Hakuna Matata in Zanzibar

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Zanzibar is a semiautonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. Also known as the spice island, it is not only a coastal touristic paradise but has a very rich history and culture.

The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre Stone Town is a World Heritage Site and located on the west side of the island. Stone Town’s streets and townhouses reminds me a lot of Oman, and the reason of it is that it was once the capital of Oman.

Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman back in 1698. As it was a base for traders from African Lakes region, India and Arabian Peninsula – it is different than Tanzania or even East Africa. It has its own leader, governing bodies and unlike other African countries, 95% of the population’s religion is Islam.

Visa:

Many nationalities get Tanzania visa at the border by paying 50 USD. They asked for vaccination record and I didn’t have it but it was still ok.

More details about visa can be found here.

Language:

The main language is Swahili and you will hear it from the locals approaching you all the time, so better to know a few words beforehand. Below are the most common ones you will hear:

Jambo Jambo: Hello

Ashanti Sana: Thanks

Karibou: Welcome

Hakuna Matata: All is good, no worries

Currency:

You can use either US dollars or Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) in Zanzibar.

When to visit:

Zanzibar has two rainy seasons in a year. The long rainy season lasts from March until May and booking a beach holiday during this period is not a good idea. The short rains generally take place between November and December, but aren’t nearly as intense. Even though we were there at the beginning of May, it didn’t rain at all and the temperatures were perfect.

Don’t expect to have safari experience there as the only wildlife in Zanzibar is under water. Want to go for diving while you are in the island? The high diving season is July to September and December to January, and if you have limited time, make sure to reserve your diving experience beforehand.

How to get there:

There are two ways to get to Zanzibar by plane – either by flying to Dar Es Salaam and taking a small adventurous plane from there, or flying directly to Zanzibar.

If you fly to Dar Es Salaam and don’t have the guts to fly with small planes or want a cheaper option, you can also take a fast ferry to the main island. The high-speed boats run four times a day each way, take about two hours, and a ticket will run you less than half of what it costs to fly.

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Plane in Dar Es Salaam about to take off to Zanzibar

Where to stay:

The coastline offers some of the best beaches of the world, and different areas of the island offer different experiences to visitors. If you’re looking for a beach escape with other Westerners, head north to Nungwi and Kendwa. North east on the other hand is where many top accommodation resorts are set on. Meliá Zanzibar is one of them, and that’s where we stayed during our 3 days trip.

First thing to know about the island is that it gets more remote and quieter when you go up to north, and more populated when you go down to south. Stone Town on the west coast is good for being explored in a full day with a guided tour but not to stay unless you want to be in the historical centre.

Melia Zanzibar:

Melia Zanzibar is a luxury beach all-inclusive resort situated on the north-east coast of the exotic island of Zanzibar. The hotel has private villas, an infinity pool, a spa, 5 restaurants and 4 bars providing guests the opportunity to experience culinary delights from around the world.

One thing to know about Zanzibar is that the whole island is under the effect of Indian Ocean tides, caused by the moon’s gravity against the mass of the ocean. At Melia, swimming is possible only at high tide. The difference  between the low and high tides are 6 hours but don’t worry – walking on the beach and finding colorful star fish when there is low tide was also fun.

Offering spectacular views especially when the sun is shining, it is a perfect hotel if you want to stay in and relax. About 1 hours away from Stone Town, it is far from all the night life and you feel a bit stuck with the hotel’s entertainment at nights.

The hotel’s Gabi Beach is accessible by a shuttle from the main building. There are hammocks and a bar/restaurant for a perfect day on the beach. Diving club is open during diving season if you wish to go diving as well.

For the evenings, I strongly recommend a tapas dinner at Jetty Restaurant but make sure to have a reservation as it is always fully booked.

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Gabi Beach – Melia Hotel

What to do:

If you don’t want to spend your days on the beach, you can visit Prison Island which is a former prison for slaves and quarantine station, or head to north to see Nungwi and Kendwa beaches.

Unlike us, you may want to spend more time in Stone Town and take a famous spice tour which  usually takes 5-6 hours. You will be overwhelmed by the abundance of spices growing in spice plantations such as cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla or black pepper.

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Market in Stone Town

Other places of interest in Stone Town are House of Wonders, the Palace Museum, the market and the house where Queens’s Freddie Mercury was born in. Freddie was born in Zanzibar in 1946 in this house in Stone Town and it is now a guest house and unfortunately you cannot enter the building.

In short, even though 3-4 days is enough to see the island, you can stay longer to discover Zanzibar and relax a bit more.

Other Costs:

Zanzibar focuses on tourism to boost its economy, so prices of taxis, souvenirs, hotels and taxes are pretty high.

  • Transfer from Dar Es Salaam to domestic flights and the plane costed 65 USD.
  • We were asked to pay 10 USD tax entering Zanzibar at the airport
  • The taxi from Zanzibar Airport to Melia Hotel costed 60 USD
  • Melia Hotel to Zanzibar Stone Town with a 2 hours city tour (all arranged at the hotel) costed 90 USD

On our way back, we preferred to fly from Zanzibar with a stop in Kilimanjaro. It appeared to be a good idea as we got to see the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain of Africa from the plane’s window.

Sharing the same ocean as Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles, Zanzibar is a place that is worth a visit and a few more.Personally, I’d prefer Zanzibar over Maldives. While Maldives provides one of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the world, you don’t have to be stuck in a single hotel in Zanzibar. What do you think?

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Paradise in Africa: Cape Town

I finally made it to the continent Africa. With its spectacular views, beaches, nature, food, wine and mountains, it gained my heart in such a short time. I believe it should be on top of every traveler’s bucket list.

Cape Town is a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast. Being the second largest city in South Africa and the capital of the Western Cape Province, the city is located where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Languages spoken in the city are English and Afrikaans which actually sounds like Dutch. Summer is between November and February, unlike the northern hemisphere.

My expectations were high as I got recommendations from my colleagues and friends who visited this beautiful destination before. As the time was passing, my excitement to see the actual city and Africa was increasing as well. It took 9,5 hours flight time from Doha and I was finally there! Our plan was to stay there for 4 days, however one should spare at least 7-8 days to enjoy it properly.

Cape Town is a safe destination but avoid poor parts of the city which are generally in downtown. Interestingly, I’ve seen more elder tourists than younger ones. The couple in their 70s, sitting next to me in the Waterfront were mentioning that it was their 7th visit to Cape Town. Isn’t that amazing? It was probably the first time I got jealous of people of their age.

The city is pretty cheap. You can feel the African culture but feel like you are in a small British town. There are very rich people as well as very poor ones. Jewish people live around Greenpoint area while Muslims live in the colorful Bo Kaap area.

Food & Wine:

The food is de-li-ci-ous! If you are interested in trying game meat such as crocodile, zebra, ostrich or beaver, Cape Town is the place to be.

South Africans love their food. Each dish has an African twist and Biltong (a dried meat cured in vinegar and spices) is on top of it. Exotic food creations are also not limited as you can find yourself eating an ostrich burger or a crocodile meat – accompanied by a Pinotage wine. Braai is African barbecue, but you would need to be invited to a braai party by a friend to be able to experience it. As it is a port city, no need to mention about the amazing seafood offered by restaurants. Wine yards are 30-40 minutes away from the city center, so make sure to leave at least a full day to visit the famous Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl towns. Fancy a bit of luxury stay? Then treat yourself a stay at La Petite Ferme – you will be amazed by the food and views!

Some restaurants I would recommend are:

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La Petite Ferme

Where to Stay:

We stayed at an old but expensive hotel around The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, The Commodore Hotel. As they didn’t allow me to check in a bit earlier than the actual check in time, I put my luggage to the luggage store and went out to stroll around the Waterfront. When I came back to the hotel for check in, my luggage wasn’t there anymore! They found it in someone else’s room, and thanks to that, they gave us a room with Table Mountain view, and a complimentary bottle of red wine.

You can stay around the Waterfront area if you wish to be close to the city centre. Hotels around this area were a bit pricey but I guess security is what you pay for in South Africa. If you’re looking for other options, have a look at my recommendations below:

Getting Around:

Renting a car would give you freedom, however, there are other options which are probably cheaper.

I wouldn’t go for public buses but the hop on hop off City Sightseeing bus takes you to everywhere you would want to see – from Table Mountain Cable Way to Camps Bay.

Uber is another way of getting around, and it is really not expensive at all. The airport is only 20 minutes away from the Waterfront, and Uber costs around 170 ZAR. Sedan taxis are also available but I wouldn’t trust their meters.

Another way of seeing around is to book tours. What we did was to spend two days in a hop on-hop off bus and to take full day wine yard and city tours.

Day 1:

First day was a quite relaxing day. It was the first day and I was waiting for my friend to arrive to start discovering the city. I sat at a Belgian bar called Den Anker and had wine sitting outside with a Table Mountain view. After strolling around V&A and Cape Wheel, I headed to Long Street to check out the night life.

Day 2:

We are not professional photographers, however we were so tempted to book a daily photography tour so that we could get a chance to take pictures of penguins, the Cape Peninsula and the colored beach houses of Muizenberg. So here is the route we followed – in case you’d like to do it yourself with a rental car:

Muizenberg Beach – Muizenberg is a beach-side suburb of Cape Town. The beach is beautiful and unique with its bright colored beach houses and the stunning bay and mountain views. It is a great place for surfers but we haven’t seen any as it was pretty early in the morning.

Kalk Bay Harbour –  Kalk Bay is one of Cape Town’s trendiest seaside villages with a fishing harbour. It is full of seals and seabirds, and the fishermen selling their fresh fish. It is strongly recommended to have a lunch there as we did. The traditional fish& chips was delicious.

Simon’s Town – Located at the east side (False Bay side) of the Cape  Peninsula, this town is more organized than Kalk Bay. If you are looking for a day of sun and sea, Simon’s Town is the place to be.

Boulders Beach – This is the beach where you can watch the cute little jackass penguins in their tailcoat costumes. They are all protected so you cannot touch them and you wouldn’t want to do that as they may bite anyway. As we learned, people used to be allowed to swim and play with penguins previously, however their unique species is dying, and human interaction with penguins is no longer allowed. There is also an entry fee to the beach.

Cape Point – Cape Point is a spectacular sight we reached after passing through Table Mountain National Park. You can get the funicular up and climb up the steps to the lighthouse to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view. This is where two oceans meet – the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the warmer Indian Ocean waters on the east however the southern-most point of South Africa is actually Cape Agulhas.

Cape of Good Hope –  The Cape of Good Hope is the legendary home of The Flying Dutchman – it is doomed forever to beat its way through the adjacent waters without ever succeeding in rounding the headland.

Chapman’s Peak View Point – Chapman’s Peak Drive on the Atlantic Coast between Hout Bay and Noordhoek in the Cape Peninsula. After passing Chapman’s Peak Drive road, we reached Chapman’s Peak View Point where we enjoyed the stunning view.

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Muizenberg Beach

Day 3:

We took an Uber to the Green Market Square. This square offers visitors a unique and real African shopping adventure. Set between Short Street and Long Street, the historical square hosts African vendors and artists. Make sure to go early and bargain before you buy as Africans believe the first customer of the day brings their own luck.  Most of the stuff appeared to be mass-produced but you can find a good deal to buy masks or a painting for your home. With a good bargain, I bought a mask with a price tag of 3,500 Rand for only 300 Rand.

Later, we walked around and reached the Bo Kaap area where is also known as the Malay Quarter. Designated for Cape Muslims, the rich cultured neighborhood is filled with colorfully painted houses. We took pictures, saw some photoshootings taking place in the narrow streets and then headed back to the Waterfront.

Around the Waterfront, we checked out the Watershed near Aquarium – a market where South Africans sell design products. We had some South African food and beers at The Food Market right next to it. Buying a pack of Bintong and drinks, we started our Hop On Hop Off tour to get to Table Mountain as the sky is bright and the sun is shining. Table Mountain was inaugurated as one of the world’s ‘New7Wonders of Nature’ in 2012. The flat-topped mountain offers visitors a panoramic city views from the top.

Tip: If you’re planning to visit Table Mountain and don’t want to climb it by foot, make sure to head there when the sky is clear as the lifts don’t work when it’s foggy.

After Table Mountain, we continued with the Hop On Hop Off bus tour’s red line which took us to Camps Bay. The beach is very large with white sand, but the sea was pretty chilly to swim. If you’re not into shopping but the beach and a nice promenade with cafes and restaurants, you may prefer to stay in Camps Bay.

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Camps Bay

Day 4:

It was the day to discover wine yards and do wine tasting with another full day tour. Our first stop was Fairview Wine and Cheese. Vineyard and goat farm, offering wine and cheese tasting sessions, also has a restaurant, but we move to our second stop – La Motte. Situated in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley in South Africa’s Cape winelands, La Motte seemed more luxurious than Fairview.

After tasting around 10 glasses of wine (it was more for drinking than tasting I guess), we arrived to the restaurant where we fell in love! La Petite Ferme in Franschoek is a relaxed restaurant with stunning valley views. We had our lunch overlooking the valley and wine yards below. The food, service and the view was just amazing and it made us not want to leave there. Good news is you can also stay in this pretty place if you wish to do so.

It wasn’t included in the tour but we wanted to taste champagne as well. So we had our driver take us to Haute Cabriere which was another great experience for us.

Boschendal was our last stop. Being one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa, it is located between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. There is a nice outdoor setting under the trees where we tasted our wines.

After a day of drinking and eating, we were dropped off to Waterfront and had discovered another great spot for dinner in the V&A. Willoughby & Co, the Japanese restaurant had customers queued up in front of the restaurant even though it is in a shopping mall, but trust me – the food was worth a wait.

If you have more time, you can book a safari tour to see the African wildlife, trail up to Lion’s Head to watch the sunset and Table Mountain, go cage diving with white sharks, spend longer time in Camps Bay and long street.

I’d strongly recommend travelers to visit Cape Town and I’m definitely going back there to experience the rest.