• Charles Odeny

Zanzibar: A taste of Africa's Spice Islands

Often referred to as the "Spice Islands", the archipelago of Zanzibar is made up of a necklace of islands that bead their way down the shore of East Africa, off the coast of Tanzania.

There's the main island, which has a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its capital, sister island Pemba, with its extensive clove plantations and the neighboring Mafia Archipelago, known for its majestic coral reefs and whale sharks

Spice trade

Spices have long been a pillar of Zanzibar's trade-heavy economy.Zanzibar City, with its UNESCO-listed historic center Stone Town, is the heart of this Indian Ocean archipelago, positioned 25 miles east of the Tanzanian mainland.

The Portuguese and Chinese introduced spices such as garlic, cacao and chili to the islands several centuries ago.

Zanzibar, as a result, has capitalized on its history as the world's "Spice Islands" -- a title also claimed by Indonesia's Maluku archipelago -- to become a popular destination for eco-tourists and food fans alike.

Zanzibar spice tours provide an intense, detailed introduction to the region's rich botanical and cultural heritage, as well as its dark history as the Africa Great Lakes region's main slave-trading port.

The largest island in an archipelago of dozens, Zanzibar is actually named Unguja but referred to as Zanzibar colloquially.

Several islands hug its shores tightly including Chumbe and Mnemba, and while it's laced with many beautiful salt-white beaches, Nungwi, Matemwe, Jambiani and Bwejuu are considered the loveliest.

The island holds dozens of hotels that cater to every penchant and pocket.

The exotic extends in the island's ancient and prodigious spice trade -- lush little farms flourish here, while vanilla and pepper vines clamber into clove and cinnamon trees.

No trip to Zanzibar would be complete without a visit to its capital Stone Town, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island's flamboyant capital is imbued with cultural piquancy and chock full of glorious old buildings, testament to its colorful history. The House of Wonders, or Beit-al-Ajaib, stands majestic on the waterfront, its impressive facade standing sentinel over the shore.

Meanwhile the Slave Market is a harrowing reminder of the horrors of human trafficking while The Old Customs House, built in 1865, serves as a memento from the island's time as a busy trading post.

Off the coast of Zanzibar, a new partly-submerged hotel suite has been created, where guests can sleep beneath the Indian Ocean without so much as getting their hair wet. The three-storey Manta Underwater Room is anchored 250 metres off Pemba island, and it has a floating, open-plan living area, an upper sun deck and, beneath the surface, a double bedroom with windows out onto the underwater world. For those who don't mind getting their hair wet, there's a ladder so that guests can dip in and out of the sea and swim among it.

Whilst the islands presents the perfect option to sit on the beach and do precisely nothing other than watch the sea and the sky, you can get active with kayaking and snorkeling opportunities.

It's easy to let Zanzibar's lush surroundings convince you you're getting a good tour when you really aren't.

At Acacia Holidays, we are going to provide the added history and context that will make your trip extra-special.

You can visit Zanzibar at the end of any East African safari available at https://www.acaciaholidays.com/itineraries

Micah Spangler is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in CNN, The Daily Beast, VICE, Maxim, The Week, and more.