For those in search of a tropical getaway steeped in history, with natural beauty and a culture that intrigues, Zanzibar offers much more than bragging rights as just a honeymoon destination. The island’s mystique, its historical importance to trade, its African location and its UNESCO World Heritage status are fascinating enough to fire the imagination of all ages.
Shaded by colourful umbrellas and set against the backdrop of stone walls and red roofs. With the mingled cry of vendors and laughing children. The sights of travelers treading the turquoise waters of the Indian ocean, gently cooling off against the immense tropical heat.
This is part two of a series on Zanzibar – the Spice Island.
In part one, I briefly spoke of Stone Town, the key to the island’s history.
This labyrinth of narrow streets is packed with exotic spots to eat and shop while you discover Zanzibar’s past. From getting completely lost in the narrow alleyways of Stone Town, there’s a possibility of stumbling upon little gems of luxury and heritage. Like the rooftop Tea House restaurant at the Emmerson on Hurumzi hotel.
As a true testament to the history and culture it houses, the Emmerson on Hurumzi is where I catch up with international designer and CNN’s “Inside Africa” host, Faroque Abdela. We chat collaboration and witnessing a rising Africa, whilst in the background, the Muslim call to prayer accentuates the eastern setting of Arab-style cushions and small tables. The simultaneous Hindu Temple chimes remind me that I’m far away from the monotony of a daily existence.
View from Tea House & Meeting Faroque Abdela.
Emerson on Hurumzi house has survived devastating times, numerous inhabitants, and various governments. A boutique building which belonged to the last Sultan of Zanzibar, Emerson on Hurumzi is the second tallest building in Stone Town. Local history tells us that the Hurumzi House was first built and lived in by a Bismarck of the Swahili Empire. Due to his close ties to the Sultan of the time, he was permitted to build this house as the second highest in Stone Town, second only to the Sultan’s own ceremonial palace, The House of Wonders (pictured below).
In the 1980’s Zanzibar was finally re-opened to international investment and Emerson Skeens (a British ex-pat) was able to convince local authorities to lease him Hurumzi House in order to restore it to its former glory. And that was how the Emerson boutique hotel came about.
On its rooftop sits one of East Africa’s top restaurants. A daily changing Zanzibari menu, enchanting views and pure East African hospitality. There is nothing quite like it really. Under a canopy of silk and over-looking arched open-air windows, the sun sets. Beneath the terracotta rooftops of Stone Town, I feel a million miles away from a concrete jungle lifestyle I’ve come to know. What’s better, I enjoy a meal that hasn’t conformed to social cohesion and that hasn’t been prepared for convenience. As I indulge, I think of the exotic mix of cultures and flavours, coupled with the proximity to the Indian Ocean. This could only mean that Swahili Cuisine is arguably the best food in all of Africa.
Samoosa’s, curried fish and pilau (cooked rice, well seasoned with curry, cinnamon, cumin, hot peppers, and cloves) served with spicy coconut sauce. Chapati with Mchicha (spinach and peanut curry). Fresh Coconut and Pineapple juice. Kashata (a very sweet tasting snack made from coconut chunks and groundnuts) to wash it all down. This is without a doubt one of the most extraordinary al-fresco meals I’ve ever had.
Outside of Stone Town, there are also beautiful beaches around the island you can explore in Nungwi, Paje and Kendwa, where the full moon beach party happens. Expect fine white sand, coral reefs, and turquoise seas glistening in the sun. As rustic and as near paradise as one could get. You can take a taxi or ride a local “dala-dala“, which is pretty much the only form of public transport on the island. There you can snorkel, soak up some Vitamin D and enjoy a great seafood meal at one of the signature hotels along the coastline.
When I think of Zanzibar, I recall welcome flowers and fresh fruit, home-made mosquito repellents and perfumed oils (made of citronella, lemongrass, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, spiced oils and aqua). The stained glass windows, the century old buildings, the books on Zanzibar history. Behind big brass and carved wooden doors, I hear the laughter of Sultans and their well entertained guests.
Zanzibar Door & entrance into Beit- Al- Ajaib – House of Wonders – the first building in East Africa to have running water, electricity and an elevator. Used for entertainment purposes during the Sultan rule.
When I think of Zanzibar, I think of a wildness that tames, a tropical paradise with a flair of the orients and the colours of Africa. I think of the lingering scent of that Arabian Oud perfume I had caught a whiff off – as I beat the sweltering afternoon heat that one day late in December – for an air-conditioned seat on the ferry back to Dar-Es-Salaam. When I think of Zanzibar, I think of the Zanzibar chair I’m currently sitting on (I inherited it 2 years ago) as I type this tale of yet another beautiful trip. A tale of Arab dhows and billowing sails that travel the coast; a scene I’m reminded isn’t the first nor the last I’ve seen nor shall see.
Serena Hotel Stone Town Zanzibar
Emotive, beautiful and somewhere I would definitely go back to, modern Zanzibar has as many passions as its characterful Peoples and their independent spirits . You know, that kind that has to be deeply rooted in the Indian Ocean, where the story of Zanzibar began in the first place <3
Read part 1 here.