The world-famous group of islands that make up the Zanzibar Archipelago lie roughly 30-45 mi/50-70 km off the coast of Tanzania. Unguja is the real name of the largest and most-visited island, but it is referred to simply as Zanzibar Island. Its appeal is its fantastic exoticness: Stone Town, with its intriguing, winding alleyways, old Arabic houses and heaving port, is steeped in history and full of atmosphere, while Zanzibar's coastlines offer some of the best beaches in the world, which make for dazzling days in the sun.
Once a city-state ruled by sultans, Zanzibar has been as connected to Arabia and other regions along the Indian Ocean as it has been to Africa. For centuries, dhows arrived on the trade winds from Persia, India and China to trade for Zanzibar's famous spices. This mix of African and Arabian influences led to the establishment of the Swahili culture and language.
Reached by ferry or flight from Dar es Salaam, there is much to see and do on Zanzibar. In Stone Town, the main town, a labyrinth of narrow streets—mere passageways in some places—winds between aging buildings (a blend of Portuguese, East Indian, Persian and Omani Arab architecture). Among the sights are the sultan's palace, the old Arab fort, two cathedrals and many mosques. Cars, satellite dishes and mobile phones abound, but the clamor of modern life is halted abruptly by the Muslim call to prayer. When you're strolling about, be sure to watch the dhows (sailboats) in the harbor and perhaps organize a sunset sail on one.
Zanzibar smells exotic, too, and spices have been an important commodity on trade routes that date back to the 16th century. In the interior, you'll find jackfruit trees with their huge green fruit, coconut palm trees, and plantations of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon among many other fragrant spices. You can dazzle the senses on a local excursion from Stone Town known as the Spice Tour.
No visit to Zanzibar is complete without relaxing on the beaches, which are characterized by white sand backed by coconut palms and the warm turquoise Indian Ocean. Holiday resorts found around the island vary from simple thatched bungalows to super-luxurious exclusive retreats. In between, the local people live a peaceful existence making a living from fishing from dhows and farming seaweed.
Zanzibar is 45 mi/70 km north of Dar es Salaam.
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