There can be few names that stir the imagination as effectively as Zanzibar; an island of the exotic and mysterious, where Arabia meets the Dark Continent. This is where centuries of visitors from the ancient trading nations of the Indian Ocean have left their mark culminating with the Omani’s hedonistic ways carrying into the beginning of the 20th Century.
It is it's fading past which really fascinates today’s visitors. There are strangely atmospheric ruins dotting the island, including palaces, bath houses, old towns and the harem for the Sultan’s concubines. A constant reminder of an fascinating chapter in the island’s history.
The old quarter of Zanzibar is Stone Town which is time-worn and atmospheric; a muddle of tiny streets, heavily carved woodwork, big studded doors and overhanging balconies. It is a welcoming town too and strolling through tiny back streets, past spice sellers, tailors and darkened doorways one is met with ready smiles and a reassuring sense of quiet acceptance.
Many of the older buildings have become dilapidated, although efforts are now being made to gradually restore them, but this adds further to the atmosphere. For those willing to respect local customs, an unobtrusive visit to the old dhow port provides a stunning glimpse into the traditions of Zanzibar.
Beyond the town are the treasures of chattering villages, verdant forests and glorious beaches. A visit to the spice plantations, a lasting legacy of the Omani influence, is probably on every visitor agenda and, with a good guide, it is fascinating experience. Certainly a stay in town should, without doubt, be balanced by a stay on the coast.
Walk along empty beaches, past unchanged fishing villages with dhows and outrigger canoes pulled up on the sand, snorkel on the reef or dive amongst the glorious fish and coral gardens offshore and it really is not difficult to imagine why Zanzibar has held such appeal for so long.