Background information; by edgardowelelo@yahoo.com


How long Tanzania’s Indian Ocean Coastline?

Answer; 1,300 km long.

Swahili means “coastal’ in Arabic, and the Swahili coast refers to Tanzania’s coastline and islands, a beautiful and historic region rich in history, natural beauty, art and culture. Ancient Greek manuscript show that the east coast of Africa was visited by sailing vessels in classical times. They referred to the coast as Azania, hence the name Tanzania (Tan – Tanganyika: Zan – Zanzibar: and Azania). In the ninth or tenth centuries came Shirazi Persians from modern day Iran, sailing their ancient dhows across the Indian Ocean. Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Indonesian merchants and pirates, traders and adventurers, all arrived over the centuries during which the Swahili Coast was the center of a thriving commercial civilization, with its own language, economy and artistic traditions. Today, reminders of the Swahili coast’s magnificent past can be found up and down the length of Tanzania. The brassbound chests and heavy wooden doors of the Swahili Empire are found far inland, imported originally by the Arabic slave traders who led caravans into the interior in search of fortune. On the coast itself, crumbling mosques nestle among palm trees by white beaches and Persian baths lie ruined in the remains of ancient villas.

Swahili Coastal Places to visit


Six Kilometers south of Stone Town, surrounded by pristine coral reef, Chumbe Island Coral Park is one of the world’s most successful eco – tourism projects. In 1994 the reef surrounding Chumbe Island was named Tanzania’s first Marine National Park. The island itself, covered with lush coral rag forest, is a designated forest reserve. Visitors can come for the day to snorkel over the incredible coral reef, home to over 370 species of fish, turtles and dolphins. To experience Chumbe Island properly, stay the night in one of the seven “eco – bandas” that nestle in the forest. Each is a two storey, private cottage constructed out of local materials and decorated with shells, drift wood and colorful local fabrics. Water and energy on Chumbe are self – sustaining and provided by nature – the roofs of the bandas and the educational center have been designed to catch and filter rainwater, which is then heated by solar power.


Bawe Island has some of excellent snorkeling spots. Around a 30 – minute boat ride and slightly more expensive than the boat to prison Island, it is much less visited. In 1870, the island was used to anchor the first telegraph cables to Zanzibar linking it with Aden, South Africa and the Seychelles. A further line was run across to Stone Town, into the old Extelcoms building, now the Zanzibar Serena Inn. If complete isolation and privacy is what you are after, then Bawe Tropical Island is the perfect place to stay. There are 15 private cottages scattered along the beach front, all with breathtaking panoramic views of the Ocean, and all tastefully decorated in soft colors to enhance the relaxed pace of life. The beach is excellent at low tide, with unusual stone formations, and there is some good snorkeling to be had on the island’s reef.


A slightly more upmarket choice than Prison Island, Chapwani, or Grave island, is the site of a luxury hotel, but day visitors who come to eat and drink in the bar and restaurant are permitted. Chapwani is the site of a British Naval Cemetery, the final resting place of sailors who perished while serving in Zanzibar. The victims of the World War One attack on the HMS Pegasus by the German warship Konigsberg are also buried here. It is interesting to wander around the graveyard and decipher the ages and causes of death of the service men – many died from tropical disease, or were killed in skirmishes with local slavers. Chapwani also has a beautiful white sandy beach and a small population of duikers (a type of miniature antelope), as well as some interesting birdlife.


Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island, is one of the most popular destinations for day trips from Stone Town, just a short boat ride away, the island offers excellent snorkeling, a nature trail, small beach and the unusual attraction of a sanctuary for giant tortoises. Despite its name, the closest the island has come to actually being used as a prison was by its first owner, a wealthy Arab who sent unruly slaves there for discipline. In 2006, many of the islands old buildings were restored, and Changuu Private Island Paradise was opened, offering 15 deluxe cottages all on the seafront, affording maximum seclusion and privacy. There are also 12 standard rooms in the old quarantine area, with fantastic views back across to Stone Town. If swimming and snorkeling in the crystal blue waters gets too much, have a puddle in the freshwater swimming pool, or hit the ball around on the floodlit tennis court. Mathews’ restaurant offers excellent seafood lunches, and 4 course dinners, all overlooking the restored prison rain.


Pemba Island, said to have once been inhabited by a race of giants, is an untouched beauty that offers an undiluted experience of island life in the Indian Ocean. The tiny number of visitors to Pemba every year means that the island has little in the way of touring infrastructure which for alternative travelers is the main attraction. Small guest houses are dotted around the island, and there are a couple of upmarket diving hotels and resorts. There are many historical sites and ruins to explore on Pemba including a number of old mosques and tombs and the old town fort of Chake Chake. The Pujini ruins south – east of Chake chake are the remnants of a fortified town built around the 13th century. There is also Ngezi Forest, a beautiful untouched rainforest  and home to the Pemba Flying Fox, a giant bat!


Ruins close to the active port of Tanga attest to its importance as a trading post in the Swahili trading empire. The ruins, once a large mosque, include more than 40 tombs. Tanga has pleasant beaches and is a convenient point from which to visit the spectacular Usambara mountains. Just south of Tanga is Pangani, once the home of Arab slave traders, set on a lovely estuary of the Pangani River.


For a small island in the southern waters of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar has a long and un expected history. For centuries the island has been a center of slave and ivory trade. If not all trading, from central Africa to the rest of the world and was the world’s main producer of the highly valued clove spice. It is also the center of Swahili language and culture. Zanzibar is the undisputed capital of the Swahili coast. The first Europeans to encounter this vast trading network and culture around Zanzibar were the Portuguese, who arrived in the late 15th century. The Portuguese were ousted with the help of Oman, in the mid – 16th century, whose vast trade connections had been severed by the entrance of the Portuguese. Zanzibar became the seat of the Oman empire when Sultan Seyyid Said moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1840, due largely to its economic importance in the empire and unrest at home. This was to last only 50 years until the British, keen on expanding their colonial reach, declared Zanzibar a British Protectorate. This, in turn, was to last until 1963, when the British handed power back to the Sultan in a constitutional monarchy which was itself overthrown in early 1964 in a violent revolution which established the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar, which rules the country to this day.


Zanzibar has many offshore islands, which provide a stunning location for a daytrip or a longer stay. Boats to any of the islands off Zanzibar or Pemba can be hired easily from local fishermen. In Stone Town, ask at the “big tree” opposite Mercury’s restaurant on the sea front, or arrange a day trip with one of the tour companies listed in this fantastic Web site.


Bagamoyo was once the center of slave and ivory trading. It was the last point reached by the caravans of slaves who arrived here for transportation to faraway places. Today, this attractive coastal town still bears reminders of its past – the fortified house where slaves were kept while waiting for transportation still stands, as does the tree under which they were brought and sold.



Kilwa Kisiwani Island was once the trading center of the Swahili Empire. The ruins of the settlement still remain and are considered to be one of the most important Swahili historical sites in East Africa. The famous traveler and chronicler Ibn Battuta visited Kilwa in the 14th century, describing his admiration for the architecture and graceful situation of the capital city. Later the island became a trading post for slaves travelling north from Mauritius and Mozambique. The end of the town’s supremacy as a trading port came when it was ransacked ostensibly by “Cannibals,” in 1588.



The name Mafia derives from the Ma – Afir, a tribe from ancient Yemen who dominated the coast around 1000 BCE. Mafia island is the largest of an island archipelago, off the beaten track and known to only the most discerning travelers. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef so rich in marine life it has been designated a Marine Park by the Worldwide Fund for nature. A tiny population of pygmy hippo lives in the remains of an old lagoon, cut off from the mainland centuries ago. Mafia’s interesting history and stunning beaches, combined with several luxurious and discreet hotels, make it one of Tanzania’s hidden gems.

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