Zanzibar: an exotic-sounding location that, until a few days ago, I’d lacked the exotic-looking visual imagery to match. All that has changed since seeing images of its transparent turquoise waters and vibrant city culture from Oman-based photographer Eman Ali - now I can think about little else. Prepare for serious #holidayenvy as you check out Eman’s photos of this East African paradise in the gallery above. Then read her tips on Zanzibar’s best beaches, boutique hotels and Freddie Mercury tribute bars (!) below.
NB: Click the main image to remove the gallery title.
I’m originally from Oman and we have quite a rich and fascinating history with Zanzibar: It was under Omani influence for 200 years, since the late 1600s, and Stone Town was our capital back in the day. I suppose it was this link that initially stirred my curiousity and I decided on a whim, with my friend Noura, to book a flight there during the Eid Al Adha break last October. We got to explore and learn more about their cultural and historical heritage and, of course, work on our tans! The place is simply paradise.
How did you get there? Was it an easy travel experience?
We travelled on Oman Air from Bahrain to Muscat, which was about a two and a half hour transit, and then from Muscat to Zanzibar directly, which took about five hours. All in all, it was pretty stress free.
Where did you stay?
We spent two nights at The Zanzibari in Nungwi, the furthest northern tip of the island where you’ll find the best beaches. Luckily, we got upgraded to a honeymoon suite which meant we had the most incredible view of the Indian Ocean. Not sure how we would have felt if we stayed in the room we originally booked… Haha.
In the capital we spent three nights at Maru Maru, a cute boutique hotel in the heart of Stone Town. We slept on typical Zanzibari beds: four-posters with an elaborately carved frame, painted panels and draping mosquito net, which are exactly like my dad’s childhood bed (minus the net). Maru Maru’s location was ideal to explore the town and get lost in its alleyways. Stone Town really has so much character.
What was the best meal you ate?
A massive plate of fresh seafood at The Rock restaurant, literally perched on a rock near the shore of Michanwi Pingwe beach, with the most incredible view of the Indian Ocean. You can walk to it during low tide but during high tide it’s completely surrounded by water, so you have to take the boat back.
The most incredible thing you saw in Zanzibar?
I was really in awe of the people. The majority of Zanzibaris live in poverty, but they always have a smile on their faces and a positive outlook on life. They may be poor but their culture is incredibly rich and the beauty that surrounds them is breathtaking. The view of the Indian Ocean was out of this world and the sunset was absolutely magical.
Did you go out at night? If so, where?
In Nungwi we woke up quite early and spent both days under the sun, relaxing on the beach and going on a boat tour to nearby Mnemba Island for a bit of snorkelling, so by 9pm we totally crashed.
However in Stone Town we checked out Forodhani Gardens, a nightly food market on the beach that has delicious mishkaki (meat skewers) and sugar cane juice. We had dinner and drinks at Livingstone, which is a restaurant that’s also on the beach, and is a cool place to hangout and watch the sunset (although the sunset view from Africa House is even more stunning!) On some days they even have live music but unfortunately we missed it.
We also checked out Mercury’s Bar, which is named after Freddie Mercury and is filled with his memorabilia. I love him so this was a must! It’s on the water, has nice views, and obviously has Queen blaring from the speakers. Freddie4Ever!
Was it expensive?
No, I thought it was pretty reasonable. Although, the food was pricey at times.
What were you glad you’d packed?
A strapless bikini to avoid nasty tan lines! Also, comfortable shoes to walk in as there is a lot of exploring to be done in Stone Town. One thing you shouldn’t forget is SUNBLOCK. Those UV-rays are intense! Noura and I fell asleep on the boat tour and burnt in places we never even thought possible. She’s quite fair and I’ve got olive skin but because Zanzibar is very close to the equator the sun is incredibly strong and will severely burn any skin type. Also, insect repellent is a must.
What do you wish you’d known before you went?
Believe it or not I was unaware that the Serengeti was in Tanzania! My next trip to East Africa this October will definitely be a safari adventure and then a relaxing few days in Zanzibar as there is still so much to discover.
Where are you off to next?
For the next couple of months I’ve decided to check out neighbouring cities within the Gulf region, so my next stop is Kuwait in two weeks for a bit of wild partying.
View all Eman’s recommendations in the DIRECTORY and then check out more of her beautiful photos at www.emanali.com