The faces of Zanzibar I. – Jambiani and the eastern shores
November 8, 2019
Zanzibar, or Unguja (yes, that’s the official name for the largest island in the archipelago), is a very diverse little island south of the equator in East Africa. It provides the perfect vacation spot almost all year round, except maybe mid-October to late November, when it rains a lot. Those who visit Zanzibar will have an everlasting experience. What I particularly liked about it was that the island has a lot of different activities to offer besides the fantastic white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
Because we wanted to see as much as possible of this small island, we decided to stay in 3 different places. Our first stop was the village of Jambiani on the east coast. Jambiani was recommended by a friend of mine, and thank God we visited it!
On the eastern side you can see what you fall in love with in the blink of an eye: the beautiful sea in all the shades of turquoise lined with white, flour-like sandy beaches.
We arrived by taxi early in the morning to Jambiani, the village where we spent the first 3 days of our 8-day vacation. As we were getting closer to the shores, a familiar scent suddenly struck my nose. The scent of the sea, carried by the powerful breeze. As we turned south in Paje and started driving parallel to the sea, we had a glimpse of what awaited us in the next few days. Behind the palm trees, the worn-out little houses and the smaller and bigger villas and guest houses lining the coast, the turquoise color glowed in the background. As we arrived early at 7 am to our beachfront accommodation, we couldn’t check in yet, but we didn’t panic. The weather was not too gracious to us, Mr. Wind blew nasty clouds over our heads and we did not escape the rain either. Nonetheless, I clearly remember the moment I walked out of the villa’s reception to the pool, and from its edge I could see the endless blue waters and the long white beach. I’m usually quite emotionally overheated anyway (understand that I could cry even on an advertisement), my eyes got immediately covered by tears.
Besides the island’s natural endowments, there is another, less joyful side of the it. You see and feel the poverty everywhere you go. Behind the villas and hotels along the coast are small, often just one-room cottages along dusty streets, where the locals spend their days. Children run barefoot on the dirt road, usually dirty, trying not to step in litter and poop, as the animals here are completely free to roam around and leave “things” behind.
Jambiani is a peaceful and quiet village with small villas, bungalows and restaurants lining the beach.The locals are extremely kind, helpful and cheerful. Sunrises are wonderful. In the morning women are working on the beach collecting seaweed, in the afternoon, children are playing football in the white “powder”, letting some strangers play with them sometimes. Because this eastern part is quite windy, Jambiani is one of the favorite destinations for kite-surf lovers alongside the “city” of Paje. Jambiani is recommended for those who like peace and stillness but sometimes like to get out and go for a trip in the area.
We spent 3 days in this breathtaking place and visited the sights and activities of the area. We tried some restaurants and shopped from the locals.
Programs around Jambiani
I’m sure that only few are aware of this fantastic natural formation, which is essentially a cave with a crystal clear lake in it. The cave was only a 15-minute walk from our accommodation, but it can be reached essentially by any vehicle. Turning off the asphalted main road, there is a dirt road leading to the entrance, and surprisingly there were clear signs along the way, so you can’t miss the road leading to it. On the way there, we met a French couple who said they were bathing alone in the cave for an hour and then another couple joined them. We were also excited about the opportunity to have a little romantic time together in the raw nature.
When we arrived we saw no one there besides a young local guy and a dog. We paid for the entrance ticket (20,000 TZS or $ 10) and then he led us through a tree-lined path to the cave. To our surprise we only found the German couple in the cave bath, but they soon moved on, so we could enjoy the cooling water alone for long minutes.
TIP: it’s worth taking so snorkeling gear or swimming goggles and look around on the bottom of the lake, as there are fantastic formations underwater.
The Rock Restaurant
The Rock Restaurant is one of the best known restaurants in Africa but on Zanzibar it’s definitely by far the most well-known. Its uniqueness and charm lies in the fact that it is built on a small rock on the water. It is interesting that during low tide you can go to the restaurant on foot, but under high tide you can be taken by boat. Did I mention that the low tide phenomenon is very prevalent throughout the island and that this extremity is experienced several times in one day?
Ok, let’s get back to the restaurant. It is located about 20 km north of Jambiani in Pingwe. The taxi cost us $ 20 roundtrip (we organized it by a local beachboy, Moody who we found were trustworthy, knowledgable and funny), with the driver waiting for us at the scene. The prices in the restaurant were quite high for our pockets, so we only stayed for some delicious cocktails ($ 10/drink) on the small patio and, needless to say, surrounded by a beautiful sight.
TIPP: If you want to have lunch or dinner here, you may want to have a table reservation in advance. But if you only want to have a drink, you are welcome between 4 and 6 pm without a reservation.
Dolphin tour in Kizimkazi
Kizimkazi is located in the southern part of Zanzibar, where boats depart from every morning for dolphin tours. We arrived to Kizimkazi from Jambiani. I mentioned earlier a local “beachboy”, Moody, whom we met at the entrance at our accommodation in Jambiani. Moody comes from the village and roams to the seaside every day in his spare time (understand when he’s not out working with toursits) to offer a variety of activities to travelers. The first time we met Moody, we were a bit skeptical towards him, as on one hand I read on many forums very negative comments about beachboys, on the other hand, his personality is a typical salesman’s who would talk you off your feet any given time. However, as we were determined to swim with dolphins, after a shorter hesitation and of course bargaining, we shook hands and sealed the deal with him.
He picked us up at 6 in the morning and transferred us in a short 30 minutes from Jambiani to the fishing village of Kizimkazi that lays 25 km away. We were accompanied by his wife, who cheerfully giggled on her husband’s jokes along the way (we didn’t understand a word, of course). It was very uplifting to watch them and listen to them.
Basically we arrived accompanied by the rising sun and after Moody had some short consultation with the locals, we boarded the boat with him and our captain for the morning. We headed south, following the waves. It didn’t take long before we spotted the first dolphins. It was a larger team of approx. 8-10 individuals going after their morning meal. The locals are very familiar with the direction of their movements, they always knew when to shout “jump” and have us in the water to see them from close-up. We got in contact with them several times on the way, and it’s needless to say that it was absolutely wonderful. Watching them while they swam playfully on the surface, putting up a small show was already breathtaking and swimming with them is an indescribable encounter 🙂
We paid $ 50 each for the tour. Actually, it could have been cheaper, but for us it was worth it as we were only two of us in the boat except Moody and the captain. The price also included the way from our hotel and snorkeling equipment (although we used our own mask and pipe).
It also turned out that we weren’t the only Hungarians on the water that day, there was another boat with a couple whose guide was Aisha, a Hungarian lady living in Zanzibar. She is the one who arranges for many Hungarians their programs, everyone praises her and yes, she seemed very professional to us too. Aisha said that dolphins can always be seen in this area, she had only 2 times in 16 years when these wonderful creatures have “hidden” from the curious eyes.
TIP: it is worth taking an early morning tour on the waters, because there are less boats.
Snorkeling and sailing
Encouraged by our morning experience with Moody, we gave in to him again and signed up for an afternoon snorkeling. We made it out to the seas on his own traditional, motor-free sailboat. This was perhaps the highlight of our few days in Jambiani itself. Again, we were only two of us in the boat, plus Moody, of course, and his helper, (apparently his brother or cousin) who didn’t really have much to do, only had to handle the sail, and he spent the rest of his time resting while we were enjoying the underwater world.
In this part, mostly starfish and some special fish are seen, large coral reefs and dense sea life is not to be expected, but it was still beautiful to us to experience. Just the sailing itself was already amazing on the turquoise, crystal clear waters. We paid $ 20 for 2 for the more than one and a half hour program, which would have been $ 30 / person through the accommodation.
TIP: if possible, take control of the sailboat.
Jozani National Park
Jozani National Park covers about 50 km2 and it’s only 20 minutes away from Jambiani. It is the only national park on the island and is home to, among other things, the endangered red colobus monkeys, which can be admired from close-up here.
Access to the park is only allowed with a park guide who is assigned to the groups at the checkin counter. The entry fee is paid in two parts, there is an entry fee of 20000 TZN (or $ 10) and a separate 5000 TZN tax.
The visit to the park includes a visit to a close-by huge mangrove forest too.
TIP: the tour guide is happy to receive a little tip at the end of the tour.
Not far from the Jozani Forest there is a butterfly park where you can study the butterflies native to Zanzibar and their entire life cycle in a big net-covered garden. Did you know that a butterfly only lives 2 weeks in average? The extremely kind and knowledgeable staff (the guy asked us where we were from, we said Hungary, and after a few seconds of thinking he even said “pillnagó” – which means butterfly in Hungarian) told us during the tour about the background of the project and the life of the butterflies.
The duration of the tour is about 30-40 minutes, but in fact you can spend any amount of time between the beautiful butterflies. The entry fee is 12,000 TZS (or $ 6).
We stopped at Jozani and the Butterfly Park on our way to the north, to Nungwi. Our driver, Rajab, was extremely helpful and waited patiently for us.
TIP: it’s worth taking the detour if someone is already on the way to Jozani. On one hand we can see some very interesting things about butterfly life and on the other hand we can support a very awesome local project.
Where to eat in Jambiani
We had lunch and dinner in several restaurants in the village, 2 of which I would like to highlight and recommend.
It was our first restaurant experience on the island and we loved it right away. Delicious flavors, extremely friendly service and fantastic views (well, many places have that around here). I definitely recommend the avocado calamari salad (with a little french fries), it was heavenly.
This is a restaurant that had very good reviews, so we wanted to give it a try. We were looking for it for a long time but we did not find at its original spot on the beach. As it turned out, they moved (now google shows it correctly at the new location) because the previous building was bought by Europeans, so the restaurant owners had to find a new place. The place and the kitchen are both absolutely authentic, the atmosphere nice and relaxed (maybe a little too relaxed :)). A hidden treasure among the many possibilities.
An average meal with a bottle of beer is approx. $ 10 per person, of course, depending on what we like to eat and how big of portions. No one should expect a super fast service anywhere, people here seem like being time millionaires, very relaxed and comfortable, yet extremely kind, smiling and cheerful. At least that was our experience with them and we didn’t mind at all. Maybe because we were in the same mindset 🙂
Shopping and money exchange
Walking on the aforementioned dusty streets, one can find tiny grocery stores and of course fruit & vegetable stalls (make sure to bargain because they are trying to sell their goods to foreigners at double/triple prices). It is worth buying from them though so at least some of the money we spend during our vacation goes to the locals.
The money exchange was also functioning in a small shop like that, the locals were very kind to guide us to the right source, which was a tiny garage-like tin-roof little shop, with all kinds of goods. Next to it chickens and roosters scatching in the sand and dirt, and goats and cows grazing all around. There, under the counter, we sealed the deal with the shop owner.
If you are interested in basic information about Zanzibar, you can read it here.
+1 TIP: Sunrises
It’s worth getting up early and enjoy the sunrise at least once 🙂