But, the risk with an island getaway is that it can all become a bit too clichéd…
If you’re looking to spice up your relationship, choose an island holiday with a difference, a more exotic escape – one that pairs all the picturesque postcard scenes you’ve come to expect from a tropical island with a little bit more substance, think rich history, fascinating architecture, vibrant culture and enchanting people.
If this sounds like your type of romantic fantasy – a bit of beach and a bit of adventure - then read on to find out why the African island of Zanzibar is the best place for your next island holiday...
Lying just off the coast of Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar has seen a whole lot of history take place on it’s shores. From Omani Sultans to African Kings, British Explorers and Portugese Traders, this small island has had all manner of rulers. Over the centuries the archipelago has been a thriving centre of trade, supplying slaves, gold, ivory, wood and of course, spices – leading to it’s nickname of “The Spice Island”.
The history of the island, especially Stone Town, is deeply fascinating – discover more of the island’s heritage with a guided tour of the old town which will take you past all the main sites including the old Slave Market, Hamamni Persian Baths, Palace Museum (Beit al-Sahel), House of Wonders (Beit-el-Ajaib), Forodhani Park and St Joseph’s Cathedral.
With the melting-pot of cultures that have shaped the island’s rich history, it stands to reason that the architecture of Stone Town is intruiging. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Swahili coastal trading town features elements of African, Arabic and Indian architecture and contains many interesting buildings.
Picture Arab mansions with high white walls, colourful stained glass windows of grand Indian residences, centre courtyards and lacy wooden balconies not to forget the world-renowned wooden doors, massive teak or mahogany structures that grace the front of almost every building. The intricate hard carvings of flowers, fish and even slave chains symbolize the social position, religious practices and occupation of the home owner with some even featuring large brass studs from India (a defence against war elephants!)
Obviously when planning an island escape you expect that the beaches will be beautiful and the horizons endless. It must feel suitably isolated, but with all the trimmings of a 5 star experience of course. Fortunately Zanzibar has just that – soft sand, warm water and stunning sunsets complete with enough palm trees and bouganvilla to complete the tropical picture.
Spend your days soaking in the sunshine while watching the dhows float by. Take a swim in the sea and look back at the coral island from a unique angle and when you’re feeling a bit more energetic take a long walk down the beach to appreciate the typical Zanzibari scenes of small beachside villages, fishing boats and late afternoon soccer games.
What makes Zanzibar so interesting is it’s fusion of cultures and this means that the assortment of people who call the island home is unique and varied. Walk the streets of Stone Town where you can expect to see groups of modestly clad schoolgirls making their way home from school or small barefoot boys racing through the alleys, market vendors with huge loads of produce atop their bicycles and Indian women in brightly coloured sari’s shopping for their spices. You might even catch a glimpse of an impossibly tall and traditionally attired Masaai warrior striding down a side street! The people of Zanzibar have wide smiles and warm natures and all are very welcoming of visitors to their island home.
A visit to the main market area of any town, especially in Africa, is the best way to feel the heartbeat of a culture, and the Dharajani Market in Stone Town is a chaotic collision of cultures that will stay with you long after your leave the island. If you’re looking for insights into the everyday life of Zanzibaris or want to buy some delicious delicasies, then this is the place to head.
Spilling out onto the surrounding streets are stalls piled high with an assortment of fruit, vegetables, spices and groceries – many of which you’ll have never seen before! And if you can handle the smell then the fish market auction is a must-see. Here you’ll see the age old culture of the fishing industry in practice where buyers bid for each lot of octopus, squid, tuna, crab and even shark!
Nothing reignites passion like a bit of adventure… Get your adrenalin pumping by trying a new activity together. The scuba-diving around the island, especially near Mnemba Atoll, is some of the best in East Africa and even new divers can enjoy rich and diverse marine. Alternatively you can opt to learn kite-surfing or even swim with dolphins.
However if you’re not one who has found their sea legs yet, then head inland to explore more of the adventures that the island has to offer – be it quad biking, horse-riding, a visit to Jozani Forest or to one of the Spice Farms where you’ll walk amidst unassuming bushes to learn exactly what spice each plant produces. From a large bush with an average looking green “fruit” (nutmeg) to a plant with a gorgeous pale green flower (turmeric) and towering trees covered with tiny black seeds (pepper) or bright red pods (coffee) this is a fascinating insight into how those powered spices on our kitchen shelves begin their journey.
If you’re still not convinced that Zanzibar is the best place for your next romantic break then the romance of this exotic island is sure to sway you…. Smell the scents of tropical flowers, feel the warm tropical breezes against your skin, watch the dhows sail past on endless azure oceans, taste unlimited cocktails and enjoy the sounds of the local music at the Zanzibari themed evenings.
And when it all gets too much, escape to enjoy a pampering spa treatment, lounge on a daybed on the beach or retire to your room where a four poster bed swathed in a mosquito net awaits you!
Zanzibar is certainly one of our favourite islands and we highly recommend it as your next romantic getaway. This exotic escape is sure to steal your heart - there’s even a heart shaped island just off it’s coast which you can see from the sky when arriving by air in a small plane!
Images & Text: Kathryn Rossiter