Zanzibar is ‘Wunderbar’


(Posted 06th April 2016)

(Sunset over Zanzibar as seen from the ancient Stone Town)

The Zanzibar section of the Tanzanian stand at the ITB in Berlin in March this year was doing brisk business, showing that the destination, in particular the resorts on Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island, continued to be en vogue and remained in demand. Zanzibari tourism operators and hoteliers attending the WTM Africa in Cape Town, and related events, also report keen demand from in particular South Africa, which citizens need no Visa to enter Tanzania and Zanzibar and from where both Fastjet and Mango operate direct flights to the Spice Island.
The peaceful election re-run on the 20th of March has according to several sources on the island defeated the scare mongering by some of the island’s tourism industry’s competitors and by some foreign countries with what has been described as a hidden agenda against Tanzania, trying to exploit local politics for the sake of business gains.
The Magufuli government, as we told you, did not let anything happen to risk the thriving tourism industry on Zanzibar or on the mainland. True, the elections were somehow disputed by sections of the opposition. CUF in fact did after all not participate and instead boycotted the exercise. However, the initial cancellation was done in accordance with the law and everything else since then was also done in accordance to the existing law.  Zanzibar has remained peaceful and we all hope it will be in the spirit of the national interest that mature discussions take place to see how the opposition, even though they are absent in parliament by their own choice, can be brought back into the mainstream‘ said a source from the island just yesterday following enquiries about the upcoming World Travel Award Ceremony for Africa which is held on Zanzibar for the first time.

The WTA Africa ceremony is due to be held this coming Saturday at one of Zanzibar’s newer five star resorts, the Diamonds La Gemma dell’ Est, aka Star of the East, at the Nungwi peninsula. Visited in person is it clear that the award ceremony has made an excellent choice for their host hotel, as they did when appointing Kenya Airways as their event carrier.

More about the event on Sunday, when the winners will be announced here, but for now, a trip down memory lane about this correspondent’s last visit to the island a few months ago.

(The classic mode of travel across the Indian Ocean was the dhow which remains important to this day)

No trip to Unguja, the name of the Zanzibar archipelago’s largest island, is complete without spending a couple of days in the old Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beach side hotels like the Zanzibar Serena or the nearby Park Hyatt are complemented by other brand names like the Double Tree by Hilton, which however lacks a beach setting. A number of smaller, mostly locally owned hotels, including the renowned Jafferi House & Spa offer a credible alternative to the big names and B&B’s too have a following, largely due to their lower accommodation cost.

(Stone Town … where peaceful coexistence of religions has been the norm)

Tours through the old town, a guide clearly a must to find all the important places through the narrow winding alley ways, are organized by ZanTours, the company which took care of my own ground arrangements, and every moment spent in the Stone Town was worth it. If there is one downside it is the traffic and that needs to be urgently addressed, best by removing it or restricting access time so that the tens of thousands of tourists can safely take pictures without being knocked by a careless driver.
No more needs to be said here, as after all a feature article was posted earlier on about the wonders of the Stone Town.

My last real vacation was in 2002, a time when anti travel advisories had declared some of East Africa’s coastline and islands a no go area, perfect of course to show some defiance and prove that the Western scare mongering was, then as it is now, by and large misplaced.
My choice of resort 14 years ago was the BlueBay Resort, fresh and crisp and only opened two years prior and while my last trip was far from a vacation, I decided to return to the Blue Bay and give it a thorough lookover.
Now managed by none other than Chris Modigell, formerly of Mombasa where he performed his hospitality miracles first at Alliance Hotels and later at the Leopard Beach before shortsighted owners thought they can do better without him, did the two resorts, the company also owns and operates the adjoining Sultan Sands, present themselves from their sunniest side.

The extensive tropical gardens, in the more public areas painstakingly manicured and trimmed and in the more out of the way parts of the sprawling resort allowed to explode in a tropical rainbow of colours and vegetation, were the first of many positive impressions I had on my return. Next came the almost matching tropical colours of the staff uniforms, which looked bright and crisp and, so I was told, made entirely of locally manufactured and printed materials by local tailors. It was clear the staff enjoyed wearing their new outfits and it certainly reflected in the attitudes I found across the resort, by gardeners, watchmen, room stewards, front office staff and of course the waiters in the numerous restaurants and bars.
The top ‘all inclusive‘ deal the BlueBay Resort offers allows guests to eat in any of the restaurants at both the main BlueBay and the Sultan Sands where an amazing variety of different buffet styles and menus awaits to tickle anyone’s tastebuds, be they vegetarian or carnivorous. A classy a la carte seafood restaurant, where ‘surf meets the turf‘ widens the choices even more and for the meals I enjoyed there alone I could have stayed another week.

(That is what being ‘undercover‘ gets you … Bond, James Bond … though I take my tea stirred, not shaken)

Different categories of rooms are available at the resort, either set in the gardens or some nearer to the beach, the location I opted for. It turned out to be a major suite, with a jacuzzi bath and an outdoor shower in a walled in small garden while a generous sitting room area seamlessly extended to the bedroom, where a four poster emperor sized bed awaited. A separate wardrobe area next to the entrance door completed the picture of a well maintained resort, which while a lot older than the at times more fancy constructions of more recent times has clearly one up on those, service.
The staff fondly remember repeat guests and literally fall over themselves to please, be it the waiters or the breakfast cooks keen to learn the intricate nature of how to make an Egg Benedict.

The wide beach invites for walks, much needed after stuffing oneself with calorie rich dishes for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, or else to participate in water sports activities which are on offer through the resorts’ sports centres.
A fully fledged Spa invites for body treatments and a range of different massages and two pools are more than enough to take a cooling dip when the day time temperatures rise into the low 30’s.

Anyone coming to Zanzibar should remember, that, while my drivers and guides from ZanTours were constantly spot on time, as were incidentally my flights by Coastal Aviation from and to Dar es Salaam, time matters less here when spending a holiday on such a tropical island. Enjoy your drinks and meals, many of the fancied resorts’ all inclusive offers have food on offer across the day, because it is always lunch or snack time, sundowner time or cocktail time somewhere around the globe.
Tourists coming here are can expect the very best East Africa has to offer and in my next article I will reflect a little more on exploring the island, its new sports facilities like the Sea Cliff Golf Club and of course what else there is to explore, from Slave Caves to a fully fledged national park.

(When vacationing on Zanzibar, make sure you leave your wrist watch in the safe as time matter less here – just follow the sun, or moon or listen to that peckish feeling in your stomach to find out if it is meal time or drink time)