The moment you book your ticket to Zanzibar – you have changed your life without knowing it.
This mystical island will seduce you. Steal you. And transform you in a subtle way. However, you won’t notice the effects of this spell until you come back home.
If you have never been to exotic destination before or so far away from your country (Belgrade – Zanzibar is almost 7,000 km away), prepare yourself for the enchanting mix of culture shock and breath-taking scenery.
It’s exactly what welcomed me and my friends as soon as we walked out of the airport building.
First impression – “wow it’s hot in here and are we back in 1965?”
Be aware you landed in a remote African island where nothing much has changed in the past 100 years.
Infrastructure, legal and medical procedures, daily life and industry are very much different than anything you see in European countries.
One, small adorable example of what I just mentioned – there won’t be any hi-tech digital screens to show you the gate of your flight. The local man walks from one corner of the waiting area to another, shouting the number of the gate for the flight holding a piece of paper with numbers on it.
It takes an hour and 15 minutes from the airport to get to Jambiani village where our beach house was.
As soon as our van hit the road – we realised we had landed somewhere different.
On our way, we felt the humidity and salt of the vast Indian ocean in the air, we saw many mini miracles and most of the time were looking through the windows with jaws dropped.
Beautiful local Bantu Swahili people living their daily lives – selling exotic fruits on the street, women with plant bushes on their bikes, other local ladies dressed in colourful long dresses with huge baskets on their heads filled with potatoes, mangos and papayas or clothes, elegantly swaying their hips on the dusty jungle roads.
Then, the huge tropical palm trees with their coconuts greeted us, as well as a few cranky cows on the way.
You can’t imagine the shock on our faces when our guide eagerly said: “Welcome to the main street of the village.
“Here, you’ll find many different food stores, two mini-supermarkets, clothing stores and even a tiny post-office.”
The ‘main street’ was a charming dusty undefined road full of bumps and rocks of all sizes and shapes. The homes of our dear neighbours were yet another story…See for yourself…
Seeing our beach house was love at first sight. It was literally steps away from the ocean with a backyard full of sun beds, summer outdoor shower and a huge swing bed (later on – our key chill spot). Oh, did I mention the gorgeous hand-made bedroom and zebra and giraffe walls?
Salama and Tajiri, our local hosts, greeted us and this is where our love affair with Zanzibar began.
Life’s A Beach in Zanzibar
Jambiani village is located in the south-east part of the island where the most beautiful beaches are. And NO – I am too much in love with Zanzibar so I won’t tell you which beach is the best, simply because they are all stunning in their own way – depending what you wish to experience.
However, let’s mention those who you shouldn’t miss if you are ever lucky enough to land on the planet Unguja (Zanzibar in Swahili).
If you’d like to feel the real Zanzibar and it’s authentic, less touristy vibe – go for Jambiani!
It’s part of the small fishing village with the same name – home to friendly locals, happy children, and fresh, delicious food.
The beach and the village will welcome you with their laid back vibe, small lodges and a lot of adorable beach restaurants.
As for the beach…you won’t get enough of it. It’s a 7km-long paradise with emerald green waters colliding with white, powdery sand.
In the evenings, we enjoyed long walks and during the day you can dive, snorkel, rent a bike or take kitesurfing classes. You can also chat with adorable Maasai people and bargain for some nice bracelets and necklaces.
Don’t you miss out on these activities
- While being on Jambiani going to the Crazy Monday Party is A MUST (you’ll thank me later, just go and feel the vibe of the people, island and the live bands)
- Passion fruit cheesecake in Peter Pan beach bar!
- Fishcake with spicy pineapple sauce in Coral Rock Hotel (probably “the meal of the holiday”)
Paje, the Jambiani’s first neighbour, is your hot-spot if you like a more crowded place with a bunch of cool cafes and restaurants and if you are into water-sports.
It is one of the island’s best beaches for this type of recreation. You will enjoy diving and swimming here, of course, too.
What we will remember – taking pics on the most famous palm tree on the beach (it’s famous because it’s weird, it grows completely parallel to the ground), seeing a herd of cows out of nowhere and hanging out with cute local kids.
This is the best beach on the island for digital nomads as it has the strongest internet connection. So, if you plan a bit longer stay and you wish to work remotely, book your room on this beach.
Also, you don’t have to go all the way to Stown Town to get souvenirs. There’s a whole part of the Paje village full of small artistic stands where locals sell traditional African clothes, wooden sculptures, magnets, scarfs, paintings etc.
If you are on Paje or if your time allows you, do not miss iconic Jambo Party. It is one of the rare parties on Zanzi where a bunch of locals and visitors meet, dance and have fun.
The superstar of the night life in Zanzibar and the island’s most famous festival of joy!
This piece of heaven is one of the beaches from our excursion list. All of the beaches I am describing we visited with our awesome local guides. So, whether you are traveling alone or via an agency, it’s easy to ask around and book a daily trip or even just an afternoon on any of these locations.
Dongwe offers an unreal scenery combined with local hotels you can drop in and spend a day there by ordering a drink.
You can also go paddle boarding or kayaking in the mangroves, book a trip to go snorkelling in the blue lagoon or cycle along the beach.
Hola to all the chill babies out there! Kae calling! Thanks Gari for reminding us what it means to be lazy. This piece of heaven will welcome you with an easy African vibe spread all around the big beach bar in the shape of a circle with huge swing beds around it.
Taste Kilimanjaro, the most popular local beer, get lost in the warm waters of a calm Indian ocean here and do nothing.
When the sunset paints the sky – it’s where the fun starts! Don’t miss the Kae’s sunset party where you’ll enjoy the fire dances of local people, great drinks and even greater DJ.
On your way back home, you’ll have to swim to your parking or at least dip your legs into the water because of the high tide that floods the entrance to the beach.
The fancy lady of Zanzibar beaches – good for people who like western vibe and swimming all day long. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen stretching all the way to it’s stunning neighbour Nungwi beach. It is also one of the most expensive ones.
The reason is – there is no low and high tide here and you can swim all day long. It’s packed with Russian and German tourists and has many resorts. Not the real Zanzi, but if you like comfort, it’s a great place to stay.
The home of the epic Rock Restaurant. People mostly visit it so they can experience having a meal in one of the top five restaurants in the world.
Still, I was not impressed so much by the restaurant itself as much as I liked the beach and the hotel just across the Rock with the famous black pool.
We enjoyed our afternoon there, tried a delicious catch of the day, red snapper, and cooled our burned shoulders in the warm waters of the posh pool.
Still, if you decide to visit The Rock – people swear in their pineapple dessert.
Crucial Tips Before You Pack
Zanzibar is home to the gorgeous Indian Ocean. However, ocean moves and there are low and high tides which will affect your swimming.
At low tide, the water recedes several hundred meters, so you can’t swim. Alongside each beach, in bars, you will see charts with tide timings showing you when you can swim.
And until you do – you can always spend your morning in one of the numerous hotels on the beach, greeting local women collecting seaweed on the way, or playing football with local children.
- Bring a flashlight! You will need it for night beach walks and for when the electricity is gone. It does happen often in villages, but who cares? You are in Zanzibar!
- Your Maasai friends will be there to guard your beach house/hotel. However, homes in villages have bars on the windows for a reason. Lock your suitcases when you are leaving the house and don’t leave anything on the windows.
- Forget about credit cards or ATMs on the island. The moment you land you will have to exchange all the cash you are planning to spend during your stay.
The feeling is good – you become a millionaire. Still, make a wise plan where to hide all those bills in your beach home (that has no safe).
- Protect your skin! Sun on Zanzibar is very strong and radiation is high (due to the fact the island is close to equator).
My friend with an amazing tan who rarely burns looked like a cute lobster by the third day, while I got the sun allergy (all of this with SPF 50).
It took us about a week to slowly adapt and take in all the unique, incredible and beautiful energy this island and its people were giving to us. We used to wake up every morning overwhelmed with emotions – nature and everyday moments were so different than anything we’ve experienced before.
You fall asleep with hundreds of stars above your head, huge swaying palm trees with coconuts and scent of an ocean salt in your room and you wake up hearing: “Breakfaaaaaast served ladies!” Salama is in the house!
Photo credits: Jelena Zoric, Jelena Djokic, Maja Simic & Milan Ristic
Part Two of Jelena’s travels coming soon.
Zanzibar is full of traditions and customs to fall in love with. But there are plenty more from around the world.
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