Jambiani is the idyllic East African fishing village of your dreams — where men still bring in the early morning catch by dugout canoe and children play soccer on the beach until the tide swallows up their playing field.
Where houses are still constructed in the traditional ways with coral stone and thatch roofs and the locals still greet visitors with a friendly smile and gesture.
Development and tourism done right would produce hundreds of villages just like Jambiani up and down the East Africa coastline, where folks would be able to continue their traditional livelihood, but also engage in, and benefit from, the tourist economy.
Lori and I were lucky enough to call Jambiani “home” for ten wonderful days, with a leisurely 20-minute stroll along a stunning beach separating our equally amazing lodge, Mbuyuni Beach Village, from the “action” of the village center.
We spent two weeks on Zanzibar island as part of a four-month backpacking trip through Southern and East Africa.
We spent three days in Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town before making our way to Mbuyuni Beach Village and Jambiani on the east coast. Zanzibar Stone Town I, II, and III cover our first few days on the island.
And yes, I did get my beach pants back from Nordin in Stone Town and they are sweet!
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Nordin did a fantastic job, though (as I suspected, despite my efforts to communicate the contrary) they ended up being a bit more fashionable (i.e. tight!) than I had hoped, but that’s the style here, I guess.
Now, instead of screaming “BACKPACKER MAZUNGO!” my duds will scream “CRUNCHY MAZUNGO!”
Low Tide: Jambiani Beach Seaweed Culture
At low tide (and the tide gets VERY low in these parts), dozens of women in colorful dress would descend on the exposed beach for hours as if they were searching for something. It didn’t take long for us to realize these women were harvesting seaweed along Jambiani’s sand and coral coastline.
In Zanzibar, seaweed culture has existed in some form for a long time, but in recent decades has become big business employing over 15,000 villagers on the island.
Seaweed farmers (mostly women, as work in the intertidal zone has traditionally been performed by women) maintain over a thousand Cottonii and Eucheuma seaweed farms in the area, which are accessible at low tide.
Algae is tied to lines and harvested after six weeks, when it has grown ten times is original size.
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After collection, the seaweed is laid out on palm leaves to dry in the sun for three days before it is sold to the Zanea Seaweeds Ltd. collection in the village, where it is packed and sent on to Dar Es Salaam and then France, Denmark, China and the U.S. for processing into Carrageenan, a vegetable alternative to gelatin used in a variety of foods and cosmetics.
It’s a hard life, requiring 6-8 hours per day of salt water and sun exposure. Farmers get paid about 160 Tanzanian Shillings (7 U.S. cents) per kilo of dried seaweed. On a good day, one farmer can harvest 250kg of dried seaweed, earning US$17.50.
Zanzibar produces about 11,000 tons of seaweed per year.
High Tide: Jambiani Beach Time
Zanzibar has arguably some of the most stunning coastline anywhere, and the stretch of coast between Jambiani Village and Paje might be some of the best!
Soft white sand beaches lined with coconut trees — clear, warm water, and unique dramatic coral rock formations make for a beautiful back drop to a beach vacation.
In November, we encountered very few other visitors and tourists. Locals significantly outnumbered non-locals on the beach, which is one of my personal criteria for the perfect beach location.
Actually, my top criteria for the perfect beach is square meters of beautiful beach far outnumbering beach-goers, and Jambiani-Paje beach certainly seems to have that going for it too.
If you’re looking for something all-inclusive, trendy, stylish, or touristy, Jambiani will prove a huge disappointment.
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But, if you’re looking for a more traditional beach location providing basic amenities to travelers without the crowds, Zanzibar’s southeast coast may be as close to paradise as it gets!
While the center of the village was a 15-20 minute walk along the beach (depending on how much of a hurry we were in, which usually wasn’t much) from where we were staying, we found ourselves in Jambiani on a daily basis, spending many hours in and around the village.
So, what is there to do in Jambiani, you ask? Honestly, not a whole lot! But that’s sort of the point. Highlights of spending time in Jambiani are strolling the sandy paths that make up the village main streets, chatting with locals, practicing Kiswahili, sampling local foods, playing cards under a shade tree, watching the fishermen and women bring in the catch and repair boats and nets, and doing your best not to be in a hurry to do anything.
Because it can get brutally hot on Zanzibar during the day, most of village life happens in the late afternoon and evening.
With that said, more tourist-oriented activities such as beach biking, snorkeling, and boat trips can be had in the area, though Paje tends to be your best bet for arranging those sorts of things.
Eating and Drinking along Jambiani Beach
Our accommodations near Jambiani, Mbuyuni Beach Village, had some of the best food in the area. So, it was harder than we thought it would be to tear ourselves away from the lodge to have dinner elsewhere in the village. Yet, we managed to eat away about half of our 10-day stay.
More About Mbuyuni Beach Village
Sea View Restaurant in the village had good pizza and wine with a comfortable atmosphere, in addition to many smaller places offering local specialities. Teddy’s in Paje was a nice respite from island food (as tasty as it is!), though it seemed to take forever.
“Happy Hour” is popular in the area and most of the restaurants and bars along the beach in Jambiani offered one, including our own Mbuyuni Beach Village and Pakachi Lodge next-door.
However, one of our favorite happy hour locations wasn’t on the beach at all, but rather out over the water:
In addition to having one of the more comprehensive cocktail menus in these parts, Jetti Bar also had the best sunset view, given that it offered the only vantage point in town for looking west (back toward the island).
We arrived in Jambiani planning to stay three nights and actually ended up staying ten, and it still wasn’t enough! (read more about why and how)
In all my Africa travels, Tanzania is the one place I feel truly optimistic about things. A fiercely independent and proud people, you get the sense traveling through Tanzania that Tanzanians are going to do things their way, and not just going to roll over for the West or China.
Additionally, Tanzanians struck us as peaceful, industrious, and sensible people, who value community and cooperation.
Granted, Tanzania has its share of challenges. Yet, this country seems better positioned than most of its neighbors to weather the challenges with home-grown solutions, while maintaining much of its cultural heritage and warmth.
Like all good things, our time in Jambiani finally did come to an end.
With great hesitation and heavy hearts, we packed up our things, donned our heavy packs and left behind our beloved Banda #1.
A few hours later, we boarded our Precision Air ATR-72 for the 20-minute flight back to Dar, watching the turquoise, palm dotted coastline disappear beneath the clouds of another gathering storm.
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