Stonetown, scuba, so-so beach
It was bound to happen – we visited a destination we were not crazy about. After an exciting Serengeti safari we flew to Zanzibar with hopes of enjoying the beach and blogging. But our experience on the island was a bit of a letdown . . .
Stonetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a rich history. Many of the residents are Muslim and the women wear clothes that cover the body and head scarves. We arrived late in the afternoon and checked into a really neat historic hotel in the old town center that used to be a private home, Dhow Palace. We headed down the street past several cute shops, restaurants, and persistent touts to a restaurant on the beach. The beach was very lively – there were families enjoying a Sunday afternoon and a large crowd of teens taking turns doing acrobatics in the sand. And then the sun began to set, and what a sunset it was – pockets of clouds floating in the horizon lit up in vibrant shades of orange. Although Stonetown was not one of our favorite places, this spot is one of Lori’s top picks in the world for watching the sunset.
The next day, we spent a few hours exploring Stonetown, although we made the mistake of going in the heat of the day. The old town is a labyrinth of narrow passageways surrounded by three and four story buildings; many in a state of decay. We kept our eyes out for the unique doors that the town is famous for and found several with interesting carvings and brass studs. The market square was very crowded with food vendors and shoppers. Lori looked away as we passed by butcher shops preparing meat out in the open.
There was a concentration of nice shops just around the corner from the hotel on Kenyatta Street. Memories of Zanzibar is touristy, but air con with a really good selection of clothes, jewelry, carvings, etc. We didn’t go into the jewelry store La Opala, but there were some beautiful silver and gemstone pieces in the window. Lori’s favorite was Fahari – a social enterprise that trains women in crafts and business skills. The stores founder, Julie Lawrence, was there and we had a nice chat. She had just rescued two small kittens from the dumpster. The ladies create jewelry with silver and local materials and the most fabulous purses at a workshop inside the store.
Stonetown is an interesting, historic town and we are glad that we checked it out. But we disliked the touts, who are friendly and polite, but beyond persistent. One man walked with us for five minutes trying to convince us to buy spices. Also, the tour company guide advised us not to go out after 9:00 PM at night because it was not safe.
After two nights in Stonetown, we were excited to head to the beach at Bwejuu on the eastern side of the island. Tanzania was the only part of the trip that we used a tour operator because it was easier to book all of the small flights and ground transfers. The tour company, Tanzania Odyssey, was spot on to suggest only two nights in Stonetown – we had planned to stay there the whole time. But, the beach hotel was a bit of a miss; although we also have to take responsibility for not fully researching in advance.
The one hour drive from Stonetown to Bwejuu was interesting. We passed villages, the Jozani Forest (an attraction to see monkeys), and different terrain as the guide told us about life in Zanzibar. The island started to focus on tourism roughly 15 years ago and has seen benefits like a new university.
The hotel is in an isolated location, so we spent the entire eight days there. It is a nice resort, but not the right match for us. For example, there were lots of families with kids and the pool was crowded and loud. Dinner is formal and there is a dress code for men – pants required (the restaurant is outside and it is hot in Zanzibar). Internet is only available in the public areas and cost $10 per day. But the room was really nice and the staff was great.
The beach was also a disappointment. The sand was smooth and pure white with little red flecks from the coral and the water was crystal clear and warm. But the beach was narrow and filled with large pieces of seaweed (made it hard to take a walk). At high tide, there was no beach – the water came all the way up to the hotel’s property line. At low tide, there was a lot more beach and it was possible to walk way out on the reef. We went out one day and saw small, bright colored fish in shades of aqua, turquoise, yellow, black, and white; along with lots of anenome, and a few water snakes (fish names: green chromis, moorish idol, whitetail dascyllus, regal angelfish, yellow headed jawfish). Of course, we met some Beach Boys who tried to sell us shells and boat tours. The beach by the hotel was not suited for snorkeling, but Michael got in some great scuba.
Scuba in Zanzibar
Michael went on four dives at the PADI center and had a great experience with the dive masters, especially Maxwell. On the dives, he saw giant wrasse, fusilier, trumpet fish, blue spotted ray, lion fish, yellow moray, clown fish, parrot fish, and grouper.