Dream Escape: A well-preserved, secret spot for diving – Zanzibar

‘Tis the season to satiate your wanderlust cravings, so why not do something you have always dreamt of? Slow down in Slovenia, or get ready to live your diving dream in Zanzibar; soak in the Sakura season in Japan or feel the calm at one of the monasteries, or maybe take the road less trodden in the reclusive city of Jaffna, just as these travel writers did. Make the most of your precious holidays in 2017 and get a slice of your own paradise…

A well-preserved, secret spot for diving – Zanzibar.

Diving and snorkelling have emerged as favourite holiday activities for many. While destinations such as Thailand, Philippines, closer home Andamans and even far flung places like French Polynesia have emerged as great diving destinations; there are a few pristine spots where the tourism is not too developed as yet. Hence the facilities aren’t very top-notch but what they lack in growth, they make up for in experiences which are more immersive, less crowded and promising more of an adrenalin rush than the usual. Zanzibar is one such place.

Located off the eastern coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an island steeped in history. Its centuries old ties with India are evident in its houses and buildings carrying Gujarati inscriptions. Zanzibar was a major trade centre with an economy of spices, ivory and slaves. At various times in its history, Zanzibar was under Portuguese, Arab and British rule. This also contributed to similarities between India and Zanzibar. Today, Zanzibar is to Tanzania what Hong Kong is to China. It has a semi-autonomous government within Tanzania and is often called the African Hong Kong.

Zanzibar consists of Zanzibar Island (locally known as Unguja), Pemba Island and many smaller islands. Zanzibar island itself is approximately only about 90km long and 40km wide. It has its own airport and many international flights reach here directly but you could also come via Dar-es-Salaam. From there, Zanzibar is a short 20-minute flight or a 2-hr ferry ride away. Zanzibar is about 1800 kms from Seychelles so you can picture its beaches and marine life by imagining its more famous neighbour in the sea.

The most popular beaches of Zanzibar are Kendwa, Nungwi, Paje, Kiwengwa etc. These are the ones most popular with tourists. However, my favourite beaches in Zanzibar were the quieter Pongwe and Bwejuu. I prefer snorkelling to diving and my snorkelling experiences in Zanzibar were no lesser than the ones in Thailand or Australia. I saw a wide variety of fish and coral. The entire coastline is renowned for its stunning beaches and unspoiled marine life. On the main island, the stretch reaching from Kizimkazi through Jambiani, Paje, Bwejuu, Pongwe to Michamvi is often referred to as the secret coast of Zanzibar diving, where mass tourism has still not spoiled the authenticity of the experience.

More serious diving enthusiasts typically head to Pemba island about 50 kms away from main Zanzibar island.  There are many resorts and many PADI-certified diving companies who take the divers to various diving sites around Zanzibar. Zanzibar is reputed to have some of the best diving in the world, and the coral reef structures that surround Unguja and Pemba ensure that the marine life is abundant.

Good visibility (20 – 60 metres) and a year-round average water temperature of 27°c ensure that you enjoy your Zanzibar diving experience, or can also use this non-crowded site for learning to dive or upgrading your diving qualification.

Diving in Zanzibar isn’t restricted to beginners. Experienced scuba divers can enjoy exciting wall dives, night dives and drift dives all available near Pemba island. In deeper waters, lush coral gardens often stretch as far as the eye can see, and large gamefish (barracuda, kingfish, tuna and wahoo) hunt together with large Napoleonic wrasse, graceful manta rays and sharks. Shallower waters are the playground of tropical fish, including a huge variety of Indo-Pacific marine fauna.

When you are done with a day of diving and snorkelling, you can enjoy local food. A lot of Zanzibari dishes are like Indian cuisine as their climate is the same and they grow and use the same spices as us. Stone Town is the centre of the town bustling with many street food stalls and restaurants. Apart from the historic sites and the slave memorial, the unique thing that will catch your attention are the doors of the houses in the narrow by-lanes of Stone Town. So when you plan a beach and diving trip to Zanzibar, keep an eye on these too. Zanzibar has a colourful scape both above and below the sea.

The cherry on the cake is that Indians don’t need a prior visa to enter Zanzibar. Get your swimming and diving gear out!

– Ansoo Gupta is the COO of Pinstorm – a digital marketing firm. She has travelled to almost 70 countries and has founded One Shoe Trust for Responsible & Mindful Travels to raise awareness about environment issues climate change and responsible tourism.