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6 Things Your Child Can Learn on a Family Vacation in Zanzibar

DSC_1143When you think of Zanzibar, an island on the coast of Tanzania, you think of spices wafting through the narrow streets bustling with markets centuries ago. I’m here to tell you, not much has changed. Once a trading port for ships going to and from the spice islands, Zanzibar maintains an air of Old World. Colorful market stalls lure visitors further and further into the maze of narrow stone streets. Today, however, there are first class resorts on white sand beaches just outside the main town, which makes Zanzibar family-friendly as well!


Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins, Zanzibar

We stayed at Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins, which is located on a beach about 10 minutes from Stonetown, the old port of Zanzibar. The beach front was beautiful – white sands, lined by mangroves and turquoise waters. In the jungles next door, ruins of an old church and monastery peek through lush greenery. The kids have a blast swimming in the beach front pool and kayaking out to sand bars at low tide to check out crabs and other sea creatures.CSC_0335 During the evenings locals come out for a beach front soccer game and in the mornings women dressed in colorful veils cross the sands to collect crabs. It’s difficult to tear the boys away, but Stonetown awaits. And, they love markets.

DSC_11641. The Art of Respectful Negotiation: Bargaining in markets not only helps kids learn social skills, and helps them learn about the locals, it builds math skills!

A free shuttle takes us into town and drops us by the enormous fort. Guides approach us, but when we say we want to explore on our own, they graciously back away. We wander down street after narrow street discovering colorful rugs, wood carvings, jewelry, shoes, textiles and more. The boys have a blast talking with locals, appreciating the crafts and negotiating a price.

2. Being a kid is a universal language: Kids will play together even if they don’t speak the same language…a lesson many adults could learn from them!

DSC_1192We take a lunch break at a beach restaurant and watch the boats head to Prison Island. The kids find local kids to play with and have a blast jumping in the waves, playing in the sand and playing games they both seem to understand even though the local boys do not speak English.

3. Random Acts of Kindness spread love!

After playing with the boys for awhile, Seamus notices that most of them do not have shoes (both on the beach or in town). The ones who do have them have very thin rubber flip flops. Seamus has two pairs of tennis shoes on this trip, one that he is outgrowing. So, he asks if he can offer the boys he was playing with all day the shoes off his feet. Though I do not believe in giving to begging kids as it encourages them to drop out of school and beg (give to an organization that helps support them instead), in this case, I agree. After all, the boy was not asking for them. It was just a friend in need. The boy’s face lit up at this gift and Seamus felt empowered to make a difference in the world.

4. Persistence Pays OffDSC_1172

Beach sellers strolling by the cafe in which we were eating asked repetitively if we wanted their items. Often times, they would ask a second or third time….sometimes fourth and fifth time on a new pass. Even though they were getting rejected, they kept a positive attitude, sure they would get that one sell. And they did! After seeing soccer jerseys over and over again from the same seller, we thought of some friends back home that would love them and the seller made his sale! The kids learned a valuable lesson: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! And his big smile and positive attitude is what made the sale.DSC_1188


CSC_05215. Religious Tolerance: Meeting people from all different religions practicing within a few feet of each other helps kids see the similarities in religious beliefs and values, and to show respect for the other person’s beliefs

In the afternoon, we hear the Muslim call to prayer buzzing through the streets and local men and boys flee towards the minaret. Nathan and Seamus follow along and are allowed to go in and watch the locals pray. It is quite an experience in cross-cultural understanding for these American boys to witness the dedicated prayer of a peaceful Muslim population.CSC_0497

6. Cross Cultural Understanding: Experiencing another culture by immersing really opens kids eyes to the global community.

CSC_0500In the evening, after more market stops, we find a different cultural influence in Zanzibar through its Indian population. We meet Baboo, a local shop owner and activity expert, and have an appetizer at his ocean front cafe while the boys play in a near by park – the locals teach them new exercises using jump ropes and leaping into the water. After that, we feast on scrumptious Indian food before returning to our beach paradise.



Getting To Zanzibar:

DSC_1015There is a ferry that runs from Dar Es Salaam, but the flight is just a few dozen minutes and provides amazing views over the Indian Ocean. And, flying on a small plane can feel like a great adventure, especially for kids. Sometimes they even let kids sit in the co-pilot seat! More information at Coastal Aviation




Where to Stay:

DSC_1089We stayed at Protea Hotel Mbweni Ruins, which offered the best of two worlds: a beautiful palm-tree lined beach, but close to StoneTown. We spent mornings perusing the markets and forts of Stone Town and afternoons kayaking through mangroves, watching women in colorful traditional dress scouring the tide pools for clams and crabs and playing a pick-up game of soccer with locals.


Getting Around East Africa:

Coastal Aviation works hand-in-hand with Safarilink out of Kenya making going on safari an easy, and fun, combination with a trip to Zanzibar. We flew from Zanzibar to Kilimanjaro airport where we picked up an onward flight on Safarilink to Masaai Mara Park in Kenya just in time for the wildebeest migration…highly recommended! And the kids even got to sit up front in the co-pilot seat for some of the flights!

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