Most prominent of the Spice Islands, Zanzibar has a potent mix of history, legends and unique cultures. Visually stunning with exceptional natural beaches and the haunting architecture of Zanzibar town, the island has lured travelers to its shores for centuries.
Its past was dominated by merchants, rulers, explorers, scholars – today tourism is playing a key role. Zanzibar provides the perfect complement to an East African safari.
Famous for being a major producer of cloves, and infamous as being a slave entry-port, the old stone town of Zanzibar has a fascinating labyrinth of narrow winding streets lined with whitewashed, coral-rag houses with overhanging balconies and magnificently carved brass studded doors, shops, bazaars, mosques, courtyards, squares etc.
Outside town there are more ruined palaces, Shirazi remains, Persian baths, and magnificent palm fringed beaches with warm clear water, ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
Also known as the Spice Island for its 200 years of clove production, hilly Pemba lies 40 km north of Zanzibar. Its capital Chake Chake is strategically located on a hill overlooking a creek.
Spice production from some 3 million clove trees pervades both the economy and atmosphere as cloves are laid out to dry in the sun and its characteristic aroma hangs in the air.
There are two historical monuments to its past. About 20 km to the west is the 8th century ruins of Ras Mkumbuu, with its Persian influence. The second lies 10 km to the south east of Chake Chake, the 15th century settlement of Pujini, destroyed later by the Portuguese along with the palace of Mkame Ndume the settlement builder.
Mafia Island lies 140 km to the south of Zanzibar, at the mouth of the Rufiji River. Mafia Island used to be an important settlement from the 12th to 14th centuries, but these days is better known for its excellent diving and also deep-sea fishing.
In addition Mafia is an important breeding ground for giant turtles which come up onto the white coral sands to lay their eggs.