7th time’s the charm, isn’t that how the saying goes? During my 8-month stay in Dar es Salaam I managed to go to Zanzibar 7 times, and got mocked at least as many times by my Tanzanian friends for visiting there so often. My non-Tanzanian friends were more understanding though; if you can go to a tropical paradise (the kind that all travel brochures up in the northern hemisphere like to flash images of in your face during the coldest months of the year) for less than 10 euros on a comfortable boat trip that takes less than 2 hours, there really is little reason why you would not go there. To mark my seven visits, I’ll tell you seven things you should know about the place.
It’s actually two islands, Unguja and Pemba, the former big and touristy (and the one people refer to when talking about Zanzibar), the latter smaller, greener and less developed. Unguja and Pemba are governed by the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar and together with mainland Tanzania (Tanganyika) form the United Republic of Tanzania. Since 1964 when joined with Tanganyika, the island nation has sought to become fully independent and riots have been commonplace during elections. During the presidential elections in October 2010, fears over riots surfaced again but never realised – Zanzibaris peacefully elected their new President, Ali Mohammed Shein.
The peoples and culture of Zanzibar is an interesting mix, with African, Arabic, Persian and Indian influences. A strong majority of the inhabitants are Muslim and the Swahili that is spoken on the island is claimed to be the purest form of the language. Zanzibar is really an interesting place, historically, culturally, politically etc. Some Tanzanian friends in Dar es Salaam though don’t think much of it other than two islands of lazy people (apart from seasonal tourism, the economy isn’t particularly strong), and many haven’t even been there despite the close proximity. But for a foreigner like me, I’m always ready for Zanzibar. More exciting stuff to come.
Fun fact: Even the register plates on cars in Zanzibar differ from those in Mainland Tanzania. I particularly like the ones found on taxis and other company cars, a flashy red that sparkles in the sunshine. Ain’t that funky?
Want to keep reading this series? Click here for 7th Heaven, pt. 2.