Zanzibar. I have waited for years to see this spice island whose name runs off the tongue like golden, vanilla treacle.
I arrive at the beautiful Zanzibar Serena Inn hotel. Idyllically situated on the seafront of ancient Stone Town, and flanked by an exotic mix of sultan's palaces, Portuguese forts, ancient dhow harbours and bright bazaars, the hotel is the epitome of Swahili style.
With high ceilings, shuttered windows and cool white walls, the rooms are constructed in the traditional Swahili manner, adorned with antique plates and brass lamps
There is the suggestion of a breeze, floating over the ocean in the setting sun. I walk outside onto my balcony after a glorious shower and drink in the sultry night and the softly lapping waves just beneath me.
Daniel, the charming manager of the hotel joins me for dinner in the rooftop restaurant. The waiter greets me by name and puts a bangle of jasmine on my arm. It is these little details that make this hotel so very special.
“...reminds me of a James Bond set...”
I fall asleep that night to the sound of the soft waves and the aroma of spice in the night air. The next morning after a scrumptious breakfast, a Stone Town tour awaits.
The town reminds me of a James Bond set with its narrow alleyways and bustling crowds. My guide tells me the fascinating and turbulent history of this island as we stride along.
Zanzibar's main industries are spices, raffia, and tourism. In particular, the islands produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. For this reason, the islands, together with Tanzania's Mafia Island, are sometimes called the Spice Islands.
Stone Town is the capital and a World Heritage Site, making it a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. The market, noises, smells, alleyways and chaos everywhere exhibit the inhabitants in all their colours, their clothes, their voices and their smiles.
I try to change my Precision Air flight to stay longer, but to no avail – one day simply isn’t nearly enough to even begin to glimpse the wonders of the lovely Serena and to uncover the magic and mysteries of Stone Town. I console myself with the fact that I will be back soon.
Back to paradise
And so it is. Jump forward two weeks or so and I am on an early 1Time flight, grateful to leave a freezing Johannesburg, on my way back to paradise. This time we head straight to the coast, our destination Mapenzi Sandies Beach Resort.
The resort is as relaxed and informal as the name implies. It is barefoot beauty, the design and decor reflecting the island’s Arab influences.
And here’s the thing about Mapenzi – it is All Inclusive! Aren’t those just two of the most beautiful words in any language?
Our room is rather perfunctory and smells a bit like disinfectant, but the sea view is gorgeous and we are metres from the palm-fringed white beach.
Meals are served in the main dining room and all are buffet. Activities here include daily entertainment for kids and adults, water sports and scuba diving, two swimming pools and a beach area especially for kiddies.
The following morning we set of to Sandies’ adjacent elegant sister resort, Diamonds Dream of Zanzibar - a gargantuan trek of about 100 meters down the beach.
Located on the East Coast of Zanzibar, Diamonds is a superb five star (also all-inclusive) resort nestled in the midst of exotic gardens on the beach front at Pwani Machangani overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean.
It offers 155 rooms and suites, with five restaurants providing an exceptional variety of dining options. e are welcomed with a eucalyptus cloth and cool watermelon drink before being escorted to our beautiful junior suite.
The rooms are huge, with DSTV and air con that works! We made ourselves comfortable with pina coladas by the pool before lunch.
And then lunch - what a splendid affair! As we emerge from our room into the sultry damp dusk much later after an afternoon snooze, the aroma of barbeque wafts up to greet us from the beach. Dinner is an all-African buffet affair on the beach and they really go all out.
We laze about the pool the next day like sedentary tourists, but the resort has a million activities to offer families – a water sports centre with catamaran, windsurfing and canoes; bicycles; a multi-sports court, tennis court and jogging trail; beach volleyball; beach soccer and daily recreation activities for kids.
Our last day brings with it frolicking on the beach, playing volleyball and just generally behaving like the big children we are. The evening’s entertainment offers an incredible display of Masai jumping which leaves me speechless and hypnotised.
And then, like a beautiful dream, our trip is over before it properly began. I look back from the air at the island that will always have with it a piece of my heart.