After 24 hours flying time over 3 flights, and 12 hours in Sydney to break up the journey with fresh air and exercise (and because it’s been so long we couldn’t just pass through) we finally made it to Zanzibar.
We arrived only slightly wired. According the the information we’d found we were supposed to complete an online medical form within 24 hours of arriving, which for us meant we had 2 small windows of time to complete them; just before we left Sydney and during our Dubai connection. The form worked fine until it came to selecting our arrival flight – it wasn’t listed as an option. Given we were heading to Africa and there was minimal risk in a smaller airport of being turned round and put on a plane out we figured it would be fine.
When we were given a health form to complete on the last plane we knew it wasn’t going to be an issue. The health check point was outside the terminal building, a nurse took our temperature using a phone on the back of your hand. No one on our flight failed. Then into the chaos of immigration. Yeap we were definitely back in Africa but given they are so used to tourists there were people directing you to the right line. Though our line for people who had got e-visa in advance was much shorter than for visas on arrival, it moved slowly and we’re sure people got through the other quicker.
Our bags were waiting for us. With all the baggage handling issues across the globe at the moment we hadn’t been taking this as a given. One last line to scan our bags and we were out.
We’d booked a hotel a few hours before leaving NZ. They do airport pick ups for USD20 but we were sure we’d be able to get a taxi cheaper at the airport. Sure enough one of the airport taxi service organisers touted us as soon as we left and it cost us 15.
We were staying in the Stone Town (the historical part of Zanzibar town) which meant there was plenty of sights we could explore on foot, it was 2 minutes to the public beach and being in the heart of the tourist area meant everything was right there. The down side was it also meant we had the expensive hotels right by us. In turn this meant expensive restaurants (though it turned out price was less the issue than finding somewhere not focused on seafood, even when by the sea we don’t trust that it truly is fresh – and our travel doctor had in no uncertain terms reiterated this when she talked to us. We can have plenty of seafood at home, no point taking a chance). It also meant touts think you have money and the taxi hangout spots are geared at tourists – offering standard tours and tourist prices.
We did what we always do in a new place and spent the afternoon walking the local area. Getting our bearings and seeing what we could find. We found the cafe in the fort did reasonable coffee and charged fair prices. They did a decent bowl of vegetable noodles that fed both of us as an early dinner too.
Being Sunday it wasn’t a day for doing our usual new country practicalities – getting SIM cards and local currency was going to have to wait a day – but everywhere will take USD so it was no issue, and there were a number of ATMs around if we’d wanted to use them.
The benefit of it being Sunday was everyone was out relaxing. In fact that sums up Zanzibar, it’s relaxed and friendly, people have a good sense of humour, sellers aren’t too persistent and will wish you a good day when they give up.
The park on the waterfront was heaving with people and food vendors and guys were running and jumping off the harbour walls into the water in a variety of poses, to a huge crowd of onlookers. We hung out and enjoyed it until jet lag and tiredness started to win out. We were back at our hotel before dark, after some re-organising of our bags (with long flight now over for a while) we were only fit for showers and an early night.
The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at just gone 8am. Despite 11 hours sleep we both could have slept more but we needed to get into a routine and didn’t want to waste the day.
The hotel serves breakfast on the rooftop which makes it rather pleasant. Then it was off to the fort to get a coffee and then off to get SIM cards. Zanzibar has it own network and SIM cards for it available everywhere but that was of limited use to us, we wanted Vodacom, the network with the greatest coverage in Tanzania. To get one we needed to go to the only office in the town. We devised a rough plan to walk north through the old town and find a bajaj (tuk tuk).
It took us through the other area of the old town we hadn’t explored, we just wandered in roughly the right direction and on the way we found all the rest of the tourist sights of the old town. Eventually we came out at the cathedral by the main road, which had some transport. We were soon touted for a bajaj and not long after deposited at the Vodacom office. There was no queue but it took a while to get our sims activated and loaded with unlimited data for 30 days (for about NZD30).
As we left the office we discovered there wasn’t a lot by way of transport in the part of the street we were on, now knowing where we are on a map we set off on foot down the street. It was relatively humid but not too bad. Having a map only helps if you check it as we soon got to the end of the road and realised we’d missed the turning back towards the old town. It didn’t matter though as it’s a triangle. We had also discovered that outside of the tourist spots transport doesn’t tout and all we had was things going past. We soon learnt it was just a case of flagging something down and having had enough of walking that is what we did.
Back in the old town we headed to a coffee shop we’d clocked. It roasted it’s own beans and turned out to be as expensive as NZ, just not as good. We hadn’t got a plan for the afternoon but not wanting to waste time we got one quickly over coffee. We decided to head to Jozani Chwaka National Park to see Zanzibar red colobus monkeys (an endangered species found only on Zanzibar). Not wanting to be closeted in a car or pay a taxi fare, we headed to where we knew there would be bajaj going past to see if we could find one willing to take us.
It didn’t take long before we were on our way. Only 35km out of the city (Zanzibar is a small island) it took quite a while to get out of the city and it wasn’t the quickest journey, it took us about 1.5hrs to get there but it was really enjoyable with plenty of time to take things in. We didn’t see any other bajaj on the roads once we got out of the city and we were the only ones not in a taxi when we arrived at the National Park. We paid the entry fee and registered. Then waited a few minutes for a group to be put together. You visit the national park on a 1 hour tour with a volunteer guide. It consists of 3 parts; a forest walk, a visit to the monkeys and then a board walk through the mangroves. We soon discovered they are literally 3 separate parts, in between each you get back in your transport and drive a short distance to the next one.
It was actually nice having 3 very different parts, but of course it was the monkeys we had all come to see. We’d been drilled to stay 3m away. Fat chance of that, they were literally next to the path and would run between you to cross. There were the red monkeys and black monkeys (also found outside of Zanzibar). There were heaps, the trees were alive, a big family troop with everything from babies to big males. The mangroves were also better than expected, it was low tide and all the roots were exposed and littered with crabs.
The journey back only took us an hour, we think it was very slightly downhill. We got back to our hotel and did a bit of organising before heading out to find some dinner. The touts were far more persistent after dark and it took us quite some time to find somewhere that wasn’t doing seafood, but eventually we found an italian. Bonus it also wasn’t touristy and fair prices.
Our last full day in Zanzibar we wanted to get out of town to see its famous beaches. The best are in the north of the island so that was our destination. The journey takes around 90 minutes and we figured that bajaj wouldn’t go that far so we were resigned to having to take a taxi. Until we walked past a couple of guys on motorbikes… they were a hoot, and they were prepared to take us.
More expensive than a taxi because of needing to pay 2 people, we certainly got out of the busyness of the city faster than any other kind of transport. As we left the city the roads started to get quieter until eventually we were on quiet open roads. That also meant open road speeds. We did have helmets on, they didn’t fit and the only purpose of fastening the chin strap was so the wind didn’t whip it off. There was inches of slack. We lived to tell the tale but decided the way back needed to be by car as it’d be a bit reckless to knowingly do the journey again on the back of bikes.
It took us 1 and 1/4 hrs. The road to the beach was dirt and horrendously uneven so we told them to drop us and we’d walk. They’d enjoyed the ride and neither had been there in a long time so they were pretty excited. We said our goodbyes and headed down to the beach.
Picture perfect even the weather was better than the south. There was no shortage of beachside restaurants, people try to sell you a massage or a bracelet but it wasn’t as busy as we’d been expecting. We walked along it for a while before turning off to find coffee. Freshly caffeinated we then walked the other way all the way round the head, past the local fishing boats, until we’d well and truly had enough of walking. We wandered a little way back and then peeled off down a side road to make our way through the streets to the town centre. It’s winter and we get the occasional shower, usually it’s just a few spots of rain that passes swiftly, but this time a few spots continued. We decided it was a good time to have lunch – it had stopped before we had even sat.
After walking back to the main part of the village we decided coffee was needed before we tried to find transport back. It turned out to be super easy. The moment we wandered into the main parking square we were touted and the price offered was fair. It was a fast and very comfortable journey back to the Stone Town.
We relaxed on the waterfront, it had mainly been cloudy the previous 2 days but it had cleared to mainly blue skies so we were hopeful for something of a sunset. The beach was packed, with people playing football and a group of guys and kids doing somersaults off a tyre angled on the sand. Again they got a big audience and we joined them.
Dinner was back to the same Italian as the previous night. We got back to the hotel before 8pm totally knackered. We should have been getting organised to leave to Arusha the next day but there wasn’t a hope of keeping our eyes open, we did the bare minimum, we figured it could all get done in the morning. We didn’t feel ready to leave, despite it being unusual for us to stay in 1 place for 3 nights. We felt tired and like another few days relaxing was much needed but onwards we must go.
One thought on “Back to Africa – Jambo Zanzibar”
Far out that looks good. When we lived in Asia we had a mate who was there for a break and one day bodies started washing up on the beach. Heaps of them. Turned out that an overloaded passenger ship had sunk offshore and most people had drowned. Needless to say, it took the shine off his holiday… Enjoy you two!!!
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