In the rest of my story from the trip to Zanzibar, I will describe a place where luxury contrasts with poverty, a region called Kiwengwa. I will also tell you how to get around the island and what kind of delicious food I found in the least expected place. We will visit the Stone Town and The Prison Island that has some ancient habitants. Thirsty for holiday adventures? I present you, my travel journal from Zanzibar.
From Nungwi, where I’ve spend amazing time snorkelling, I set off a bit southeast to Kiwengwa. This area is associated with luxury hotels and lots of tourists. You are probably wondering, how to move around the island? Well, there are a couple of options. If you are into local transport, you can take the Dalla-Dalla, local bus, which is a tarpaulin trailer. It is usually quite crowded there, although this means of transport is cheap (Personally didn’t try it), considering that it has frequent stops, even a short stretch of road will be time-consuming.
To travel Dala-Dala, you will need some basic communication skills in the local Swahili language. The good news is that you probably, already know the first word in Swahili – Hakuna Matata, meaning, don’t worry! If you’d like to immerse yourself in the local culture, it is a great opportunity for you!
However, I choose the more expensive option, to save time and see as much as possible. I mainly use hotel transport. Pricewise, a journey from Nungwi to Kiwengwa, a distance of about 50 minutes by car, cost me 60$.
The Zan View Hotel, that I stayed in, lies at the foot of the local village. Here you can see a very firm contrast between the poverty of the villagers and the luxury of the surrounding hotels and resorts. The hotels are located on the hill and hidden behind the walls. Down between the palm trees, you can see primitive houses, standing right on the beach.
After exiting the hotel walls, I make my way down to the local settlement, to get to the beach. When I leave the hotel, I feel like entering into another world. The village is very poor. There are no electricity, little children running completely naked, laughing loudly and playing with roosters. I see colourfully dressed women, bustle around the huts, where bright scarves hang on the ropes.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear an Islamic prayer or a call to prayer from a loudspeaker. This is because Islam is the dominant religion in Zanzibar. Therefore, despite the heat, I cover my body with a scarf. People in the village do not have much, yet they are smiling a lot! Locals know, that tourists are a good source of income, so there are many touts on the beach to encourage you to buy handicrafts or go on a sea safari. Women offer massages on the beach.
In the evening before dinner, I decide to bathe in the ocean. It is incredibly pleasant, but I must be careful with the fairly strong ocean tides, as it’s easy to lose control and find yourself far from the shore, very quickly. After struggling with the waves, I decided to go to the village for dinner. Already before, I have spotted a small beach restaurant, run by locals. Maybe not completely a restaurant, as it does not meet any standards, rather looks more like a cooking room, with outdoor seating.
I decide to support the local business, as I am convinced the seafood will be fresh. Another reason is that hotel prices in Kiwengwa are very high, plus you have to pay in dollars instead of local currency. For example, a lobster in a hotel restaurant costs around $30 (which still seems like a promotion, compared to European prices), while a local village lobster costs 23 000 TZS which equals $10.
The choice was obvious. I realised later, it was $10 well spent! The lobster was delicious and the portion was huge! I came back the next day to try, fish in curry sauce and chicken in coconut curry sauce, accompanied with freshly squeezed papaya juice. As you already know me, I love the food, and this was true food heaven for me!
On the third day in Kiwengwa, I chose to go sightseeing the capital of the island, with friends. The name of the capital is the same as the island itself. Zanzibar City was 25 miles away from the hotel. We had to drive from the east to the west coast. I wanted to try a new way of getting around the island therefore, I rented a car. Of course, there was no car rental on the coast.
However, it turned out to be possible, to rent the car from a private owner. Perhaps a bit risky, as it was not possible to buy insurance. We had virtually no contract, except the verbal one. The hotel service helped us find a man in the village who owned a car and rented it to tourists occasionally. We had to pay $15 for the allowance to drive the car and $25 to rent a car for one day plus $15 for gas. We paid cash in advance and set off for the capital. There was only one road leading to the capital, but the drive turned out to be a huge challenge.
The road was full of potholes. Consequently, we felt like in a challenge straight from a computer game. At times we had to almost stop, not to lose the wheels. The locals, on the other hand, seemed to ignore the obstacles and were passing us over and over, at the speed of light. After an hour filled with shouts, Turn right! Left! Stop! Hole!, we managed to get to the capital of Zanzibar. Finally, I saw a familiar local named Nahonda waiting for us, I sighed with relief.
Together with a local Nahonda, we went to Prison Island, by boat. Prison Island is a place, where rebellious slaves were kept a hundred years ago. Currently, the island is inhabited by giant turtles, a gift from Seychelles and at the same time a species in extinction. Some of the turtles have reached the age of 192! Beautiful creatures, slightly reminiscent of dinosaurs, also very relaxed and friendly. Despite the heat, their skin remains cool. They are cold-blooded animals and this is their way of adapting to environmental conditions.
Entry to the island costs $4 and is only allowed with a guide. If, after your visit, you feel like diving with a mask, you should definitely go for it! We paid our guide $50, the price included admission to the island, transportation on the boat and snorkelling near the island. Moreover, Nahonda showed us around Prison Island and told us about the history of the slave trade. To see giant turtles is a highlight of the trip that you should put on your “to-do” list.
There is a lot to see in Stone Town, which is the oldest part of the capital Zanzibar. People around the world recognise Zanzibar island for various spices – cloves, pepper, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, lemongrass. You might think, that the scent of spices attracted explorers here.
Today, Stone Town has an interesting architecture with eastern influences, narrow, winding streets with massive carved doors, which used to be a sign of high material status. There used to be many rich people here because there were a large-scale spice trade and human trafficking. Slavery in Zanzibar was abolished only in 1873, but that’s a story for a separate article.
I spend the second part of the day shopping in Stone Town. Darajani Market is the main market in the city, noisy and chaotic, it sells everything from suitcases to jewellery, sculpture, electronics, fruit, vegetables, spices, fish and meat. It’s a place where all locals go, you can buy everything you need in one visit.
I buy spices and handmade soaps with the scent of cinnamon and lemongrass. I also buy fresh passion fruit, mangoes, bananas and sugar cane sticks, which can be eaten after peeling, squeezing delicious sweet juice. Satisfied, I decide it’s time to go back.
I’ve spent the next day of the trip on planning a further adventure on the African mainland because I also planned an African safari in one of the national parks in Tanzania, but I will tell you about it in the next article. This is not the end of the travel journal from Zanzibar, keep an eye out for the next post!