Back in June, I took the opportunity to join my partner in Kenya for a short holiday.
Initially we investigated a trip around lake Victoria and the South West of Kenya, this due to the risk of terrorist attacks near the Somalia border and a UK Government advisory against travel to the capital Mombassa and near-bye coastal areas.
The plan changed however, when a colleague suggested a cross border trip to my partner, and soon our itinerary included both Kenya and Tanzania. With a desire to see the coast and the appeal of the ‘exotic’, Zanzibar became our first destination and after a few hours of research online, the pieces began to fit together.
Glasgow – Amsterdam – Nairobi – Zanzibar
[pullquote align=”left” class=”” cite=”” link=”” color=””]Watching the landscape, the people and the sunshine from the taxi, I had an unerring feeling I was going to like Zanzibar.[/pullquote]
I arrived in Nairobi, touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after an 8 hour flight from Glasgow via Amsterdam, on Saturday 22nd June. My partner was waiting with a taxi to take us to the International Guest House in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi, where we stayed overnight before travelling on to Zanzibar the next morning.
Returning to Jomo Kenyatta, we flew on to Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar. A 2 hour journey with regional airline Fly540, including a 30 minute stopover in Mombasa. The airport lies 3 miles South of Zanzibar city, the capital of Zanzibar, which is situated on the west coast of Unguja, the largest island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. 1 hour and 100km later, we arrived by taxi at Chwaka Bay Resort, our final destination on the East side of the island.
A romantic slice of paradise – Chwaka Bay Resort
Our visit to the Chwaka Bay Resort was out of season and the hotel was very quiet which suited us perfectly. The hotel staff were very pleasant, our room impeccably cleaned and the food enjoyable, I am vegetarian and had no issue with the meals on offer. The room we were in was fabulous, with a big four poster bed, wi-fi, and a fridge. [pullquote]It was a dream like experience, waking up to the palm fringed, ocean view from our chalet. [/pullquote]
We thought the beach at Chwaka so beautiful and natural. The beach is tidal and changes as the sea recedes to reveal crabs, seaweed and starfish. The hotel organised a boat trip to the other side of the bay too, a stretch of shimmering white sand known as ‘paradise beach’. The water here was crystal clear and cool. We spent happy hours on this beautiful beach with just a cook, boatman and hotel porter. We booked two trips from the hotel, one to Stone Town and Prison Island, for which we were accompanied by an excellent guide, and a second to see dolphins in Menai Bay.
Stone Town – hot, busy and noisy
[pullquote]We visited the Anglican cathedral of Christ Church, shopped in the bustling side streets and explored the Palace Museum before venturing out to prison island.[/pullquote]
A city of many textures – Stone Town is a wonderful fusion of Arab, Persian, Indian and European architecture intertwined along a maze of narrow streets, dominated by scooters and motorbikes.
The first building on our tour, The Anglican cathedral of Christ Church was built towards the end of the 19th Century to celebrate the abolition of slavery in Zanzibar. The cathedral sits on the spot formally occupied by the largest slave market in the city. A series of slave holding cells reconstructed in a neighbouring building offer a stark reminder of this heinous trade in human beings.
Situated in the seafront area, The Sultan’s Palace, or “Beit el-Sahel” was built by the second sultan of Zanzibar in 1883 as a ‘town house’ for his family. The mansion, which was built in the Omani style, now functions as a museum containing artefacts and furniture collected by the Sultans from around the world.
[pullquote]I was rather impressed by the opulent, if tired interiors in the Sultans Palace – a window to a different age. [/pullquote]
One room is devoted to Princess Salme, a daughter of the first Sultan; Seyyid Said, who wrote an account of her life in the royal court of Zanzibar in the 1800’s. Salme was outspoken in support of health care and education for women, yet protective of the slave trade.
The palace offers a glimpse of perhaps Zanzibar’s most intriguing building, The House of Wonders, or “Beit-al-Ajaib”. A tall building with rows of slim columns which was the first in Zanzibar to have electric lighting and an elevator – thus ‘House of Wonders’. One of 6 palaces built by the 2nd Sultan of Zanzibar, the building was damaged by gun fire on 27 August 1896 in an attack on the Zanzibar Sultanate by British forces opposing the succession of the 3rd Sultan. Lasting only 40 minutes, the Anglo-Zanzibar War is known as the shortest war in history.
In the afternoon we boarded a motor boat with our driver and guide and headed for Changuu Island. Changuu or Prison Island lies about three and a half miles out from the Stone Town seafront. The Island was first used in the 1860s by slave traders to hold rebellious slaves prior to their sale at market and became known as ‘prison island’ after a prison was constructed on the island in 1898, though no prisoners were ever interred here. Later the island became a quarantine facility for sailors suspected of having yellow fever. Today the island houses a reserve for giant Aldabra tortoises, the first 4 of which were gifted to the island by the British governor of the Seychelles in 1919. Some of the tortoises are over 100 years old!
I was a little disappointed with Changuu – I hadn’t expected the island to be quite so ‘polished’. Every bit the well-developed tourist attraction, with swimming pool, pizza serving café and large groups of visitors queuing to see and touch the islands famous inhabitants. The remainder of the island, with it’s ocean facing chalets and cottages may be a more tranquil.