The perfect holiday
Zanzibar. This island offers the best of all places, with an incredible tropical climate, stunning white beaches, cheap fares for holidayers and a fantastic destination if you're looking to relax off the main tourist track.
How to get there...
Well, it's always important to know how to reach your destination, so I felt this was the most important section to start with. I've travelled down on Kenya Air, and although some may have reservations about the quality of African airlines, this was of a superb standard. Even in economy class you will be well attended to, with screens in the back of seats (helping alleviate the boredom of long distance flights) and importantly a (relatively) delicious set of meals as you fly. The airline leaves from a wide selection of airports, (more info can be found on this page: http://www.kenya-airways.com/home/) but it is important to set your destination as Dar es Salaam.
Upon arrival in Dar es Salaam, you will find the airport to be quite chaotic to navigate around. The best place to head for is the information desk, but be warned there is generally a large queue so striding out ahead of your fellow passengers is quite a necessity if you don't want to spend too long in the airport (trust me though, any wait will be more than worth it!) The most sensible step from here is to take a Precision Air flight across to Zanzibar (www.precisionairtz.com/) (bear in mind their site's not that reliable), but leave a sufficient time gap between getting off your Kenya Air flight and getting onto Precision Air's aircraft - the airport, as aforementioned, can be a bit of a struggle when finding your way around! And then finally, after all the hectic activity of the journey and the flight transfers, you'll soon arrive on an island quite unlike any you've ever seen before....
When to go...
It's fundamental you pick the right time to visit Zanzibar, to experience the true radiance of the island, the natural beauty and of course to soak up some sun. Between July and early October is generally considered the best time to visit the island, as it sits within the long dry period, so you're bound to have some heat! Just be warned - take plenty of suncream - temperatures are more than likely to hover around the 30 degrees celsius mark! If you have fair skin factor 25+ is a must have, preferably above 40 if you don't want to look wizened and wrinkly by the end of the trip!
What to do....
Well, you've now arrived in Zanzibar to a sundrenched landscape, filled with a vivacity and teeming with unusual sights and sounds. But what is there to do? The list is literally endless (without trying to sound like an advertising brochure). If you have cash to splash you may consider travelling to Pemba island to do snorkelling, swimming with turtles and exploring the coral outcrops that add to the colour and incredible natural beauty of the island. If you're a little more tight for cash, then exploring Stone Town with a guide may be the way to go, but make sure you also spend some time along the beaches. My preference is Jambiani, an area dotted with little holiday huts, secluded from the busy bustle of Stone Town and with sparkling clean beaches worthy of myth (certainly in comparison to some of the British 'beaches'). A noteworthy point must be made here, as you arrive at the airport, you will be greeted by a group of friendly but determined taximen, all vying for business. Going to the taxi rank will help you find someone official, and you may also find (as I did) that your taxi driver can become your guide for the duration of the holiday - a further payment which is HIGHLY recommended for those new to the island.
Stone Town has quite a history, which I'll explain briefly in another section, but suffice to say it's a must-visit location, filled with interesting items for sale, an amazing set of old monuments and exhibitions, and for those who appreciate property or even those without much interest some of the architecture is worthy of note!!
You can snorkel along much of the coast, just check with your guide about the best locations, or alternatively there's a large forest and mangrove swamps, both of which are open for the public and there are tours around - the tours provide an interesting insight into Zanzibar's climate and biodiversity.
Simply sunbathing and relaxing by the beach is great, and there are many restaurants along the shores (especially around Jambiani) which offer great local cuisine but also more conventional dishes for those slightly hesitant about trying local delicacies. The Blue Oyster Hotel particularly stands out for consistently good quality dishes,rated 4.5 stars by Tripadvisor's users.
Visiting the various museums and the turtle aquarium gives a better idea of the island's history, and to be entirely honest, without sounding like a stereotypical tourist, the turtle aquarium is just cute - stroking, feeding and holding turtles is something available in few other locations, and it is well worth going and donating to the charity that runs the establishment.
Amongst the places I visited was the boatbuilding area in the North of the island, a visit which highlighted to me some of the traditional crafts which are still readily employed by Zanzibar's populace. If you decide on going, you'll be able to see the construction of the great dhows which often sail past offshore; it also gives you an appreciation of just how long the process takes, and hence why each boat is so valuable to support Zanzibar's (relatively) large fishing industry. Additionally, remember to leave a donation - much of the activities you can partake in rely on a sense of goodwill; which would be unfair of us to abuse.
For further, more detailed information, Tripadvisor is a great site to look at for finding further information on activities, written by holidayers, for holidayers: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g482884-Activities-Zanzibar_Zanzibar_Archipelago.html
Zanzibar has a history which only the museums allow you to fully get to grips with, filled with tales of slavery, governance by the Arabs, before they were expelled in the bloody 'Night of The Long Knives'. Physical reminders of their rule can be found in the palace area in Stone Town, the slave holding cells (also Stone Town) And some of the clearly Eastern construction that is dotted around the capital. To fully appreciate the history, and get a clearer view of it, skip Wikipedia pages and rather when you're over there make a point of going to the museums, even if you're not generally a museum person. I'm not, I will admit, but I still found the exhibitions and history portrayed quite fascinating.
This really is all down to personal inclination, but if you want a safe, relatively conventional residence, The Blue Oyster Hotel is a good bet at an average of only $40 a night! However, if you would prefer something more private and adventurous, try looking at some of the Jambiani beach lodges - all very reputable, but a change from the usual hotel accommodation; you'll be well looked after by a personal a chef and other staff members, as well as having the beach, quite literally, RIGHT on your doorstep. Alternatively, if you've got a larger budget, the Serena Inn is a 5* rated establishment, with mouthwatering local and conventional dishes, and a range of facilities as well as links to the diving schools of the island. It will set you back an average of $392 per night. In addition, staying in Stone Town is quite an experience, and can be done relatively cheaply through one of the hotels. A final part on the subject of places to stay - Chumbe Island Coral Park is relatively dear, at an average of $350 per night, but even with a restricted budget it would rank as my best place to spend even a couple of nights. Entirely cut off from the main island, with a tiny guest capacity, this eco-friendly accommodation is a marvel to behold (for example subtly hidden solar panels to provide energy, and the buildings all built from scratch using the island's resources). The snorkelling off Chumbe Island has been quoted as "fantastic". Overall, take this review from someone who went (all credit of which goes to Tripadvisor): "A trip to Chumbe is a must for anyone looking for paradise. The resort bring you in sync with nature while its friendly service staff pamper you. Oh, and the food was the best we've tasted in Tanzania!"
To conclude, Zanzibar is well off the tourist track, and hence doesn't experience the problems of litter and light pollution which have become so affecting for those wanting a tropical holiday. Staying there doesn't have to break the bank, and besides the flights down there will be no massive expensive incurred (as long as you don't get around to purchasing some of the grand dhows you may be offered as you peruse the boat-building). Zanzibar truly is a gem of an island. with pure white beaches, a friendly population and an amazing biodiversity. Personally, having spent a significant amount of time holidaying in Africa, I'd say this comes in my top few places to stay; it would be a travesty to miss if you're ever thinking about a holiday to Africa.