We spent our Christmas holiday in Zanzibar. For those of you who isn’t familiar with Zanzibar, it is a paradise island in the Indian Ocean right off the Tanzanian coast.
Whenever I was sharing our holiday photos, I received so many questions about going to Zanzibar. In this post, I’ll try to cover them all.
I cover primarily these topics:
- How we plan and book our vacation
- The hotel, where to stay
- The food we ate
- The beaches
- The culture and price differences compared to Asia/Thailand
- What to pack
We don’t use travel agents, instead we book our own flight and hotel. We do that by searching for plane tickets on Momondo, sometimes for days or weeks. When there’s finally a campaign or we find tickets that we find are reasonably priced, we book!
This year, we flew with KLM and Kenya Airlines. We flew Copenhagen-Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Nairobi and Nairobi-Zanzibar. Total travel time of 16-18 hours door to door. Since there’s no time difference (or only two hours in the winter) between Copenhagen and Zanzibar, there’s hardly any jetlag which is nice.
Once the plane tickets are booked, we start looking for a hotel. We aim for places with remote location, as few people as possible and preferably no Danish people. When we travel, we go away to find peace and quiet and to find each other again.
We stayed at the most fantastic little place. 8 or 9 little basic huts placed on a long stretch of sandy beach. We could walk several kilometers to each side and not meet a single tourist.
We ate all our meals at the hotel (except from the day we spent in Stone Town). Since we’re a foodie family, food is very important to us. We always check out the reviews on Tripadvisor to see what they say about the food and we partially chose this place for the good food reviews. And let me say, we were not disappointed!
The food was gorgeous and so delicious. As in really, really good!
The hotel we stayed at is run by a British couple, Sue and Andrew, who used to have a hotel in South of France. The food was quite “European” but always well prepared and tasty. For breakfast, we had bacon and eggs with a fresh juice or fruit salad, for lunch we chose from today’s specials (5-6 different dishes) and for dinner we had a 3-course à la carte dinner with choice of different starters, mains and dessert. Fish was on the menu every day and every menu had a vegetarian alternative too.
Fresh mango juice or fresh fruit salad for breakfast.
Everything was fresh and homemade. And since I recently gave up sugar, I’ve become very sensitive to sugar and can detect even small amounts of sugar in food. My impression was that the food didn’t contain much sugar, if any. Obviously the desserts did, but I just didn’t have them
Our hotel was placed in a remote location on the East coast of Zanzibar. The East coast is a bit rough and far away from everything which was perfect for us. The hotel we stayed at was Echo Beach Hotel and I give them my warmest recommendations.
Echo Beach Hotel
The beaches on the East coast are long, white and beautiful. We could walk about 2-3 kilometres to one side before we met a small enclave of tourist hotels that offered kite surfing and the like. Right next to our hotel on the other side was a different hotel but we never saw any people there. When we walked long enough to that side, we met quite a few locals. We may have gotten close to the village Paje. I’m not sure.
Silas gave his beach football to a group of local boys on the beach one day.
On the East coast, there’s huge difference between high tide and low tide and the sea seems to change every day. I’ve never seen that elsewhere. I’ve seen high and low tide but never with so rapid changes as here. Some days, we would have high tide in the morning, other days in the afternoon. At low tide you can walk almost all the way out to the big reef. We never made it that far out though. But before you walk out, make sure you know when the tides are changing. It happens quickly and can impose some danger if you’re suddenly caught out there. I heard some horrible stories that I won’t repeat here!
But the beaches were, without a doubt, the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life. And I have travelled to quite a few Paradise locations but this was really something special.
See more photos of the pristine beaches here: POSTCARD FROM ZANZIBAR
CULTURE AND PRICES
There’s a huge difference between traveling in South East Asia and traveling in Africa. Both culturally and price wise and I understand why South East Asia is more appealing to the standard European traveller.
Zanzibar is very under developed. And they have a brutal history of suppression and those things do not go by unnoticed. Where Thailand or South East Asia have managed to turn their beautiful country into a billion dollar industry, Africa still has a long way to go. Everything is very basic which in my opinion is also part of the charm of going there. But it is very different from South East Asia.
The people of Zanzibar (the Zanzibarians?) were very friendly. And very, very poor. This means that everybody wants to sell you something. Often they don’t have anything to sell so they try to sell you things they’ve found or services. They basically see dollar bills when they spot you on the beach. That may sound negative but it’s not necessarily. It’s just to describe the poverty and the desperation that follows.
It can be hard to be confronted with poverty in that degree when you come from this protected part of the world. I’m sure also very healthy. Our hotel had little huts to house the staff but other places we saw what I would hardly describe as a house. And this is where they lived. In the morning they would get up and go wait on some rich tourists at the luxurious hotels. I find it difficult not to be affected by this enormous gap between rich and poor. At the same time, I realize that I don’t help them by not visiting their country but I feel a great deal of powerlessness. I cannot help them all no matter how many overpriced souvenirs I buy. I found that part of our visit to be very difficult.
Everything is so expensive in Zanzibar. In Stone Town, Vega found a bag that she really wanted. One of these tourist bags that you can buy all over the world but this one had “Zanzibar” written on it. The price was 4 og 5 times higher than what we would have paid for that same bag in Thailand.
I find the price levels to be a huge disadvantage because it stops me from spending money. If things had been reasonably priced, I would have bought so much more. But $10 for a tourist scarf with Hakuna Matata on it. Well let’s just say I only buy one. And mostly to be polite and help out. And then suddenly it’s charity more than actual business and it just feels…. I don’t know… strange.
We visited Zanzibar in December and had very pleasant temperatures. Midday was a bit warm for my Scandinavian genes so I just stayed in the shade but morning and late afternoon with the light breeze from the sea was just perfect. We had very little rain and never needed to put on extra clothes.
WHAT TO PACK!
Since you can’t be sure that you can actually buy things in Zanzibar, you need to pack carefully. Important things to pack are: sun lotion, a sun hat, reef shoes and maybe your own snorkeling gear.
If you chose a remote location like we did, consider bringing snacks like nuts or similar. There are no stores and no possibilities of buying anything. I find that to be the perfect occasion to learn how to stop all the mindless snacking but sometimes the afternoon can seem a bit long without a small meal. We always travel with a glass of coconut oil. A spoonful in my coffee or tea is brilliant if you’re feeling a bit hungry in between meals.
Also bring US dollars and your international vaccination card. It costs $50 per person to be allowed into Zanzibar and sometimes they require to see a valid yellow fever vaccine.
We heard many different stories about whether the yellow fever vaccine was really necessary. We came to Zanzibar via Kenya but was only in transit for two hours so we were never asked to show our vaccination cards to enter Zanzibar. We did get the yellow fever vaccine before going though. Just to be on the safe side.
Also bring medicin if you take any and also pack some sterile syringes. Just in case. None of us wants to go to the hospital in Africa and if we have to, let’s make sure we have taken the necessary precautions. We asked Sue and Andrew what they did if they needed medical care and they said they would go back to France or UK.
Mosquito repellant is also a good thing to bring. We weren’t too bothered by mosquitoes though.
That’s it, really! Feel free to ask a question below if there’s something I didn’t cover.
Next up is a post about Stone Town and what to do and see while in Zanzibar. Stay tuned!