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Zanzibar: 7 places to experience

Zanzibar is the definition of a paradise island. Miles of white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water, culinary flavors, exotic animals and a welcoming population. Here you get an insider guide to which places to visit.
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Zanzibar: 7 places to experience is written by Naja Mammen Nielsen.

Zanzibar map - Unguja - Pemba - Tanzania - Dar es Salaam - Tanga - Indian Ocean - Bagamoyo - travel

Close to paradise on Zanzibar

Zanzibar easily makes the mind fly to exotic travel and island atmosphere. Never have I stepped on such white sandy beaches, swam in such a turquoise blue sea and stimulated my senses as much as on gorgeous Zanzibar. Residing in Dar es Salaam Tanzania in two years I have visited this exotic gem twelve times and am thrilled with the many sights of the islands. 

Zanzibar consists of the two islands Pemba and Unguja, which are close together in The Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. Unguja is the most visited and known of the two islands and attracts tourists from all over the world. And for good reason.

Here are my seven favorite places you should experience.

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Stone Town - a culinary sensory experience

Zanzibar draws threads back to the Ottoman Empire and the time of slavery. You can feel it in the capital Stone Town, which houses magnificent historic buildings, the old slave market and the fortress, The Old Fort, which each year lays walls for the culture and music festival Sauti za Busara and the International Film Festival ZIFF.

Stone Town exudes 1001 nights of adventure, and is like a colorful Persian rug filled with winding labyrinthine streets and small whimsical shops, all kinds of scents and colors.

The population is welcoming and swings around with Swahili-friendly expressions; jambo, hakuna matata, pole pole, asante sana. At the local market behind the bus stop, the conversation is lively and tasty fruits, double-sized vegetables, spices and freshly caught fish are sold in long lanes for cheap money.

The city's focal point is Forodhani Gardens Park, where you can relax during the day overlooking the sea. At sunset, the area is transformed into a hectic food market, where small stalls are set up and the day's catch is fried and cooked. A favorite place for both locals and tourists.

The food looks inviting, but pay attention to theirs seafood, which is not always quite as freshly caught as promised.

A sure winner is the local specialty 'Zanzibar pizza'. It most resembles an omelette and is cooked on a hob, where the filling can vary between vegetables, cream cheese, eggs, meat - or nutella. Everything is possible. It tastes great, and the best way to quench your thirst is with a freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

Stone Town has a myriad of eateries to suit all tastes and budgets. One of the popular places is Mercury's Bar & Restaurant. The restaurant is named after Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who lived on Zanzibar in his childhood. Here you have both the opportunity to enjoy the sunset with drinks, Kilimanjarobeer and live music.  

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Spice plantations and fragrant pilau on Zanzibar

It is no coincidence that Zanzibar is called the "Spice Island". It abounds with spice plantations, and the harvest is diligently used in the local food, and some is sent on exotic journeys around the world.

Are you curious to see what vanilla, pepper, coffee beans, cardamom and cloves look like when they grow on the trees, it is obvious to visit one of the island's many plantations and go on a 'spice tour'. Here you can be shown around and get an insight into how big a work lies behind the harvest of a single peppercorn. 

There is a high expectation that you will buy spices and oils when the guided tour is over, which can seem a bit intrusive and overbearing. While it can be tempting to shop big, it can be done much cheaper in the local markets. 

If you want to taste the fragrant spices in the traditional 'Swahili cuisine', then a visit to the restaurant Lukmaan in Stone Town is a must. The small eatery is secluded from the more touristy places, and here you eat side by side with the locals.

It smells heavenly, and there are bites in the colorful food that you put together yourself. For example, try their spicy rice dish pilau.

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Sea turtles, full moon party and snorkeling in the north

The beaches of Nungwi in the north are among the most beautiful on Zanzibar. The fine grains of sand are chalk white and stand in deep contrast to the blue water and the red-clad Masai, which strut elegantly along the water. Here is something for everyone: Delicious eateries by the water, yoga classes, full moon parties at the nearby beach Kendwa, village life - and not least sea ​​turtles.

All too often, sea turtles are caught in fishermen's nets. Local forces are trying to remedy this. At the organization Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond, the unfortunate animals are taken care of and cared for and cared for until they are ready to return to the sea. It happens at a large-scale launch party every year in February, where the turtles are sailed out and set free.

Most of the village participates and for a small amount it is possible to get on board the boats. The rest of the year you can visit the center and help feed the turtles - or become a volunteer.

If you prefer to see the sea turtles in their natural habitat, there is ample opportunity to snorkel and experience Coral reef and the colorful wildlife underwater. Among other things, off the island of Mnemba Island, which is close to Nungwi and can be reached by boat.

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Africa - Unguja - Paje - seaweed, seaweed plantation,

Seaweed plantations, kitesurfing and rasters in the southeast

There are lots of beautiful gems in southeastern Zanzibar that you must experience on one of your exotic travels. One of them is the small rasta paradise Mustapha's Place in the village of Bwejuu just north of the town of Paje.

At first glance, it looks like a mini version of Christiania with the colorful cottages in various sizes and shapes surrounded by a lush garden, an inviting pool and 50 meters to the unspoilt sandy beach. The atmosphere is relaxed and the staff friendly dreadlocks makes the stay unique.

On the beach, the tide plays an active role. At low tide you have to walk several kilometers to get your whole body under water, while at high tide the waves can get good speed, as the wind can be strong.

The weather conditions make the place ideal for kitesurfers who make pilgrimages to Zanzibar from all over the world and dance with the waves next to the local women harvesting seaweed from the many seaweed plantations in the water.

Further south there is the opportunity to swim with dolphins from the beach Kizimkazi Beach. But it is a mixed pleasure as the dolphins are hunted in small speedboats to satisfy the tourists. Even if you get very close to the charming animals, it is not worth the boat trip.

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Red colobus - but - Jozani Forest - Tanzania - Africa

Colobus monkeys, palm thieves and primeval forest

In the middle of the island is the National Park and the primeval forest Jozani Forest. The tropical forest is teeming with wildlife, mangrove trees and distinctive plant species. Here you can see both the "palm thieves", as they are called the giant hermit crabs, chameleons, frogs, birds and not least the rare red colobus monkey. 

It is a good idea to move around the small paths with a guide who can tell you in detail about the flora and fauna and identify the different species that can be well hidden.

It's different with the four-fingered colobus monkeys, who are curious of mind and move quickly down from the treetops - so hold on tight to your things.

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Aldabra - Giant Turtles - Africa - Prison Island - Turtle Island - Changuu Island - Tanzania

Giant Turtles on Prison Island

Another place on Zanzibar where the turtles can be experienced up close is on the island of Changuu Island. The island is just 800 meters long and 230 meters wide and has been nicknamed Prison Island after a former prison for rebellious slaves.

The island is also known as Turtle Island because the island's primary inhabitants today are the large Aldabra turtles. They can be up to 200 years old and move in calm movements between the old prison ruins. 

In addition to petting the turtles and studying the historic buildings, there is both the opportunity to eat and spend the night on the island, take a dip in the clear water and watch the colorful sea urchins, corals and starfish at the water's edge.

It takes about a quarter of an hour to sail to Prison Island from Stone Town and is made easy by hauling one of the colorful boats on the beach.

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Sleep underwater on Carnation Island

For the more adventurous, the island of Pemba is definitely worth a visit. Pemba is far less touristy and more pristine than its southern sister Unguja, but has a lot to offer.

Here, the mangrove forests have been allowed to grow wild, most roads are of soil, and the primary road to the island is a three to four hour boat ride from Stone Town, while a few domestic planes fly there during the week. Here you get a sense of "the real Zanzibar" - without the influence of tourism.

Pemba is called 'Carnation Island' as it is filled with carnation plantations and lots of lush fruit trees. A few luxury hotels have found their way here. Among other The Manta Resort, which offers their guests to stay overnight in a special room underwater.

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How to get to Zanzibar and around the islands

The international planes have long since found their way to Zanzibar, which has several direct departures from Europe during the high season. In addition, several domestic companies fly from mainland Tanzania. 

Another option is the fast ferries from Dar es Salaam on the mainland. The ferries sail four times a day, and the trip is one and a half hours long - and you get on board The Azam Ferries, the ride is quite comfortable.

The ferry berth can be chaotic, so come in good time and make sure to buy the tickets at the authorized points of sale. Feel free to buy a ticket the day before, as there may be a rift about the tickets up to weekends and holidays. And remember US dollars as it is the preferred form of payment.

The easiest way to get around Zanzibar is by taxi or the local buses dala dala. Taxi prices are often screwed up, but they are negotiable. In return, you can hire a driver for a day.

It is less comfortable with dala dala, but it is clearly an experience to sit side by side with the locals among chickens, coal and food - and then it costs a fraction of the taxi fares. 

If you are looking for exotic travel - then Zanzibar is the place to go.

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About the travel writer

Naja Mammen Nielsen

Naja has travel blood in her veins and has a penchant for islands. She has traveled on five continents and has a great knowledge of the African continent, where she has traveled in 11 countries. In addition to countless trips to the region, she has started a development project for former girl soldiers in Sierra Leone, worked two years in Tanzania, been on island hopping in Cape Verde, crossed Zambia and Zimbabwe by train and moved in the footsteps of genocide in Rwanda.

The destinations are carefully planned on their own, targeted at the locals, the less touristy places and the preferred means of transport is by train and bus.

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