “Hakuna matata”. Yep, you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped straight into the set of The Lion King, as the locals spread their “no worries” attitude into your bones.
A great example of the “pole, pole” Zanzibar lifestyle is dining in local restaurants. One day a restaurant owner strolled along the beach to where we were sunbathing and asked for our dinner order at midday, saying that it helps them to know in advance what they will need to do that night. At first the delays and “no worries” attitude can be frustrating, but just order another Kilimanjaro beer and accept the situation, it’s much easier that way.
And it’s not only the local culture that causes delays, but also the temperamental power supplies. At one evening meal along the east coast, I was sitting with some friends in a restaurant when suddenly the lights cut out. Soon after, the waiter emerged with a candle and a round of free beers, explaining that our dinner would now be prepared on an open fire, and our patience would be appreciated. “Hakuna matata”, we responded with accepting laughter.