Panda’s thoughts on Paradise Island: Zanzibar (Tanzania)
There is something about Africa. If you’ve ever been, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, listen up. Africa is a seductress of note… she draws you in with her enchanting tales of exotic landscapes, endless activities, frightening animals and intriguing mysteries. You may have heard about her beauty but it cannot be explained, it has to be felt. In fact you may have heard many things about Africa- some true and some not so true. But whatever you have heard is nothing like experiencing the heaving mass of chaos that Africa is… magical but enigmatic. Revealing her secrets only to those she trusts and brutally hurting those she doesn’t.
Africa rarely does things on a small scale; she has the size so why should she? Africa awakens emotions that I have somehow not felt when visiting anywhere else in the world. You have the usual ones; wonderment in what you are seeing, a feeling of peace and one of tranquillity. But then you start to feel an odd emotion, one of insignificance, of being somewhere for just a fleeting moment in its time. Of being humble.
If you are truly blessed to come from Africa, there is nothing you can’t handle and you know it. This will serve you well as you navigate through life and even better as you go along your travels. If you are fortunate enough to visit Africa, you will learn to accept what you thought was unacceptable and you will either love it or vehemently hate it.
When I told people I was heading to Zanzibar, they had NO idea where that was. So let’s do another PPG (Panda’s Progressive Geography) lesson. Zanzibar is a small island off the coast of Tanzania. Tanzania is a large country along the east coast of Africa. You know The Lion King- Rafiki, Simba etc? That movie was based on Tanzania. It’s also famous for the safaris in the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro. PPG lesson over.
Fox and I flew into the capital city of Tanzania called Dar Es Salaam. Upon arrival, I was not surprised to see that the airport looked like it was caught in a time warp- stuck in the late eighties. When you arrive, as you wind your way through the small but confusing airport, eventually you will make our way to passport control. But before you get there, a few airport officials will approach you, ask you your nationality and if you don’t look Tanzanian, they will direct you to the visa counter. One look at me meant they tried to send me with some Indian citizens who were off to pay for their visa but I loudly shouted while waving my green passport in the air, “I’m South African!” The men smiled at me, “Welcome to East Africa South African queen! Please proceed to passport control.” That’s more like it! This is how I felt walking past the rest of the people filling out the visa forms:
Passport control was a breeze except the fact that I got a 10 day stay while Fox got one for three months? (We grew up down the road from each other, there is no difference in our citizenship). But as Leo says in Blood Diamond, TIA: This Is Africa! Nothing makes sense but everything works!
We then caught the two hour ferry to Zanzibar from Dar Es Salaam (I will include more detailed info about this at the end of my post). We were concerned about the weather, having read that April is monsoon season for Tanzania. It rained all the way from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar. It rained while we were driven from the ferry terminal to our accommodation. It poured and poured. We felt anxious as we settled in for our first night in Tanzania.
But there was no need for us to worry. Typical of tropical countries, the temperature was hot and the rain was intermittent. We managed to see some beautiful blue skies during our time in Zanzibar but also some very moody ones.
Things we did in Zanzibar:
We hired a scooter and headed out to have lunch at this famed Zanzibari restaurant. Apparently it’s a “must see” and “must do”. Well. I’d say it’s worth seeing but not worth eating at. It’s gorgeous and makes for wonderful pictures. Their drinks are gorgeous too. But food? Mediocre quality, little to no thought put into the presentation and the service? Thinking about the way the waiter fawned over the white patrons but took pleasure being especially annoying to us, makes me feel highly irritated. Nevertheless, the views are gorgeous and if you want overpriced continental cuisine then I suppose it could be worth it.
The highlight of this excursion was renting a scooter for the day and driving along the beach while exploring. Unfortunately they only had one helmet and Fox insisted I wear it so we drove really slowly along the soft sand to take in the gorgeous landscape. Oh Africa!
When Fox and I head to a tropical destination, one of the things we love to do is a full day out on the water, island hopping and enjoying water activities. Some destinations are better than others (Thailand trumps Mauritius and Cambodia was not better than the Philippines) so I was keen to see what island hopping in Zanzibar would be like. It started off super scarily as we drove through a forest in a totally unequipped vehicle for the terrain. Chickens and children ran out of the minibuses way as we traversed quite literally, through the bush. And when we saw our boat, I almost turned and got back in the vehicle.
But my sense of adventure prevailed and I’m so glad it did. I’ll let pictures describe the rest of this excursion which involved a seafood barbecue, snorkelling, climbing a baobab tree, lazing around on a gorgeous beach and swimming around mangroves.
Pool and beach time
When we weren’t being adventurous, Fox and I enjoyed some quality time in our resort’s pool as well as long walks on the beach in front of our resort. It’s well worth it to spend extra money to stay at a place on the beach and with a pool (if you can afford to), in my opinion. Thats what island vacations are about right?
And what’s better when you can drink your drinks while in the pool? Sunrise walks with your other half perhaps. Along the way you may be greeted by locals shouting, “Jambo!” to you in greeting. You might run into a shepherd with his cows as they stroll across the shore. You will see African ladies picking shells and watch kids playing soccer on the beach. This is what holidays are about. This is Africa.
By the way, we stayed at the Sahari Zanzibar Hotel on Bwejuu Beach which was quiet, peaceful and relaxing. In fact, whenever we were on the beach, we were the only non-Tanzanians around. And the hotel was excellent value for money with the great breakfast menu, attention to detail in the rooms as well as the overall experience. The just reiterates my belief that accommodation doesn’t have to have the words, “Hilton”, “Sheraton”, “Four Seasons” etc. in front of the name to be a great place to stay. This was our view:
Tips for traveling to Zanzibar:
– If you’re from one the SADC countries, finally you will be one of the lucky ones who don’t require a visa to visit this country. But for everyone else, you definitely need one. Some nationalities need a pre-arranged one and others get visa on arrival. Call your embassy to confirm. Side note: the lady at the Tanzanian embassy in Kuwait is utterly useless and tried to get me to pay 20KD for a visa I didn’t need!
– I know flying into Zanzibar is more expensive than flying into Dar Es Salaam and taking the ferry. But believe me, what you save in money, you will lose in time and gain in annoyance. It takes too much of time to go through immigration in Dar Es Salaam, get a taxi to the ferry terminal, get your tickets, wait for the ferry, spend two hours on the boat… it’s a waste of precious holiday time. By the way, the people who work at Dar Es Salaam airport are utterly inefficient, rude and clueless. I practically had to instruct them on how to print out my boarding pass. And as for the man who stamped my passport when I was leaving Tanzania:
Him: “Where is your ticket to South Africa?”
Me: “I’m not going to South Africa. I’m going to Kuwait. I work there.”
Him: “Oh really? Show me proof.”
Me: “Huh? My residency permit is there in the passport you’re holding.”
Him: “No I want to see your ID card if you really work in Kuwait.”
Me: “Uh… ok?”
Habeebi you aren’t Kuwaiti immigration. You just stamp little books in a tiny airport where the arrivals hall is OUTSIDE. Calm your farm… Kuwait and I are cool with each other.
Fly into Zanzibar. You’ll thank me later.
– Come to Tanzania with dollars. Yes I mean exchange your money before you embark on the plane. You cannot withdraw dollars anywhere in Tanzania but everything is quoted in dollars. If you withdraw money there, you will be subjected to hefty bank charges from the Tanzanian banks and you can only withdraw in Tanzanian shillings. This means you will be subject to the daily fluctuation of the shilling-dollar exchange rate. It could work in your favour but sometimes it won’t. Come with dollars or exchange your dinars/rands/euros to dollars at the airport.
A lot of people warned me that Zanzibar is very expensive. I disagree. Of course most holidays are as expensive as you make it. Depending on where you stay, what you eat and drink how many activities you do, it can be a costly or budget affair. But on the whole, Zanzibar is MUCH cheaper than Kuwait and is priced similarly to South Africa. It’s isn’t particularly cheap but neither is it particularly expensive. Be aware of added tax charges when paying bills and tipping is very much expected in this part of the world.
– Lastly, Zanzibar in April is low season, due to the aforementioned rain. However the weather was still hot (30 degrees celsius) and with overcast conditions, there was no danger of roasting (I am sure you can tell that I don’t need to work on my tan). There are a ton of activities available in Zanzibar, depending on your budget and preference. Fox and I barely scratched the surface with what we did opting for more of a “second honeymoon” vibe (our first one was in Mauritius). I would rate Zanzibar an impressive 5 pandas out of 5 for wonderful cuisine, gorgeous landscapes and an all authentic African paradise experience!
For more detailed information on Zanzibar such as electrical sockets, etiquette and transportation prices click here to this informative article by Matej Michalik.