Zanzibar: Exotic, inexpensive and only three hours from Joburg (Part. 1)

By Helen Grange Time of article published Jan 15, 2018

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Zanzibar it sounds exotic and far away, yet this tropical nirvana is only three hours flight from OR Tambo International Airport. That’s just one hour longer than Joburg to Cape Town, and the best part is that, on a package, you can do this holiday for cheaper than a Cape Town equivalent.

We went with AfricaStay on Mango Airlines, which flies direct to Zanzibar, having increased its flights there during peak periods due to demand for this value-for-money holiday.

As with Mauritius, it is sought after as a four- to seven-day package.

And like Mauritius, Zanzibar is an island replete with five-star resorts lining its perimeter, each one more heavenly than the next.

Our first stop was Diamonds La Gemma dell’Est, near Zanzibar’s northern tip, an eco-friendly resort with 138 rooms, all of which have a private terrace and a view of the sea.

Zanzibar resorts are defined by their fabulous wide jetties, complemented by a bar-restaurant at the end, and here is definitely where the sunset party is, with live entertainment and a menu of colourful cocktails to get into the swing of things.

There are five restaurants, including an oriental café which offers international and local cuisine, four bars, a spa and a dive centre at this resort.

We had dinner at The Pavilion, an expansive, lively buffet-style eatery that specialises in Italian delicacies, although I found the food here, particularly the seafood offerings, underwhelming, more so when compared to buffet spreads in comparable Mauritius resorts.

In the morning we took a guided tour to Stone Town, an unmissable touchstone of a Zanzibar holiday.

This shabby little town with its long narrow streets and stone houses originating in the 1930s is steeped in Zanzibar’s sad and evocative colonial history.

I caution that some of you may find the stop at the old Slave Market at the Anglican Church, presided over by Arab traders until it was shut down by the British in 1873, a unforgettably unsettling experience.

But do it nonetheless.

Over the centuries, Zanzibar has been visited and occupied by explorers, traders and settlers.

Persians, Arabs, Indians and Europeans have all had their time here, and left their impression, as well as their offspring.

Its notorious slave trade was in full swing under the rule of the Omani Sultan Barghash bin Said (1806-1856), whose magnificent 19th century home (House of Wonders) you must visit.

It was the first building in East Africa to have electricity and a lift, and is the largest and tallest building of Zanzibar, located on the seafront of Stone Town.

You’ll also see some activity around the house where superstar singer Freddie Mercury grew up.

The Queen band’s frontman was born Farokh Balsara of Persian descent, and only moved to England with his family in his teens.

Given what he became - an outrageously flamboyant performer who took on the world - it seems quite strange that his beginnings were here, in such a remote, exotic little piece of Africa.

Stone Town is an afternoon’s worth of wandering, to infuse all that history and to appreciate the fact that Swahili people are not much better off than they were.

They are poor, yet live on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.

It’s one of those stark paradoxes so characteristic of this wild continent, the one you can’t ignore.

Read part 2 here

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