After spending more than 17 days exploring The Seychelles and Aldabra Atoll we disembarked in Zanzibar, the island gateway to East Africa. Zanzibar City sits on the west side of the island of Unguja in the Zanzibar Archipelago and its charming Stone Town holds a great deal of historical significance into the shaping of the region. We spent a couple of nights here on our way into the wilds of Tanzania. Here are a just a few impressions from a very brief stopover.
Stone Town is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium. The ruling Islamic dynasty of Zanzibar and its foreign merchants became very rich and embellished the Stone Town with palaces and fine mansions. These were built in a variety of styles and traditions, which were amalgamated and homogenized into a characteristic Swahili architecture. In addition the east African slave trade, started by the Portuguese, assumed large proportions in the 18th century, when slaves were required in large numbers especially for the French sugar plantations in the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. We visited the oldsite where the Slave Market took place as it has been preserved almost exactly. Quite a moving experience to imagine the horrors that took place here.
During our short stay on Zanzibar we made a surgical strike outside the city to search for a rare primate that is only found here – the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. …and we got lucky with some up close views.
From Zanzibar we ventured westward by small plane to Arusha, the gateway to beautiful wild areas in the north and western parts of Tanzania. We were met by our guide for the next two days and then drove (on rough roads) for about 3 hours into The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 110 mi west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands. Our destination was the Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area, is recognized by one private organization as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 100 square miles. Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 14,800 to 19,000 feet high and the elevation of the crater floor is 5,900 feet above sea level. We were fortunate to visit in the short rainy season time when few tourists are present an we organized our game drive to begin at sunrise to among the first to venture down into the crater from our lodge on the rim. We were greeted with a beautiful green landscape and lots of relaxed animal and bird residents just waking up. It was wonderful!
We were thoroughly enamored with our visit down to the crater. The vistas were impressive and for the most of the day we were all alone with Nature!