Paballo and Refilwe Thekiso snorkle in the Indian Ocean while on vacation in Zanzibar. Picture: Paballo Thekiso
Paballo and Refilwe Thekiso snorkle in the Indian Ocean while on vacation in Zanzibar. Picture: Paballo Thekiso
A Blue Monkey is seen on a tree at the Jozani Forest in Zanzibar. Picture: Paballo Thekiso
A Blue Monkey is seen on a tree at the Jozani Forest in Zanzibar. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Zanzibar City - After saying “I do”, my brother and his new bride took off to Zanzibar for their honeymoon.

It was the first time they had travelled inside Africa and like most of us, the beautiful and romantic pictures they saw online drew them to the popular island.

But on arrival at Zanzibar airport, they saw a different, shocking picture of poverty and despair. But they were put at ease when they finally entered the gates of Sea Cliff, a five star resort and spa. Their hope of a fairytale honeymoon was restored as a paradise with breathtaking views greeted them.

When my wife and I climbed aboard Mango airline’s Boeing 737 we knew what to expect because we had been to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania previously.

Mango’s popular three-hour flight from O.R Tambo to Zanzibar carries 186 passengers every Tuesday and Saturday.

Since our second daughter was born in January, my wife and I have not had a break so Sea Cliff was the perfect spot for us to relax and reconnect as lovers. The experience was so romantic, we felt like we were on honeymoon again.

For the longest time my wife and I couldn’t swim and like many people (specially darkies) we were terrified of water. But we decided to face our fear and start learning to swim and going snorkelling was a perfect way to start. Though our experience was not perfect as we held on to the boat for dear life, at least we had the courage to put our faces under and were rewarded with a view of lots of colourful fish. That was enough for the day.

Another fear we faced was going to Prison Island and feeding the endangered Aldabra giant tortoises. In the 1950s people started stealing them and selling them as pets or for food and the population dropped from 200 to only seven by 1996. Today, they are considered vulnerable and live in an dedicated enclosure where visitors can observe and feed them.

The highlight of the trip was going to eat at The Rock Restaurant. There is no better way to describe it than to borrow the slogan that goes: “It takes one look to understand that no pencil nor brush could draw such beauty, only Mother Nature could have reached such heights.”

The restaurant is built on top of a rock in the sea and when it’s high tide it looks like it’s floating on water. It can only accommodate 35 guests, so booking is essential. The tide only reached our ankles so we simply strolled into the restaurant. At high tide you catch a small boat.

The portions are huge so my wife and I shared The Rock Special four big lobsters, calamari, fish, prawns with fried potato slices and green salad. All topped with an amazing view of the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar produces lots of tropical fruit such as pineapple, watermelon, papaya, coconut... so you can drink freshly squeezed juice wherever and whenever you wish.

Zanzibar used to be a spice island and one of the biggest spice exporters in the world before a lot of trees were cut down to make way for its growing population, which now stands at 1.5 million.

Dadi, a tour guide from Gallery Tours, told us there is no empty land left in Zanzibar. There is still lots of spice produced there but tourism is increasing and is now the number one income generator. Some spice fields remain though and on the spice tour we saw the trees and flowers that produce the ingredients for products such as Vicks Vapo Rub and Tiger Balm. We also saw cinnamon, lemongrass, vanilla, ginger and many more spices.

Jozani Forest at the Chwaka Bay National Park is home to Blue monkeys, Red monkeys and Elephant shrews and has white and red mahogany trees. Walking through the forest is therapeutic, refreshing, soothing and calming, especially if it’s raining.

But if like me, you would rather play a round of golf than walk for hours learning about spices then I have good news for you. Mango airlines now allows golf lovers to travel with their clubs and check them in as part of their luggage and not pay extra for them. Playing a round of golf at Sea Cliff resort requires one to dig deep into their pockets with a price tag of U$90 (about R1 300) for 18 holes, but playing surrounded by beautiful palm trees and amazing sea views is something one should do, at least once.

The night market in Stone Town is a place for adventurous people with an open mind. Many stalls have different kinds of food on sale. Like any other market, sellers shout from all corners trying to get the attention of buyers. There is a tangible energy and buzz in the air that made us just want to hang out there.

This is definitely the best holiday spot for honeymoons, anniversaries or any special occasion that deserves celebration. The people of Zanzibar might be living in poverty and fighting for survival every day but their economic status is not what defines them. Their warmth, friendliness, rich culture and ever-smiling faces is who they are. Ubuntu is their first language and to them I say Asante Sana (thank you very much).

Independent Traveller