More than just white, sandy beaches, blue sea and crumbling palaces
If Zanzibar is not on your travel bucket list, it should be! With its year-round warm, tropical climate, plenty to see and do, affordability and an array of resorts to stay at, you would be remiss to miss out on this beautiful destination. General Manager Sunny Haroon, from Hotel Verde Zanzibar – Azam Luxury Resort & Spa, Zanzibar’s greenest hotel, shares his favourite things to do in the area, adding, “Zanzibar is more than just a beach holiday destination; it is also green and verdant and full of nature’s wonders.”
Forests and Flutterbies
One such experience he suggests is not to be missed is a tour through Jozani Forest – best done in the morning when nature is at its most lively. Located in the centre of the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, a short trip from Stone Town, this ancient, hardwood forest is home to many indigenous varieties of fauna, flora and mangrove swamps, a turtle sanctuary and the delightful Zanzibari Red Colobus Monkey. You might also catch a glimpse of other animals like bush pigs, elephant shrews, chameleons and the many birds and butterflies. Says Haroon, “In Zanzibar, there’s a natural affinity with nature – there is just that special something that tugs at you.”
Another favourite of Sunny’s is the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre – the friendly guides will take you on a tour of the interactive exhibit housed beneath a netted tropical garden flapping with hundreds of brilliantly-coloured butterflies (or Flutterbies as Haroon’s daughter calls them) whilst they feed and fly closely above you. The background of the project and the butterfly life-cycle and ecology will be explained as you walk around taking in the elegant manoeuvres of this fragile species. Adds Sunny, “Did you know that some butterflies only live for one day?”
Close to Sunny’s heart is the Masingini Forest whose sustainability efforts, like the hotel’s, do much for the community and the environment – the forest was established in 1950s for the purpose of conservation of water sources and soil. ‘Masingini’ means ‘gullies’ and indeed the forest has more than 35 gorges which form an essential water supply for Zanzibar town. What’s different about Masingini Forest is that it has deep soil, rich in nutrients that create an ideal living environment for over 179 endemic and rare plant and animal species. The herbs and shrubs that grow there too are used in traditional medicine – you’ll want to get your hands on some Mimosa that can be used to boost memory or Mabola Palm that treats a fever.
Seas and sunsets
The ocean too holds many of the world’s natural wonders and a particular favourite of Haroon’s are the dolphins. Swimming with dolphins is a must – a bit of a drive but well worth the two to three hours you will get to frolic and play with these gentle, elegant creatures. Haroon says that as you jump in over the side of the boat, your heart beats a little faster but as your eyes adjust behind your mask so does your heart as schools of Bottle-nose and Humpback dolphins flick flack around you. “And if you are lucky you can actually hear the dolphins as they swim past you – the younger ones swim beneath the older, bigger dolphins who keep an eye on things – it’s truly amazing to experience,” he exclaims.
The attraction of Zanzibar for divers is its extensive coral reefs – these coral gardens are alive with colour and tropical fish – you might even catch a glance of a barracuda, turtles or a whale. One can also experience wreck dives and night dives. Adds Haroon, “And the water is so warm so you can dive right in, and stay in!”
Last but not least, the best time of the day is as the sun goes down behind the horizon. This is the time to really become one with nature and there are no sunsets in the world quite like in Zanzibar. Says Sunny, “Find a quiet spot on the beach, perhaps with your toes in the surf, take a few deep breaths and take some time to reflect on a day well spent, life itself, those closest to you or make a wish as you watch the colours unfold and fade away – nature at its best!”