With hiking poles and reef shoes, we splosh knee-deep in water along the reef to the surf break, careful to avoid spiny sea urchins.
We could be sipping ginger mojitos under shady palms on a blindingly white Zanzibar beach. But it’s low tide, and the Indian Ocean waves have rolled back almost a mile.
Now is the time for “reef walking.”
Occasionally, we stop to pick up shells and examine sea cucumbers. We even spot a small octopus.
Zanzibar beaches are beautiful
We’re reef walking off Bwejuu Beach. On Zanzibar’s east coast, Bwejuu Beach is rated one of the world’s 30 most beautiful island beaches by Conde Nast Traveler. But it’s also one of the most unusual. (It’s unusual too for Zanzibar beaches. The water doesn’t roll back as much at low tide on other Zanzibar beaches.)
Along with reef walking, we watch local village women harvest seaweed offshore.
Women farm seaweed on some Zanzibar beaches – photo Matthias Zirngibl
The coral sand beach is firm, so you can take out hotel bikes and ride for miles along the hard-packed coral sand.
And when the wind picks up, windsurfers and kite boarders fly through the white caps.
Kite surfing on Bwejuu Beach – photo Baraza Resort & Spa
Part of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an archipelago of over 50 islands; the largest is commonly known as “Zanzibar.”
Most visitors come to Zanzibar for the beaches.
New charter and other flights make it fairly easy for Europeans to jet into Zanzibar just for a beach holiday. North Americans usually add Zanzibar at the end of an African safari – a bush-and-beach vacation. (We’ve tacked on Zanzibar after our canoeing-with-crocodiles safari in Zambia.)
Bwejuu Beach is one of the world’s 30 most beautiful island beaches
Zanzibar spice tours
Spice tours are popular if you’re willing to vacate your beach chair and explore some of the island.
Zanzibar is known as the “spice island.”
Its lush interior is full of spice farms growing cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla beans and other spices (but only cloves are exported).
On our tour, our lithe teenage guide scampers up tree trunks to pull down various fruits and seeds. Breaking open a furry “lipstick fruit,”he makes us laugh when he smears the inside red paste on his face and blows kisses with freshly painted crimson lips.
Our young spice tour guide shows us the lipstick fruit
The lipstick fruit
Jozani monkey forest
We also book a half-day tour to Jozani National Park.
The mahogany forest is home to rare red colobus monkeys, only found on Zanzibar.
They’re cute little creatures, with white crowns of hair – especially one particular baby we try to photograph, who swings and jumps about while his (her?) mother tries to sleep sitting upright on a branch.
Mother and baby red colobus monkeys
Splurge-worthy hotels on Zanzibar beaches
Large big box hotels aren’t the norm on Zanzibar. Present-day tourism, beyond backpacker hostels and simple beach cottages, only started to sprout in the past decade. Before that, a bloody African/socialist revolution in the mid-1960s closed Zanzibar to the outside world for more than 20 years.
But Zanzibar is now a hot destination. Honeymooners and international visitors who like a little luxe have discovered the island.
In Stone Town, the historic old part of Zanzibar’s capital, historic palaces have been converted into dreamy boutique hotels.
Several new all-inclusive boutique beach resorts have also opened. Like the hip new Baraza Resort & Spa, which resembles a gleaming white sultan’s palace. Welcoming both couples and families to its one- and two-bedroom villas with private plunge pools, it catapaulted onto Conde Nast Traveler’s 2012 “Hot List” of top 60 best new hotels in the world.
Its sister resort, The Palms, is a romantic, adults-only, all-inclusive escape on Bwejuu Beach with six thatched villas, offering exceptional service, gourmet food and your own private tented banda (bunglow) for lounging on the beach.
Our private tented “banda” for lounging on the beach (and sipping ginger mojitos)
And the barefoot island paradise of andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge – which has just 10 eco-chic bandas – attracts tech billionaires and hollywood celebrities. (Hey, is that Tom Cruise?)
Rates at Mnemba match the star wattage of its guests: $1,550 (USD) p.p. a night in high season. Maybe it’s some consolation they include twice-daily scuba dives, barefoot butler service and all the fresh lobster you can possibly eat :-).
Rates include twice-daily scuba dives – photo andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge
Dhows like this sail slowly by around Zanzibar
Sure, we get out reef walking and spice touring and monkey spotting.
But to be honest, most of our time on Zanzibar is spent at these resorts – simply sipping ginger mojitos on our beach chairs, watching the dhows sail slowly by and enjoying the Zanzibar beaches…
If you go to Zanzibar
- The best time to visit Zanzibar is between mid-June and the end of October (high season), when there’s little rain and temperatures are coolest (around 80 degrees F). December to March is also dry and sunny, but much hotter.
- Resorts on Zanzibar beaches are mostly all-inclusive (there are usually are no other eating options around).
- Talk to your doctor about anti-malarial precautions, as Zanzibar is in a malaria area.
See also our newspaper travel article on Zanzibar
A version of this story has just been published in The Globe and Mail newspaper as “Nine Unforgettable Moments in Zanzibar” (online version).
Have you been to Zanzibar? What did you like best about the island?
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.