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Holidays in Zanzibar

The name alone – Zanzibar – screams exoticism. A far cry from the safari-trodden savannahs of mainland Tanzania, these postcard-perfect islands are a tropical idyll perfect for resting those weary legs after time seeking the ‘Big Five’. But the character of the archipelago is far beefier than the strips of golden sands most go for and it’s a fine holiday destination in its own right.

Zanzibar’s past as a trading outpost for spice merchants transporting goods from Africa to Arabia has left a fusion of cultures behind, earning it the moniker ‘Spice Island’. On the main island of Unguja, Omani-style buildings pepper the labyrinthine alleyways of UNESCO-listed Stone Town, and the clove plantations which streak its lush interior are a legacy of its trading history.

Offshore, a selection of kaleidoscopic reefs and atolls make Zanzibar a prime diving spot, with turtles, dolphins and whale sharks all frequenting the waters here. If you do just want to get away from it all, an array of beach-chic properties will add a rich splash of luxury to your holiday. Unguja’s little sister, Pemba, is a forested utopia that few cross the water for, but those who do will find an island jewel that matches the visions the very name Zanzibar emanates.

Zanzibar Highlights

1. Stone Town

The UNESCO-listed historic quarter of Zanzibar City or Stone Town, the Zanzibar archipelago’s capital, was once a key post for spice traders making their way to Africa to Arabia. The result of this centuries-old resting point is a mazy web of lanes and alleys throbbing with a fusion of cultures, with Arab, Indian, European and African styles influencing everything from the architecture to the cuisine. Around each corner lies something different: a crumbling ruin, an ornate palace or a Persian bathhouse. It’s changed little since the 19th century and you’ll realise that just by wandering this labyrinth of a town, it’s arguably one of Africa’s most fascinating.

2. Pemba

Often described as the ‘little sister’ to the main island of Unguja, Pemba is anything but. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in sheer beauty – and then some. A lush gem floating like a jade pebble in a bath of blue, Pemba is carpeted in vegetation. The coast is a dreamy mix of mangroves, lagoons and islets and what’s more, it’s well off the tourist trail, meaning you’ll likely have this quiet slice of wilderness all to yourself. Off its coast, snorkelling among coral reefs might reward you with sightings of spotted eagle rays and moray eels, among others.

3. North-west coast, Unguja

The Zanzibar archipelago’s main island of Unguja has far more to offer than only Stone Town. The powder-white beaches and swaying palms of Kendwa in the north look like they’ve leapt off the pages of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, such is their pristine beauty. Its laid-back feel makes it an ideal place to chill out, while coral reefs teem with tropical marine life that can be snorkelled among straight off the beach.

4. East coast, Unguja

What the northern corner of Unguja can do, the island’s eastern coast near Bwejuu can match it. Sun-drenched beaches are shaded by palms waving in the wind, an ideal companion to a safari holiday on mainland Tanzania. One thing which sets this slice on Unguja apart is The Rock restaurant, an innovative dining option perched on a stone monolith off the coast of Unguja. Here, you’re granted oceanwide panoramas as you’re served the best in local food.

5. South-west coast, Unguja

Unguja’s fringes aren’t just buttery sands and coral reefs. Head to the south-west for sleepy fishing villages, with one in particular – Kizimkazi – said to be an original settlement of the Shirazi people from Persia, with its 12th-century mosque evidence of that. What makes this area really special, however, is the pods of bottlenose and humpback dolphins that can be spotted offshore in Menai Bay all year round.

Island of the month: Mauritius

Mauritius isn’t just an island to enjoy a luxury hotel with soft, white sandy shores and delicious locally grown food with tip-top service. It’s also an island to explore and find exhilarating activities such as hiking, zip-lining and horse riding, as well as helicopter tours and swimming to a waterfall.

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Island of the month: Mauritius

Mauritius isn’t just an island to enjoy a luxury hotel with soft, white sandy shores and delicious locally grown food with tip-top service. It’s also an island to explore and find exhilarating activities such as hiking, zip-lining and horse riding, as well as helicopter tours and swimming to a waterfall.