Island Outpost of Old Araby in the Indian Ocean
The very name Zanzibar conjures up images of romantic spice islands, and—like legendary Timbuktu or Kathmandu – the name alone is almost reason enough to make up for decades overlooked by Western capitalism, Zanzibar is now at the brink of development.
Wide-bodied jets, deluxe cruises, and package tours can greatly improve an island economy while destroying its delicate historical fabric: Now is the time to visit Stone Town’s maze of narrow streets, crooked passages, and crumbling houses with overhanging balconies. Arab traders built homes here after they amassed their wealth by trading in gold, ivory, cloves, and – most lucratively – slaves destined for Arabia and Persia. Zanzibar was once the largest slave market on Africa’s east coast. Today a 19th-century Anglican church stands on the spot of the old slave market, the main altar built where the whipping post once stood. The intricately carved doorways, some inlaid with brass, are all the luxury that’s left of the lavish traders’ homes.
A number of these dilapidated homes have been rescued by American-born entrepreneur Emerson Skeens together with Thomas Green and other partners. They have captured the romance of this island, collecting the antiques, local wood carvings, four-poster beds swathed in mosquito netting, and Zanzibari art that decorate their two restored historical house hotels, Emerson & Green Hotel and Shangani House.
The rooftop alfresco tearooms and restaurants serve food of a quality to match the decor. In the Emerson & Green Hotel, a former Persian home with ten rooms altogether, a hike up the steep teak staircase leads to four unique top-floor guest rooms open to the breezes and a magnificent view of the old city’s minarets and the Indian Ocean. Beyond lie the African coast and the glaciers of Kilimanjaro, which, according to some guests, are visible on exceptionally clear days.
The newest pearl in Emerson’s string of accommodations is nearby Salome’s Garden, a rambling Arab sultan’s home on the coastline, surrounded by lush gardens and ocean views. Like its sister hotels, it’s steeped in folklore and romance that more than compensate for what it lacks in 20th-century plumbing.
The Quintessential East African Wilderness
The only well-beaten paths you’ll follow here are those trodden by elephants or the occasional local villager on his or her way from town. Selous may be the world’s largest game reserve, and it seems even larger because it remains so unexplored and untouched.
So what’s a luxurious lodge like Sand Rivers doing in the middle of 20,000 square miles of pristine wilderness? Kenyan-born Richard Bonham has made his home in Selous, one of the few national parks to allow walking safaris, and he’s the finest walking guide you could ever wish to track down. Walks lasting a few hours or a few days strike out from the permanent camp. You’ll follow game trails and riverbeds and experience both the thrill of the stalk and the serenity of the wilderness.
River safaris along the Rufiji and Lake Tagalala reveal the full beauty of the magical water channels and yet other species of game. If there’s anything you could possibly have missed, four-wheel-drives remain on standby back at camp; you’ll do nothing more strenuous than sit back, hold on, and marvel.
Africa’s Garden of Eden
The volcanic Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest unflooded, intact caldera, is acclaimed as one of the natural wonders of the world, both for its unique topographical beauty and for the staggering concentration of animals that live there.
This natural amphitheater is the Serengeti in miniature, with wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles migrating from one side of the 12-mile-wide crater to the other as the seasons change. Elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and lions are also plentiful, and Ngorongoro is possibly the best place on earth to see the rare black rhino. In the middle of the crater is the mirrorlike Lake Magadi, a year-round supply of fresh water that makes this a spectacular wildlife oasis.
Most of the time the lake is ringed with masses of flamingos. Unbashed comparisons with Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden are inevitable. The compact presence of so many animals also makes it a predator’s paradise: safari goers couldn’t ask for more.
The human species is beginning to outnumber the wildlife, but reputable outfitters can furnish you with deluxe mobile tents and a crackerjack staff with encyclopedic knowledge and a knack for avoiding herds of fellow gazers.
Alternatively, stay at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, one of East Africa’s most luxurious permanent camps. It’s owned and run by the Conservation Corporation, a respected South African safari company. Check into any of the thirty thatched cottages perched at the crater’s edge, ask your butler to draw your bath in time for a firelit dinner of pan-African cuisine and Cape wines, and watch from your tub as the sunset’s magic unfolds.
The Snow-Covered Roof of Africa
“Wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in his famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Few mountains offer the majesty and mystique of Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet the highest mountain in Africa, dwarfing the region’s other peaks.
The nine-day trek to the mountain’s oddly flat top is 25 miles round-trip, if you ascend by way of the more remote, seldom used Shira Plateau. By avoiding the shorter, five-day, overcrowded Marangu Trail, or “tourist route,” a few days are added on for proper acclimatization, the trek’s biggest obstacle. One third of Marangu trekkers never make it past Gillman’s Point, 600 feet below the summit, because they have not allotted enough time to adjust to the low level of oxygen – approximately half of what humans normally breathe at sea level.
No technical skills, ropes, or crampons are called for, and though it’s no walk in the park, the grade is generally a gentle one. A battalion of porters bolts ahead to pitch tents and set up camp at spectacular sites by the time everyone straggles in. At the summit, your lightheadedness may be a reaction to the thrill and satisfaction of the surreal views – on a clear day the plains of Tanzania and Kenya spread out for hundreds of miles, 3 ½ miles below you.