The Spice of Life, Zanzibar
Spice Island (Zanzibar or Unguja) is the east coast extension of Tanzania, on a miniature island out in the Indian Ocean. Just 90 miles long and 40 miles wide, Zanzibar is most famous for local spices (hence the nickname, Spice Island). Technically part of Tanzania, the safari game drives, volcanoes and baron landscapes on the mainland is absolutely nothing like the island of Zanzibar. So, forget all that you know about this African destination so far. Take the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro out of your mind and think of the absolute opposite. Yup! Kitesurfing the Zanzibar island is a blow-your-mind white-beach and clear-water tropical surprise filled with coconuts, thick, lush groves and endless downwinders.
Being here will give you tingles in places that you didn’t know existed. It is like discovering that unicorn’s are real (I know they are) or finding that chocolate bit at the bottom of your Cornetto ice-cream for the first time. It is truly magical! Think of the most idyllic Caribbean island you know of, and then times it by 10! Now, remove all the people, because Jambiani is still, amazingly, secluded and quiet. Introduce some wind, a few fishermen, a protected lagoon and a longggg sandbank. And this is what Jambiani is about!
Give me a Z… Weeeeeee!
Jambiani’s exclusive kitespot is found on the east-coast of Zanzibar’s “Spice Island”, just 5km south of the vibey town of Paje. The long sandbank between the two, offers a shallow and safe water lagoon – a calm spot with winds always blowing parallel to the shoreline, delivering smooth, flat water and waves for beginners and pros alike. Between June and September (summer) and then again December to March (winter), Jambiani attracts all water adventurists around the globe, offering unruffled lagoons, bump ’n’ jump and freestyling – it is all here.
Essentially there are 2 different trade winds here. In summer, the south-easterly side on-shore winds can assist with a traverse up to Paje and beyond (for the more advanced kiters), where the water is flat and shallow. Have a beer, chat to some locals before heading back to your accommodation or jump in a taxi back to Jambiani to do it all over again. Generally, winds blow south-easterly during the summer season (Kuzi wind) reaching 25 knots max. And then it switches to north-westerly (Kaskazi wind) in winter, reaching a maximum of around 20 knots. Either way, winds are always side on-shore and fairly reliable!
One thing to keep an eye out for is tides. And sunburn. Ok, so that’s two things, but the temperatures can soar here. Averaging 30°C air and 27°C water. It is tough to cool down, so make sure your skin is protected as much as possible. The tides are a little more tricky, and can catch you off guard if you head in the wrong direction. Fortunately, the Jambiani area is really well regulated. Essentially, launching can be tough in high tide which is why it is generally recommended for advanced kiteboarders only.
The waves kick up a fair bit here too, making it a bit of a bumpier playground for those looking for a bit of excitement. Beginners should stick to low tide – yes, it does mean a bit of a beach walk is required, but at least you’ll get out easily and safely, with a chilled flat experience – and during low tide you should get around 6 hours of kitesurfing in a day.
So, we have summer and winter covered, leaving March, April and May. And October, November. Ah, the rain!! This is the main reason most stay away during these months – the rains can be long and heavy and not so much fun.
Where to rig up?
The east side of the island is the best area for kiters. Immediately protected by a sandy base lagoon running south to north, you have a calm heaven within. A small to medium wave breaks at the reef just outside the lagoon, creating some bump ‘n’ jump. The lagoon is big at the south of the island and grows narrower the further north you go. The good news is that there is a long and lush coastline to explore.
Starting South (beginner and freeride territory) and working north into the busier, but more advanced areas …
Uhuru Beach, Jambiani
The main lagoon starts from Uhuru Beach with a low seafloor. It draws into the low-tide lagoon, which is full of flat-surfaced water and ideal for beginners and freeriders. It is a sandy safe haven for all that wish to improve their skills or learn from the beginning, in a quiet and uncluttered space.
As you move out into the deep lagoon and cross it, you will find a secret shallow spot which creates a small ideal lagoon which cannot be seen before it is entered, due to the viewing angle. It only reveals itself when you reach the lagoon and is an absolute paradise for kiteboarders. With a few kite schools about (Uhuru Kite Zanzibar and Zanzibar ProKite), you can relax knowing you will be well looked after!
The main ‘party’ town on the south coast, Paje attracts more kiters than Jambiani does. This means that the launch can be busy, and the noise a little louder than the former quaint fisherman’s town. Once again, the large lagoon exists at low tide which is created by the offshore reef offering flat and calm. As the tide comes in, the wave picks up and at high tide, kickers form closer to the shore. The neap tide keeps it flat all day long, which happens about 5 days of the year. From here you can enjoy a 20km downwinder for a fun day out.
Heading further north up the island and just south of Pingwe, you will find Breezes kite beach. Here, you will find more tourists and some all-inclusive hotel resorts making the beaches a little busier again. However, it does offer a little less protection at the base of an island spit, meaning the winds can pick up here reaching 30 knots
As we continue up the east coast of Zanzibar, we reach Kiwengwa. This is bar and beach holiday territory, but still home to a few kite clubs and beautiful beaches. If you’re wanting to try out kitesurfing with your family or on a couple’s holiday then this may be a good spot for you – luxury hotels, private beaches and one-to-one instructors can help you become a better kiteboarder.
This area is much quieter than its northern neighbours. The reason for this is that the marine agriculture in this area is high and you can only kite mid to high tide. Keep your eyes peeled for diving and snorkelling clubs who may be roaming the reefs.
Right at the northern tip of the island, Nungwi beach is tourist central. A great spot for party goers, drinkers and socialites, this spot is popular for those who wish to beach first, kiteboard second. The kiting zone is south-east of the touristy town, with a number of hotels to choose from.
Don’t be a kook. Be in the know
Zanzibar can be a bit of a confusing spot to visit if you don’t know it and its unique idiosyncrasies. Kiterr have put together some useful tips to help you to get maximum happiness here!
Dress Appropriately – We’ve talked about the heat (being so close to the equator) being relentless, so a shorty is recommended for your kiterr days. There can be some unexpected sections of coral out there too, so add booties to your packing list as well. Off the reef, it it is also important to note that Zanzibar is an Islamic destination and that means covering your shoulders and knees at all times – especially in town.
Slow Down – Zanzibar life runs “pole pole” (slowly, in Swahili). Slow down a bit and enjoy the tranquillity. It isn’t a place where things work on time, or even work at all in some cases, but it’ll be worth the wait. Soak it all in, embrace and enjoy it.
Pick and Choose – Spice Island is a walking contradiction. On one hand, it hosts incredibly humbled people and heavy poverty. The locals get paid little and they work laboriously hard to earn their keep. But then it is challenged with westernised luxury resorts and boozy bars. Decide your reasons for visiting and embrace the island in its entirety. Bars, clubs and all-inclusive hotels can be found in the north of the island around Nungwi – and calm, tranquillity can be found in the south around Jambiani.
When it rains, it pours – Long rains and short rains occur at two different times of the year. March – May is the hot, sweaty and humid monsoon season that is not great for kiters. It can get rough, unpredictable and wet! The shorter showers occur November & December which is more like our Spring. Short, sharp downpours intermittently interrupt the bright blue skies.
Think before you drink – Along the same lines as point #1. Islam prohibits drinking. This being said, there are spots where it is absolutely fine to enjoy a beer or cocktail. Generally speaking, Stone Town is not the best spot to get slurry. There are a couple of expat bars here, and beachside, but just consider that your waiter may not drink, so cut him some slack on his service – it is not a place to find a sommelier.
Tanzania ain’t Zanzibar – Mainland Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar are worlds apart, so please don’t confuse the two. In fact, consider stepping into a completely different country, because very little is the same – from politics to food, landscape, religion and culture. Almost entirely Muslim, most Zanzibari’s do not consider themselves Tanzanian, with generations originating from a hub of slave and spice trades, the historical tyranny endured makes these Zanzibari local’s think, act and believe a different way to Tanzanians.
Swahili Time – Not just a concept of slow pace (point #2), Swahili’s read time differently to the rest of the world. In fact, 01:00am doesn’t start after midnight, but 1 hour after sunrise. The time runs sunrise to sunset, which is fairly constant throughout the year due to its proximity to the equator. So, if you arrange to meet a local, specify “morning, afternoon or evening” just to be sure!
All Aboard – OK, so you arrive into Dar Es Salaam and you think, what next. Do I get the plane or the ferry? Bamboozled by choice, you remember Kiterr’s advice. Eureka! Here is our advice.
Plane – it takes about 30 minutes in a dodgy Cessna (small plane) with limited luggage allowance and maximum chance it may fall out of the sky.
Boat – a modern, high-speed ferry takes 2 hours, zips across the ocean for 23km at half the price, and runs 4 times a day. The high-speed ferry (not most other options) is the safer, comfier and more spacious option. Sit on the top deck for some awesome, breezy views or as a seasickness deterrent.
Say Hi! – Swahili is the local language and it is pretty simple to learn the basics like “Hujambo” (Hello), “Asante” (Thank you!) and “Chakula” (Food!). Now you know 4 phrases (Pole Pole being the fourth) – you’re set!
People of Zanzibar may stare, but don’t assume they always want to sell you something – many of them want to chat, smile, and find out more about you. So, best to not be a stranger and say hello!
Bad-Egg – If, like me, you enjoy a good hearty breakfast before you ride, let’s make sure you don’t waste your meal because you mistake a good-egg for a bad-egg. Eggs in Zanzibar don’t have yellow yolks. They have white yolks. It is all white. Because of the local grains, the yellow pigment doesn’t form in Tanzania chicken eggs. So, it’s all good to hoover up your breakfast in the morning even when it looks a little… un-yellow.
We’ve got your back to plan your down days (should they happen). All the usual modes of transport such as bikes, cars, taxis, etc. are available throughout the island for local transfers to help you get to where you need to be. Here are the 5 S’s of Spice Island.
Zanzibar’s capital, Stone Town, is a network of beautifully historic side streets that was once home to Freddy Mercury. Filled with stone houses, it is easy to forget where you are within this UNESCO World Heritage site. Get lost down the shaded side streets, art shops, restaurants and bars, and pick yourself up a souvenir to take back home.
With a spice trade dating back to the 16th Century, it would be rude to not find out what all the fuss is about. Discover the history and importance of their local produce, how it arrived, and try, taste and purchase some for yourself. Take a guided tour to give back to the locals and get a full insight into the nicknamed Spice Island, Zanzibar.
When the wind is low, but you still want a day on the water, take things pole pole and enjoy Zanzibar at a different pace. Jump on a SUP and access parts of Zanzibar that are otherwise impossible to reach, through the mangrove-filled, yet endangered environments on the South East of the island. Contribute towards the reforestation movement to help protect the lush forests and book with a local tour.
Jump aboard a local Dhow boat and enjoy a bumpy ride out into the Indian Ocean. A unique experience but a must, that will give you access to a solitary island for some snorkelling, swimming, seafood and sealife.
If you’re feeling a bigger balance is required, then why not twin your Tanzania experience with some mainland time. Northern Tanzania’s Serengeti will give you a chance to see the big 5 up close, and is routed along the unique wildebeest migration and the beautifully peaking Kilimanjaro Mountain.