Zanzibar, a gem in the Indian Ocean

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To whoever is reading this post, Zanzibar was the reason for this blog. This trip dates back to exactly a year when six friends decided to meet in another continent, Africa. The first leg of the trip was Tanzania which I have written about in my previous blogs. I am sure you would consider Tanzania as your next travel destination on reading this and this blogpost.

Zanzibar is fully surrounded by white sandy beaches and blue Indian ocean. Nungwi beach located in the north of Zanzibar is the most popular beach among tourists due to its bountiful underwater sealife.

Zanzibar, a gem

Let me take you some archaeological history, though that’s not my subject of expertise and Google has that. I am calling it as the gem in the Indian Ocean while, only because of those rising sea levels at the end of the Pleistocene led to the formation of Islands. Zanzibar was the last island to be separated from mainland during the Quaternary glaciations as explained in this research.

Why Zanzibar?

The flight tickets from Dar es Salam to Zanzibar were quite expensive so we decided to go to the airport and then check for the ticket on the spot. Luckily we got a ticket for a mere price of 20 USD for a charter plane. It is typically for the locals but since there were 7 vacant seats we got them.

The pilot of the charter plane giving the instructions to us- fasten your seat belts!. Believe me, he shut the door after getting off the runway.

Charter ride, something unforgettable!

We enter the charter. The pilot commences the runup with the door open, looks back and says,  “Gentlemen fasten your seat belts, we are ready to fly. In 20 minutes we will be in Zanzibar”. We kept staring at each other bewildered and he finally closed the door after the takeoff.

Sitting at the window I could admire beautiful views of the Indian ocean and some unnamed or unknown Islands around Zanzibar.

Promised Land

Promised land definitely changes your state of mind with the view of beautiful Indian ocean in front, having a nice drink in the shack with Bob Marley’s redemption song playing behind.

After a successful landing, we arrived at the resort “Promised land” booked at the last minute. This resort is truly a gem at a mere price of 25$ per night with a fulfilling breakfast. The hut-like rooms, no internet connectivity and no neighbourhood around makes it an extra special place.

The Promised Land resort where we stayed in South Zanzibar was the best to relax after an unbelievable safari experience and the travel we had.

The taxi guy who dropped us at this resort eventually became our tour guide in Zanzibar. The evening was super calm and relaxed listening to the likes of Bob Marley and Jimi and conversing over the past 10 days spent in this continent.

Swimming with Dolphins- as they named the adventure!

Next morning we had booked a boat to go watch dolphins in the blue Indian ocean. We were astonished to see was that the water which was about 800m away from the resort had reached the stairs of the resort in the morning. Basically, we just jumped out of the resort into the boat. It was surprising to see that at 6am in the morning we were not the only ones to go into the ocean in search of dolphins. But it makes sense because in the later hours dolphins go farther away into the ocean due to this tourist intrusion. We were overwhelmed by the wildness of the ocean where we had the experience of sitting in a roller coaster ride. After searching for 50min we spotted dolphins for the first time in my life. As the phrase goes – Swimming with the Dolphins, we wanted to jump into the ocean but the captain didn’t let us since the ocean was too rough that day.

Woohoo! We sighted dolphins! It was hard to wake up at 6 am in the morning after a long evening the day before. But we were not the only ones.

When we came back to the shore we were surprised once again as water had receded nearly 300m inside, which meant we had to walk on the beach to reach the hotel. Rest of the day was spent at the resort gazing at the blue Indian ocean and gathering some motivation to go out and explore Zanzibar.

Pleasure admiring the beautiful sunset over the Indian ocean.

Paje is something you shouldn’t miss!

Finally, in the evening we called Saleh, our unofficial guide to take us to downtown. He took us to the Paje beach, where there is always an exciting full -moon beach party. I  would rather recommend you visit this beach a bit early to experience the calming sunset over the white sand. Had heard it is the best sunset you could ever experience on a beach. For dinner, we went to the restaurant “Paje- by night” just next to the beach party. They advertise about  Italian food and burgers as their speciality but guys trust me, the Zanzibar seafood curry is to-die-for. You shouldn’t miss it if you are a seafood fan. It is served in a coconut shell and is just delicious. That certainly was the best seafood curry I had in Africa.

Zanzibar stone town

Strolling of the seafront promenade in Zanzibar stone town makes you fall in love with it. It is full of street food vendors and handicrafts.

The next day we checked out of the hostel and went to Zanzibar stone town. We had booked another hostel there. From the main street, we had to walk through small lanes to reach the hostel while it was heavily raining. The hostel looked creepy but we had to stay there just for a night so we didn’t mind. The stone town took me back in a time when you would find cables hanging on the streets, after every 50m you smell something different. The stone town is full of tiny streets one could easily fall in love with. The seafront promenade is also an awesome sight, the young lads there having fun jumping in the water showing their tricks and locals selling mouth-watering street food.

This was somewhere in the sone town while in heavy rain we were figuring out the location of our hostel.

Tortoise Island- We missed it! But you shouldn’t.

From the stone town, the most enthralling thing to do is to watch the giant tortoises on the Tortoise Island- Prison or Changu Island. I suggest you check this blog from Steph to enjoy Zanzibar Stone town at its best.

Nungwi and Mnemba island- a bounty of underwater life

Busy Nungwi beach. It is the drop-off point to go to the Mnemba island, also called as Bill Gates Island.

Next day after checking out from the hostel we left with our tour guide to the northern Island- Nungwi, one of the prettiest islands in Zanzibar. Our intention to go there was snorkelling. But we knew less that it would turn out to be a death survival for us and reason for my blog. We went to the Island to the point from where we would be taken for snorkelling. We had to travel for 40min by boat to Mnemba island. This Island has big corals that makes it the best spot for snorkelling in Zanzibar. Fact- it is also called Bill Gates Island since he owns it and has a big resort there. You are not allowed to step on the island. Before we left, we could see a huge cloud cover on the other side but we dismissed any negative thoughts in our excitement and so did the snorkelling club guys. But this later turned out to be a close call between death and life.

A life changing experience!

We reached Mnemba island, jumped out with the snorkelling kit and started exploring the breathtaking sea life. Believe me, floating on the water with heads submerged, gazing at the exotic corals, schools of colourful fishes swimming in a disciplined order was unbelievable!

Snorkelling near Mnemba Island was a blissful experience for me. I had never seen such underwater life in real.

And the unexpected!

The cloud cover clearly indicating us that it is not the right time to go snorkelling. But yea excitement lost in front the factual reality.

We got back on the boat and it headed towards the departure point. The clouds which were far away were now looming exactly over us and destiny had something in store for us. It started off with strong winds and then a heavy downpour. The waves were getting bigger and surrounded our boat from all sides, totally unexpected. Our captain was experienced enough to keep the boat aligned to the waves. The result was that we lost track of our orientation and invisibility made it difficult to locate the coast. 10 minutes passed and every one of us started panicking but it was the captain who kept our spirits up saying this was a common occurrence and would last for a short span of time. 

Getting worse??

Suddenly a wave struck the boat from behind and the motor came out of the chassis and fell into the water. I can’t really pen down what went through our minds at that time. The navigator guy ran to help the captain getting the motor back into the boat. After a few attempts, the motor was turned on and that was one comforting scene. It shouldn’t be worse than this.

This was the moment of panic for all of us seeing this desperation on the face of our captain. He was trying hard to keep his cool.

But by now, the captain too displayed desperation by saying that the weather usually clears out in 10-15min but that day it was taking a bit long. He assured us of our safety and that we needn’t worry. His words were our only solace. At one point when the captain was taking water out from the boat, we had almost lost hope of getting out of this. The memory still gives me goosebumps, even while I write this. 

Yaay! We made it!

After nearly about 25 minutes of drama, we finally located the coast and headed in that direction. On getting off the boat the captain expressed his fear; ‘I have been doing this for the past 20 years but have never experienced such a bad blow by the weather’. This ordeal in the ocean changed our lives forever and I am glad I have a chance to share my stories through this blog. We, fortunately, made it to the last ferry of the day to Dar es Salaam.

Moment of relief for all of us after surviving through the worst experience of life till now.

Important Insights:

Getting on Zanzibar:

From Dar es Salam or Kilimanjaro there is a good frequency of flights to Zanzibar.

From Dar es Salam you can easily take a ferry to Zanzibar. For prices and timings check out this site.

The third but spontaneous option is to check out the charter plane ticket at the Dar es Salam airport.

Getting around in Zanzibar:

I would suggest making an ordeal with a taxi driver since it is hard to get around with any public transport.

If you are in Zanzibar for less than 4 days, I would suggest looking at accommodation in Stone town or in the north of Zanzibar. South has nice beaches but the stone town, northern islands are quite far from the South of Zanzibar.

Nightlife: Zanzibar stone town as pretty nice bars and are quite cheap. Kendwa Rocks is my favourite place.  For suggestions on nightlife check out this blogs from Traveldudes, Olasupertramp and Kichanga.

Million thanks to this man!

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