Also known as the Spice Island, Zanzibar’s spice industry dates back to the 16th century. A taste of any of the local dishes will make it very apparent why! The island has many spice farms where one can see spices in their plant form before they are processed into the powder forms we are more familiar with. There are numerous tour operators (and random individuals!) that will offer you a tour of the spice farms. And so the burning question on many forums is “is the tour worth doing?” The short answer is, it depends. I’ll review my own experience of the spice farms, and you can make an informed decision. Just remember that if you’re travelling in high season, it will be very busy, and some tour guides will not really give the entire group adequate attention. I travelled in low season, and had my own guide.
Lunch at a local Swahili home
My afternoon tour started with lunch at Mama Rosa’s home. Let’s just say, it’s not what I was expecting! The lunch is served on a large mat, at the back of Mama Rosa’s house. I can see why a few people would have an issue with this setup, but like for most things in Zanzibar, you need to have an open mind!
Lunch was spicy rice, served with curried potatoes, sauce, green bananas fried in coconut, fried tapioca leaves and fish. The food was nothing short of delicious. So though it’s not “opulent” as they put it, it’s a hearty, tasty meal.
The Kidichi Persian baths
On your way to the spice farms, you will pass by the Kidichi Persian baths, which were built by Sultan Seyyid Said as a gift for his wife. The location will seem quite random today, but this was the highest point on the island. Take a look inside to see the Persian decorative work, and the massive baths and seats.
The spice farms
I have heard many mixed stories about how this tour is conducted. Some have just been dropped off by their guides and told to wander round on their own. Others have just been taken to buy spices and eat fruit. I quite enjoyed my guide’s tour. After explaining the history of the spice industry, we went on a walk around the farms, and we would smell the leaves and try and guess what spice it was (I only guessed 4 correctly). He would then explain the uses of the spices; it’s amazing how little I actually know about the use of spices outside the kitchen! He even gave us a breakdown of which spices are good aphrodisiacs for both sexes. Some of you might find this particularly useful!
The spices are also used to make soaps and fragrances, and you can purchase these from the stall inside the farm.
The spice tours include some fruit tasting, and the first instance is the coconut tasting. The climbers serenade you to some music while they climb the coconut tree. You can then drink the coconut water and taste some of the fruit itself. After this, you can get seated on some benches they have, and try a variety of the local fruit. After that, you can visit the stands to buy some spices to take home.
So is it worth doing? I think it is. I would advise, however, that you go with a reputable company so that the tour is actually organised. Otherwise the whole experience will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth!