Zanzibar is an equatorial paradise, with a warm climate and year around temperatures between 82 and 91 degrees. It is a perfect place to unwind and relax after a few safari days in East Africa. We flew from the Seronera air strip in Serengeti to Arusha and then made our way to the island in a small 13 seater Cessna aircraft run by Regional Air. We were looking forward to exploring Stone Town and enjoying the sun on the shores of the warm Indian Ocean at Park Hyatt Zanzibar.
Warm Swahili smiles welcomed us at the entrance of Park Hyatt as soon as our car doors opened. We were picked up from the airport in a comfortable SUV and handed cold towels and water bottles. Highly recommend arranging for a car service directly from the hotel. Located right on the edge of StoneTown, our base to experiencing Zanzibar was from the five-star Park Hyatt Zanzibar. The lobby was bright and open and had an understated elegance to it that we have come to expect with Park Hyatt properties. Unparalleled yet luxury with a personal touch is a standard here. The check-in was seamless and we made our way to the Living Room restaurant to get some lunch before heading up to our rooms.
View from our little plane, before landing in Zanzibar
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History of Park Hyatt Zanzibar
Sitting majestically on the beachfront, the hotel is housed in two buildings, one of them, UNESCO Heritage site Mambo Msiige, a building steeped
in history and grace, dating back to the 17th century. Mambo Msiige is a striking example of a traditional Zanzibari mansion with its Omani style arches, intricately carved wooden doors and lovely courtyard. Mambo Msiige sits on the most westerly point of the Shangani beach front in the heart of Stone Town.
Zanzibar and the island is defined by its intricate tapestry of people, history, culture and tradition, tightly woven into its very being. The Portuguese, having arrived on the island during the 15th century, remained there until the end of the 17th century, before being ousted by the Omani Arabs. Then, in 1840, Sultan Said moved his court from Muscat to Zanzibar. This marked the true beginnings of Park Hyatt Zanzibar. Mambo Msiige was built between 1847 and 1850 by Sheikh Salim bin Bushir bin Salim al Harthi, a wealthy and prominent Swahili tradesman from a prominent Omani tribe and a dear friend of SeyyidSaid, the then ruler of Zanzibar. The story goes that Sheikh Salim built Mambo Msiige to compete with two rich friends, Sheikh Abdalla and Sheikh Suleyman Habib. It remains the only building of the original three still standing. Sadly, Sheikh Salim became embroiled in the failed 1859 coup of Seyyid Bargash and Seyyid Majid confiscated the mansion. He was later executed in December 1889.
Courtyard and the ancient mango tree
Living Room Restaurant
Chandeliers in the Hallway
Outside Terrace and beach
Breakfast spread with choices of fresh jams
When in the tropics, get a little crazy for coconuts
Outside Terrace with bright bougainvilleas
Park Deluxe King, photo by the Hotel
Rooms in Park Hyatt Zanzibar
We had a Park Deluxe King and a Park Deluxe Twin rooms with a little balcony that opened to the views of the Indian Ocean. In the mornings we woke up to sounds of fishermen getting their boats ready for the day. Some days there was a group of women exercising, there were also a couple of boys making a seat out of sand and watching all the morning action from their comfortable perch. Park Hyatt Zanzibar features 67 luxuriously appointed guestrooms, including 11 suites, that have balcony with expansive views. The best part was the mornings waking up to room service coffee and fruits and the sounds of island.
Activities in Zanzibar
Beyond the elegant, ocean front rooms and the spectacular terrace, where you can enjoy sundowners while watching sensational sunsets, Park Hyatt Zanzibar offers unique experiences. For lovers of the ocean, there is fantastic snorkeling, kite surfing, sunset Dhow cruises, a giant turtle sanctuary and an abundance of colorful sea life and a very secret beach. Once we heard about this sand bank beach that disappears at high tide, we decided to go check it out.
Nakupenda, a secret beach in Zanzibar
The next morning we packed our swimsuits and went on a short boat ride to a secret beach. Nakupenda Sandbank, one of the best eight secret beaches in the world, is just a 20-minute boat ride away. Our guide met us at the lobby and took us to the small boat that was waiting for us right in front of the hotel. We made our way to the little strip of sand in the middle of the ocean. We had the whole beach to ourselves except for a mama who was setting up a make shop to sell some fish and crafts and tow other girls. We walked from one end of the strip of sand to other. It is a perfect picnic location or for simply laying in the sand. Once the tide rises the strip of land is submerged in water. After a few hours, creating memories that last long after the last sun has set over the magnificent Indian Ocean, we left back on the boat leaving only a few footprints that will soon be erased by the rising tide.
Stone Town and the doors of Zanzibar
Little has changed in Stone Town over the last 200 years. The town is an unique blend of Arabic and African cultural influences that originate from the 19th century, when Zanzibar Island served as a center for the trade of spices and slaves. During this period Zanzibar, also known as the ‘Spice Island’, was the most important trading hub along the east coast of Africa. Today, with the crumbling streets of Stone Town is filled with rich aromas of spices, perfumes and local handcrafts. You can also take a spice tour to visit the plantations and sample clove, nutmeg, vanilla, black pepper, and coriander that is grown here. Walking though the maze and the markets felt like we were transported back in time.
We followed our guide around Stone Town’s labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling markets, mosques, as he pointed out the different Zanzibari doors. Each featuring magnificent ornate wooden carvings tell its own stories of residents. When a house was built in Zanzibar, the door was traditionally the first part to be erected. The greater the wealth and social position of the owner of the house, the larger and more elaborately carved his front door. Some doors has quotations from the Koran others had patterns of palms and lotuses. The lotuses could be associated with Egyptian fertility symbols, and the fish could possibly the ancient fish-god of the Egyptians explained our guide.
Forodhani Gardens and other attractions
Zanzibar’s other key attractions are easily accessible by foot from the Park Hyatt as well. We walked through the Old Fort, the Old Dispensary, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Palace Museum, the House of Wonders and Forodhani Gardens, where they were all kinds of street food vendors. We stayed around watched the sunset against the breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and dhow boats all the while thinking just across this ocean is India. The oldest carved door in Zanzibar, which dates from 1694, is now the front door of the Peace Memorial Museum in Zanzibar Town.
Street food at Forodhani Market
The local currency in Zanzibar is the Tanzanian Shilling; the exchange rate is roughly 1 US$ to 2200 shillings. Most places accept US dollars but it works out a bit cheaper if you pay in shillings.
Zanzibar was once called ‘spice island’, we found some version of Indian food every where – from samosas to briyani to chapatti and lentils were on the menu. A must try item is Zanzibar Mix (known as Urojo in Zanzibar), which is an Indian inspired Zanzibari Tanzanian bowl of curry soup with lots of toppings. Potatoes, chickpeas, fried bhajias, peanuts and an assortment of the crunchy things make the base. Then it is covered in a light creamy curry sauce and finally topped with a handful of cassava of potato chips, some fresh coconut chutney, and a pile of hot pili pili chili sauce. Down it with local Kilimanjaro beer.
While spices make good souvenirs, you can also buy woven straw bags and other wood cravings. One of my favorites from the trip was a ring with a Tanzanite Cabochon and some mini wooden doors from a little wood workshop.
The local language in Zanzibar is Swahili, but most people like vendors and hotel staff speak a bit of English. Two good words to know are Asante (Swahili for thank you) and Hakuna Matata (Swahili for no problem) which seems to be used everywhere in East Africa. It felt more of an attitude than a phrase, everything was possible and nothing was a problem!
More information and rate information can be found at Park Hyatt Zanzibar.
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