Zanzibar can take you by surprise, you think it’s going to be just another beach vacation but after a day you realize that you have never felt so relaxed in your life. In Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, these beach destinations are over crowded with young backpackers and vacationers. In Zanzibar people are just living, moving, loving, feeling, all in the moment, there is no frenzy, everyone smiles and says Jambo! Zanzibarians are friendly, happy, their laughs are genuine and without reservation, conversation is fluid and help is always offered without strings.
For the budget conscious traveller wanting to partake in a few beach parties, Paje and Jambiani, on the South East coast of the island is a sure bet. The South East Coast is a beautiful refuge away from the hustle and bustle of Stone Town and the touristy Kendwa Rocks on the North end. At times it feels like you are on your own private beach in Paje and other times during peak season (December) you still feel like you’re at an exclusive resort even though the whole beach is open to all. In Paje there are no resorts that take over the waterfront leaving only a small crowded strip of sand for locals. There are beach front hotels but they do not own the beach, you can set up in front of them, order food and beverages or not. You can walk down the beach at night and pop into various beach parties happening all over Paje, although normally the main party is at a different club each night. At these parties you’ll be sure to find tons of people from all over, dancing barefoot to Swahili music, sweating buckets, drinking Kilimanjaro beer, and greeting everyone with a smile. There are no glow sticks and toxic buckets of liquor but there are energetic people and freshly made, passion fruit cocktails.
The tide goes out far in the morning making it difficult to go for a swim but once the tide comes back in, you can go bliss out in a colour field of turquoise sea and blue sky, the likes of which you won’t experience anywhere else. 25 USD will afford you a wonderful day out on the ocean on Zanzibar’s famed Blue Safari, you will snorkel over a coral reef discovering weird little fish and eat fresh fruit on the boat. Just ask the hotel front desk/bar and they will set you up. There are other tours as well; Spice Island tours where they take you to a spice farm to learn about how they are grown and you can taste test the local delicacies. Another tour will take you through the Jozani Forest, one of the last places to see the Red Colubus Monkey, and lastly, a tour through history in Stone Town. I highly recommend spending a day or two in Stone Town; the tiny winding streets are a maze you want to get lost in; discovering buildings that are relics of colonial occupation, and the Omani style doors that are a throwback to the time of Oman’s rule of the island. There is a wonderful little bookshop and café across the street from the post office on what appears to be the main street of Stone Town; you’d be remiss not to peruse the books and sit down for an iced coffee or eat local avocado and mango salad on a terrace overlooking Stone Town’s public beach. Right before sunset walk down to the beach for a swim, before the evening football games pop up all along the beach.
End your day in Stone Town at Taparia, a lovely wine bar, with their doors and windows open to the breeze light music playing in the background and groups of NGO workers discussing their cause at a gorgeous wooden table straight out of any home décor fantasy.
In Paje, I stayed at New Teddy’s Place; I had wanted a private room but having just shown up instead of booking ahead, they only had dorm beds left. A little dejected I entered the dorm and realized that this was no overcrowded hostel in Spain but a civilized co-living arrangement; only 8 beds-no bunk beds, a power outlet at each and a large shelf dividing each bed space. For 3 days and nights of accommodation, food, and drinks I spent 140 USD, it was surprising how little I spent considering I was not trying to be frugal at all and obviously if I had been buying some of my own food at the grocery store and not drinking much I could have spent way less. My daily routine was to wake up, go to the bar, eat my free breakfast, have a blended iced coffee and then take my book to the beach for a few hours of reading in the shade. Once the tide came in I would head out for a swim and then come back in for avocado, mango salad. Afterwards I would go up to the elevated lounge area and read or sketch and take a nap. Later on I would shower, eat dinner (usually fresh grilled fish, and then the party would start and I would sit and chat with travellers and locals until the end. I walked into town only once, for sunscreen and discovered to my delight, that the little supermarket is air-conditioned, so if you need to cool down a bit, head to the supermarket.
Usually at the end of a vacation I feel ready to go back to my home and life but this time I felt like I was being torn away from my happy place; I have never before or since felt so zen as I did during those lazy days on the beach. When presented with the opportunity to revisit Zanzibar, I jumped on it immediately. This time I went back with 2 friends, we stayed at New Teddy’s place but in a triple private room. I booked the room 3 months in advance but New year’s eve is so busy that we had to move hotels for that night, we stayed at Summer Dream Lodge,which was nice but the dorm was huge and packed, I wouldn’t opt to stay there in a dorm again but would in a pinch go for a private room, mostly because they were a little ways to the beach compared to many other places in Paje. Summer Dream did prepare an amazing seafood Barbeque for New Year’s Eve complete with lobster, crab, prawns, and fish for about 15-20$, worth every penny! The big New Year’s party was at Jambo Beach Huts; it seemed like everyone in Paje and surrounding area was there, the music was awesome (as it usually is in Tanzania) and people were generally just joyous and content with life.
New Teddy’s Place menu had changed and the food was not as good this time, less fresh fish, more burgers and whatnot so we opted to head out for dinner down the beach. DO NOT be in a hurry for food in Zanzibar, I swear they must actually be out fishing for our dinner because every time it would take about 2 hours to get food; you’re on Hakuna Matata time so just be chill and wait, it’s usually worth it. At one restaurant we sat down to order and some haughty woman walked by us and said “Don’t expect to get your food for 2 hours” in a very rude manner, in front of the server/probably owner and then she proceeded to trip over something to which we all thought..Karma! The server just kind of shrugged and walked away, later when he brought us our food he said “Sorry it’s late but this is Africa” to which we replied “Hakuna Matata,” because we’re on vacation, without anywhere pressing to be, no need to be hostile. If you want fast food in Zanzibar you’re out of luck; even a cocktail will take 10 minutes to make because they are literally cracking open the fruit and blending everything fresh, it’s quality over convenience.
Zanzibar is the place to go if you want to lose yourself, in a paradise that envelopes you in their culture and makes you feel like you could exist there and not want for anything, except the occasional blast of air conditioning and a lifetime supply of SPF 100.