Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, a historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Its winding lanes present minarets, carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide beaches lined with hotels.
What really makes Zanzibar stand out from other beach destinations is the area’s rich history; with settlements in the region dating back as far as the 13th century on Pemba and the 14th century on Unguja. Of course, you can go back almost 20,000 years to uncover the full depth of Zanzibar’s history, but it is its role as a major trade port and colonial site that makes it such a fascinating melting pot of cultures and architectural styles. The island of Unguja was a part of the Portuguese empire from 1503 until 1698, when it fell under the sway of the Omani Sultanate who used the island as a major port for the trade of spices as well as ivory and slaves taken from the mainland. It is this Arabic influence that is perhaps most evident in the architecture and culture of Stone Town, and historic sites such as the Palace of Wonders and the former slave market still stand as testament to this time in the region’s history. From 1890 until the islands gained their independence in 1963, the region was administered by the British Commonwealth. With three different colonial rulers, the trade they brought from around the world, and the distinct local culture that existed before European expansion, it’s easy to see how Zanzibar has become such a melting pot of cultures and styles. On the same street you’ll find Arabic and colonial architecture while native African, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Caucasian children play together in the streets. A visit to Zanzibar and especially Stone Town can be compared to time travel. As you wander the town’s complex network of alleys and laneways, you’re literally surrounded by history. In fact, Stone Town is a World Heritage site for precisely this reason
Zanzibar is home to people from across the world, and it is this diversity that makes it such a unique travel destination. This cultural convergence can be seen in the diversity of the region’s food, in the polyglot nature of the Swahili language that was born here, and in the distinct architectural styles that exist side by side in Stone Town. Zanzibar’s distinct charm is a result of its years of cross-cultural exchange, and it’s all the more charming for this jumble of cultures, beliefs, and languages.