Living in Muscat long enough, you will start to hear of the ties in history with the East African coast. As far back as 1698, Oman began to rule Zanzibar, and in the mid-1800s, the Sultanate even ruled the entire empire from Stone Town in Zanzibar. After over a century of immigration and trade between the two nations, we imagined that a visit to Zanzibar would be particularly interesting after living in Muscat and having traveled to Salalah. And we were not disappointed.
Typically, a flight to Zanzibar takes a short stop in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania prior to the final leg to the island. Upon arrival, the tiny airport reminded me of that of the Caribbean Islands. Walking outside, many people were clamoring to help us with our things. Yet with over an hour’s drive to our final destination, we had planned ahead with a booked taxi through the hotel.
Reaching the hotel in exhaustion after a full day’s travel, the staff was quick to usher us into the dining area prior to a full check-in so that we did not miss the serving times. A similar hospitality and service persisted throughout the trip.
Waking the following morning, we arose to a brilliant shoreline unlike coasts we had seen before. The difference in the shoreline during high and low tides was one of the most drastic that I had ever seen, and this left a beautiful view of varying colors floating out to sea.
Our trip was during July – aiming to escape the harsh summers in Muscat and Dubai. So, we mainly aimed to enjoy the beach and relax. This was easily accomplished, and unless you plan a thorough exploration of the island otherwise, I would highly suggest an all inclusive package.
One site that is not to be missed is a walk through Stone Town. This experience really opens you up to the life and history in Zanzibar. I would 100% recommend that you walk through the town with a tour guide as the streets are not easy to navigate. Although no dress code is regularly enforced per se, I suggest that woman dress conservatively and pack a pashmina or scarf to cover, if you feel the need. Personally, I was never asked to cover or anything; however, with all the local women covered, I did feel more respectful in covering and feebishly attempting to blend in.
In the past, Zanzibar used to be a hub of the East African slave trade. I have to emphasize that seeing conditions of a slave trade here were drastically different than those that I had seen in the United States. The traders used to find people all the way from the middle of the Congo, walk them to coast of Tanzania, and sail them to Zanzibar to be sold. Although David Livingstone established a Christian mission through Christ Church, the slave trade here was not abolished until almost the 1900s.
Back in the hotel, each evening was full of delicious food and impressive entertainment. One of our favorite evenings was when the local African food was served, which was absolutely fantastic – still missing the coconut yuca (or tapioca) and the fish.
From the start to the finish of the trip, locals constantly smiled and greeted with “Hakuna Matata,” evoking memories of Lion King and laughs. However, one has to acknowledge the irony in the phrase that means “no worries” because it does not always seem applicable in Zanzibar. You can tell life is not easy in Zanzibar – most live on a few dollars a day or less and practice some form of subsistence farming, while many others rely on tourism activity. AIDs and HIV do continue to be a problem, and while the land is fertile, agricultural imports are still very high, driving up prices. With over a million people living on the island, I was surprised to learn that McDonalds and Starbucks had yet to make an appearance. However, even with the BigMac Index, both companies would likely find a challenge in garnering sufficient customers.
All this to say, remember these elements of Zanzibar when you continue to be approached by the tour guides and sales people on the beaches. The country is full of wonderful people and a rich history to enjoy. I do hope and pray that they can soon experience some of the economic growth that other countries East Africa has achieved recently, and if they keep their beaches like this, then they are on their way…