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Zanzibar Tours

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Zanzibar ToursZala Park: ZALA stands for Zanzibar Land Animals and it is a park where "Zanzibar's native species live in beautiful natural surroundings." It is run by a local school teacher who was tired of seeing other local people kill the local animals (sometimes endangered) out of fear or superstition. Muhammed, the Park's Ranger, started ZALA in an attempt to educate local kids but the menagerie is now on the list of most tours going through the area. Muhammed has made natural habitat homes for snakes, monitor lizards, crabs, turtles, dik-dik (tiny gazelles) and hyrax (the closest living species to the elephant – but it looks like a rabbit with no ears). Muhammed is trying to get some frogs to join his park but they have been fickle and although you can hear them around the park during the rains they have been stubborn and refuse to come out for visitors.

If you show an interest in the park and the animals, Muhammed, will give you a personal tour and take you into "labs" and let you in on all his other projects (starting an aviary, frog-catching, salamander hatching, etc.). He might even let you crawl into the python area (which is caged with a kind of chicken wire) where he keeps four jumbo sized pythons. I was allowed to handle one once but since it weighed 35 kilos, I'm not sure who was handling whom. He complains that the python babies keep getting away before he can catch them but he's learning more about the animals every day. Give generously, he's doing a great thing without formal grants, and it is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. You may also think of donating any related naturalist books you might have as a way of subsidizing his library.

Jozani Forest

Red Backed Columbus in Jozani ForestJozani Forest is a protected forest and is home to some of our primate cousins. The Red Colobus monkeys are indigenous only to Zanzibar and they are e about 1,000 strong in and around the protected forest. They don't all live together, but rather in little groups. Watch your guide closely because, if he sneaks up on the monkeys, they may try to pee on you.

Keep your camera ready because if they decide to switch locations while you're there, you'll see them swinging from branches, jumping on each other, and even running on the ground – maybe through your legs. Don't feed them. Don't try to touch them and don't visit if you have a cold or flu.

A nature walk through the forest is a great way to see wildlife on the island that includes over 50 species of butterflies and 43 species of birds, one of which is an endemic subspecies - the Fischer's Tauraco. Other species that live in Jozani Forest are hyraxes, sun squirrels, bushbabies, African civet, Ader's duiker, numerous different frogs, and many kinds of snakes, bush pigs, giant elephant shrews, mongoose, geckos, skinks and chameleons. There's still talk about the rare and endangered Zanzibari Leopard but it's hard to tell if it's folklore or fact. The main trail winds around for a leisurely walk that can be cut short at any point for a quick return to the entrance. You'll pass mahogany trees and three types of palm trees including the oil palm. The oil palm seeds are eaten by bush pigs, monkeys and African civets, the droppings of whom you may come across in the path.

The mangrove walk is about an hour from start to finish but that's only because you have to walk through someone's farm for ten to 15 minutes before reaching the boardwalk of the mangrove. Walking over the coral rag road can be hot and there's not much to look at except for a few cows and maybe a few Zanzibaris tending their plants. There's no shade during this walk unlike the shaded walk of the forest so be sure to dress comfortably. The mangrove walk is on a boardwalk built above salt-water marsh. You'll see crabs running in the black mud and you may learn about the nine different types of mangrove on the island. Different guides have different specialties.

For the nature walk, the monkey walk and the mangrove walk, a guide will take you in and a nominal fee must be paid before going in. Shoes are suggested because ants and other biting insects may get you if you wear only sandals. The information center for Jozani Forest has plenty of pamphlets, maps, migration charts and other papers to answer questions as well as cold soft drinks.

Spice Tour

PepperWithout a guide, you'll never find nutmeg sitting on the forest floor or think to peel the bark off of a cinnamon tree but these are some of the fun things to do on Spice tour. Almost like a big Easter egg hunt, visitors go from plantation to plantation and from plant to plant trying to find the spice within. A guide may use a knife to carve off a root or branch or bark and then ask you to smell or taste it to guess what it is.

Use caution with the bright colored ones because turmeric can leave a stain on clothes that will last a lifetime. Nutmeg grows on a tree and is sort of the pit of a fruit that looks somewhat like an apple. The nutmeg trees are huge and the under-forest is dark. Vanilla is a vine that grows on large trees and cardamom seeds grow at the base of large, ginger-cousin light green plant that has shoots or runners from which the seeds are picked. Cinnamon leaves are good for chewing and pepper is hot, green and fresh tasting before it is dried and ground to become black pepper.

The guides may offer you a green coconut while you're on the tour and they're very good. Don't expect a Pina Colada, green coconuts don't have sweet milk – it's more like subtly flavored water – and the meat is delicious.

All along the tour there are kiosks where tourists can buy packaged spices including the following: turmeric, tandoori, vanilla beans and extract, masala, hot chilies, black pepper (ground or whole), cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or powder, saffron (not locally grown but affordable), ginger, and others.

Tours can be expensive so shop around or ask a reputable hotel to set up the guide and driver. Mr. Mitu is well known on the island as the best tour guide for spice tour - all tour agents should know how to reach him.

Architectual Tour of Stone Town

Discover the origins of architectural trends in Stone Town with the aide of local historian, John da Silva. John's tours point out subtleties in building structure that the untrained eye just won't catch. He'll show you how they built drainpipes into the walls of local homes only to come out again at the bottom of the wall to drain. Why did they do this? Because the streets were so narrow, they put the pipes into the walls so no one would hit his head or catch his cart on the pipes as he walked by. John will point out old lattice work balconies, decrepit buildings, light fixtures and more than a handful of carved doors, each with its own story. You pace the tour by the questions you ask. This tour is highly recommended. To book Mr. Da Silva, contact a local tour operator (see Listings Section).

Language

Swahili is the predominant language but all shopkeepers and tourist-related business people know at least some English, especially "How much?" The Muslim call to prayer is, of course, in Arabic and you'll hear Arabic here and there on the streets in addition to Indian languages. And don't be surprised when local people say "Ciao, como va?" – there are enough Italian tourists here that some shopkeepers have signs in Italian.

Things to See Outside of Stone Town

If you are interested in visiting ruins, Zanzibar has many that are well-marked and whose entrance fees are affordable. The Zanzibar Government has developed a receipt called "Ancient Monuments of Zanzibar" for Unguja and for the price of TSh 200 it allows you to visit the following:

  • The Old Fort (Stone Town)
  • Hamamni Turkish Baths (Stone Town)
  • Maruhubi Palace Ruins
  • Mtoni Palace Ruins
  • Kidichi Persian Baths
  • Kizimbani Baths
  • Fukuchani Ruins
  • Tumbatu Ruins
  • Dunga Palace of the Mwinyi Mkuu
  • Mangapwani Cave and Cave Chambers
  • Bi Khole Ruins
  • Kizimkazi Mosque

The fee is meant to help preserve the monuments and keep them clean. The ticket is good for one day only but it would be near impossible to see all of these things in one day unless you went at a racer's pace and hit the wind and the tide just right in order to get to and from Tumbatu. Some of the ruins are well marked and easy to find if you're self-driving but others are almost unmarked and overgrown requiring a driver in order to find them. In some cases there will be a guide to tell you a brief history, but often there isn't even a person to collect your money or check your receipt.

Maruhibi Ruins

Built by Sultan Barghash in 1880 as a day retreat for him and a place to house some of his many concubines, this palace had large Persian baths, the only part of the structure left with a roof. It burned down in 1899. Located on the Bububu road, just outside of town, it's a popular first stop on the way to Spice Tour.

The gardens still have coconut trees and there are old pools full of lily pads, leftover columns and wandering cows. It's a pretty site on the ocean. There's a keeper that stays by the driveway selling curios and he'll write your receipt but he does not give tours or answer questions.

Mtoni Ruins

These ruins are the mangled and sometimes repaired remains of Sultan Said's main residence. It is said that he spent three or four days at Mtoni and split the remainder of the week among his many other plantations and palaces, and that Mtoni was clearly his favourite. His daughter Salme described it as nothing short of Eden: brimming with flowers and peacocks, close to the ocean, full of well-cared- for people, and surrounded by large trees.

The ruins are now in an odd state. It is obvious that various repairs have been attempted over the years, but the only solid wall at present is the front wall that looks more like one end of a warehouse (which it was used for during World War I). The Palace, at one time, had many flights of stairs, courtyards, bedrooms and baths. Look in the back for many hallways and rooms with walls that still have the built-in alcoves. There are baths that you can enter but watch out for bats. This is the house where the Sultan kept the better part of his harem. Sometimes there's a keeper who will sign your receipt. He'll show you around but he was not able to answer any of our questions that were posed in Kiswahili.

Kidichi is a village in the heart of the spice plantations and it is home to bath ruins but this time the baths were built in 1850 by Sultan Said for his Persian wife, Sherehezade, also known as Binte Irich Mizra or Schesade. At Bububu center take a right at the sign that reads Kizimbani and carry on up the road until the whitewashed baths appear at the top of the hill. The baths are the only ones of their kind on the island, where visitors can see the Persian detailing on the inner walls. In strict following of the Muslim faith it is considered sacrilege to create images of anything living, including animals and people.

The Kidichi bath ruins are unusual in that they exhibit interesting and obvious portrayals of birds and flowers in the bas- relief detailing of the inner walls. Built by Persian craftsmen, who were brought to Zanzibar by Sultan Said specifically for the purpose of building Sherehezade's baths, they were used by the princess to refresh herself after a journey in the country or after hunting. Sherehezade was apparently something of an avid hunter, a very unusual pastime for a woman in a Muslim community. There's a nice young guide for the baths who is almost always present. He'll want to see your pink receipt to sign it so be sure you have it ready for him. He'll also sell you one if it's your first stop. He'll give you some history and information about the baths and may tell you that these baths are the strongest evidence of Persian influence in all of East Africa.

Kizimbani Baths are found on the road along Spice Tour, past the Kidichi baths. They are similar to the Kidichi Baths except that they are much plainer, with no Persian inscriptions, animals or flowers depicted on the inner walls. The Kizimbani baths were built for Sultan Said at about the same time as the Kidichi baths. Guide is unlikely.

Mangapwani Coral Cave

Oral tradition says that this underground cavern was discovered by a goat that fell in and then bleated until his shepherd who, following his cry, found him meters below the Earth. The shepherd found a natural fresh water spring in the cave.

The same story does not include information or rumors about slaves having once been held here in secrecy after the trade had been abolished. People still believe that the cavern contains an outlet onto the beach (when the tide is right).

The government has placed a stairway allowing for easy descent into the cave where visitors can look at strange insects, listen to water drip, stare at the coral rock ceiling and feel the clammy, stale air of a closed room. Dare each other to see who is brave enough to go looking for the fresh spring. Bring a flashlight. There is no guide at the location and it is difficult to find without a one - ask local villagers and keep your eyes open for the SMZ sign if you're not being driven by a guide. The drive will take you on horrible roads past the childhood village and current house of former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Minwyi. His is the only house painted white.

Mangapwani Slave Chambers

If you made it far enough to see the Coral Cave you should continue on the few kilometers in order to see the Slave Chambers. After the trade was banned in 1872, Arab dealers still continued to transport slaves to the island before finding buyers and for this they needed secrecy and so built the Slave Chambers. They're cut from coral rock and were allegedly used to conceal slaves at night. The slaves were chained and yoked while transferred from dhow to the chambers.

There are few holes in the chambers and therefore little ventilation. This combined with malnutrition, thirst, disease, and overcrowding caused the death of many slaves before they reached the market or were sold to another trader.

Bi (Swahili for 'Lady') Khole was one of Sultan Said's daughters and with her wealth had an estate built as an out of town getaway. Built on the western side of the island at the sea, the driveway is visible from the road that goes to the southeast coast.

The sign to the ruins is small but an indication that you are nearing it is the rows of old mango trees on each side of the road. Local rumor has it that Khole planted one tree for each of her lovers. Although this is a romantic thought, it is unlikely that it is true because the trees may predate her estate. The ruins are an interesting stop because of the beautiful setting. The Palace overlooked the ocean and is surrounded by fields and trees. Visitors can see the old courtyard and remains of the Persian baths and fountains. Be careful wandering around the ruins; they're still crumbling.

In 1867 David Livingstone delivered a lively lecture at Cambridge University about the horrors of the slave trade in Africa. As a result of his speech, four universities collaborated to form the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). This mission was to be responsible for the building of the Anglican Church in Stone Town as well as the St. Mary's School for Freed Slave Girls - in addition to many other missionary projects on the mainland.

Mbweni Ruins (not included on the Ancient Monuments because they are managed by the Mbweni Ruins Hotel)

Mbweni ruins was once St. Mary's School for Freed Slave Girls and was built between 1871 and 1874 by the UMCA. As slaves were freed by the British from illegal dhow traders, a village of freed slaves developed around the mission. At one point there were at least 250 freed slaves living there. Orphan girls and daughters of the freed slaves attended the school that trained them to become teachers for other missions on the mainland.

Training included basic studies such as math, English and geography and went on to include the religion. The school had 60 to 85 students at any given time that it was open. The grounds contained dormitory living quarters, schoolrooms, a chapel and, later, an industrial area. The Chapel had a marble altar with mother of pearl inlay that is now the altar of St. John's church down the road (also built by UMCA). The construction of the school was overseen by Edward Steere, the same man who designed the Anglican Church in Stone Town and wrote the first Swahili-English dictionary.

The second headmistress was a woman by the name of Caroline Thackery who was the cousin of English novelist William Thackery. She remained headmistress for 25 years and after retiring, died at the age of 83 in 1926. She is buried near St. John's Cathedral just near the ruins. By 1917 the school had closed and was abandoned even though a part of it had been sold to the Bank of India when the UMCA ran into fiscal trouble. The ruins remained abandoned except for locals who came to collect water from the cisterns until the current owners of the hotel began renovation.

St. John's Church

In Mazizini between Stone Town and the airport and viewable on the right on the way to Mbweni Ruins, this church was built in the 1800's by the UMCA and although it is in a remote location, it is still used for services from time to time.

Beit - El - Ras

Beit-el-Ras was intended to be a palace to house the growing family of Sultan Said, and although it was begun in 1847, it had not been completed by the time of his death in 1856. It was a short way up the coast to the north of the Mtoni Palace that served as his main home. Sultan Said's successor Sultan Majid did not finish the house and some of its stones were later used to complete the Bububu Railroad. The remaining ruins were cleared away in 1947 to make room for the Teacher's College that was built on the site . If you're traveling north on the Bububu Road, keep your eyes on the left and when you pass the small Beit-el-Ras Police Station, you'll be able to see the college up the road a little further north.

Bububu is a village just outside of Stone Town to the north and it is also the gateway to the Spice Tours. Bububu reportedly got its name from a spring in the area that made a sound something like 'bububu' as the water came up out of the ground. There are other rumors about the name of the town but no one is quite sure what the origin is.

The first train in East Africa ran from Bububu to Stone Town and the main water source for Stone Town is located in Bububu. As far as tourists are concerned, there's not much to see in Bububu but it is a good place to stop for fresh fruit if you're on your way to the north coast. Another claim to fame for Bububu is that it was home to Princess Salme before she moved back to town and met her husband.

Fuji Beach is near Bububu village center, a short walk down a dirt road if you've been dropped in Bububu by dala-dala. A taxi from town should take you there for no more than TSh 2,500. There's a bar and restaurant and a nice beach for sunbathing and swimming. At night the bar gets hopping and turns disco – especially hot on Sunday nights.

Islands Near Stone Town

For most of the islands near Stone Town it is easy to find a boat pilot. Many pilots can be found lingering around the Big Tree down by the harhour. Prices vary depending on the island and the number of people in the boat. Obviously, the more passengers on board the lower the cost per person. Tour agencies can also arrange boat trips as wells as most of the better hotels in town.

Prison Island (Changuu) is the most popular island for people seeking an island excursion from Stone Town. It is a short boat ride (about 10 minutes) and the snorkeling is excellent. There's a small beach that can get quite crowded at high tide but there are other things to do. There's a small trail that circles the island and goes past ruins. Look for the old prison and watch out for giant tortoises and peacocks in the ruins' courtyard. You'll also pass ruins of an old laundry center, a natural lagoon that can be quite beautiful if the tide is right, and the old quarantine housing.

A wealthy slave owner who sent unruly slaves there for discipline first owned the island. After the abolition of slavery the island was inhabited by a British General and was later used as a quarantine station. There was a prison built on the island after the General had left but it was never used for its intended purpose, instead housing quarantined visitors to Zanzibar. There's a restaurant in the large house (formerly the General's) and there is a smaller building that serves as a guesthouse.

There's a small fee to go on the island, and mask, fins and snorkel are available for rent in the same office. The snorkeling is surely worth the trip. One of the island's main attractions are the large land tortoises that roam around the big house. They aren't dangerous but could take your hand off at the wrist in one bite so don't aggravate them. Peacocks are also inhabitants of the island but sadly, some of them have had their long feathers plucked by uncaring people who won't look nearly so good in them.

Snake Island (Nyoka) doesn't have a beach so is not frequently visited. There are no known trails on this small island that is between Prison and Grave Islands.

Grave Island (Chapwani) is a long and thin island just to the north of Snake Island; it has graves on it primarily belonging to the British who suffered casualties while fighting against Arab slaving ships. There are other graves dating from the First World War. It's a short boat ride from town. There's a nice beach but the island is not great for swimming. The guesthouse and the restaurant on the island are closed so bring your own food and drinks.

Bawe Island is south of Prison and has some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. About a 30-minute boat ride and slightly more expensive than the boat to Prison Island, this island is much less visited. In 1870 the island was used to anchor the first telegraph cables to Zanzibar linking it with Aden, South Africa and the Seychelles. There are no facilities on the island although a hotel has been in the making for some time. Bring your own food and drinks because you can't even buy water on Bawe. The snorkeling is excellent and so is the beach at all times of the tide.

There's not much to do on the island but sit on the beach but there are some trees that provide shade allowing fair-skinned people to make a whole day of it.

Sandbar Island is an island only at low tide. It's also located south of Prison Island. It's a great place for snorkeling, for a picnic or for getting a sunburn (there's nothing but sand so bring your own shade in the form of hats or parasols). It's a popular destination when the moon is full because of the view of sunset and moonrise. Boats can be arranged near the Big Tree and they leave at about 6:00 p.m. and come back when you're ready. People bring their own food and drinks and build a fire in a pit.

After the sun sets it's very dark on the island and you can't see much but once the moon comes up and loses its redness from the horizon it's like being under a natural floodlight. The city takes on a special appearance under the red moon and looks beautiful too. As the tide continues to go out, the island gets bigger and people walk along the sandbar appearing as if they're walking on water. If you're visiting Stone Town during the full moon and the tide is right – try to go to Sandbar Island for the moonrise. It's also good for day picnics, snorkeling and diving but keep in mind the lack of shade and equatorial sun.

Chumbe Island is Tanzania's first Marine National Park and it is also home to a Nature reserve that boasts an abundance of local birds and flora. It is also known as Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP). Along with establishing Chumbe Island as a conservation area, several practical steps have been taken to preserve it; there are permanent moorings for boats landing at Chumbe and this prevents the need to drop anchor and kill coral. Only authorized tour companies are allowed to moor at Chumbe in an attempt to keep irresponsible boaters from causing damage to the reef. (You will need to make special arrangements with a tour company to find a boat pilot who is permitted to moor at Chumbe.) Nature trails have been set up on the island as well as an educational facility (mostly for locals).

There's a lighthouse on the island that is slated to be converted into an observation tower and there is an old mosque that was built in an Indian style and is unique to Tanzania. If you have time, try to visit Chumbe even though it is a little expensive. There's a nice restaurant on the island and the price of dinner includes boat transport. Keep in mind that Chumbe is a private island and only CHICOP approved boat pilots are allowed to moor there. Ask a tour company to arrange a trip or call direct.

Services In Town

Embassies

There are a small number of consulates in Zanzibar but the capital city of Dar-es-Salaam is where you need to go if you need an embassy. If you lose your passport you'll need to visit the Ministry of the Interior in Zanzibar in order to get off the island. The Ministry can supply you with papers to get you home or to Dar where you can arrange for more temporary papers from your Embassy. See the Listings Section for a complete embassy list.

TV Zanzibar had the first color TV station in East Africa, and in 1972 the first color television broadcast in East Africa was accomplished. The new technology was a dream of the first Zanzibari President, Karume, who was assassinated before the first broadcast. Ironically, the television technology that Karume brought to Zanzibar was used to cover the trial of his murder. Court TV is possibly another Zanzibari first.

Banks & Money

In the last few years, Zanzibar has opened up dramatically to the free world, resulting in some changes in the rules for tourists and currency. For instance, two years ago tourists had to pay for almost everything in hard currency; whereas today it is possible for tourists to pay departure tax in TShillings (but it is wise to always keep a stash of dollars – just in case). Travelers’ Cheques checks are accepted only at large hotels and some restaurants and, even then, sometimes grudgingly. You can convert them to cash at the People's Bank of Zanzibar, the Forex bureaus at some hotels (International, Mazson's and the Tembo) and at the Forex offices at the port and airport. These bureaus will also exchange most hard currencies for TShillings.

Medical

There are several local hospitals in Stone Town but tourists should always try Zanzibar Medical and Diagnostic Centre . The office is ideal for any minor medical attention needed. While traveling in East Africa, a trip to the doctor is recommended should you have a question or notice that you're feeling a little off. High fever and headache could be tip-off signs for malaria, and you should seek medical attention immediately at the appearance of these symptoms.

Tourist Information

Tourist information can be obtained from the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation located in the Livingstone House on the Bububu Road just outside of Stone Town. The office doesn't have much, but can help to book beach bungalows and bandas (another word for bungalow but usually meant as a modest accommodation on the beach) on the East Coast of the island. They also sell maps that can be purchased from almost any shop in town that caters to tourists.

Tour Operators

There are many tour operators on the island, many of whom have offices in Stone Town. Tour companies can arrange anything from hotel reservations to Spice Tours. They'll book a car, a guide, and they'll try to satisfy language requirements as well. There are French, Italian, and German-speaking guides available if booked in advance and if luck has them on the island. Tour operators are excellent for booking trips to Jozani Forest or the small islands off the coast. Tour companies change hands and reputations rise and fall. Ask the hotel where you're staying for reliable tour companies.

Getting There

Visitors entering Zanzibar are required to have a passport. Nationals from Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Zimbabwe, most Caribbean island countries, and many island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not required to have a Tanzanian visa for entry, but all others must.

A tourist visa can be obtained in your home country at the Tanzanian Mission or Tourism Offices or they can be obtained at the border. Prices have been going up for visas and vary depending on the applicant’s nationality. For some reason, the prices between advance purchase and "at the door" purchase seem always to be different.

Arrival by boat or by air will land you in the immigration line but sometimes, depending on time of day and day of the week, you may not have to go through immigration at the port. There the customs check is sporadic, but it is quick when required. A piece of paper that is absolutely required for entering by way of the airport is proof of a yellow fever vaccination. You will not be allowed on Zanzibar without this card, but it is not always checked at the port. You should have the vaccination if travelling in East Africa whether or not it is required.

Air

Travelling to and from Zanzibar by air is possible via the airlines listed below. Schedules vary from season to season, and some flights are only once or twice a week. If coming from Europe, it can be tough if not impossible to find direct flights. Direct flights are usually in the form of charters from Italy, except for the charters operated by Air Europe and Swiss Air (BelAir) that fly weekly during the high seasons (check with your travel agent for more details on these charters).

All other European-originating flights will get you as far as Mombasa, or Dar-es-Salaam (frequently with stops in Nairobi) or Muscat, Oman, from which you'll need connecting flights to Zanzibar. If you're coming from America you'll have to get to Europe first and then catch a flight to East Africa.

Arrival By Air

The first of a series of three checks upon arrival at Zanzibar International Airport is the health check. You are required to present proof of a yellow fever vaccination upon your arrival. You will not be permitted entry to Zanzibar if you're not carrying this document. Once your proof as been reviewed, you will be given a small piece of paper that you'll need to show to the guards at the door as proof that you checked in at the health desk.

Next, onto Immigration, where, even if you're arriving from Dar-es-Salaam, they’ll want to see your passport, know where you're staying and possibly ask you to fill in an entry card. Your passport will be stamped (Zanzibar likes to think it's autonomous from Tanzania) and you may be given yet another small piece of paper to hold onto as proof that you went through the Immigration line. Customs is mandatory at the airport and a cursory check will be made of your luggage resulting in a chalk mark on each bag to get you past the guards and out the door.

Boats to or From Dar-Es-Salaam, Pemba, Tanga, Mafia Island & Mombasa

A recent law passed in Tanzania prohibits tourists from travelling in wooden crafts, which prevents tourists from taking dhows to or from the Tanzanian mainland. This law was passed after a German tourist pitched overboard from a dhow and drowned, ruining the fun for the rest of us who might want to spend eight to twelve hours on a wooden boat without shelter from the sun and without food, water, or plumbing facilities. It is a silly law and has silly exceptions such as sunset cruises around Zanzibar harbor such as is offered by Mtoni Marine.

Although dhows are no longer a possible means of transport for tourists in Tanzanian waters, there are many other boats to choose from. If you have your heart set on a dhow ride from mainland to island, you can legally board a dhow in Mombasa that will take you, most likely, to Pemba. The dhows have no services, toilets, or cafeterias and can be dangerous in high swells. Some people have had lovely dhow rides but if the winds die or are light, your trip can last well over eight hours
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Boat tickets are available from kiosks at the port entrance in the Malindi corner of Stone Town. Keep in mind that, after you buy your ticket, you'll need to pay the Port Tax of TSh 500 (if you're going to a Tanzanian destination) and it's a good idea to do this the day before departure just to prevent last minute rushing. Many ticket collectors will allow you to pay the tax while boarding but you'll get nasty looks from other passengers who have to stand and wait in the hot sun while you fish for change.

Azam Marine

Sea Bus (1 & 2) operated by Azam Marine leaves the Zanzibar Harbor 3 times a day for Dar-es-Salaam. Both cabins are very clean, air- conditioned and with comfortable seating. Board early to ensure a window seat. For some reason foreigners are occasionally given the first class cabin on a second class fare. Most trips across the harbor are comfortable unless you're susceptible to seasickness in which case Dramamine or some other form of motion sickness medicine may be advisable.

Be prepared to see mattresses, chickens, tires, and other forms of cargo aboard. Water, soda, and snacks are available on board in the second class cabin by the door. This area also serves as the prayer area and at 3:45 p.m. it is likely that a member of the crew will be saying his prayers with a prayer mat laid out in front of him. Prayers take place while other crew members try to service requests from the snack counter without disturbing him or his prayers, but the mat can block the fridge.

There is usually some form of video entertainment in the way of bad American movies, subtitled Indian movies or Mr. Bean episodes that require no knowledge of spoken language. The ride is anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.

Mega Speed Liners

Talieh and Sepideh are two large modern ferries that travel from Dar to Unguja to Pemba to Mombasa to Tanga - not necessarily in that order.

Sea Express and Flying Horse are two other ferries between Unguja and Dar. These are the fastest boats to Dar (assuming they're running) and the price is roughly the same as the other ferries. They take anywhere from one and a quarter hours to one and three- quarter hours to reach Dar. They are hydrofoils that were originally built for the North Sea by the Russians or East Germans and are therefore not built for hot weather.

They are carpeted and retain the scents of past sea sickness; the air conditioner sometimes fails and the windows don't open and there's no outdoor deck like there are on Mega Speed Liners and the Azam Marine Boats. Passage on these boats are usually priced slightly less than that of the Mega Speed Liners or Azam Marine.

Port tax

For boat trips to other Tanzanian locations the tax is TSh 500 and must be paid at the port tax office inside the gate on the left. Ask a porter or anyone standing around and they'll be happy to show it to you. Sometimes you'll be told that you have also to visit immigration on your way out, but most likely they'll be more interested in a cursory inspection of your bags on your way in. There is probably a fee for leaving to another country but it won’t be nearly as high as the $20 airport tax.

Porters
There are many men hanging around the port who will be happy to help you on board with your luggage. TSh 500 is the usual rate for receiving help from one of the porters and a little extra for more luggage is greatly appreciated.

Culture

Eid-al-Fitr is the festival at the end of Ramadhan, the month of fasting. Also known as Eid or Sikukuu (days of celebration, festival or holiday), this festival is a time of gift giving and of giving alms. The fasting of Ramadhan is meant to remind people what life is like for their less fortunate brethren and the alms giving at Eid (known as Zakat-el-Fitr) is a continuation along the same idea. Both fasting and the giving of alms are two of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.

Because the Islamic calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Ramadhan and Eid change every year by about 11 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you're looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid. Ramadhan is a holy month in which drinking, smoking, and eating in public are prohibited. Dress codes should be strictly adhered to. Some restaurants are closed during this month and outside of town it can be difficult to get any food at all during daytime hours during Ramadhan.

All three discos mentioned above are closed during Ramadhan. Eid is a nice time to see all the little girls in their new dresses and the boys in their new sneakers/trainers. The girls wear kohl around the eyes regardless of age, and the boys run around firing cap guns. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend Taarab concerts and discos at night. Ramadhan lasts for one full cycle of the moon and is followed directly by Eid, which lasts for four days. The festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Karikoo fairgrounds out by the Main Post Office.

The newest of the major religions, Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammed who was born around 570 AD somewhere near Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Mohammed received messages from God at Mount Hira, near Mecca. After being chased out of his hometown he moved to Medina where, years later, he began converting people to Islam. He worked at converting people for somewhere between ten and twenty years before dying in 632. The five tenets of Islam are prayer (five times a day), testimony of faith, fasting (Ramadhan), alms-giving (Eid-el-Fitr) and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj). The Muslim calendar is different from the Christian calendar in that is starts on the Christian equivalent of July 16, 622 (the day Mohammed fled Mecca for Medina) and features a year of only 354 days based on lunar cycles of 29 to 30 days per month.

Zanzibar Music Festival

Every July this festival runs for one week and features artists and shows from around the world. Most of the performances are held at the Old Fort but there are other venues in town such as at Bwawani Plaza. Taarab and Ngoma are the big sell-outs during this festival but you can also catch performances from Arabia, Asia, and possibly Europe. Keep in mind that you'll have to do quite a bit of asking around to find out where the shows are. They may be advertised on radio only and if you can't understand Swahili, you'll have to get the information by asking residents.

Mwaka Kogwa

A four-day-long celebration, Mwaka Kogwa is best observed in Makunduchi, a village in the south part of Zanzibar. The origins of this holiday are Zoroastrian (a Persian religion older than Islam). It is a celebration of the New Year and some of the events include huge bonfires and mock fights. These fights are between men who defend themselves with banana stems (in place of the sticks that were formerly used), and this fighting, in which everyone gets a chance, is said to let everyone air their grievances and so clear the air as the new year rolls in.

As the men fight, the women stroll through the fields singing songs about life and love. They are dressed in their best clothes and are taunted by the men after the fight is over. The festivities vary from village to village but Makunduchi is where the biggest events take place. All are welcome for the festival because it is a local belief that anyone without a guest for this holiday is unhappy. The holiday is held every year around the third week of July, but check with a local tour operator to get the official dates. The dates are based on the Shirazi calendar and coincide with the Persian New Year called Nairuz.

Taarab

Taarab is a form of local music that is a mix of sounds and styles from India, Arabia, and Africa. Taarab shows are as much about audience participation as they are about music. Although the music may be a bit harsh for Western ears, the show itself is great theater. Part of the tradition is for women to give money to the singer during the performance.

This involves a very showy ascent to the stage and an exhibition of the night's eveningwear, a slow approach to the singer and maybe a tease before giving over the 'tip'. The audience howls at the antics of the other audience members and the Taarab singer carries on with the back up of a forty-piece band that includes horns, strings, and drums. Especially impressive is a horn-blower with the white cloth. Check the Old Fort for performances and check with hotel and restaurant staff to see if shows have been announced on the radio.

Ngoma

Ngoma is traditional African dance and singing accompanied by fast rhythmic drumming. There are performances around the island but they can be difficult to find and may be private. Try the Old Fort in town and ask around at hotels and restaurants. Some restaurants feature Ngoma on certain nights (Friday night at Emerson's & Green Tower Top Restaurant is Ngoma night). Local shows are much longer than Western shows; a Taarab/Ngoma night's schedule may last five hours. Ngoma was originally performed at weddings, harvest festivals, circumcision ceremonies and other celebrations.

International Triathlon 7& Marathon

In early November 1998, Zanzibar plans to host its third Annual International Triathlon and Marathon. The past two years' events have proven successful in drawing competitors from Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Both events are Olympic regulation lengths and cover some of the most beautiful spots on the island. For more information contact The Secretary, Zanzibar International Marathon Committee.

Zanzibar International Film Festival

Zanzibar was the home of the first Zanzibar International Film Festival held July, 11-18, 1998. The committee intends for the festival to be an annual event so look for it again in 1999. There are many categories for competition and non -competition. Films from all over the world will be shown in short and full feature lengths, with a focus on films from East Africa, Persia, Arab states, India, and other Indian Ocean countries. Competitors for the Sheherezade Award will be submitting films that deal with the topic of illusion and reality. There will be Children's Panoramas and programs dealing with women's and environmental issues in addition to a special workshop aimed at examining the problems involved in Intellectual Property Rights and piracy.

Dhow Racing

Also in July the Dhow races start in the Zanzibar Harbour. Hotels and Tour Agencies will have more information on when the races start and from where is the best viewing.

Freddie Mecury (Bismallah)

Born Farok Bulsara on September 5, 1946 in Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury succeeded in becoming one of, if not the, most famous Asian pop star in the UK and America. Freddie's parents are Parsee, members of the ancient Zoroastrian religion that originated in Iran. Many Parsees immigrated to India during and after the Arab conquest of Iran, resulting in a sizable Parsee population in India of which the Bulsaras are descendents.

They moved from Gujarat to Zanzibar before Freddie's birth. Freddie's father worked as a civil servant in the British Protectorate that was Zanzibar and his mother worked as a cashier at Zanzibar's High Court. The family was comfortable. At the age of seven Freddie was sent to India for boarding school and from there he went to London, attended University, and started his rock 'n' roll career as the lead singer of the pop group, Queen.

In 1964 the Bulsaras moved to the UK to avoid a pending revolution in Zanzibar. A trace of Freddie's Zanzibari roots can be heard in one of the most famous of Queen's songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody" which contains the Arabic word "Bismallah". This word had special political significance in Zanzibar for a brief period for a group who used it to express discontent. The word itself is used all the time at the commencement of anything. Queen's use of 'Bismallah' was most likely unrelated to the political usage in Zanzibar which itself was accidental.

In India, Freddie attended a private school called St. Peter's just outside of Bombay. It was here, in this English school, that Freddie adopted his English name and stopped using the name Farok (meaning Lucky in Parsee) and started his own music group, the Hectics. Before the age of 20 Freddie was in the UK with his family and, although they were interested to see him become a doctor or lawyer, he pursued a career in the arts and attended Ealing College of Art. At College he reportedly met the other members of Queen and the rest is rock 'n' roll history.

Queen had numerous hits from the 1970's through the 1980's ('We are the Champions', 'Another One Bites the Dust'), and Freddie worked with other famous pop artists including David Bowie ('Under Pressure') and shared the stage with many others during the Live Aid concert in 1985. Queen had a reputation for bright lights, big sounds, and concerts that rocked. Freddie had an onstage persona that lit up TV screens and kept women screaming. Even into the late 1980's and early 1990's when he took on a post-Village People gay look complete with moustache, the women still screamed for him. His fans came from all genders, age groups, and nationalities. He kept in touch with his family including weekly visits to his parents.

On November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury died in London of bronchial pneumonia brought on by AIDS. He was cremated in the Zoroastrian tradition and leaves his parents, Jer and Bomi, his sister, Kashmira, and his boyfriend, Jim Hutton.

 

Feedback From Clients

Jim and Mary Miller


Dear Davies We have finally recovered completely from our wonderful trip! Ranger did a fabulous job, as you already know. Our guide was Bashir, and he was wonderful. Very professional, polite, well spoken and extremely knowledgeable! We did not understand that we were going to have an entire campsite to ourselves the first two days. It was a wonderful park and an wonderful experience. We were not crazy about Lake Manyara, but we loved the crater and the plains! The tented safari is the only way to go. It is wonderful to have animals walking in your camp, like they are members of the party We were able to see every animal, except the illusive Leopard, but we were not disappointed in the least. We had not come with a check list, but were t...

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