It’s been awhile, but I’m back 😉
With the immensely positive response to Part 1 of Doing Durban’s Island Paradise series, I thought it best to FINALLY share Part 2 filled with tips, tours and pit-stops that you CANNOT miss when you’re in Zan! In this second installment, I also share my hotel experience.
By now, loyal (awesome) followers of this blog (and its social media pages) know that I travelled to Zanzibar on a whim at the end of January 2016. You can catch – up on Part 1 here.
Yes, I know this isn’t a Durban related post, but with international travel becoming so accessible with new deals dropping daily, and with travel being high on people’s agenda (to explore and experience the world, beyond the borders of the familiar), I thought it apt to share my experiences here. As previously mentioned, I do so in the spirit of this blog – to share experiences with you.
For ease of reference, this post will be divided into the following sections:
1. My hotel
2. My travel package unpacked
3. Things to do and & Travel tips
4. What to pack and my final tips
1. MY HOTEL: NGALAWA BEACH VILLAGE, EAST COAST, CHAWKA BAY
One cannot tour, without finding accommodation – so first, a word on the hotel.
After pouring over Trip Advisor hotel reviews; maps of Zanzibar; making a list of the attractions that I refused to miss during my stay, and comparing quotations for accommodation and flight options, I was convinced that the place for me Ngalawa Beach Village on the east coast of the island, at Chawka Bay.
I could not have been more on point with my selection.
The beach on the periphery of this beautiful boutique styled resort isn’t the most aesthetically appealing that Zanzibar has to offer (if you’re looking for the travel brochure turquoise waters melting into white sandy shores), but please do not misinterpret that to mean that She isn’t a looker.
Oh she is.
For the week that I was there, low tide dominated which made swimming a bit difficult because the tide was so far in, but the water was warm, the shore was clean and there were tourists kite surfing with ease in these waters.
(The darker shade of blue waves reminded me of Durban’s coastline actually – and who doesn’t like our idyllic world-renowned surf-friendly coast?)
The hotel staff was adamant that the seaweed that washed onto the shore was magnificent for the skin. (Think about all those deep cleanse facials with deep-sea mud masks and organic sea weed… we’ve all tried it – now I got to the source!)
The food was DIVINE with a strong seafood influence – fresh tuna for the win! More on this below.
2. MY PACKAGE UNPACKED
I booked via Student Flights and their package (flying Mango direct) offered three tours and a 30 minute massage at the hotel.
I opted for an ALL INCLUSIVE at the hotel, which I HIGHLY recommend that you opt for as well. This means that all my meals were included (three meals a day plus afternoon tea. All non-alcoholic drinks during meal times were included).
SIDE NOTE: I travelled solo – BEST DECISION EVER and my next trip will also be solo. There really isn’t a better way to do it (in my opinion), and no – it isn’t something to be afraid of. Once you make that decision to GO, it feels like the most natural decision in the world. I promise.
Globally, it is an industry norm to impose a ‘single traveller supplement’ on solo travellers. This means that if you opt to travel alone, you will pay a bit (sometimes quite a bit) extra for your accommodation. The rationale, from what I gather from reading online, is that a solo traveller is occupying a room that would normally accommodate two or more people, which in turn would also generate more revenue for the hotel by way of food and beverage bills etc. Also, the rooms need to ‘pay for itself’ and costs involving cleaning etc need to be absorbed into the price. I draw this to your attention because it was something I did not know until I planned this trip, so don’t be surprised when you see wonderful packages advertised as “per person sharing” but when you request a solo traveller quotation, the price increases considerably.
AGAIN, this is a GLOBAL practice, so it’s NOT unique to Zanzibar or the hotel that I stayed at.
Back to Ngalawa:
I emphasise once more that the food at the hotel was sublime. Meals at an establishment can make or break your experience (and I would have been gutted if I was forced to push down grub during my stay that was less than satisfying). But don’t take my word for it – here are some collage shots of the three and four course meals that I savoured during my stay.
SIDE BAR: You also know that I’m a health and fitness nut, and only feed myself clean, mostly sugar-free and unprocessed food. The food here was wholesome, overall clean and I seldom had anything processed on my plate. The vegetables were always crunchy – an indication that the nutrients were not killed off during the cooking. The meals were expertly prepared by the hotels “imported” in house chef from Kenya. Well done my man, well done.
The three tours included in my package were:
1. Safari Blue
This is a must if you’re into snorkelling. Even if you’re a first-timer, the team running Safari Blue ensures that everyone gets into the water, even if you need the help of a life-jacket and a floatation-ring!
It is literally an underwater ‘safari’ as it takes you on a snorkelling expedition into those turquoise waters and there is a stop at a lagoon for a swim.
Travel Tip: Please invest in a pair of Aqua Booties. I found a pair at Sportsmans Warehouse for a reasonable R190.00. (There are higher end brands that stock them for between R600.00 a R1000.00 but these babies did the trick). It’s essentially rubber soled ‘slip ons’ that are a life-saver when you have to walk on the coral to get to the dhow boats (they can’t come that close to shore at low tide). It protects your feet from nasty cuts AND more importantly, insulates your feet from sea urchin stings. You DO NOT want to experience a sea urchin sting.
Bonus Tip: These booties are a must when you’re strolling on the beach as well, because it is not uncommon for sea urchins to wash ashore and lurk unbeknown to you or your kids.
Forewarned is forearmed.
2. Spice Tour
This was a tour to the Tangwanizi Spice Farm – a non harvest farm cultivated purely for the benefit of tourists. One simply cannot go to a spice capital and miss on out where the magic happens….
3. Stone Town (excluding the guide, which was an additional $10.00)
For me, travel is about immersing myself in the people of a region; their daily routine; cultural practices and visiting spots “as the locals do”. With this in mind, I pushed aside the reluctance I harboured since driving through Stone Town to get to my hotel when I arrived, to get a closer look at the city centre.
Firstly – you DO NEED the guide. Navigating Stone Town solo on your first attempt is not something I recommend as the streets are maze-like and it’s quite easy to get lost.
The streets are lined with dilapidated buildings and odours that are such a contrast to the picturesque beaches that we’re used to seeing advertised.
As you walk through the town you note the unmistakable tourist-slant that the city centre takes – spices packaged in the shape of Zanzibar island; or a turtle shaped spice bundle as well; t-shirts and dresses sporting “Hakuna Matata” or “I ♥ Zanzibar” aplenty.
The market was an eye opener – in all honesty, could not get out of there fast enough. Raw meat kept unrefrigerated with black little patches on it. Um, upon closer inspection the black patches were actually little clusters of flies on the meat.
This Fish Market was the same.
The upsetting part here is that the people who live here have no other choice but to purchase their necessities from this market or similar ones around the island. There are no “grocery” stores like we know it. No well-known retail chain brands. It’s the market or nothing. Unless you plan on catching your own fish and growing your own crop, which is a reality most.
There is little by way of social or economic development on the island. The homes are mud-walled and the roofs are re-enforced with woven palm leaves. Some homes are tin roofed, held fast by bricks strategically placed on top so that it doesn’t fly away.
While wandering through Stone Town, you will be taken to the Spice Market section – there are hundreds of stores with different curry powders, saffron, cloves, and tons more!
Travel Tip: You MUST negotiate prices and don’t buy from the first stall you see. Chances are, a few stalls down, the same saffron will be about Ts 20 000.00 cheaper than the first guy! (Yes, experience is a teacher…. )
3. THINGS TO DO
In addition to the tours above, I also gave these a bash.
3.1 Cheetahs Rock Animal Sanctuary
Meet Azlan. A 22 month old white lion, weighing 190 kg’s!!! He loves milk and I got to feed him a chunk of meat also. HE KNOWS HIS NAME EVEN!! He came when I called him 🙂
I spent an afternoon at Cheetah’s Rock. It is an animal sanctuary just outside of the city centre (Stone Town) and it provides a safe haven for rescued animals, previously injured and nursed back to health at the facility or taken in from facilities that could not take care of them.
This is NOT a zoo.
The animals are NOT drugged into a sedated state nor are they defanged or declawed.
The animal trainer / owner uses positive reinforcement to train them and the training is 100% violence free.
Travel tip: At $140.00 + $20 return cab fare from my hotel, this visit was the most expensive tour I took. When you’re budgeting, try to accommodate this visit into your itinerary. It’s money well spent on something that’s once in a lifetime and for a good cause.
Bonus tip : Please do not have hopes of rolling around with little fluffy cubs and taking selfies with the big cats.
Again, this isn’t a zoo, they are not sedated and you are in real danger here if you don’t listen to the trainers instructions.
The money goes to feeding Azlan, Tyson the Cheetah and all the others.
It also funds the building project – another enclosure to house other rescued animals, like possibly a tiger or a bear. Cheetahs Rock gets ZERO funding from the government and NGOs, relying solely on the income generated by the tours and donations to keep going. Your tour fares are feeding these beautiful babies and paying their treatment bills etc.
3.2 North Island Tour
On this tour, you will be taken to the extreme north of the island, featuring pristine turquoise waters.
You can stop at the Nungwi Aquarium for Turtle Conservation. This aquarium was founded to protect and care of turtles, as part of a conservation project. You’re allowed to feed the turtles seaweed and pet them. They are based at a pretty little natural lagoon.
The oldest and largest one is affectionately named Nelson Mandela (I kid you not).
Travel tip: Entry fee is Ts 10 000.00 or $5.00.
Bonus travel tip: When feeding the turtles be careful NOT to let your fingers near their mouths – they are snappy buggars!
4. WHAT TO PACK AND A FEW FINAL TIPS
- Sunblock (lots of it) and after sun as well
- Sun hat
- Aqua Booties
- Power bank (in the event of power outages – that happened just once when I was there)
- Hoodie (and jeans) – it may suddenly rain and you’ll need something a bit warmer than the bikini’s you’d normally be running around in. Also it’s a conservative island, largely Muslim population, so exercise some modesty in dressing when venturing into the city centre. (Cover the shoulders)
- Carry dollars for the hotels and restaurants; shillings for the markets and tips
- Do try the local fruit – sweetest pineapples I’ve had in my life!
- Coconut water is a MUST! You will come back and crave these babies:)
- I flew Mango direct. They do not provide meals on the 3.5 hour flight unlike with other international flights, so please remember to carry “in flight” snacks. You can also purchase on board as well.
- When you enter the airport, it can be a bit intimidating – the officials are a bit abrupt when they’re telling you which queue to stand in, but just take a deep breath and listen to what they’re saying. Once you’re past immigration / passport control you’re on your way to a wonderful holiday.
And there you have it – my island paradise trip in a nutshell. I will be happy to answer any of your travel related questions should you be keen to visit Zanzibar. Give me a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org