Zanzibar was the spice capital of the world back in the days and is still one of the largest spice producers today. It’s called the “Spice Island” for a reason. There are many tours you can do around Stone Town that will take you around one of these spice plantations.
I’d highly recommend one of these trips just because I doubt most of you actually know how the cinnamon in your spice cabinet actually comes to be. I see many spices ground up and packed neatly in a jar but never stopped to think where does this stuff come from? It’s not the same as seeing a fruit or vegetable because that is how it’s going to look when it’s grown, and when it’s eaten. However, doing one of these tours will answer all your questions and you’ll be able to answer these questions.
In addition, make sure to read my comprehensive guide on traveling Zanzibar if you are planning to visit!
What is a spice tour?
A spice tour in Zanzibar is probably the most popular tour on the island. It’s a simple, no stress, 3 hour tour that will take you to the spice plantations in the Masingini Forest.
The tour entails a guide taking you around the spice farm. They teach you about all the different spices and fruits that are grown on Zanzibar. At the end, you can taste a variety of different fruits and spices.
This might not sound as exciting to some but for someone who loves learning about where things come from, this was a fascinating tour to me.
Where are the spice farms in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is one of the most fertile islands in the world and you will find that spices and fruits are grown all over. For the purpose of spice farms and spice tours, all of the big commercial farms are located in Masingini Forest just outside of Stone Town. This makes it an easy and quick half day trip from Stone Town.
As you approach, you’ll see many different spice farms next to each other.
The farm land that you will spend your tour on is not the actual farms for spices. These farms are small ones where they plant a little bit of everything for the purpose of tourism. The actual farms where the crops are grown to be exported are in the back away from people. This is why you’ll see bananas growing next to mangoes next to vanilla. This is clearly not how a normal farm would operate.
I guess tourism must bring just as much if not more money for these farms than actually exporting the spices.
Booking a spice tour
Spice tours are probably the most popular tour in Zanzibar. You will find numerous tour agencies in Stone Town selling trips to spice farms. As well, you will find no shortage of spice tour offerings in places like Nungwi or Paje either.
The typical price is $15. This includes transport from Stone Town, the tour itself, and food tasting.
The tour lasts roughly 2 hours depending on how big the group is. If you have your own transport, you are actually welcome to stay on the plantation as long as you want.
There are numerous spice farms on the island as you can expect. Each tour agency will work with a different spice farm but in reality, they are all pretty much the same. They all grow the same spices and fruits, with a similar tour structure.
I’ve been on two spice tours already and can say that they are all the same but all equally as interesting.
Is the spice tour worth it?
I’ve done many questionable touristy tours in my day but I must say that the spice tour in Zanzibar is 100% worth it.
If you find nature and geography interesting, a spice tour is an absolute must. What makes spice farms in Zanzibar interesting is their history and their all encompassing nature. Zanzibar has very arable land and was a hub for Arab traders in olden times. They brought spices and fruits from all over the world to grow in Zanzibar.
At any given spice farm, they grow something like 50 different spices and 20 different fruits. The guides will show you all these different things, explaining to you the process and history. I always found it fascinating to ask questions about where each spice comes from.
For example, vanilla comes from Madagascar, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and durian from SE Asia. All of these things are grown on Zanzibar. Just fascinating how much of a melting pot Zanzibar is.
The guides were very knowledgeable as well answering the endless onslaught of questions I had (clearly I was interested).
Finally, the food and fruits to try at the end are totally worth it, especially sampling fruits I never had before (like a custard apple).
Going on the spice tour
Our guide took us around their farm and showed us at least a dozen different spices including cinnamon, all colors of pepper, nutmeg, tumeric, chilis, vanilla, mint, and curry leaves. Turns out that most of the spices grown on Zanzibar are not indigenous to the island. Back in the days, spices from all over the world were brought to Zanzibar as it was a central trading hub in the old world and had a climate conducive to growing the many spices that were in demand.
For example, cinnamon from South East Asia, cocoa from South America, tumeric from India, and cumin from Indonesia were all brought over to Zanzibar at some point in time.
One of my personal favorites was the lipstick fruit which is a fruit with seeds that provide qualities similar to lipstick and people here use this as a natural lipstick. Naturally, when they showed us these spices, we could hold, smell, or eat them and I offered to try one of these. Well . . . the results vouch for themselves, it works pretty good.
The lipstick lasted for hours. It is used for other reasons other than natural lipstick, as it is responsible for giving food coloring like red curry. Another interesting spice is cinnamon that is acquired from the cinnamon tree but only a small part of it. The rest of the tree has different uses like perfume and medicinal purposes.
Avocados as a new crop
They also grow avocados in Zanzibar but only in the past few decades as these were brought from central America. Funny enough, locals don’t actually eat them the same as Westerners do (like in Guacamole). Instead, they use it for medicinal purposes.
How pineapples grow?
Something as simple as a pineapple was made fascinating. I had no idea that pineapples grow one at a time from a bush with the pineapple itself at the very center and top of this bush. It’s as if someone placed it there. When the fruit is ripe, you take the pineapple off the bush. You chop off the top which is actually the seed and when planted, grows back into exactly what you saw in the beginning! Very fascinating.
They also grow fruit at this plantation. In fact, They grew just about everything you’d expect to find in a tropical climate. They even had a guy demonstrate getting coconuts from the tree by scaling a tree about 50m (160ft) high. It was insane. Guy made it look easy so naturally I tried to give it a shot which I failed miserably at and also cut open my toe. I would not recommend doing this unless you are well versed in climbing trees. Muscular fitness has nothing to do with it.
Leaving it to the pros, they actually grabbed a dozen or so coconuts for us to drink and even made some ornaments from the coconut plant. At the end of the tour, about 1.5 hours later, you’re given time to buy spices and perfumes at reasonable prices, although still tourist ones. The best part came at the end with a fruit tasting.
We had almost all the tropical fruits you could think of including some fruits I’ve never heard of in my life. The ones that stood out in particular are the jackfruit, a fruit that is a combination of pineapple and banana, and the custard fruit, which tastes like custard with apple flavoring (pictured below).
Having lunch at the spice farm
After the fruit tasting, we had a nice lunch at the spice farm which was simple but tasty as it incorporated all the spices we had just spent the last 2 hours learning about. They cooked for us pilau rice, chapatis, grilled chicken, curries, fish, and various veggies.
I was already pretty content with the fruit tasting and the lunch was a great addition.
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