After an exciting, exhausting, few days on safari back in August, we arrived in Zanzibar dusty and desperate for relaxation. …We had booked a stay at Echo Beach Hotel, a tiny little place on a vast stretch of sand the colour and silky consistency of icing sugar, lapped by the deliciously warm seas of the Indian Ocean.
I was amazed at how undeveloped this south eastern part of the island is. Just a handful of hotels have sprung up along miles of beach – no danger of ever having to play sardines with fellow tourists here then! Indeed, when we went for strolls along it, we’d invariably meet local kids wanting a game of football, fishermen and women hauling their catches from the sea and, once, a couple of Maasai warriors whose opening gambit was ‘English? Liverpool? You’ll never walk alone!’ Football is a national obsession, we soon realised.
Echo Beach Hotel has just ten, beautifully bohemian, thatched roof casitas. I particularly appreciated the outdoor day beds – just the place to catch up on all the books I’d packed. The interiors are quirkily decorated. They could do with a refurb as they’re starting to look a little tired around the edges (and our shower inexplicably had water that seemed to flow away from the drain!) but it’s also a charming place and we didn’t really mind – maybe we’d got into the whole African ‘Hakuna Matata’ (no worries) mindset!
Then there’s a lovely pool, and a bar and restaurant in an impressive, vaulted open sided building, with ocean views and breezes. And that’s it. No karaoke and quiz nights, no disco, no aqua aerobics…Thank the lord!
Now if it we’d been staying here for a couple of weeks, Master and Miss Gallivant may have got a little bored. We had just five nights, though, so it was perfect and oh so casual…
The food here is excellent. Echo Beach Hotel is owned by Brits Sue and Andrew. He just happens to be a cordon bleu chef and has cooked in the past for celebs and politicians (including Margaret Thatcher, Sue told us). Well if it was good enough for Maggie…. Unsurprisingly the catches of the day (my favourites were tuna and kingfish) were always plucked straight from the sea that morning and perfectly cooked and we felt super healthy eating so much seafood. Although we did rather undo some of the good work by taking full advantage of the yummy desserts. Oh well…
We had no intention of doing lots of sightseeing. The chance to see endangered red colobus monkeys in the Jozani Forest was appealing, but we had done so much wildlife watching already. And there was that beach beckoning….We did venture out for a day in Stone Town, the island’s capital. It’s a fascinating place, with a maze of tiny streets and some incredible architecture – with not just East African but also Arabic, Indian, Persian and European influences. There’s faded grandeur all around and, indeed, many of the buildings are crumbling away, despite the whole town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It’s sad. We meandered along the seafront, past the magnificent Old Dispensary and the House of Wonders – once the Sultan’s Palace, now a museum of Swahili and Zanzibar culture (but currently closed because a ceiling fell down!). Then we headed over to the Old Fort, the very first stone building to have been built here. And in between it all was an enticing jumble of shops and bazaars, peddling spices, antiques, jewellery, wood carvings and paintings.
It was a sizzlingly hot day and by now we were tired and in need of sustenance, so we stopped for lunch at the Teahouse Restaurant on the rooftop at the Emerson on Hurumzi hotel, where we sat cross legged on cushions and enjoyed cooling sea breezes, 360 degree views over town and ocean, seafood salads and refreshing mint and lemon coolers.
We then had a guide to show us around The Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church, built at the end of the 19th century on the site of what was the biggest slave market on the island – and one of the last remaining in the world. We saw the spot where the slaves were tied to a tree and flogged to test their mettle – those that didn’t cry out were sold, those that did were killed. This was all only if they had already survived being shipped here in cramped dhow boats, then incarcerated in underground ‘pits’ where fifty of more poor souls were crammed into a tiny space. Many suffocated. There’s an onsite museum giving more information, as well as a memorial to the slaves. It’s a distressing subject but one that it seems important to learn about. David Livingstone was largely responsible for the abolition of slavery here, after he visited the island and reported back to Queen Victoria, who then put pressure on the Sultan of Zanzibar who eventually shut down trade on the island.
It was such an interesting day but by the end of it we were ready for that beach again. Most of our days were spent here, splashing around in the sea, snorkelling or swimming in the pool.
Master and Miss Gallivant loved Andrew and Sue’s two plump basset hounds, who would often appear for some tummy tickling before waddling off to lie under a palm tree on the beach. Maybe a dog’s life isn’t so bad after all!
We stayed at Echo Beach Hotel after our safari (which you can read all about here). The 13 day Tanzania: Northern Parks and Zanzibar itinerary from Safari and Beach includes one night on arrival near Arusha, five nights on safari and five nights at Echo Beach Hotel on Zanzibar. Prices start from around £12,000 for a family of four up to about £14,000 in high season. The price includes international and local flight and transfers, services of a private safari guide/driver, park entrance fees, full board accommodation (including drinks) in camps and lodges on safari and half board at Echo Beach Hotel, Zanzibar. For details call 01548 854125 and have a chat or visit www.safariandbeach.com