A Cosmopolitan Paradise

Just off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar, or as it is called in Swahili – Unguja – has captured the hearts and imaginations of those who visit its glittering shores for centuries. Under the guise of a self-imposed writing retreat, Megan Ross discovers why this is so.


If you’re meandering along Kenyatta Road, make a stop at Mercury House

You might see the front door of the home where Farrokh Bulsara, or as we now know him: Freddy Mercury, lived. I say might, because there are plenty who argue that his actual home is further down the road and occupied by another Zanzibari family.

With palm-fronted beaches and blindingly white shores, it’s not at all difficult to see why this famous East African island has been a favourite locale for travellers ranging from honeymooners to backpackers. Beneath the postcard prettiness, however, is a complex, cosmopolitan and captivating island with a rich history teaming with stories.




The warm sea is inviting; its sand soft and white as castor sugar. With each roll of the swell, the sand stirs so that by the time that the wave breaks, it’s frothed to milkshake.

The hour-and-a-half journey by taxi from the island’s airport to Matemwe village may have been bumpy the previous evening, but thanks to the paradisiacal views of my new seaside paradise, the trip has long since faded from my mind. Meals of prawn, line -fish and squid (and mango salad!) are served with Kilimanjaro beer and $3 waters. The coffee is good, although not as strong as I anticipated; the breeze is strong enough to offset the characteristic humidity and the living is slow – or, as locals will tell you in Kiswahilli, “pole pole”.

                When in Stone Town




“Zanzibar was the Paris of Africa,” explained Tanzanian filmmaker, Amil Shivji, the night before my sojourn to the Old Town. “It was the first country in Africa to have both an elevator and a cinema – three, in fact, before any other country on the continent.”


The elevator in question is still housed in the magnificent House of Wonders, a veritable Zanzibari landmark, which you will find facing Stone Town’s magnificent seafront in Mizingani Road. The tallest building in all of Stone Town, it is next to a market-filled courtyard, inside which you can get Henna tattoos, buy curios and watch crafts people work an old fashioned, pedal-functioning loom by foot.