Welcome to Zanzibar! Amid the confusion we jumped into a cab and quickly befriended the driver. During our five-minute drive to the hotel, he schooled us on the islands' offerings and volunteered to arrange our excursions for the next several days in which we happily agreed.
The DoubleTree Hilton in Stone Town served as our oasis on the crowded, hot island, where the highlights from our visit included:
- SOS Children's Villages. Upon researching Tanzania, we learned that it was one of the poorest countries in the world and there was a severe shortage of books. An alarming number of the population is illiterate, and the average annual income is around $250 U.S. With that in mind, before departing the U.S., we loaded a duffel bag with 50 pounds of books and school supplies and upon arrival on the island, sought out a local orphanage. You can read more about our heart-warming experience at the orphanage in the post "Fifty Pounds of Books & Pencils."
- Spice Plantation. The following day we ventured from the coast inland and visited one of the island's many spice plantations. Although, heavily monitored by the Tanzanian government, the plantation we visited was owned by a local village. For more about our day at the plantation, read "Skipping through a Spice Plantation."
- Slave Cave. Also while inland on Unguja, we visited the Mangapwani Coral Cave. Historians suggest that the cave was used to hide slaves after the slave trade was officially abolished in 1873. A flight of stone steps took us from the nondescript entrance down to the vast gravel-bottomed cave floor where we navigated water holes and boulders as our flashlight revealed the colony of bats hanging above us.
- Fisherman's Beach. A pebble's throw from the slave cave is a beautiful white sand beach. Mangapwani's sands and waters are littered with long boats and dhows housed for storage or repair. A dhow is a traditional Arabic sailing vessel and is also one of the most iconic sights from the islands of Zanzibar.
- Stone Town City Tour. With the temperatures beginning to drop, the evening provided the perfect time for a strolling tour through the cobblestone streets of Stone Town. Stone Town is the historic area of Zanzibar City well-known for its unique 19th century architecture. The town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site showcasing the unique mix of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences. The tour took us through an old fort and open-air fish market, by Freddie Mercury's childhood home, past shops selling sparkling tanzanite jewelry and stopped at a old slave market and chambers well-preserved in the center of town.
- Tortoise Conservatory. A thirty-minute ride on a long boat transferred us from Stone Town to Prison Island to the northwest. Prison Island, also known as Changuu, once housed rebellious slaves in the 1860's and later served as a site to quarantine yellow fever patients. While you can still walk the prison grounds, now the island is best known for its tortoise conservatory. Aldabra Giant Tortoises, now an endangered species, find refuge there and slowly graze; some tortoises weigh up to 200 pounds and are more than 100 years old.
- Snorkeling. Scuba diving and snorkeling is a poplar pastime off the beaches of Unguja and Zanzibar's other small islands. We were able to spot bottlenose dolphins as well as clown, angel and stone fish in the Indian Ocean's warm, coral-filled waters. The islands also boast areas where you can swim with the white tip reef sharks and blue spotted rays.
- Sunset Sail. To cap off our relaxing visit to the beautiful islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago, we jumped aboard a long boat and set off for a sunset sail. Zanzibar is a not-to-miss treasure brimming with history, beauty and culture.