The Zanzibar Archipelago lies just 35 km offshore from Dar es Salaam, and the combination of fabulous beaches, distinctive culture, and excellent diving makes it a blissful place to unwind after a safari. These islands have lured travellers for two millennia. Persian and Omani sultans, followed by Portuguese merchants, made this the slave- and spice-trading capital of the world. The spice trade still flourishes, with clove and coconut plantations covering the interior. However, in the last decade tourism has emerged as a major commercial activity on these islands.
Lying on the main route of the monsoon winds, Zanzibar became an important trading centre between China, India and Africa. In addition, the island’s own plantations have supplied the world with aromatic spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon ever since they were discovered by Arab traders in the 8th century.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Zanzibar was ruled by the Sultanate of Oman and in 1840 Zanzibar City (now Stone Town) was declared its capital. During this period, Zanzibar became an important centre of the slave trade, trafficking up to 20,000 slaves per year in the mid- 19th century. David Livingstone made Zanzibar a base for his East African explorations and campaigned for an end to this foul trade.
The British made Zanzibar a protectorate in 1890, still ruled by the sultan. Zanzibar was granted independence at the end of 1963. A bloody uprising followed; more than 17,000 Arabs and Indians were massacred in one night. The 1963 revolution was led by Africans and in 1964 the country merged with neighbouring Tanganika to form the new nation of Tanzania, although both states remained separate entities with their own governments, supported by the Soviet bloc.
In the 1980s Zanzibar again opened up to the West and began to promote itself as a tourism destination. Tourism is now second only to clove production in its contribution to the GDP.
Stone Town, with its bazaars, mosques, and winding streets, is the cultural heart of Zanzibar, and no visit is complete without spending some time exploring this fascinating city. The east coast has the best beaches, superb diving and a wide range of beach accommodation.
To the north of Zanzibar, the verdant island of Pemba remains largely undeveloped and unchanged. Pemba has miles of glorious, deserted beaches, but few tourists visit the island.
The beaches of Zanzibar’s east coast are even more beautiful than they appear on postcards and in travel brochures. The sand is a brilliant white and powder fine, and stretches from Nungwi, at the northern tip of the island to Chwaka.
Easy flight connections from Dar es Salaam and Nairobi mean that an East African safari can be combined with a holiday in Zanzibar. See example Zanzibar holidays or get in touch to talk to our travel specialists or email the East Africa team.