The coast of Tanzania is perhaps most famous for the Zanzibar Archipelago, a cluster of islands that saw the growth and survival of Swahili civilisation and trade until the mid-twentieth century.
Zanzibar enchants and beguiles with its oriental mystique and forgotten exoticism. The very name evokes thoughts of the Spice Islands and the Dhow trade, Sultan palaces built of limestone, palm trees, and coral underneath the crashing surf.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and grand town houses of old Stone Town remain unchanged, and visitors can walk between the sultan palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you are on. On the East Coast, waves break over coral reefs and sandbars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and peaceful beaches and white sand make for bright days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the West Coast, but the beaches of Mangapwani (where slave caves are visible at low tide) and nearby Bububu are less than a 30-minute drive away. A night or two spent on the east or north coast is well worth the extra time it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands make for fascinating day trips and offer an intriguing break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.