After spending an amazing week in Paje, we were drawn to Nungwi, in the northern part of Zanzibar. Once there, we were simply overwhelmed by the azure blue of the water. No Instagram filter could ever outdo this color play by nature. The dazzling kites that provided Paje’s charm were out of place here, and in fact only a couple of umbrellas graced the skies. Otherwise, the surface of the water belonged wholly to the wooden fishing boats.
Hotel Z—Our little oasis
As a confirmed AirBnB customer and skeptical Tripadvisor reader, I didn’t have any great expectations for the hotels in Africa. But the Z Hotel was truly an amazing surprise! Gorgeous, well-tended grounds with a pool in the middle. The rooms are beautiful and comfortably furnished, and the standard of service is excellent, which stood us in good stead when Kevin came down with a fever and we needed a doctor. The whole staff promptly took care of it and procured a local doctor.
The bush doctor—a slightly different experience
Imagine you’re in a foreign country that’s not exactly known for having the best doctors, and then a little local doctor comes into the hotel room in his white gown, with a stethoscope around his neck and a plastic bag full of medication. Some of the meds were already expired, and others were right on the verge. Luckily, he quickly realized that Kevin didn’t have anything serious, and he took his leave with three medications, a quick test for malaria, and a $100 bill. A frightening picture that definitely taught us both that we needed to put together a better first-aid kit.
Diving—When the reviews are better than the reality
In spite of the inviting deck chairs by the pool, our goal was to hit the diving school instead, since the diving area in northern Zanzibar is supposed to be one of the world’s best according to a lot of reviews. The schools are lined up beside each another along the beach, but the Spanish Dancer Divers school had us convinced at first sight: cool buddies at the reception desk and qualified instructors. They don’t have their own pool, which I quickly realized during my refresher course, and they do their training lessons right in the ocean. The boat they have for the dives looks more like a slow-moving fishing boat, but they’re still the cheapest and coolest school on the whole beach. Luckily, they also accept credit cards as payment. I’d instantly go diving with them again, but unfortunately not in Zanzibar. To be honest, I was really disappointed with the underwater experience there. Cloudy water, practically no fish, and a desolate underwater landscape with isolated coral islands. Maybe you shouldn’t expect anything else, with dozens of boats bringing tourists to the same place and the diving trails looking more like a road network. Unfortunately, you don’t see that until you’re there, which is why I’m happy to give you an idea with the video.
Food—Almost like home
Whoever is hoping for magical dishes from the spice island of Zanzibar needs to know the right places! It’s actually too bad that the tourist industry serves up dishes designed to appeal to European tastes. Someone from England would hardly know the difference. Of all the restaurants we went to for dinner, we can recommend two: the atmospheric Langi Langi, with its well-spiced dishes and, right nearby, the simple but nice Baraka, which also sets up tables on the beach so that guests can enjoy their cocktails while admiring the sunset and, later, the starry skies. Reservations are an absolute must!
Diving with the turtles
At the other end of the village of Nungwi is a turtle aquarium—a unique opportunity to swim in a natural salt water-filled pool with about 20 turtles. The turtles are brought there by the local fishermen as a precaution, in case they accidentally catch them in their fishing nets and injure them.
The aquarium accepts the animals in return for a small amount of money, which means that healthy animals are also sometimes brought there. Since turtle meat has long been considered a delicacy, the owners of the aquarium are happy to receive the animals instead of seeing them eaten. The turtles themselves love to eat seaweed, which we were allowed to feed them. It can get really uncomfortable fast when the hungry animals swim over to you and try to bite every green thing in sight. Turtles are beautiful animals, which makes this excursion a one-of-a-kind experience in Zanzibar.
We booked an approximately 2-hour outing with guide through the village for $20 per person. You can also visit the aquarium by yourself, since admission is free. The village doesn’t offer much, so the $20 fee for the guide is justified. If you want, you can follow the main street through the village and gather your own impressions. If you want to take pictures, be sure to always get consent from the adults.
For a visit to the aquarium, it’s better to go as early as possible, so at around 7 or 8 am, since most tourists come later, and that way you have the whole pool to yourself. You need to also keep an eye out for low and high tides. Open times for feeding and swimming with the turtles are only during low tide. Bring along swimming gear. You can borrow diving masks and snorkels on site so that you can see the turtles better.