This is my last blog from Zanzibar! God willing, all going well, next blog will be from my home in Cape Town. I thought I’d give you a bit of an idea of what to expect when you come to Zanzibar and particularly if you decide to choose Ngalawa Beach Village.
We stayed at Ngalawa Beach Village, not Ngalawa Lodge. There is a difference. Ngalawa Beach Village is on Chwaka Bay on the East Coast of Zanzibar. Ngalawa Lodge is, I think, somewhere north of Stone Town so when I speak of Ngalawa, it is the Beach Village to which I refer. I’m abbreviating it to NBV.
It’s seldom that I stay at a place that makes me feel I want to go to Trip Advisor before we leave and put up a review. But NBV has so impressed me that that’s what I feel like doing. Of course, there are some issues that are inconvenient, like the sporadic internet and tap water is not drinkable, but they are superseded by the God-created beauty of the place and really great management. No wonder it has done so well on Trip Advisor. The value is amazing. The place is incredible peaceful and relaxing. Even the cat thinks so…
Apart from the majestic surroundings, I think the thing that attracts me the most to NBV is the fact that it is so well run. You feel safe here. You don’t need to tip the staff – you can leave a tip at the end and it will be shared among all. The one night at dinner there was a power outage. There was no murmur among the staff. they just continued what they were doing. There was no panic. About three minutes passed and then the generator kicked in and everything carried on as if nothing had happened. It was very impressive. Everyone has a job and everyone does it. The security guards are known as ‘watchmen’ and have their own unique outfit, reminding us of Maasai warriors!
They are posted at the entrances to the village. If they are not sure who you are, they ask what room you are in before letting you in.
It’s a fabulous deal including: the flight direct from Johannesburg is on Mango Air. Arrive in Zanzibar, transfer (included) to NBV, 7 nights accommodation, all three meals, plus high tea, all soft drinks and bottled water, tea and coffee included. Cost? Less than R10 000 pps through Mango travel (Google it!) Just as a side note: I have not been paid to say these things. We have paid for our trip. It has just impressed me and I want everyone else to benefit.The owners of this place don’t even know that I’m writing about it!
One thing you need to know if you choose NBV is that this resort is about 40 minutes drive from Stone Town and from most other major tourist sites. As a result it is quite expensive to get about the island. I think if you are young and brave, you can jump straight in and try and get into using a dala-dala – the local taxi system, which will be far cheaper than getting a driver and vehicle to transport you to the tours. We used the tour operator: Zanzibar Different – and paid $US120 for two trips into town for 5 of us. Let me tell you, THAT was a good deal! (About $US6 per way). The resort charges $US17-50 per person per way, so if you do use their tours, which I’m told are excellent, just remember that the fares to get to the tours are very high! You are saving a lot on accommodation and food, so you have extra cash to spend on sight-seeing.
You can shop around for tours. We paid n the end R1300 per person for a full day and half of touring, including the cost of getting to and from the resort. On the second last day of our visit, my brother, his daughter and her boyfriend, hired a tour guide who approached them when on the beach outside our resort. His name was Miragi and he charged a LOT less ($US35 pp) for the (at least 1 hour) trip to Mnemba and included the boat ride out to where you can snorkel. They were away 5 and a half hours and no food was included. The cost was about a third of what you would pay the formal sector, but that would have been the whole day and included all refreshments and a slap-up lunch. This is the budget option! The tour went well and they had a lovely time. If you come to this resort, you can email Miragi in advance : firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the informal sector. I was very concerned about them using Miragi. I got his phone number before they left – I photographed the car they used, including the number plate. At about the time they should be returning, I phoned to make sure they were safe. They were! But do be careful! Not everyone is honest. Don’t pay a deposit to informal ‘tour operators’ who work from ‘tree number 3!’
There was no safety equipment on either of the boat trips our family did, both with Zanzibar Different and with Mirage. Just be aware of that – no life jackets!
Tipping in Zanzibar is a right nuisance! The moment you take one step out of the airport, you are descended upon by baggage grabbing locals. They don’t ask. They just grab your suitcase out of your hands and start marching with it. If you don’t actively grab it back, you are going to have to tip. You cannot take local currency (Tanzanian shillings) into Zanzibar so you have give them what you’ve got…hoping you have a $US1 bill because that’s the smallest they will accept. These people are desperate. Be on your guard. Tipping can get very expensive. We spent hundreds of rands on tipping this week. When you use a tour operator…you are expected to tip. You tip the tour guide, you tip the driver, you tip the assistant at the Spice Tour, you tip the guy that shows you how to climb a coconut tree and you tip the guy that makes a few mementos which you have little choice in taking. It’s their way of making an income. For the tourists, it’s an irritation. For the locals, it’s a livelihood. They depend on it. It’s the difference between going hungry and food on their table. You are helping them, so just do it! We tipped according to time spent with us. If the person spent a lot of time we tipped $US5. If they spent a little, we tipped $US1.
SIM Cards and Internet Access
On arrival, at the airport foreign exchange desk, I bought a $US5 sim card. I never got internet access on it, but I was able to make contact with the tour operators when I needed to. I also had wi-fi through it at the resort. As I’ve mentioned, wi-fi at NBV was sporadic. This comes with being in East Africa but we also noticed that when less people were at the resort, the wi-fi was much faster. The thing is that at NBV, it is FREE! This is a big bonus. We were in room 3 and when the wi-fi was working well, I could sit on my bed and surf the net, do the blog & send whatsapp messages from my cell phone. That made a difference. Not all resorts are free, so if you choose another, find out what you are in for.
You need to do some homework regarding the best time to visit Zanzibar. We came the end of July, after the rainy season and in the so called “winter”, when the average temperature was about 25C and at night it went down to 22C. With this being winter, you can imagine what summer is like. If you are in the northern hemisphere wanting a break from your winter, bear in mind the Zanzibar summer is going to include temperatures into the 30s. This resort is well equipped with air conditioners and fans. We used the fans mainly in the day and had the air con on low overnight. Whenever you come, bring sunblock with a very high UV factor. Ours was factor 50 and we came with 450mls. Hats are a must. Ladies, bring a wrap. I used mine regularly throughout the day. Whenever I went outside, I had the wrap over my shoulders and arms and sometimes over my head. You blend perfectly into the Muslim culture and it protects you from the sun.
The winter is not the rainy season in Zanzibar. Google the rainy season to find out just how much rain falls. It’s a lot! Yet, even in the ‘dry’ season, we had a few short showers, that were very pleasant….
When you come, bring with you some basic first aid supplies. I made use of betadine and a basic dressing with tape and a bandage. Cuts on rocks when barefoot on the beach is a common occurrence. I would also suggest bringing an antihistamine cream/tablets in case you get bitten by a bug. Bring anti-nausea pills. You eat a lot and it’s strange and different to our Western food. Skip a few meals to give your gastric system a break!
Malaria tablets are a must. NBV goes to some length to prevent guests being bitten. While you are at dinner, the staff put the mosquito netting up over your bed and spray the room with insect repellent. You sleep like a baby in this exotic Arabian tent…
NBV supplies bottled water and lots of it for drinking. The tap water is a bit salty. Not for drinking, but it did a great job on my skin – I can imagine it’s mineral rich – my skin has seldom been so soft and smooth!
An added expense prior to your trip is to get a Yellow Fever vaccination. You need it to re-enter South Africa. It is valid for 10 years.
The Beach at NBV
People have also complained about the beach at this particular resort. I got a couple of quotes. Another resort actually wrote to me and said that this beach was not nice. But their resort charged $US10 per 24 hours of internet + cost about R3000 more per person for the week. Now THAT’S not nice! You have to decide what you want! When the tide is out, you can’t swim. For us it’s not a big deal, but for others it may be. The plus side about being here is that at other beaches in Zanzibar, there are a lot more people on the beach trying to sell you stuff. Trust me, you only need to go to Stone Town for 5 minutes before you get irritated by those scenarios. It’s a bit of a pain saying ‘no thank-you’ 10 times to the same person! Quiet beach, no sellers.
Low tide is very low. Due to the nature of the beach and the locals who dig for crabs, it’s not a flat surface over which you can walk. Mike hopped out as far as he could to see how difficult it was. He said, you could walk over puddles in a stepping stone kind of fashion. He took a photo of the resort from the low tide beach…
When the tide is high, swimming is a joy. The water is warm (28C!!) and calm.
This holiday has been a great rest. It has not been a hair-brained, rushing around adventure. We return to Cape Town rested, refreshed and raring to go!
Here’s the picture Mike took of me doing my blog on the beach the other day when the Ngalawa internet was slow and I checked in with the neighbour’s access. It took sitting on their beach to do it…
Oooh, my rear was numb by the time I had finished!
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In ending, I’ve seen these flowers both at the resort and in the town. They grow prolifically and give off a generous fragrance, particularly in the early evening….
“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”
God’s creation sure is beautiful. We are all unique with a beauty individual to each one of us. Appreciate it in yourself. Look for it in others.
Keep the smile going!
In His Grip,