Your Ultimate East Africa Beach Guide

All smiles for great weather

Part II: Zanzibar

Myths vs. Reality: A disaster filled holiday which turned out more than ok.

Could you write an African beach love story and not include Zanzibar? Probably not…. Could you write a love story specifically about beaches in East Africa and not include Zanzibar? Nope! This lovely little Island is what many a honeymoon dreams are made of. Several friends had told me about their incredible trips to the Island, time and time again and on one long weekend in South Africa, I decided to make the trek. I must admit this was probably one of the most disorganised and spontaneous trips I’ve ever taken.  And unlike my common practice of staying in reasonably priced hotels or Airbnb, we opted to book a house that was a stone’s throw away from Double Tree by Hilton to have communal living and also have the option of making our own meals.  I gave a few friends some notice and we all descended upon Zanzibar on similar flights from London, Johannesburg and Nairobi. It was by far one of the more random trips I’d pulled together as most of the group really didn’t know each other and I was the common denominator. This meant I had to be organised (*sigh*) so everyone was comfortable. In true Bee style, I obviously delegated as much as I could because well let’s face it…My Swahili is non-existent and there was a fair bit that had to be done in Swahili.

Have you ever been in a situation where almost everything that can go wrong goes wrong? Welcome to my Zanzibar holiday!!!At times like this you need to ensure you really like the people you are travelling with because there were so many beginner traveller faux pas that happened. I will withhold some of my idiotic friend’s actions for fear of them finding me and shaming me. I also dropped the ball a couple of times and couldn’t stop laughing at myself because if the tables were turned, I would have lost it.

Disaster number 1 – I left the office with my colleagues’ passport and only realised this when I got to OR Tambo. The guy at the counter … “unless you’ve recently had a sex and race change, I assume you’re joking”. Insert me hyperventilating and having no idea where my actual passport was. I called my colleague in question to ask him where my passport was only to remember that I and two other colleagues pulled a  prank on him a week prior and hid his passport…in my desk…which I then picked up and slipped into my bag  without realising. Mind you this was when KQ was basically trying to recoup its losses through us and was charging USD150 – USD200 (ZAR2,500 – ZAR3000) every time you changed your flight. So you know I was not trying to take a later flight and pay R3000 to change it. For some odd reason I had decided to leave my house keys with a friend and asked them to dash to my house to fetch my passport from where it always is…and my yellow fever card…because the one I had was also clearly my colleagues. I then rushed on the Gautrain to meet them at Marlboro (for those who aren’t familiar with the Gautrain, it’s essentially the stop between the airport and my home) because I didn’t have enough time to go home. Thank you KQ for consistently being late and the nice man at the counter who kept my suitcase while I ran for my life (thank you lack terrorism and the trust that man had). Because of this disaster, it completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to pick up some malaria pills for the trip at the airport pharmacy. I promise I am smarter than my actions :/ These are the hiccups of learning to independently travel. Lessons learnt? Please check your passport before you leave the house and ensure you have every necessary shot or immunization.

We had a relatively safe transition through Nairobi. We went out a ton, but there is safety in numbers and friends who do not imbibe are the real MVPs.  We spent the next day taking in some cultural sites and visiting the giraffe sanctuary. We arrived safely in Zanzibar and got picked up promptly. All of us except for a friend who was working overtime and flew from JHB à Dar es Salaam and then was to take the ferry across from the mainland to the Island. Brace yourself, his story is also a disaster…if you’ve never been to a place, *try* to travel with the group. There is safety in numbers, but also multiple brains are better than one in troubleshooting traveling snags.

We eventually arrived in Nungwi (I’ve been to various parts of the Island and this part was by far my favourite). We arrive and our house is nothing like the photos… There is no internet like the brochure suggested and our in house cook…well…I’m pretty sure 11 year old me was a better cook (He didn’t however try to feed me baked beans from the can like another ‘chef’ at a disastrous New year’s location we stayed at in Diani, Kenya). The guy wasn’t the best of cooks, but he always had a lovely cup of coffee for us when we woke up, fresh fruit and eggs your way. We won’t go into the fact that he refused to make bacon because he didn’t eat bacon. We’d paid half of our boarding fee over the internet and were supposed to settle the rest when we were physically there. The only ATM within a 1km walking distance was out of service… we clearly didn’t get this memo as we assumed we could just swipe for the outstanding amount… Most of the restaurants around our house only took cash which none of us had the good sense to withdraw.  Yes, in retrospect I am also laughing at us.  What a joke, my darling!  I was really pushing this traveling on a budget mission; albeit far too much. I must hand it to a couple of the restaurants who let us eat on credit for two days. They were so trusting and even laughed at my terrible attempt at Swahili… once the only ATM close by was operational, they were hit with a windfall of money from the 6 of us. Lessons learnt?  Always have cash. The airport FX rate is also crap, but it’s definitely a good idea to have a few thousand shillings on you. It’s an even better idea to do a currency exchange in your own country.  Always read the fine print in these house booking websites! Lastly, learn a few Swahili words, just to ensure you don’t seem like a complete idiot or foreigner when haggling at the market…and boy, did we haggle!  Here’s some of my go-to words which say, “hey, I’m clearly foreign but I’ve learnt a couple of things so I’m making an effort.”

Swahili Word List:

  1. Jambo / Salama – Hello.
  2. Tafadhali – Please
  3. Habari – how are you?
  4. Nzuri   – Fine.
  5. Asante – Thank you.
  6. Asante sana – thank you very much.
  7. Nauli ni kiasi gani – how much is the fare?
  8. Lala salama – Goodnight.
  9. Ndiyo – Yes.
  10. Hapana – No.
  11. Sawa – Ok.
  12. Tafadhali, naomba msaada – can you please help me?
  13. Unatoka wapi – where are you from?
  14. Kidogo tu – Just a little bit.
  15. Nataka – I’d like.
  16. Unasemaje kwa Kiswahili – how do you say “x” in Swahili?
  17. Rafiki – friend.
  18. Bas stendi – bus stop. (Genius right?  as a Zulu person I approve of these)
  19. Soko – Market. 
  20. Kesho – Tomorrow.
  21. Nyama – Meat.
  22. Nyama kuku – Chicken
  23. Maji – Water.
  24. Bia – Beer.
  25. Chakula – Food.

More disastrous things that happened this lovely week… That hardworking  friend missing the last ferry in Dar to come to the Island because SAA was late and then having to find a last minute hotel for the night…The hotel in question that the cab driver sent him to was of questionable characteristics and morals…Yes, they tried to introduce him to lady friends (I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard).  Questionable Wi-Fi signals everywhere we went…Maybe a lesson to let go and just enjoy the Island. Lessons learnt? Don’t travel alone when you don’t know a country…but also make sure to get a local sim card if its reasonably priced.

Despite all these unplanned adventures, we had a lovely time… We partook in ample activities and I wouldn’t know where to start in saying which ones were actually my favourite. We took a tour around the city and the architecture and buildings were glorious, especially all the coral stones on the forts. The amazing local food which deserves its own blog post and the extremely hospitable people who we encountered daily … going to the old slave market and trying not to cry my eyes out… It was as if you could still see the slaves cramped into tiny spaces that were barely big enough for a few animals… Going to prison Island and seeing all the tortoises there…. Diving with dolphins and literally marathon swimming so we could just get a glimpse. How could I forget the full moon party where our car broke down at 5am on our way home and the boys having to push it up the hill all the while complaining that we are all equal and deserve to push the car together (It was a VERY steep hill and they had all done a HEAP of drinking). Did I mention it was also 5am in the morning? Haha.  I had more fish than I could have imagined eating and more beer than I should have. All the while gawking at the beach boys and their over age European lovers. If you know, you know! I am obsessed with making whole fish whenever I’m in a coastal town and my obsession was fulfilled almost daily. I could have gone on and on about the clear clear ocean, but that’s standard in East Africa. The white as snow sand really did it for me though! Worth the hype? Yes. My favourite beach destination in East Africa? Nope.  A solid 9/10 as things were relatively cheap, there were a ton of activities and the people were SUPER friendly. You just don’t get that anymore.

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