When Queen Saba was cruising on the sea - she heard a voice "Promise to come back here". To keep her promise she dropped a pearl necklace into the water. "That's not enough," she heard. In response, Saba threw in a chest full of treasures, which, hitting the bottom, opened. From the jewels there, a paradise archipelago called Zanzibar was created. That's what the legend says.
We however, were wondering when we should set out to visit another interesting part of the world. The biggest problem turned out to be the right time. On the one hand, the plan was to go during Laura's school holidays (2 weeks in January) or during, needless to say very important, period around Jola’s birthday. Finally, we agreed to spend her birthday in an unusual place. As a result, our trip had to be much shorter than the ones before – we always tried to leave for a minimum of 2-3 weeks but this time it was only 8 days so that Laura did not have too much schoolwork to catch up with later.
But why Zanzibar? This time we were searching for last-minute flights only. As you remember, we travel independently and want to stick to this concept. However, we gradually started to consider charter flights of Polish travel agencies – this way you can save quite a lot in comparison to standard flights, especially if you travel in a party of four. For a long time, we had Gambia in sight, but finally Zanzibar appeared on our horizon with an "almost" direct flight from Wroclaw, which made it easier for us. This flight has a 45-minute refuelling stop in Hurghada, Egypt, during which it is not necessary to get off the plane. The total flight time is approximately 9 hours.
We bought our tickets 4 days before departure. The price offered then is the in the range of about 1200 - 1900 PLN / person; it is much cheaper than buying standard tickets, which cost at least 3500 - 4000 PLN / person.
First a handful of practical information
The time in Zanzibar is offset from the Polish one by + 2h - it makes contact with family and friends easy.
A visa to Zanzibar costs USD 50 per person (payable in cash but also possible with a card), we receive it at the airport - it is a so called "Visa on arrival". Passing the bureaucratic procedures requires very much patience. Remember, however, to have a pen with you because when a whole plane of people gets off and you all have to fill in absurd forms, it will simply be useful to you. Everything takes a long time and we had to stand in a long queue. There is a place for a photograph on the visa form but it is not necessary; we had them just in case, but ultimately they did not come in useful.
When to go? Remember that Zanzibar is in an equatorial climate - you can fly there during the whole year, but the main travelling season is the period from June to October. At that time the sun will give you some more break than in the other months. Consequently, we were there during the summer. Regardless when you are going, do not forget to take some strong sunblock (we had 30 SPF and it was too weak) and good sunglasses. In addition, Zanzibar is a great place to rest after a typical safari in the Serengeti Park or a climb to Kilimanjaro, in the continental part of Tanzania.
Blackouts are a standard in Zanzibar - but who cares ? Believe me, one does not pay attention to them completely - you just have to remember to recharge your phone or computer in time. When it comes to electric plugs, it is worth taking adapters, however in the hotel where we lived, Polish plugs fit without issues.
Vaccination. It seems to be a difficult issue because everywhere you can see information about recommended vaccinations and other antimalarial measures taken throughout Tanzania, including Zanzibar. In practice, however, Zanzibar has been carrying out massive anti-mosquito campaign for many years, which resulted in a drop in malaria incidence below 1%, and in some recent (November 2017) publications below 0.003%.
Currently, however, there is no need for that and nobody asked us about it at the airport.
To sum up, as a family, we did not have any additional vaccination (we had had it before) nor did we take any antimalarial prophylactic medicine, which also may have a varying impact on our health. Keep in mind, however, that we are not physicians and everyone must make a fully conscious and independent decision in this matter. It is advisable to consult a tropical medicine specialist.
For those who want to read in detail about relevant health issues we recommend:
Medication – necessarily take it with you. There are few healthcare centres in Zanzibar and it is better not to get sick there; this does not mean that we didn’t get ill, especially Jola. Don’t forget about antipyretic and antidiarrheal drugs, painkillers; and also some foam against skin burns. In addition, hydrogen peroxide, plasters etc. Everything seems to be available there, but if you are far away from the cities – it is better to have it with you. In addition, we recommend waterproof shoes, which will protect you against sea urchins. They don’t appear too often (at least in the south of the island) but we were lucky enough to step on one; to be more specific Daniel was, during his first swim there.
Insurance - we strongly recommend having it. Don’t be cheap, it is your guarantee in case of trouble. We have a rule that on more distant trips we use large, global and, above all, recognizable companies. In our case it is Allianz - but of course it is an individual preference. Greetings to our agent - cousin and uncle Radoslaw.
Traveling with children is not a problem - the whole family can admire the beauty of this island. However, you won’t find here too many playgrounds, aqua parks or any other good infrastructure for kids. You will spend more time on the beach or sightseeing. You can meet families with children here, of course, but not as often as in other countries.
Safety. The Internet, most likely, will tell you a lot about it, but in our case, we had never felt threatened or in any way concerned. We happened to walk on the beach in the evening and everything had always been ok; the passing people often said "Jambo" (hi) or “Hakuna Matata” (don’t worry – or we should rather translate it as head up) in a friendly manner.
Taking pictures: the Maasai, coming to Zanzibar from continental Tanzania to sell their handicrafts, are very open and always smiling. The local inhabitants don’t like being in photos too much. In this case, you should ask for permission to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings.
At any moment of your stay, you will have in contact with local children; they will be delighted when they get candy, pens, crayons or other small gifts from you. We had a whole lot of Mieszko candy and lollipops (not by accident, of course). They were very useful, and the smiles and thanks from the little inhabitants of the island will remain in our memory for a very long time. Remember that these kids often don’t have basic things and sweets are something amazing for them. We are going to write about possibilities to help locally later.
The cheapest package trips to Zanzibar are in the range of PLN 3,700 – PLN 5,000 per person, depending, of course, on the standard of the hotel and the attractions offered there.
So much for practicalities - it's time to move on to our account of the trip.
As we have already mentioned, we flew out from Wroclaw using the charter line Enter Air. Here we must praise the whole flight team – they really impressed us. For their professional approach, smile and help during, for us, an important moment – we are extremely grateful.
After a long 9-hour flight, we finally arrived in Zanzibar; we got there in late afternoon. After getting through the visa forms and completing all the necessary (and very long!) formalities - we left the airport. There, a driver was already waiting for us – his service was organized by the hotel which we had booked through booking.com.
Tired but satisfied that we were almost in the hotel, we were observing the bustling streets around us through the car windows. We had about 1 hour journey from the airport to the south-eastern part of the island - near the village of Jambiani. The quality of roads with really big holes in the tarmac reminded us quickly that we were in Africa.
Our hotel IFA BEACH RESORT (the name is a bit of an overstatement) was located near the village of Jambiani, which is why we first drove through it. Initially, the very modest houses and children running everywhere took us by surprise. We soon got used to this sight while often walking among local residents. On that day, however, we had had enough and we promptly went to sleep in, what was for us, quite unusual surroundings - under the protection of mosquito nets hung over each of our beds. This is standard in this part of the world - even if, as I had mentioned earlier, malaria slowly becomes rare there.
We got up very early the next morning, and soon realized that we are in an equatorial climate. It was very warm and the sun was already shining. We went to the balcony and spotted a cow walking on the beach – this put Laura in an enthusiastic burst of joy. As you know, our 11-year-old daughter loves all animals.
Interesting fact - 2 hours later we went for a first walk and to our surprise the Indian Ocean was visible only on the horizon. After some research, it turned out that the low tide periods in Zanzibar are something very characteristic. You can easily enter at least 1 - 1.5 km deep into the sea, reaching very shallow coral reefs. We definitely recommend waterproof shoes with proper soles as during this first walk Daniel stepped on a sea urchin, getting a few spikes into his heel. You can only imagine how hard they were later to remove; not to mention Daniel's screams ;-)
Going deep into the sea, we are able to see corals, shells and crabs, which themselves are very characteristic to this place, also being a big attraction for kids. Generally, about every 6 hours in the vicinity of Jambiani you can expect significant ebbs and flows.
When talking about the morning ebbs, it is worth to mention older women from a local village, who enter deep into the exposed ocean to collect algae from marine fields. They wear characteristically colourful clothes - kangas. Their work appears to be extremely hard – it takes place in the hottest part of the day.
At the end of the day, however, they take the algae to the village in order to dry them in the sun. Although it is a common sight there, algae have been grown in Zanzibar only since the end of the 80s. They are later exported into the European market.
This day, however, had a completely different priority.
12th February 2018 is Jola's exceptionally important birthday. At 4 pm dinner was planned at the most famous restaurant on the island - "The Rock". It is located on the sea (about 50 meters from the beach) and is a very interesting place to visit and to try some sea and meat delicacies. I made the reservation in Poland; I booked a table with a view of the sea – I’m joking a bit, because in a place like this it is obvious ?. Interestingly, the restaurant can be reached on foot when there is an ebb or a boat if there is a flow. We chose the third option – we simply walked through water.
After a really tasty dinner, accompanied by local Kilimangaro beer (adults only), it was time to change the location to a more relaxing one - of course within the same restaurant. Jola didn’t know yet that it was also time for a birthday cake, which had been agreed upon with the restaurant while still Poland. When we were all resting, suddenly, the whole crew of "The Rock" approached us and sang "Happy Birthday Jola" (you can see it in our video). A very subtle and pleasant touch.
Satisfied and fully relaxed, we returned with a driver, who was also organized by the restaurant. They have such a service on offer and at a decent price. The celebrations however, weren’t over yet as our IFA BEACH RESORT had also prepared a small surprise for Jola. Again, they are small things but those that you remember. There was also "Made in Africa" wine for us.
We finished this day in a very nice mood - suitable for this special occasion. The next day and each subsequent one, we started with a very good, almost delicious breakfast. This meal was by no means an “all inclusive” wide selection one. It was even a bit monotonous, but despite this, we agreed that we could have such breakfasts every day at home.
The main reason why all four of us rushed for breakfast was fresh and delicious fruit - both known to us and those completely exotic, about which we had to ask a bit. Add to this fresh juices plus other goodies, and it meant that the beginning of the day was very tasty and made us positively focused on further activities.
While describing Zanzibar, it is impossible not to talk about people and other things that surrounded us every day. First, great, long beaches and kids playing there. It is worth mentioning that of all our trips in this place the sea was the warmest. It was even hard to believe when you went in to take a swim. Moreover, it is very clean and looks transparent.
When giving away candy or other small presents, we had to be careful not to omit anyone. When the kids see that Mzungu (a white man) shares some delicacies with them - suddenly, and a little out of the blue, there are more kids waiting for the same. However, what Laura noticed – such sincere joy, as in these situations, will be difficult to perceive in our reality.
Zanzibar is not, of course, only beaches and related water frenzy. We can take party in many activities on the island. On the beaches (there, as you can see, everything has its beginning) you will meet many local people who offer different kinds of trips. Initially, we were very sceptical, but finally decided to buy a trip to a spice farm, the so-called Spice Tour. Our guide turned out to be so precise, organized and above all honest, that we decided to go on several other trips with him. After careful research, it turned out that only people who live in the village of Jambiani can offer such services and all profits go towards the development of the local community. We liked the idea very much and it strengthened our belief that the money would support a good cause.
While preparing for the trip to Zanzibar, we often read that it is the island of spices. On the so-called "Spice Tour" we could see how the various spices we use in our kitchens grow. They are often colourful and fragrant. It is there, in that part of the world, where we can see naturally growing vanilla, pepper or nutmeg. There are many such farms there; we visited "Hakuna Matata" - which, as I had written earlier, is a very popular phrase on the island.
The real hit was, however, a Polish-speaking farm guide. Initially, without getting to know him yet, we concluded that it might be a Pole living there. It turned out that this very open and smiling man learned Polish and Czech on the Internet. Just like that. When I asked him how it was possible, he replied that he has an application on his phone and is learning every day. We were very, very impressed because each of us has some language shortcomings - and there he is, a person who could learn everything by only using an app. And what are the results of his studies in practice? Judge for yourselves:
The farm trip itself turned out to be a very interesting experience. Unfortunately, not always knowing the smell of a given spice, we weren’t able to say what it really was. The answers later seemed to be so obvious. Below is an example of a nutmeg which is both a local aphrodisiac and also a sedative. By the way, an interesting combination of effects :)
After getting to know many spices, finally, it was time for a special demonstration – picking up coconuts from a really tall palm tree. The quick moves of the young boy plus the singing made a great impression on us. All this was, of course, part of our trip, but the fresh coconut milk has quench our thirst after an hour of travelling in the summer heat.
At the very end, we took photos with our entire team, i.e. the "Polish" guide (here he is taking the photo) and his two helpers. All the time one of them was making us handcrafted hats / crowns from leaves and plants that we were passing away.
Of the practical things – it is good to give small tips; they may not be a necessity, but 1 or 5 dollars here will please everyone.
Another trip we bought from our "beach" guide was a visit to the Jozani National Park (??50 square kilometres area), where you can see, among other things, endemic monkeys - three-coloured moleres, living only on this island. Although it is East Africa, they are Zanzibar’s largest wild animals – we won’t see here lions or elephants. The monkeys have lived on the island for over 1,500 years and feed on fruits including coconuts, fig leaves and mango. It is very interesting to watch them; it is enough to enter a little deep into the forest and you can see them quickly jump from branch to branch. The walk itself seems to be inside a real jungle too. Sometimes it's hard to photograph them, but it also happens that they come quite close. Everyone there, however, strongly states that any close contact with them is forbidden and the local population believes that they carry some serious diseases. So it is better not to risk anything, but they are certainly worth seeing.
Another great sight of the Jozani National Park is the mangrove forest. This place is best reached by car (about 5 km) so it is worth paying extra for the trip so as no to cover quite a bit of distance on foot. There we will see huge baobans or ficus. In the whole park, however, we will see a whole lot of exotic plants and trees, which by the way are home to numerous birds in Zanzibar.
After a day of activities and walking in the blazing sun – we always ended it in the same way, i.e. a visit to the nearby resort with a picturesque pier and our favourite pool.
That place was adored by Daniel mainly because of the pool. Although we weren’t formally guests, it wasn’t a problem to use the facilities there if, of course we, made some purchases or ordered, for example, lunch or a drink. Interestingly, at the end of the pier there is a restaurant with stairs leading to the sea that you can use if you want to have a swim.
Going there was a 10 minutes walk by beach from our hotel. As I had written earlier, we always met smiling people along the way. It is true that some of them wanted to sell us various things and services - but it had never been intrusive. They always had a smile on their face and greeted us with an initial "Jambo" (hi) or Hakuna Matata (do not worry). Of all those people, however, the most pleasant were the Maasai, characteristically dressed in red kangas and with a must-have stick in their hands.
Their cheerful attitude was immediately noticeable. Of course, our communication was in English, but how astonished we were when Masai approached us and used Polish phrases like "Sie ma" (Hi) or "Dzień Dobry"(Good morning). It always made us feel good, as if they could infect you with a joyful mood.
Maasai come to Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania. Possible earnings attract them - it is there, on the beaches, that they sell their handicrafts. We bought a few small souvenirs from the man in the picture above. When asked who made them, he was proud to answear “my mother”. They are very positive people and it was really great to have conversations with them.
One of the reasons why some of the Maasai speak a bit of Polish is the fact that the amount of people from our country is quite noticable on Zanzibar. Although Tanzania is an exotic place, more and more travel agencies offer this destination. First of all, there are many tourists.
Someone even told us that Poles, recently, are the most numerous turists that visit Zanzibar. We rather doubt whether this is possible, but we are really noticable there.
In addition, the acquainted Masai told us that they live "U Marka" (At Marek’s) - flawlessly pronouncing his name in Polish. As it turned out, a few hundred meters from our hotel, there are, right next to each other, hotels and restaurants run by Poles. One of them is Vanilla House – a guesthouse run by Mrs. Dorota Katende, whom unfortunately we couldn’t meet. The hotel itself lies practically in the middle of Jambiani village and directly by the sea. Below you will find a link:
From time to time, the adults managed to break out of the hotel for a moment, especially when Laura and Daniel were resting after some intense activities, usually by playing their favorite games on mobile phones. We used that time to taste delicious drinks made of fresh mango. They were simply sensational. We bought them in a bar next to the sea, also run by a Pole. Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture of this yellow delight in a large jar with a straw, but we recommend it to anyone who will have the opportunity to go there.
Apart from intense trips, we also had some calmer days - then we went snorkeling with the whole family. Quite close to the shore, you could see a colorful aquarium with really beautiful fish. The whole attraction for kids was feeding the fish with local bread. The fish swarmed immediatelly, creating a beautiful spectale just in front of us in the water.
Laura and Daniel have, so far, enjoyed this form of relaxation on each of of our trips. You can swim all the time – the only limit is you being too tired. A little too exhausted and angry Daniel summed it up best: "Are we going to just swim with the fish today ?"
Our next trip was to the Stone Town, which is the famous old city of Zanzibar. It has been included into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Before we started exploring this interesting place, we sailed on a small wooden boat to Prison Island located some 30 minutes from the Stone Town. This is a half-day trip during which you can learn a bit about the history of this location and visit some giant turtles.
Interestingly, the prison, built in the nineteenth century, has never acctualy served its purpose. Cholera and the need to create quarantine space for those arriving on Zanzibar had priority. The prison itself is a bit scary and certainly needs some renovation; surprisingly, you can eat various interesting delicacies in the prison restuarant.
However, the biggest attraction of the island are the huge turtles. Some of them are over 200 years old, so they are older than the generations of our great-grandparents. There are really a lot of them, and they had been walking freely in the wild until the 90's. At the moment they are fenced in a fairly large area. Some of them are not as slow as it may seem, and their favorite activity is to eat leaves from branches thrown to them by tourists. The turtle can be petted by touching its hard and characteristic skin – they look like some kind of creature from the past. They are very nice beeings and I was happy to spend a lot of time there.
After the visit, we took the island pier and waited a bit to get on a wooden boat which later took us back to Stone Town.
Stone Town itself is a very interesting and energetic city. Just as you arrive, you can spot a whole lot of young people jumping into the sea from nearby walls. Close to the promenade you can visit the bustling market, where it is possibe to buy various dishes, prepared in better or worse sanitary conditions. It is obvious that it’s the capital because life there is much faster and the place is also more modern (of course in its own way) in relation to our village of Jambiani.
The initial, and to some extent unexpected attraction, was the dance festival where we spent quite a lot of time watching "fighting" teams. Everyone liked the great atmpsphere; the audience often went crazy after some more energetic dances. It was hard to leave but our guide was already waiting for us
Stone Town offered us one more surprise - a musical sight. I wonder if you know it, but there, on September 5th, 1946, Farrokh Bulsara was born. He is now known to all of us as Freddie Mercury. Although the house itself is not a unique one, it attracts a lot of tourists like a magnet – everyone wants to give honours to this outstanding artist. Above the door hangs a gold plate saying "Mercury House".
Stone Town is also, or perhaps above all, a city with an atmosphere combining influences from different corners of the world. The narrow streets remember migrants from East Africa, Persia, India, Arabia, China and of course from Europe. The impact of each of those places can be seen almost everywhere. The city makes an unique impression, and we regret a little that we could not spend more time there.
A characteristic feature of some houses are the well-built, massive doors, put in by the former owners - rich Arab traders who used to compete by building a more and more beautiful residence. At the end of the 19th century, Stone Town was considered to be one of the richest cities in the world. This was due to, then, favourable position on the map, thanks to which the trade flourished.
Zanzibar, and especially Stone Town, also has its dark past. One of the largest slave markets in the world uesd to exist there. People abducted from continental Africa were sent there in heavy chains and shackles. Over a year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of slaves were brought in. Initially kept in inhuman conditions and tight dungeons, they were finally sold to those who offered the best price. However, many would-be slaves died during the transport to the island. Although attempts had been made to eliminate slavery since 1807 through a ban issued by Great Britain, it really ended in 1897 when the island passed under the British protectorate.
The cathedral stands exactly where the slave market once was. You can visit many places reminiscent of those dark times.
In Stone Town we also bought a souvenir. A known habit of ours - we often come back home with wooden masks and interesting local handicrafts that later remind us of the visited place. In Stone Town, we visited one of the shops where we bought a Masai bust made of heavy and hard wood called ebony.
We said goodbye to Stone City in one of the recommended restuarants serving mostly local dishes - a mix of African, Arabic and Indian cuisine. We also said goodbye to our nice guide, whom we also invited there. She sahred with us lot of valuable information. We returned to our hotel, on the other side of the island, late in the evening.
The next day, due to the slowly approaching end of our stay, we decided to visit Jambiani again. On our way, we offered kids candy and in the local shop we exchanged dollars for shillings. Don’t be surprised by this market - they were all like that and after some time we got used to them.
However, the focal point of the day was something different. It was a visit to a local kindergarten and primary school. The school itself was a short walk from the main houses and at first glance looked quite decently in comparison. Inside, however, it turned out to be quite poor. The youngest (about 3-4 years old) pupils sat on the floor without any benches or chairs. Classrooms for older ones had some school benches in them but that was the only difference. It must be said, however, that the parents and children welcomed us warmly by saying various poems and singing in English. Places like that can really evoke strong emotions when you realize how much more is still needed to be done there. Many people visiting this school subsidize it by offering both money and other necessary things. We left $ 100, a bag of sweets, and some pens that will definitely be useful there. The school is constantly expanding and requires investment – that is why tourists’ contributions are very much needed.
Our return came slowly to the end. This account is only a small part of what we have seen and what we have managed to learn in this remote and very exotic corner of the world. We came back with lighter suitcases as we had done exactly what we we had read about before flying to Zanzibar. We gave away 2 bags of Laura and Daniel’s clothes to children from Jambiani. For us, those were things that we could simply give up and for them it was something much more needed. Wheen you go there or to any similar place, we advise you to do the same in order to help the local community. And we will always remember Zanzibar for its beautiful and long beaches with exceptionally white sand. Add to that the smile of the young inhabitants and also of their parents often working in really difficult conditions. We are coming back to a completely different world. See you in Zanzibar!
Your Crazy Family, the turn of February and March 2018. See you next time!
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