Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania and is comprised of two main islands and a few smaller ones. The larger island is Unguja, and a smaller one north of Unguja is known as Pemba Island. When one refers to Zanzibar, it is usually in reference to Unguja. The island is about 90 km long and 40 km wide.
The name Zanzibar is derived from the Arabic language, which in turned was derived from a Persian word, and means “the coast of Black people”. Zanzibar’s location made it an ideal entrepot for Arabs, and was a big part of the slave route before slavery was abolished in the 19th century.
While Zanzibar was subject to many visitors and influencers such as the Persians, British, and Indians, the Arabs had the deepest impact. The local language, Swahili (known locally as Kiswahili), was born in Zanzibar and is a blend of mostly Arabic and tribal languages such as Bantu. The Arab influence is also heavily reflected in its bazaars as well as the historic sites and architecture of the island, which can clearly be seen in Stone Town. Islam also plays an important role in the culture and tradition of Zanzibar, as the majority of the population is Muslim.
Despite a heavy Arab influence, Zanzibar is very diverse and is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, making it a unique and interesting travel destination. This is heavily reflected in its cuisine, as you can find anything from chapati and Biryani, to mishkaki (Middle-Eastern style meat skewers), bokoboko, and Forodhani (Zanzibar pizza). Moreover, the Taarab, which is the local music style of Zanzibar, is a fusion of Swahili poetry, with musical beats from the Middle East, Africa, India, and the West.
Stone Town (which was named so because of the use of coral stone as construction material), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zanzibar, and is known for its narrow alleys, bazaars, architecture and intricate door carvings. The carvings on the wooden doors are all subtly different, and all have a particular meaning and reason for their details. For instance, some reflect social status and positions, while others reflect ethnicity, and others contain Islamic words or verses from the Quran.
Zanzibar is commonly referred to as Spice Island, as many exotic spices can be found there, such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and black pepper. Take a tour of spice plantations and learn about the history and cultivation of these crops, along with their culinary and medicinal purposes.
Zanzibar is home to the endemic red colobus monkey, which can be found in the Jozani Forest Reserve. An endangered species, the red colobus monkey is a popular attraction as it is one of the rarest primates on the continent, and was very close to extinction. Other interesting native species include certain types of butterflies, which the Butterfly Centre, focused on conserving the local forest, teach locals to farm in a sustainable manner.
Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, the British rock band from the 1970s, was born in Zanzibar and his real name was Farouk (or Farrokh) Bulsara.
Zanzibar annually hosts the Zanzibar International Film Festival (also known as the Festival of the Dhow Countries) in July, one of the largest cultural events in Africa. The event is dedicated to local and international films, art, and music in order to promote social and economic growth. Another major event is the Sauti za Busara music festival in February, which welcomes a rich and diverse variety of African music from the continent.