Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba
The Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, off the east coast of Tanzania, is steeped in a romantic history of traders, explorers, sailors and sultans. Zanzibar is made up of two main islands, primarily Unguja or 'Zanzibar Island', and the more remote island of Pemba. Each is dotted around with tiny coral atolls, which include the magical island of Mnemba, off the the northeast tip of Zanzibar Island.
Visitors to Mnemba Island will certainly experience the exotic fruits, spices and luxurious seafood that this area grows and produces in abundance. They might also choose to spend some time on nearby Zanzibar Island, exploring the sights and scents and sounds of this charismatic and unusual place.
Arriving in Zanzibar by air or by sea, visitors will be struck by the translucent hues of the surrounding sea over dazzling coral sands, coconut palms bending improbably over long stretches of beach, and the elegant pale sails of wooden dhows fishing these shores as they have for generations.
The people of Zanzibar are mainly fishermen and farmers, living from the fruit of the abundant Indian Ocean and traditionally farming coconuts and cloves since the days of the sultans. Plantations at the island centre still harvest a range of aromatic spices and continue to excite the senses of foreign visitors as they once did for bygone traders.
Zanzibar Stone Town
The capital and heart of the main island is Stone Town, a wonderfully labyrinthine web of narrow, mostly pedestrian streets winding from market to coast, alive with small traders plying local and tourist goods. This old city remains a living monument to the culture and histories of its curious mix of East African, Arab, Indian, Persian and European conquerors, traders and seafarers, and continues to thrive as a commercial centre.
The ancient maze of narrow streets is a romantic hotchpotch of historic old stone buildings built close for cool respite from the tropical island sun, and shaded by elegantly carved balconies, loggias and verandas that cling precipitously overhead - close enough to catch a whisper, or a kiss.
This is a world and culture to explore and experience, and to savour.
FACTS ON ZANZIBAR
Zanzibar is an island partner within the United Republic of Tanzania, located in the Indian Ocean about 35 km off the coast of mainland Tanzania at six degrees south of the Equator. Zanzibar is made up of many islands, the main two being Unguja (sometimes called Zanzibar) and Pemba. The land is divided into three main areas, the plantation area, the coral rag area and the indigenous forests. The highest point is 390 feet above sea level. The population is estimated at around 1 Million.
The main language is Kiswahili. Even if you only use a few words whilst you are in Zanzibar you will make many friends. English is widely spoken and many people also speak Arabic. Other European languages such as French and Italian are known by some local people, especially around the tourist areas.
About 97% of the local population is Muslim. The remainder are Hindu or Christian and some with traditional beliefs. As well as many many mosques, Stone Town hosts an Anglican and a Catholic Cathedral and a Hindu Temple.
Zanzibar experiences ideal holiday weather for most of the year, with the exception of April and May, which are seasonally subject to the long rains. Short rains can occur in November but are characterized by short showers, which do not last long.
The heat of summer is seasonally often calmed by windy conditions, resulting in pleasant sea breezes, particularly on the North and East coast. Being near the equator, the islands are warm all year round but officially summer and winter peak in December and June respectively. Zanzibar is blessed with an average of 7-8 hours of sunshine daily.
The population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a rich Swahili culture. Because of religious and cultural traditions dress code is important, and men and women should dress appropriately when away from the beach, ie covering shoulders and legs too below the knees. Beachwear on the beach is fine, although nude or topless bathing is not tolerated. When in villages or in Stone Town wearing beach wear would (and does) cause offence. Try to wear loose-fitting, non-transparent clothing when in public. Zanzibari people are generally very warm, open and hospitable, and your respect for permission before taking photographs or filming local people is appreciated. Do not take photos or film at sensitive government sites including the State House, seaport, airport or military sites. If uncertain, it is always better to ask. Public consumption of alcohol is not permissible, except in hotels and tourist areas, bars and some restaurants, where it is no problem. Public displays of affection such as kissing are not customary and generally considered offensive, unless behind closed doors. Local customs should respected. Mosques are sacred places an there is generally no entry to non-Muslims, unless accompanied by a person of the faith who can show you around except during the times for congregational prayer, which are five times daily. When offering or accepting things, try and remember to offer and receive with your right hand. This is the hand which should also be used for eating.
Harbour tax $ 5 per person
Intl. flight tax $ 30 per person
Domestic flight T.sh 5000 per person
Note. The tax can only be paid in cash.
EXCHANGE OF CURRENCY
Banks, bureau de change and most hotels exchange cash travellers' cheques. USD AND GBP are preferred but and other convertible currencies are accepted.
MONDAY-FRIDAY - 8.30 - 16.00
SATURDAYS - 8.30 - 14.00
SUNDAY - SUNDAYS
BUREAU DE CHANGE
8.00 - 18.00 MONDAY -FRIDAY
9.00 - 14.00 -SUNDAY
9.00 - 18.00 MONDAY-SUNDAY
USE OF CREDIT CARD
Most Hotels, and some curio shops accept major credit cards i.e. VISA, MASTER CARD.
97% of the population follow the Islamic religion; we therefore request you to dress accordingly in public.
Bottled mineral water recommended.
Driving is on the left. A valid international driving licence is necessary to hire automobiles.
Malaria is endemic in AFRICA and we stress the importance of taking prophylactics prescribed by your Doctor and should be continued during and after your visit; appropriate clothing to assist in covering arms and legs too avoid bites is advised in the evenings.
Zanzibar is no different from other parts of the Africa/World. Excessive displays of jewelery or money will tempt undesirable elements. Do not leave valuables lying around, use the facilities provided by the hotel. Walking around in unfamiliar streets of the Stone Town during evening hours with camera is not recommended.
Facilities for international Telephone and Fascimile are available, but the charges and handiling fees in the hotels or offices can be exorbitant.Facilities at the town post office
No one single attraction can beat an afternoon strolling through the narrow streets and winding alleys of ancient Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. You'll get lost -- everybody does -- but don't worry, you'll emerge from the cool, shady lanes into the blinding sunlight of the seafront eventually. Until then, you'll find something of interest around every corner -- an Arab archway leading into a white-walled square, with the sound of prayer coming from behind the walls of a mosque. Or perhaps you'll stumble upon the Darajani Market, with symmetrical piles of oranges, baskets of spices and enormous chunks of fresh fish arranged under palm-thatch shelters. Ladies will glide past, shrouded in black Islamic headdresses. Old, long-bearded men in white skull caps will look up from their games of Bao or dominoes to greet you gravely as you pass, and small children will take your hand and invite you to join their games in the overgrown remains of Indian townhouses.
Look out for Arabic coffee sellers, strolling along the streets with their charcoal braziers and bronze pots hanging from a yoke across their shoulders. Or porters maneuvering wheelbarrows almost as wide as the alleyways they're passing through, shouting "hodi, hodi" (Let me pass!).
As evening falls, the seafront called the Forodhani Gardens comes alive with stalls selling fried fish and chicken on skewers, hurricane lamps illuminating piles of squid and octopus and mounds of chips. Sugar cane is pressed through an antique mangle and funneled into glasses -- cool, sweet and instantly refreshing.
As well as the magic of the streets, Stone Town does have certain historical buildings that are worth a look. The Palace Museum and the Old Fort on the seafront both house collections of furniture and clothing from the days of the Sultans, and the Palace museum has a room dedicated to Princess Salme, daughter of Sultan Said, who eloped with a German businessman in the 19th century.