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Trip Report A week self driving in Zanzibar

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We are a young at heart Italian couple of 50 and 60. This was our first time in Zanzibar.
We rented our car on line a few weeks before travelling from Express Car Hire. This was a very good choice as Mr Daud was extremely punctual, professional and the car was in good shape. He met us at the airport and we went to their offices for a very quick exchange of documents. Our local permit was ready in advance and no time was wasted. We took down his number in case of emergencies and agreed to meet in five days time to exchange our Suzuki Escudo for a Vespa for our last two days in Stone Town. The price was $25 per day everything included.
As it was early morning and too soon to check into our hotel we drove to Jozani Forest and took a guided tour. This was pleasant though by no means mind blowing. We saw quite a few Colobus monkeys , a squirrel and some crabs. If you are going on safari anywhere else in Africa give it a miss.
After the park we went for a drive South before heading to the North East town of Bwejuu where we were staying. The roads were very good with few potholes and not that badly sign posted. It helped to have a tablet with local maps downloaded as the satellite system worked perfectly so it was almost impossible to get lost. We stopped in a few beaches on the East coast but couldn’t find anywhere nice to stop for a coffee. All the resorts are quite private and a fair distance from each other with separate driveways. We were stopped twice by the police.We were expecting it. Each time they were corteous and just checked our documents.
We arrived at Anna of Zanzibar in time for a huge lunch. This is a lovely small resort with just five rooms. It offers an all inclusive plan which is just as well as there isn’t much else in the surrounding area. The room, pool, grounds, staff , everything was excellent quality and quite rightly so as Anna is very expensive. Although we enjoyed our stay I would not return there as there are other better options value for money wise.
We spent two quiet days strolling on the beach. Surprisingly the beach was full of “beach boys” eager to talk and show you their little shops. There is a large Italian resort close by and many of the locals speak amazingly good Italian! We enjoyed their company but I can imagine that some people might find them annoying. Especially if you spend your whole time on this beach. Like other beaches in Zanzibar the tides make it impossible to swim for large portions of the day. A nice pool is important. At Anna’s only 3 of the rooms were occupied so we had a lot of privacy and full choice of pool lounges.
On the third day we left Bwejuu and headed to Pongwe for lunch at The Rock. (pre-booked and full). We were a little afraid this might be a tourist trap but in fact it was worth it. It is a very picturesque little place and fun for lunch. The food was ok and quite expensive but we enjoyed it.
Our next stop was Matemwe on the North East coast.........

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    Thank-you for the encouragement!!

    On our way to Matemwe we were stopped 3 times by the police. This time they were less nice and tried to fine us for not indicating. We were very firm in insisting that we had used indicators. We joked about having been stopped so many times. They always let us go in under five minutes.

    Our next stop was a small resort called Matemwe Beach Village. This is an African run quirky, laid back place with about 15 suites and bungalows. We had a half board plan and once again this is not a bad idea as eating out especially in the evenings is almost impossible. The beach was much quieter here than at Bwejuu with few tourists and beach boys but a lot of locals over the weekend. Especially children and people playing football. We had a large round shaped suite which was very interestingly designed but no sea view. The cheaper smaller rooms on the beach were also nice. There was a very good pool area with on site diving centre. The food was excellent and the staff amazingly friendly. We made friends with other guests and evenings were always a fun time. I would definitely recommend this resort as a good mid range choice.
    During our stay we took a short sailing trip in a small dhow, did a guided reef walk in low tide and visited the local fish market and Matemwe village. This last was especially interesting and we bough fish which was cooked for us in the evening.
    One day we drove North to Nungwi. We were glad we didn’t choose Nungwi as a place to stay because it is full of resorts and crowded. They were releasing turtles so there was a festive atmosphere and many local people, music and volunteers collecting seaweed. It was a fun day. I was expecting Nungwi not to be affected by the tides but it is. Just less so than the east and west coasts. There are nice places to eat and drink and a younger crowd.

    We were stopped a couple of times by the usual cops but by this time we were used to handling the situation. It was annoying but having the freedom to drive around, see the villages, buy fruit, see monkeys etc more than made up for the irritating stops.

    After three days in Matemwe it was time to move on. This time I really felt I could have stayed a couple of extra days. We really didn’t have time to go snorkeling to nearby Mnemba atoll which was a pity. But Stone Town was calling and after all the books I had read I already felt we wouldn't have enough time there either!

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    We left early morning and drove South along the coast road. The drive was as usual very interesting passing through different scenery, schools and villages. One policeman tried to tell us that our licence was not valid. We argued him down eventually but he was quite a tough one. I was adamant about not giving out bribes!

    We checked into the Serena hotel on lovely Kelele Square and were met by Mr Daud who as promised delivered our Vespa. This was definitely a better option for Stone Town but in fact was unnecessary as we could have walked everywhere. It just made going to Darajaani Bazaar easier and allowed us to explore some of the less historic parts of town. The Serena was nice but too expensive for what it offers. Next time I would probably choose the Tembo or one of the other sea front hotels with a pool. For me a pool in Stone Town was a must as it was so nice to come back after hours of walking in the heat and dust. Especially as these were our last days in the sun before returning to a European winter. The beach in Stone Town looked amazing but we were not sure it would be clean enough to swim in.
    We had a very good sunset dinner in the charming and much acclaimed Emerson Spice. A reasonable meal at Silk Road and a lovely evening listening to live music at Livingstone’s Jazz cafè. Forodhani gardens night market is great for people watching. The shops and bars and places to hang out are many and Darajaani bazaar is great to get lost in. The people are generally very friendly and good humoured and except for maybe at night in the little alleys I would say it is a very safe place.

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    I found Stone Town fascinating and we spent most of our time just walking and talking to people. I was curious to know what memories people had of the terrible events of 1964 and how much the revolutionary regime had altered people’s perception of history. It seems so contradictory and strange that the two most “sellable” items of Zanzibar culture to the tourists are the slave trade and Salmé the apostate. It is saddening to see that a great chunk of what made up Zanzibar culture and life for centuries ie. the existence of born and bred Zanzibaris of Indian, Arab and Shirazi origin is now in part missing. I was happy to see an optimistic and strong opposition party openly speaking out at Jaw’s Corner and to note that most people we spoke to seemed quite free to express their views on the government, Dar, the police etc. It is so important to keep history alive and places like the Dhow School of Music seemed to be doing a good job. The return of tourism in the past 30 years has changed the economy and life on the islands, I think on the whole for the better. Some people complain that the old palaces are being turned into boutique hotels but I think this is a good thing. We didn’t see any huge ugly resorts cropping up like in many other parts of the world and the fact that historic buildings, so expensive to restore, are being kept alive and for public use by private enterprise cannot be a bad thing. There is still so much work needed and the status of World Heritage is of vital importance.
    I feel optimistic about the future of Zanzibar as long as their young people are made aware of the true nature of their history and recent past so the same mistakes are not made over and over. But maybe this applies to all populations the world over.
    I can’t wait to go back. Next time I would like to visit Pemba, Tumbatu do some snorkeling and more driving around!

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