- I needed to see the turquoise blue waters and white sandy beaches of Zanzibar
- Total burnout after 10 months of no travel
- Zanzibar is not a mainstream destination yet, so less chances of ending up in crowded places there
- I wanted to have some adventure as opposed to the typical laidback beach trip
- Freddie Mercury's childhood place :)
So, 2020, the year that really put us through various levels of the game Jumanji. Not a single month was without its own event, and most of the time (maybe all the time) these events were unfavorable. One of the biggest blows was obviously to the travel industry, and also, the travelers 😅. And for me, who just started traveling the previous year and had plans laid out for the whole year of 2020, this was saddening, if not depressing, to say the least.
Traveling during COVID
So when UAE lifted travel restrictions and cases were beginning to drop here, I knew I had to take up the opportunity and go somewhere ASAP. I had been in the country for the last 10 months, locked up at home for the better part of it, working from home, having no boundaries between work hours and leisure hours, and I just knew I would totally and completely burn out if I didn’t take a break and get out of the country. So when my eyes landed on this organized light adventure trip to Zanzibar with people I didn’t know, I knew I just had to go for it. Plus, no visa for me, no PCR test required (I was actually quite worried that no PCR test was required if I’m being completely honest) meant that I wouldn’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops during these COVID times.
Now, traveling during COVID. Not gonna lie, I really thought that the airport and the flight would be empty, but they WEREN’T. Like us, many people had the great idea of escaping to Zanzibar/Tanzania. In fact, I remember many people from my friends list vacationing there before and after my trip! So had to be quite careful with the mask on my way there. But, once we landed in Zanzibar, it was like COVID had just vanished, like *poof*! At the airport, we all had our masks on of course, and we had to fill declaration forms and get our temperatures checked, but once we boarded our bus that our trip company had organized for us, it’s like we forgot about COVID because nobody around us (the locals) had any mask on! And even though we were all quite skeptical about going around with no mask on, I think we all got pretty used to the situation. Pre-COVID world, all over again! Who wouldn’t love that?!
Arrival at Kiwengwa
And so we landed at our beautiful beachside bungalow resort at Kiwengwa, and let me just tell you that my roommate and I got the best bungalow in the whole resort, with sunrise beach views. So every morning, we had the first rays of sunlight waking us up and preparing us for the exciting day ahead!
And our resort, in general, was so very pretty. We were a party of around 12-13 people, coming from Dubai, Amsterdam, and even Bucharest. So a very mixed party, and we were also the only guest at the resort during that time, except for maybe one other family of 3, so a very small crowd, literally had the whole place to ourselves. And the staff was friendly beyond words, it was like we were all distant family members visiting for Christmas, because that is exactly how we all were treated, with lovely hospitality and amazing food. And let’s not forget, picturesque views all around.
Exploring the surrounding villages
So, we had a long flight, a long bus ride, and we find ourselves at this beautiful resort. Of course, we are not going to waste the day away by taking a nap. All of us almost immediately change into our swimsuits and lounge by the pool till lunchtime, and then some of us decide to go round the surrounding villages on quad bikes! And so about half of us got going after lunch, with the few gifts that we had got for the village kids, and it was such a liberating experience driving the quad bikes on the narrow roads of Zanzibar. The weather and the wind and everything were just perfect, and so much greenery surrounding us on all sides, and the narrow, never-ending road, and then there was us, a convoy of quad bikes going down the road, following our leader at respectable distances. It definitely was a good arm and thumb workout driving those quad bikes!
It was so amazing seeing all the village kids and their young moms getting so excited to see us. Our quad bike leader gave us a brief history of the island and its people, while excited and happy kids surrounded us to receive the gifts that we had got for them. A few of us, including me, was of course, wary about being close to them because some of them were sneezing, but our guide assured us that there definitely was no COVID in these remote villages. So we quickly forgot our worries and started enjoying our time!
Our day soon ended as we got back to our resort a little after sunset, and I remember thinking that first night that I had never seen a night sky so clear and so starry. I was flabbergasted to see how the night sky looks when you are away from city lights. I don’t think I can ever have enough of that sky. This night we chilled a bit at our resort because the next day we had a late morning and also not a lot of activity. The next day was dedicated to seeing exotic animals at a local animal rescue center called Cheetah’s Rock. We learned a lot about exotic animals and the dangerous and harmful business of poaching, and why some of the animals in the rescue center will never be released back into the wild. It was heartbreaking but also eye-opening, to see that there are legit organizations taking matters into their own hands and protecting these animals from danger.
30 km cycling tour along the northern coast
On our second night, we all called in early because the next day was a big day. The next day, our third day, we were supposed to cycle over 30 kilometers along the northern coast of the island, in Nungwi. It was a huge day, particularly difficult for me because I am not used to cycling on a regular basis. But it was an unforgettable day of victory for me, because not only did we get to see natural caves with stalagmites and stalactites and hidden pools, and swim with turtles, but at the end of it, I had also pushed myself and cycled over 30 kilometers! It was a huge achievement for me and exactly the kind of adrenaline that I was looking for! 😃
And at the end of the day, as a reward after our hard day on the road, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset cruise in Nungwi, where we danced to “Jambo” and “Hakuna Matata”, celebrating our successful journey through the day. A few bottles of wine and a few dips in the ocean, and then we continued the party back in the resort too, as this was also our second-last night at the resort.
Snorkeling in the Indian Ocean
And the next day brought with it some fun snorkeling out in the Indian Ocean at coral reefs and also near the famous Mnemba Island. This was my first time snorkeling, and I am not a very good swimmer, so it was scary and exciting at the same time for me, being out there in the middle of the ocean, with strong waves beating against us. Needless to say, I did get seasick on the boat 😅 But in no way would I trade any part of the day away because seeing all those marine creatures on the ocean bed was such a beautiful beautiful experience. Also, I never thought I would someday be able to swim in open waters like this, albeit with a life jacket. Big achievement number 2 for the trip!
This was our last night at the resort, and we had a FEAST for dinner. The amazing array of dishes, seafood, dessert, drinks, music, and laughter, local performers arranging a special treat just for us, ah what a night! A few of us even went out to a local, and I mean LOCAL pub, and danced our hearts out till around 4 in the morning! Again, WHAT A NIGHT! The next day was kind of bittersweet because we had to check out from our resort kind of early, before lunch, and so I was kind of sad to leave the amazing hospitality of the resort staff. But that was somewhat forgotten when we reached the famous Rock Restaurant of Zanzibar and had THE BEST SEAFOOD I HAVE EVER HAD! The portions of each dish there, lovely! And also, the taste and the quality. Highly recommend the Rock Restaurant! After lunch, we had a brief stop at Stone Town, saw some of the local markets, and did some souvenir shopping. We were quite late by the time we reached Stone Town, past 5 pm, and all the museums and cultural places there usually close by 5.30 pm. So as much as I was dying to see the Freddie Mercury museum, I couldn’t. But apparently, from what I have seen and read online, I didn’t miss a whole lot, so not too sad about that.
At the end of the trip, I was sooo glad that I took this break and took the trip. Even more glad when I tested negative at the Dubai airport and could go home and finally get some much-deserved rest after a fun-filled holiday! 😊
So, my top tips for Zanzibar! Here we go:
- While we didn’t explore the south of the island much, Paje is usually called the backpackers’ paradise, so if you are backpacking there, definitely stop at Paje.
- I don’t recommend staying at Stone Town for more than a day or two if you want to hit the local museums and markets. The best places on the island are definitely on the coast.
- I totally recommend going on a cycling trip around the island. It’s beautiful, and you will hit secret places that you probably wouldn’t know about if you drove. Also, I have heard that there are several nice hiking trails that you can look up.
- I would also recommend not going out at night, especially if you are not in the city, because the political condition of Tanzania, in general, is not very favorable right now, so it is not worth the risk to be alone out at night.
- Zanzibari people are very warm and welcoming, don’t hesitate to interact with them and break into an impromptu “Jambo” jig whenever you can! 😀
- Definitely go to the Rock Restaurant if you want a taste of the amazing seafood here.
I hope my blog helps you and encourages you to visit Zanzibar before it becomes too mainstream. Until next time! x