Zanzibar.

The name itself speaks volumes with it’s onomatopoeic and exotic tones. Last minute Spring Break plans called for this destination. We had discussed visiting Zanzibar since living in the UAE due to its proximity, but had researched relatively little about it. So for the first time we set off to a far away land with almost no expectations. We wanted beach, sun, sand and a little relaxation. We walked away with so much more. The unexpected terrific is what is at the heart of Zanzibar.

Our first impressions of the island reminded us of the gorgeous Corn Islands off the coast of Nicaragua. Landing in Zanzibar is very similar to landing in Big Corn, with views of lush palm trees, gorgeous blue and pristine waters as you’re landing and a warm and pleasant muggy feeling once you get off the plane. From the airport, we were taken to our hotel in Stone Town (Tausi Palace Hotel) where we spent two nights. Stone Town is highly fascinating for its colonial façade and history. Once a flourishing trading focal point, it is now a melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European cultures. Stone Town can easily be explored on foot. It comes alive through the people greeting you with “jambo!”(hello) and “karibu” (welcome) as you walk through the alleys while marveling at old colonial mansions that are now gorgeous hotels.

Driving out of Stone Town to the North of the island unfolds raw, unfiltered roads with countless potholes, attempted construction and road blocks, set against a background of people hauling gallons of various supplies on a bicycle, school children running to and from school in clean and pressed uniforms. One is left to wonder how they could possibly keep their clothes clean with so many mud-puddles around them. Your heart smiles at their enthusiasm and all of their physical activity. The roads towards Nungwi have an intense variety of color; a marriage between the, “almost nude,” Africans I had in my mind as a child and the Muslim Africans I was encountering.

This is Africa. A brilliant myriad of diversity and color. A paradox; homes made of all types of different material, some so seemingly humble you feel as if you’re traveling back in time. In fact, so much of the island feels timeless, as if you could exist in any given year, until you see the food markets with all of the hustle and bustle of a more modern-day street in New York. We were immediately happy to have chosen this island for a glorious 8 days.

Once we reached the island of Nungwi, we witnessed an incredible scene. We went for a swim in the beach and saw a group of local women fishing with a net as they danced and celebrated their successes and appeared to grumble at their misfortunes. They moved along the beach while in the water to continually attempt their hunt in song and dance.

The colors, sounds and tastes of Zanzibar undulated over me like few things, if any, ever have before. We spent most of our time in Nungwi, though we had lunch in Kendwa beach and explored Matemwe for a few hours. We found Kendwa a little too touristy and busy for our palates, and loved staying next to Dreams Diving Centre in Nungwi where we booked with them for what would turn out to be 6 dives. Our son loved waking up to the low tide every morning where he could snorkel. We would join him on occasion and found some fairly fascinating stuff, like a moray eel and a scorpion fish. There’s plenty of nice coral right off the shore. Overall we found our time on the island as a family to be relatively safe. Our son loved wandering up and down the beach, and on occasion when he was shortly out of our sight, the locals would inform me of where he was. He loved playing with the local children and was able to snorkel and play with them everyday.

The sunsets unfold while the local young men do “sport,” which consists of push-ups, sit-ups and soccer. Nungwi has plenty of nice restaurants to choose from, and you can enjoy the afternoon and all of it’s glorious colors vibrating off the waters from a restaurant and a nice drink in hand. Our personal favorite is Istanbul, a nice place right off the beach with great happy hour specials. We ate there on several occasions and found the staff to be very friendly, the food tasted great and was moderately priced.

All in all, Zanzibar was a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. The Spice Islands lived up to their names, and the opportunity for sensory exploration abounded. Zanzibar is a place that can (and should) be visited many times – there is simply too much to see and do in one visit.

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