Solo Trip to Zanzibar
Leading up to my 25th birthday I knew I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Iv’e always either hosted a dinner, or celebrated with friends and family with a bbq (one of the benefits of being a summer baby). Iv’e never really been into clubbing (do people even go to clubs anymore?) and just like new years day, I think of getting older as turning a new leaf, a fresh start & starting with a hangover is not the one.
So I decided I wanted to go on a holiday, have a cultural experience as well as relax and chill out. After a hellish start of the year, this was a perfect excuse to get away, on my own and recharge my batteries with some well earned self-love. This isn’t the first time iv’e been abroad on my own, but I’d say it’s the first where I haven’t gone with a purpose as such (except the school visit but i’l explain about that later) i.e. work trip, charitable expedition hosted by an organisation etc. After a couple of weeks worth of in-depth research I came across the beautiful island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. Having read other solo-female-traveller blogs, I delved into the pits of Trip advisor and started planning my trip. I created an itinerary, leaving the first half of my trip to be pure relaxation, leaving room for any random excursions I didn’t come across online. The second part of my trip was to be based on pure cultural experiences, I wanted to learn about the Island, the culture and the people and I came across a company called Serenity Experience who helped me map out exactly that.
I left from London Heathrow airport on the 24th of June and took a Business Class flight to Zanzibar, stopping off for a couple of hours in Kenya to transfer. I flew with Kenya Airways and they didn’t fail to disappoint. I arrived on the 25th of June (approximately 13 hours of flying…
I do not do long haul in economy, i’d rather not start my trip with a stiff neck and a bad back thank you very much) and landed safe and sound in Zanzibar’s airport. From Kenya to Zanzibar it takes about an hour, and the best way I can describe the airport in Zanzibar is that it’s basically a shed with some guards out front.
Day 1- Nungwi
I had to pay $50 for a visa on arrival, this is something that wasn’t mentioned online so i’ll tell you this now. You need to pay it. Don’t do a me and give one of the officers sitting at a desk with no que a raised eye brow to let you in for free. You will get shouted at. It’s not worth the embarrassment.
You are also checked for the Ebola virus on arrival… as in they take your temperature to make sure you’re not sick or have diarrhoea. I mean, I did have diarrhoea, but not because I was sick, it was purely down to the malaria tablets I had to take (which I later discovered you don’t need to take them when visiting the Island, not unless your’e going to the jungle). One thing I was surprised about is that they didn’t check if I’d had the yellow fever jab. This is something I came across online as a ‘must-have’ and was pretty much scare-mongered into going to the doctors and paying £80 for an injection. I think if you travel by boat from Tanzania then they check on arrival, but not by plane. Don’t just take my word for it though, I got the jab just in case, and it could come in handy if I visit certain parts of Africa in the future.
Do not take any plastic bags through. The island is pretty strict on this due to environmental reasons of course, but the guard was nice enough to let me through with my WHSmith bag. I promised i’d take it back with me to the UK to dispose, which I did, but yeah, it’s probably best that if you’ve purchased anything at the airport to try and squeeze it into your hand luggage.
When you exit the airport be prepared to be
swarmed by the local men trying to help you with your luggage. Unless you need th
e help, just politely decline because they will charge you when you reach your vehicle. It’s also best not to jump into any random Taxi’s.
I learnt this from a colleague of mine who visited Zanzibar a few years back. He introduced me to a company called Zanzitaxi, which I used to prebook all of my journeys. The driver was waiting outsidewith my name on a a piece of card, the car was air conditioned (perfect because it was extremely humid), I kicked back for the hour and a bit journey to Nungwi and was welcomed to a huge gated palace where I would stay for the next three days.
Day 2 – My Birthday
Rui Palace hotel is where I woke up on my birthday. The views of the beach were insane and the whole complex is truly beautiful. The pure white sands and sparkling blue sea’s are like something out of a movie- iv’ The food is buffet style with the option to have waiters bring additional food on the menu. The hotel was all-inclusive so of course I took the liberty of trying absolutely everything on the menu. The hotel consisted of mainly honey-mooners, and on my first night eating alone I did feel a touch out of place as someone literally got proposed to next to me. The waiters did keep on asking a few times if I was ‘expecting someone’ and after the days passed of seeing me on my own they realised I was here for a solo trip. One of the workers had asked me at lunch time why I was on my own. I explained it was my birthday and well, what came in the evening was a total surprise.
I spent my birthday sunbathing and exploring the private beach. I played pingpong with the entertainment guy and the African game ‘Boa’ (you need to be good at thinking strategically and maths so we played for what felt like ten hours). I then had some Swahili lessons and headed back to my room for well earned nap. On entering my room I was welcomed by a bottle of champagne and a note to tell the waiters the number of my room when I arrived at dinner.
At dinner I tried octopus for the first time (listen, calamari does not count) and Changu fish which was insane! I drank wine, listened to live music, had a Facetime call with my siblings and at that moment I really felt at peace with myself. To my shock (and slight horror), the waiters came over singing happy birthday with a cake and surrounded my table (remember guys, i’m sitting on my own here), clapping and singing away. It was so nice, albeit unexpected, that the hotel staff had gone to such an effort for my birthday, I felt so so special. On returning to my room I was welcomed by yet another bottle of champagne (next to the unopened bottle), so I cracked it open, spoke to a couple of my friends on the phone and had one of the best nights sleep i’d had in a long time.
Day 3 – Scuba Diving
I woke up early on Thursday and headed to breakfast. As I was early enough I managed to bag a seat right next to the ocean, so it was a beautiful start to the day. I had pancakes and pastries smothered in Nutella, to only be harassed by wasps that swarmed my plate. As I stood up in distress, a giant blackbird swooped down and stole my pancake (along with the wasps), it was safe to say I finished my coffee inside of the restaurant.
Thursday was the day I chose to do a random unplanned excursion and it was 100% the highlight of my trip. I decided to go scuba diving with a company called Team Aqua Zanzibar (they’re based in the hotel) and it was truly incredible. We headed on a boat to Mnemba Island and the waters were harsh. The weather wasn’t great and it looked like it was about to storm, but under the water… who cares right? The instructor was lovely and she helped me all the way. I had been scuba diving before a few years ago in Turkey, but I would say I am a beginner as I couldn’t remember anything that needed to be done. I partnered up with another beginner who didn’t take to scuba diving too easily, he really struggled so under the water, my instructor let me swim off with the experts. I cannot comprehend enough how magical scuba diving is. If you are capable of following instructions and staying calm in tricky situations then you can 100% scuba dive. The difficult part for me is not being able to use your arms under the water. You swim purely with your legs so it seems quite odd at first. Now I know how much I love (and how good I am) at scuba diving, i’ll be making sure it’s on the list of things to do on any other trip I go on.
Heading back to the hotel I ate lunch, showered the salt water from my hair and attempted to take photos of myself with a tripod balanced on top of my beach bag. Most of it was a complete and utter failure, but a nice girl from Israel saw my attempts and we ended up having a photo shoot on the beach for the rest of the evening. I had an early dinner, was greeted with lots of “happy birthday” from strangers that had saw me being sang at the night before and headed back to my room, with yet another, bottle of champagne. For a Muslim country, they really wasn’t shy in handing out the champers!
Day 4- Stone Town
Day four arrived and I checked out of Rui Palace in Nungwi and was picked up by my Zanzitaxi driver and we drove for an hour and a half down to Stone Town. Stone town is the main town in Zanzibar and a must see if you ever visit. I had booked Mrembo Spa online after reading about it on another blog and and was picked up at Tembo House Hotel (where I would be staying for the next few days) by one of the workers at the Spa and walked together to Mrembo.
I had the ‘beauty experience’ at Mrembo which is basically the full package. I spent about three hours learning about all of the different herbs, flowers and spices they use to make scrubs and face masks and then got to enjoy a ‘Singo’ scrub, which is what the women of Zanzibar have to prepare them for marriage. The woman also explained to me that it is tradition to wrap flowers around your bare private parts as a special ‘surprise’ for your husband when he unwraps you… I think i’ll leave that tradition in Zanzibar. I highly recommend this experience though, especially if your’e into your beauty treatments just as much as I am. Or if you just want to be pampered.
That afternoon I headed back to Tembo House hotel and had a chicken sandwich on the beach front. Tembo house is not all inclusive, and it’s definitely not as luxurious as Rui Palace, but I think that’s purely due to the location. I was taken aback by the fact my room was located down an alley way, but honestly, its completely normal and still a very beautiful hotel with the best location to get around in Stone Town.
That evening I met up with a German guy called Michael who helps manage the Serenity Experience tours, we had spoken over Whatsapp leading up to my trip and he had sent me a detailed itinerary of what I can do in Stone Town after I expressed an interest. We walked to a restaurant called Paneria and enjoyed tapas. The food was once again incredible and I highly recommend ordering the fish if you go. Inside the restaurant there was live reggae music playing and everyone was up dancing. It was difficult to talk as it was so loud in there but we agreed the first part of my tour would start at 10am the following morning. We both headed back to our hotels and I, well, tried to have an early night but Friday nights in Stone Town are loud and everyone is out having a good time. I decided to not be a granny and get out of bed, slap some make up on and head back to Paneria to listen to the live music.
On entering Paneria, being alone and well, a white woman, I was swarmed by men trying to talk to me. Just a polite, no thanks, i’m ok, leave me alone please seemed to had taken well until this guy and girl I was standing next to started full blown arguing at the bar. The girl, Elizabeth, who I thought was a local as she was speaking in Swahili, turned out to be from Rawanda and pretty much became my body guard for the whole evening. Long story short a man at the bar was telling everyone I was with him, she of course had noticed I arrived alone and put him in his place. I sat with Elizabeth and her friends for the evening drinking beer, and she gave me the low down on ‘what not to do in Zanzibar’. One of them being “if any guy asks you to go with him to a club, say no as he will take you out of Stone Town and leave you stranded somewhere”… fab. We headed out to Tatu bar which played R&B, Hip-hop and reggae music and the roof top was full of people dancing and having a good time. We left at around 3 am and Elizabeth and her friends, Abdi and Gau, walked me safely back to my hotel. Without them, I would have definitely got lost, Stone Town is like a maze.
Day 5- Prison Island
Saturday morning arrived, as well as a hangover from hell. I got up early and headed down to the buffer breakfast laid out (for free) by Tembo Hotel. I then headed to the beach front where I was greeted by Michael and his companion Tango from Serenity Experience. I was the only person who had booked the morning trip to Nkupenda Beach, and the three of us, plus the driver, saddled aboard a boat and headed towards the island.
The best way to describe Nkupenda Beach is that it is a strip of pure white sand in the middle of the ocean. It is beautiful, but not much to see except for the sand, and well, the sea. The Serenity Experience team set up a BBQ and played music from some speakers and we sat around chatting and eating the freshest fruit and fish i’d ever tasted. I played ping pong with Michael on the beach, which then led to playing in the sea as the weather was scorching hot that day!
As I wandered up and down the island I met a guy from China called Zhang Zhen who was working as an eye doctor on Zanzibar Island. He had one of the most hi-tech drones i’d ever seen. He showed me how it worked and I got to play around with it, take videos and pictures and after we said our goodbyes as I headed to Prison Island.
On the way to Prison Island we picked up some more guests by boat who had booked an excursion through Serenity Experience. We were taken around the Island and were given a tour of the history and how it came into existence. The prison, if you could call it that, was used to hold those who had contracted yellow fever to stop the disease from spreading, it was never used as a prison as such. Walking around the island
there were peacocks and massive turtles. You could buy food and feed the turtles if you wanted too, but if you are a cheap skate like myself (or smart, however you view it), you could always just use the lettuce which people had dropped all over the floors instead.
The day came to an end around 4/5pm and I headed back to my room to sleep… for 10 hours. The day was brilliant but it was very exhausting- especially with a hangover!
Day 6 – Spice Tour
Sunday is naturally quieter in Stone Town so I decided to head out and take a spice tour & cooking experience. The spice tour is located in a forest of some sort, and people do actually live there. I was shown around and was given information about which plant is what and how spices are used and made. I was then given a cooking lesson by the local women, whereby I showed off my coconut shaving skills that I had learnt at the Mrembo Spa. I learnt how to cook pilau rice with banana, fish, Japati with beans and vegetables, which I obviously now cook all the time at home (not).
The women then carried on cooking the meal as I was taken around to look at more plants and experience a man climb up a tree with his bare hands and feet, singing Mambo Bwana- you will hear this song being chanted everywhere you go in Zanzibar. He then made me a hat and jewellery from banana leaves, I tipped him and was taken to buy some spices. I then headed back over to the women who had finished preparing our meal.
We sat, chatted for a while (being translated back and forth as none of the women spoke any english), listened to more reggae music and ate the tastiest meal i’d had in Stone Town. There is nothing better than a home cooked authentic meal, so i’d highly recommend this tour, even if it’s just for the food.
To be completely honest with you, this tour was great, if not excellent, but I did feel as though, well, i’m not sure how to say it properly, there must be a word for it, so i’ll explain. I felt as though I was a wealthy white woman standing at the bottom of a tree watching a poor African man, climb it, sing to me, to then slide back down for payment. I felt as though they had put on a show, which to me looses its cultural value, in the sense that, I don’t know, I know it’s not their fault and obviously you have to do what you got to do to make money, but I just felt really bad for the guy. How many times does he have to do this each day to complete strangers who are literally standing there with their ignorant faces smiling and clapping away chanting “again, again”? Things like this make me cringe and feel sad at the same time. I know this experience would probably be the highlight of most peoples trip, but it’s not for me.
When the experience ended I thanked the hosts and headed back to Stone Town. I met up with Elizabeth and Abdi at Africa House Hotel to watch the sun go down and then went and ate pizza in Frozani Park. They offered to go out to watch a band play that evening but I passed, I was in a bit of a weird mood and needed some alone time to read, nap and scrub the onion smell from my hands.
Morning of Day 7 – Samiu-Baswir Nursery
One of my must-do’s whenever I visit a country that is less fortunate than I am is to do something charitable for the community. On this occasion I had planned to visit a school which I organised through Serenity Experience. Before I flew out to Zanzibar, I created a go-fund-me page and friends of mine donated money so that I could buy toys, books and treats for the children.
My last day came around so fast, and was a very early start, meeting the headteacher Alexander at around 7.30 am whilst lugging a suitcase full of toys, books, stationary and sweets down a busy road which felt like it never ended. All of the locals were rushing around, making their way to work and taking their children to school. You could see people jumping on and off the back of the tut-tut’s and literally cramming themselves in- honestly, some of these people could really be contortionists the way they are able to fit into these small spaces!
Alexander drove me to the school where I met with his wife Naima, drank tea and ate bread. Naima spoke good english and told me about how her and her husband set up this school and basically dedicate their lives to the children. She mentioned that for a lot of the children, if not all of them, the only time they get to eat is when they come to school, so she makes a massive pot a porridge for them every day.
Naima also told me that a lot of the children were off sick that day, due to the weather changing. Those who have HIV can get even more sick during this time, so after school she will visit the children who are unwell and provide them with food and medicine. She really is an Angel.
Having walked into one of the two classrooms, which were small empty concrete rooms, I was swarmed by the cutest children I had ever seen. All they wanted to do was hold my hand and give me cuddles. I’m sure if this was in the UK almost every child protection regulation would have been broken, but to them I was an unfamiliar face that they had welcomed in with open arms. I gave them some of the toys, like the footballs so we could all play a game together. I told Naima that it’s probably best if she handed out the rest of the toys after I had left to save any arguments between the kids of who gets what, and she agreed.
We sang songs that they had learnt in English, played catch and I split my time between each classroom which were separated by the sex of the children. I wish I had came more prepared, I was really racking my brains on what children rhymes I knew from my own childhood, so for some moments there were some blank stairs until I started singing songs such as ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Naima had told me that a lot of the children, if not most were orphans. It really pulled on my heartstrings to see such blessings be so full of life and happiness when they have little to nothing. Selfishly it’s a humbling experience and I wish I could have done more, and I will do more, when I can. The school day ended around 12 in the afternoon & Naima handed me a gift, a purple scarf as a thank you for visiting.
On the way to dropping me back to Stone Town, Alexander told me he needed to stop off at the market. As we arrived, it was busy. Like, really busy. The place smelt like fish and people were looking at me as if they had just seen an alien land in broad daylight. I followed Alexander through the winding fruit and veg stalls, trying to hold my breath as we passed without looking rude, until we arrived at the final destination of the spice stall. Alexander made his order, paid, turned around to face me and handed me a pot of pilau rice seasoning, chicken seasoning and a bag full of fresh cinnamon sticks. Puzzled, I asked Alexander what this was about and he said that his wife had mentioned my love for Pilau rice (I had told her about the spice tour I went to the day before) and these are a gift from them both to remember them when I return back to London.
I honestly couldn’t believe it, the straight face of Alexander handing me over these goods as if it was nothing, Naima gifting me her scarf without wanted anything in return. The generosity of these people was incredible. I felt immensely humbled that for someone who doesn’t have that much are still able to give. All I had done was visit the school for a couple of hours, drop of some gifts and play with the children- not much at in my eyes.
I am still in contact with Alexander via Whatsapp, so if you would like to visit the school and do something similar (or better yet, take a couple of months off to teach the little ones English) do drop me an email and I can help you arrange it.
Afternoon of Day 7- Stone Town Tour
Having been dropped back to Stone Town, it was time for my final excursion- theStone Town Tour. Understandably it’s a little backward to have a tour of the town your’e staying in on the day that your’e leaving but hey, it was the only time I could fit it in amongst everything else.
The tour, once again, was organised by Serenity Experience. It was a guided tour and I walked across the whole of Stone Town, visiting certain historical points, including the Old Slave Market. We stopped off where Freddie mercury was born and the tour guide went into detail about Freddie’s life and ended with- “he was also a homosexual, so we do not like him”(breathe Rosie)… It was very insightful, a heart-sting pulling experience and an overall great end to my time in Zanzibar.
If your’e thinking about going to Zanzibar, go! Being a solo female traveller over there, iv’e never felt more safe. Obviously I wasn’t roaming the streets late at night on my own, but the people of Zanzibar are lovely and are always happy to help a foreigner.
A few tips- cover up. Purely out of respect as it is a muslim country. When it comes to buying from the market, you can of course haggle, but remember it’s a developing country and its not always cool to be a tight ass. Just pay the money. I paid $22 for 2 Dashiki’s which I know full well I could buy for £5 at Peckham Market, but I paid it, you must support the community whilst your’e there. Another tip is on tipping. It’s not always expected, but most of the time it is. I would just tip where possible but there’s been a few awkward occasions where iv’e paid and they stand there waiting for more money. It’s not America so they wont chase you out of the restaurant, but you might as well just give them some change whilst you can, it’s polite out there to do so.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. Not just visiting Zanzibar but spending some alone time on my 25th birthday. I re-charged and I returned home with my heart and belly full. This place was more than what I had expected, and i’d recommend it to anyone to go and visit.