Legend has it that the name Zanzibar comes from the words the first Arabic speaking Omani sailors shouted out after discovering this archipelago in the Indian Ocean: 'Zayn z'al barr!' meaning 'Fair is this land!' Poetic but unfortunately a little less plausible than 'Zinj El Barr', meaning 'land of the black people', in reference to the slaves uprooted from Africa to be sold overseas along with the ivory, gold and spices exported from these islands from as early as the eighth century. Despite its dark history, Zanzibar has always inspired writers and explorers.
Inhabited over the centuries by Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Omanis, the Portuguese and the British, Stone Town, capital of the island of Ungunja (commonly known as Zanzibar) is still a melting pot of cultures. To experience this beguiling atmosphere, walk through the maze of the medina (old town) quarter, to the sound of the muezzin's call to prayer; wander past the Portuguese grey coral fort and the fading facades of the ancient Arab palaces; pass by the heavy Indian doors studded with copper (a symbol of success); visit the Beit al Ajaib (Palace of Wonders) and then Livingstone House in which the famed Victorian explorer prepared his final African expedition.
Today, many do the exact opposite to Livingstone: ending a safari in Tanzania with an expedition to this little paradise. Visit the colourful Darajani market in the early morning to see a sea of women's turbans and braided baskets overflowing with fruit and fish, and breathe in the scents of cloves, pepper and cinnamon. In the centre of the island, an adventure into the Jozani primary forest, home to red monkeys, is an opportunity for visitors to enrich their botanical knowledge.
Then, head to the eastern side to discover the best Zanzibar beaches, with extra fine sand. Wander down a sandy path, with Jambiani to the south and Nungwi to the north, meet carpenters carving 'dhow' sailing boats and fishermen who will gladly let the curious aboard for a fishing trip or a little snorkel trip. In the evenings, retire to a four-poster bed after enjoying the catch of the day with your feet in the sand. So, we really couldn't agree more... Zayn z’al barr!
Tucked away in a small creek on the north-east of the island, the views from Essque Zalu stretch out across the horizon on the Indian Ocean. There are 40 suites and nine villas (with private swimming pools), all exuding chic charm and a sense of relaxation thanks in part to the Spa.
Fifteen villas, 2,150 to 2,420 square feet each, dotted around a lush garden, with whirlpool baths and glass roofs for nights under the stars. Live the dream on Zanzibar with a spa, private beach and organic restaurant.
These 30 villas, with their wonderful fusion of Arabic, Indian and Swahili styles, look like miniature sultan's palaces. The colour of the marble is reminiscent of that of Bwejuu Beach, where Baraza is located, in the south-east of Zanzibar.
This charming hotel, located on the north-east coast, is family-friendly with cottages spread over two floors and also perfect for couples with villas equipped with private swimming pools and terraces.
These thatched cottages sit around a quiet bay on the north-east coast. There are a total of 16 rooms, each with its own terrace. At Unguja Resort, located on the southern tip of the island, another ten bungalows with pointed roofs are found in a mango and baobab garden where colobus monkeys congregate. Divers will appreciate the five-star PADI centre.
Breezes Beach Club
This elegant hotel is decorated in wood, silk and ivory tones and is set in a coconut grove by one of the best beaches on the south-east coast of Zanzibar. Three restaurants, a spa and a variety of activities have made it one of Zanzibar's best hotel bets.