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.



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”.

I’m staying along the beach of Matemwe, one of Zanzibar’s north-eastern villages that form part of a quieter section of the island. When I wake this morning, doused in mosquito repellent, it is to an eerie quiet. Making my way down to the shore, I see that the tide is so far out that it has met the waves that break over at the coral reef. From my perspective, it must be least 2 kilometres away, and when the tide roars back in later that afternoon, it covers a pelt of seaweed and dangerously-sharp sea urchins.

In the morning, however, men in traditional Masaai dress patrol the beach, alongside fisherwomen who stoop and bend in a continuous rhythm, doing what looks like beating the water with large, flat paddles between. After a couple minutes, I realise that this careful choreography is designed to stun the delicious octopus below the water. An hour or two later, and I am eating one of these tentacled sea creatures for my lunch.

Although Zanzibar has on offer its own unique brand of relaxation and luxury, a trip to the island is not complete without visiting the old part of the city and the true heart of the island: Stone Town.

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.

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. For the purposes of tourism, however, (and its accompanying sign and glass-protected photographs), this is, indeed, the home where the enigmatic Queen front man once lived.

Step back in time in the Secret Garden Café

This magical café is set in a dreamy, green courtyard in one of the beautifully restored buildings that form a part of the Emerson Spice Hotel. Enjoy a cup of tea or a cocktail (make that two!) and soak in your cinematic surroundings. Don’t be disappointed when you step out of the cafe and it is 2019, again!

Dine out at…

…Zanzibar’s popular Six Degrees South restaurant. Excellent services and warm, African hospitality. Try their signature dish, ‘Taste of Africa’.

Join the treasure hunt

The aptly-named Zanzibar Curio Shop is a magpie’s idea of heaven. Stocked floor to ceiling with everything from antique compasses and clocks to paintings and vintage cameras, the small Hurumzi Street store is brimming with ancient tales and histories, and will no likely remind those who have read Harry Potter of J.K. Rowling’s bustling Diagon Alley.

Visit Forodhani Gardens

Take a stroll through the Forodhani Gardens, a magical strip of green that melts into the town’s sea front. A hive of street food, locals and tourists alike, be sure to make time for a Nutella pancake and a rest under the generous shade of several wide-boughed trees. Better yet, don’t miss the sunset from one of the strategically-placed benches along the esplanade (or a snack in one of the seafront restaurants). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the impressive acrobatics of the groups of young school boys who spend the afternoon jumping into the water once school breaks up.

When it is finally time to head back to your stay of choice (accommodation ranges from 5-Star resorts to surf backpackers designed to get you up on the board in no time), don’t expect to shake off the magic of the Old Town. Labyrinthine Stone Town and its rich tapestry of sounds, tastes and smells is bound to follow you into your dreams, ensuring the most peaceful of nights. Provided you brought your mosquito repellent, of course!

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