Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Tue September 29 2015

Dispatch: Zanzibar

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | September 29, 2015

Dispatch: Zanzibar

Photo by David Cogswell

Zanzibar! Wow!

I just have to say it again: Zanzibar! I can hardly believe I am here. The very word is almost synonymous with “exotic.”

This archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, part of Tanzania today, has an intriguing, romantic history.  

The islands are sometimes known as the Spice Islands because clove used to be Zanzibar's biggest export, with nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper trailing close behind. Now Zanzibar's biggest industry is tourism, and for good reason, I am learning.

The main island in the archipelago is named Unguja, but is usually just called Zanzibar. The word is derived from the Arabic word “zang” for “dark, black” and “bar” for shore or coast. The black coast.

Zanzibar City is the capital on the island of Unguja. At its heart is Stone Town, a World Heritage site.

Zanzibar's wildlife is closely connected to that of the nearby African landscape, with which it was connected during the last ice age. But it also has some of its own special endemic animals, including the servaline genet, the Zanzibar red Colobus monkey and the Zanzibar Leopard, which may now be extinct.

Not much is known about the history of Zanzibar before the death of Mohammed in 632 when wars in Asia and the expansion of world trade drove Arabs, Persians and Indians to the islands, who mixed with the native Black Africans there. Archaeological finds suggest humans have lived on the islands for at least 20,000 years, since the beginning of the later Stone Age.

I’m staying at a sweet little hotel called Maru Maru, with a roof restaurant that receives sea breezes from the Indian Ocean, which can be seen from the restaurant.

“Maru Maru” means “marble tile,” and that gives a partial description of the ambiance of the place. The floor of my room is indeed marble tile. There is vintage woodwork around the doors and windows and a handcrafted closed. There are two stained-glass windows facing the bed above wrought-iron-covered framed windows at eye level.

It was dark when I arrived, so I haven’t seen much of the place yet. I can’t say it was easy to get here. But if you were visiting East Africa for a safari, there would be nothing to it.

It started with a flight on South African Airways from New York to Johannesburg. It was a 14-hour journey in economy class, and 14 hours in the air is a challenge no matter what. But the SAA service was typically top-notch, with the warm and pleasant SAA flight attendants, an abundance of good screen entertainment and music, and the food was astonishingly good for an American who has gotten used to the style of service in the domestic American air market.

After 14 hours to Joburg I switched to a flight to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, which was something less than four hours in duration. From Dar es Salaam I picked up a short flight operated by Precision Air on a pretty little propeller plane that carried roughly 80 passengers.

That was one of the shortest flights I ever experienced, really fitting the description of “a hop.” It was eight minutes to take off and reach flying altitude, 15 minutes in the air and eight minutes in descent.

Today I am going to visit a spice farm and Stone Town. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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