African Overland Tour: Zanzibar AKA Paradise Island


Welcome to our exclusive ongoing review of Absolute Africa’s The Big Six African Overland Tour, if you like reading about us looking at animals, joking around on a truck, and drinking interesting local spirits of East Africa, then you will find additional chapters of our 52-day journey at the end of this post. If you like THOSE posts, then maybe you want to read some stories about our adventures in Europe (or if you’re reading this in the future - Asia, India, and South America), and you can find those all throughout the site. And if you like THOSE posts (And you’re either a relative of mine or a huge fan), then maybe you should share them on some social media sites. Like Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Google+ (Side note: How do people have followers on Google+? It seems somehow both outdated like MySpace and newfangled like Buzz that I don't understand). If you don’t like this, and you hate social media, and you also hate the Carolina Panthers, then I’m surprised you’ve gotten to the end of even this introductory paragraph. Bounce rates aside, let’s get on with this thing, because we’ve got some beaches to go to and booze to drink!

We spent the night in a beautiful beach campground on the outskirts of the Tanzanian capital city of Dar Es Salaam before leaving early the next morning in a fleet of Tuk Tuks (the cheapest and smallest taxis you've ever seen) for the ferry to Zanzibar, for an optional additional four nights in paradise. While the campground was beautiful and the staff was very nice, most of the group agreed that the bar couches were infested with fleas. GREAT START TO THE WEEKEND!

It seems crazy that anyone doing an overland trip through Africa would skip this trip, but for an extra $460, the two of us were able to book roundtrip ferry tickets, a night in Stone Town, and three nights in an absolutely spectacular beach resort on the north side of the island. 

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, which means you may or may not get a Zanzibar stamp in your passport (we both got an entrance stamp but not an exit), and they have their own government and laws. Interestingly enough, Zanzibar was it's own entity before merging in 1964 with Tanganyika, and they changed the name to The United Republic of Tanzania that we know it as today. Basically it's like if when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married, they changed both of their last names to Brad and Angelina Jolpittie.

We boarded the ferry and immediately felt out of place, as our business class tickets entitled us to an air-conditioned reclining seat with multiple large screen televisions which would soon be showing Jurassic World; meanwhile I hadn't showered in three days and had flea bites all over my legs and butt. They also served snacks on board, and if you don't take anything else away from this, hear this. Actually, let me put this in it's own paragraph.

Get the yellow pota- actually, let's go all caps.

GET THE YELLOW POTATO BALLS WITH - actually, let's go bigger.


Oh man, this weird lemon-y mashed potato ball was somehow a cross between a Hot Pocket and a Pierogi, perfectly cooked, a little crispy on the outside, soft and mashed potato-y on the inside, with just a hint of lemon. I WANT ONE RIGHT NOW. FYI, pay extra for the business class ticket on the ferry (it's like $3 more), the business class is fancy and how the rich people travel, and the cheap tickets are literally OUTSIDE IN THE SEA SPRAY. 

Almost as soon as we arrived, we headed out with our guides for an optional spice tour ($10), which is probably the most popular activity on Zanzibar island aside from "laying on the beach". One of the primary ways that Zanzibar makes money are through spice trade, so seeing some of these products we are so used to seeing in plastic jars on grocery store shelves in their natural form was incredibly interesting. There were a ton of incredibly interesting crops including cardamom, nutmeg, ylangylang, cloves, lemongrass, annatto, and coffee, but the most fascinating was almost certainly the cinnamon. The cinnamon tree was another African crop that has all of it's parts used, from it's bark (cinnamon sticks) to the "meat" of the wood (ground down for powder) to the roots (turned into a paste which could be used as a rub to help with colds and sickness, almost like a Vicks Vap-O-Rub) to the leaves (boiled into a tea). Personally, the only cinnamon I'd ever seen was a red powder that Rachel Green doesn't like on her cappuccino (FINALLY ANOTHER FRIENDS REFERENCE THANK GOD), so to pull a piece of bark off an innocuous tree and drop it in some hot water to make tea was eye-opening. 

After we had a chance to buy some INSANELY cheap spices and coffee (which we did), we watched a local Zanzibarite climb a 30 foot tall coconut tree with his bare hands (as insane as it sounds) and grab us some young coconuts to enjoy the water from. Some silly pineapple hats later, and this was one of the most well-priced optional activities we'd been offered. 

Finishing our spice tour, we headed out to grab a drink at a local bar. Stone Town reminded me of a more exotic New Orleans, with it's old French architecture and windy streets giving way to a loose and friendly atmosphere. As we walked to the bar, we were bombarded by locals trying to sell their wares. You get used to this, basically whenever I describe a market or a town in another country where tourists might go, picture locals pestering you to buy souvenirs. Some are worse than others (I'm looking at you Marrakesh), but if you politely and firmly say no, you're fine. BUT sometimes a local approaches you and offers to sell you Zanzibar or Tanzania football jerseys for $4 each. And that's when something like this happens:

Sometimes you need to pull the trigger on souvenirs. A lot of travelers will scoff and turn their nose up at anything that a tourist would buy, but the reality is, WE ARE ALL TOURISTS. Maybe we are doing it differently than the folks that stay at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar, but we are still visitors, and I WANT A SOUVENIR. Just don't wear the shirt of the place you're in while you're in the place you're in, and you'll be fine. 

We then headed out to the Stone Town Night Market for dinner, where we had the opportunity to mix with the locals and barter with them for various small bites, varying from Nyama Choma (grilled meat on a stick, varied from DELICIOUS to DISGUSTING depending on the stall or the stick) to Chips Mayai (French Fry Omelette, YES THAT'S RIGHT) to Zanzibar Pizza (easiest way to describe is a contained crepe filled with an assortment of ingredients, ranging from savories like ground beef, eggs, veggies, and cheese to sweets like Snickers and marshmallows). All prices can be bartered (nothing exceeds $2), and if you go to Zanzibar and don't try a Zanzibar Pizza, you'll kick yourself. They are DELICIOUS and literally do not exist anywhere else. Add it to the list of "Things Josh Should Learn How To Cook And Open A Food Truck" items that would make me a millionaire.

The next morning, we were up bright and early to head to Changuu AKA Prison Island, which was originally used as a quarantine island for natives sick with yellow fever and is now used as a home for dozens of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises. If you don't book with Absolute Africa ($25/pp), you're almost certain to be offered a trip over on a traditional covered dhow to see the tortoises, some of which are OVER ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS OLD GOOD LORD THAT IS OLD WAIT THEY WRITE THEIR AGES ON THEIR BACKS HOLY COW LOOK AT HOW COOL AND HUGE THEY ARE OH MAN THEY'RE EVERYWHERE DAMN DOES THAT SAY 132 ON HIS BACK WHAAAAAAAAAT???? Plus you get to feed them? Plus they let you drop in and do some mediocre snorkeling on the way back? Sold. Prison Island is a must do.

Once we arrived back onto Zanzibar Island, we headed about 90 minutes up the coast to the Sunset Bungalows at Kendwa, which was exactly what you see when you close your eyes and picture a beach paradise. White sands, clear blue water, palm trees, frozen drinks, and sailboats slowly drifting by, seemingly close enough to shore that you could swim out and climb aboard should you so choose, but more than likely you won't, you'll choose to lounge on one of the open daybeds for hours at a time as pleasant servers bring you whatever delicious dish you request throughout the day. I wish I was there right now.

Rested, hot showered, washing machine laundered, Konyagi-d and relaxed after three night in paradise (and one booze cruise), we headed back to Dar Es Salaam on a RIDICULOUSLY bumpy ferry. Seriously, I have never been seasick in my life and I took a Dramamine, but neither of those facts kept me from pulling the plastic bag out of the seatback in front of me halfway across the sea. Unlike many other passengers, I didn't have to use it. It certainly would have left a bad taste in my mouth about Zanzibar, much like this sentence is leaving a bad taste in your mouth about this blog.