5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

Zanzibar.  The  name rolls of the tongue evoking images of distant lands and foreign climes. How could the island of Zanzibar not be exotic when the name itself is so cool? My children have been begging me to visit the island ever since one of their school friends had a family vacation to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is actually a great beach break in conjunction with a safari to Tanzania itself. It’s actually a couple of islands and the main island is called Zanzibar.  The smaller island is Pemba (more isolated and popular with honeymooners).

visiting the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania with kids

Zanzibar City is the capital of Zanzibar.  The historic centre, Stone Town, is a UNESCO world heritage site.  In addition to tourism, Zanzibar exports spices which is why it has been known as the Spice Islands in the past.

a family vacation in zanzibar

A market in Zanzibar

After 2 weeks on safari in Tanzania, our friends rented a big house in Zanzibar on the beach and with its own pool.  They had been travelling with extended family and wanted to stay together.  They book a house through VRBO.  The cost of living is very cheap and the French owners just keep staff on retainer even when they are not there.  The house came with its own housekeeper, cook and driver. It was a perfect relaxing way to end a week on safari.

a family vacation in zanzibar

I can so see myself here.

Alternatively, you can book one of the many luxury hotels in Zanzibar.  For example, the Manta Resort on Pemba island has interconnecting garden rooms perfect for families.  Added bonus:  one of the rooms has an underwater bedroom.  I can’t decide if that is a cool idea or I would just feel creeped out by having an octopus hanging out by my bedside.

a family vacation in zanzibar

a red starfish on the beach

So my 5 reasons for a family vacation to Zanzibar?

  1. Time for rest & relaxation post-safari.  Safaris can be gruelling with the early morning drives which are amazing but also a bit of a hardship on vacation.
  2. Amazing beaches and crystal waters make it a wonderful playground for all the family.
  3. A UNESCO world-heritage city centre with a long historical trading history to fulfil your culture vulture needs.
  4. Great accommodation whether in a resort or a private villa will provide all the luxury you need.
  5. Thanks to its coastal location and trading history, local cuisine is a cross-cultural delight.

a family vacation in zanzibar

Yes, I think I convinced myself.  I’ll be booking myself on a holiday to Zanzibar next year.

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Kirstenbosch Garden, an Oasis in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden, an Oasis in Cape Town

Nestled against the side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a tranquil green oasis in Cape Town.  In a city that can feel in your face at times, Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town is a welcome respite that feels like a world in itself.

What To Do at Kirstenbosch Garden

Kirstenbosch is very popular with tourists and locals alike.  It’s an easy place to spend a relaxing summer afternoon.  Our family really enjoyed spending some time in nature after a couple of days of city sightseeing.

Kirstenbosch National Garden

Children playing in a stream at Kirstenbosch.
Image Credit: Slack12

Hiking Trails

There are well-marked trails leading through Kirstenbosch.  Even though it was a busy weekend, there were times we felt there was no one around.  We had this green forest idyll to ourselves.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town is a must-see destination for visitors

If you are feeling active, you can hike up a trail to the top of Table Mountain.  The route from Kirstenbosch is well-signposted and takes a few hours.  With more active children than mine, I would think it was pretty enjoyable.  There are ladders to climb and rocks to scramble.  When my kids heard that it was a five hour hike, however, they opted for a picnic on the grounds of the garden itself.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Table Mountain shrouded in fog (again).

The Boomslang

The tree canopy walkway was very busy.  Known as the Boomslang after the South African snake, the steel and wood walkway winds it way above the treetops.  It was opened in 2014 to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Kirstenbosch Gardens. My children loved messing around on it because it swayed with movement.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

The Boomslang walkway

The Kirstenbosch Garden

The garden itself has lawned areas and lots of native vegetation.  In fact, it was one of the first botanical gardens in the world with a mission to preserve the native plant life.  So, of course, there is lots of the native Fynbos, including the low-lying shrub stuff as well as protea plants.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

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Summer Concerts

In the summer months, there are regular concerts in the park which are very popular.  Right before Christmas, there is even a series of Christmas carol concerts.  Although we were at Kirstenbosch during an evening there was a concert, we decided we were too tired to attend (and it was a South African band we did not recognise).

Visiting Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch lies about 8 miles from the centre of Cape Town.  Parts of the garden wheelchair accessible. The gardens are open 7 days a week.  There are cafes and tea rooms in the Garden which will allow you to take food away for a picnic on the grounds.  There is also a fantastic (and extensive) gift shop.

Kirstenbosch is one of the many cool things to do in South Africa which is a great family destination. My kids loved all the animal-related activities like going on a mini-safari, swimming with penguins on Boulders Beach and hiking the Cape of Good Hope where they saw wild baboons. My husband’s favourite part was the eating and drinking his way through Stellenbosch and I loved our Garden Route road trip.

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A Family Road Trip In Malawi

A Family Road Trip In Malawi

Welcome to the show notes for Episode 2 of the Just Go Places Podcast.  Episode Two is titled A Family Road Trip in Malawi.

Summary

In this episode, I speak to Rachel Heller, a blogger and travel writer, who took her family on a road trip down memory lane through the tiny African country of Malawi.

Rachel’s tagline on her blog, Rachel’s Ruminations, is a line from that famous poem by American poet, Robert Frost, The Road Less Traveled.  Rachel is ‘taking the road less traveled by.’ I’d say a road trip through Malawi is definitely a lesser travelled road.

Rachel’s family trip was inspired by her time in the Peace Corps in Malawi in the mid-1980’s where she met her future husband, a Dutch dentist also working in Malawi. So some 20 odd years later, the couple returned with their kids to introduce them to a country which holds a special place in their heart.

A family Road Trip through Malawi in Africa

Listen to Episode 2 below:

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Exploring Malawi

The first site you should explore if you are interested in visiting Malawi is the official tourist website for the country.  Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world where almost 3/4 of the population of 13 million lives on less than $1.25 a day.  On the other hand, Malawi is a safe and peaceful country to visit which has been nicknamed the ‘warm heart of Africa’.  Efforts to encourage tourism to Malawi are slowly succeeding but they still don’t have the profile of the big boys in African tourism (Kenya, Tanzania, etc.).  More tourism in Malawi can make a big difference in the lives of its people.

Map of the Republic of Malawi

Mobile banking in a village in Malawi

A mother and child stand near a mobile banking vehicle in Michinji village, approximately 120km west of the capital Lilongwe, Malawi.
Image credit: Gates Foundation

Livingstonia is a town in the North of Malawi established by by missionaries of the Church of Scotland. Rachel mentions this pretty Victorian-era town for its beautiful architecture.  The ecocamp the family stayed at was the Lukwe Ecocamp in Livingstonia.

Lake Malawi is a national park which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.  It is one of the Great Lakes of Africa created by the African tectonic plate shifting discovered by the explorer, Dr. David Livingstone (after which Livingstonia is named) .  Estimated to be anywhere between 40,000 to 2 million years old, this lake is the highlight of any visit to Malawi.  The largest part of the lake is located in Malawi but a portion is also in neighbouring Mozambique. Cruising around Lake Malawi Cruising around Lake Malawi is a popular way to see the area..  Monkey Bay is a tourist resort on the Southern shores of Lake Malawi.

Lake Malawi in Malawi

Lake Malawi

Nyika National Park makes up most of the Nyika Plateau in Northern Malawi.  The park spans 3200 square kilometres (1250 square miles).  I guess when Rachel says this is a small safari park suitable for families, she is definitely thinking in terms of African sizes!  It’s got lots of wildlife such as lions, leopards, elephants, antelopes and zebras as well as a rich variety of birds and plant life.

Rachel and her children volunteered at the Malawi Children’s Village is located in Mangochi in Malawi.  It is a village-based centre which helps extended families care for their orphaned and vulnerable children. They provide family support for 37 villages in the area including medical clinics and schools. The children they played with were at the Open Arms Orphanage which takes in babies and toddlers whose relatives are unable to care for them.  The aim of Open Arms is to nurture these children until they are old enough to return to their relatives.

After Malawi, Rachel and her family flew through Tanzania and stopped to visit, Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its luxury safaris.

Reviews and Subscriptions

(And, a final thanks!)

I’d really appreciate if you could leave reviews for the Just Go Places podcast on iTunes.  These reviews are extremely helpful feedback to me so that I an fine-tune the show to what people would like.  In addition, they help increase the rankings of this podcast which is extremely helpful for a newbie show.  I really appreciate and read each review!

Oh yeah, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates.

Thanks so much!

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Swimming with the Fishes in the Royal Seascope 

Swimming with the Fishes in the Royal Seascope 

We heard mixed reviews about the Royal Seascope glass bottom boat tours in Sharm el Sheikh. Some people loved them while others thought they were lame.

The Seascope boats are semi submerged in the water so that you can experience the sea life without actually snorkelling or diving.


We had a nice reef off the beach in our hotel. The kids weren’t sure if there was better snorkelling elsewhere. I had heard of a recent shark attack off the coast of Sharm. Trying to find out where any shark sightings were proved futile. I get the impression Egyptians will tell you what you want to hear in order to sell you something.

The compromise the kids and I reached was the Royal Seascope.  

The good points:

  • There is a whole floor under the boat with lots of seats for everyone to see.
  • It’s great for little children and older people who can’t or don’t want to snorkel.
  • It’s an enjoyable short excursion the whole family can enjoy together.

The bad points:

  • You might as well be in an aquarium. I guess the difference is that on the Seascope you are the one in a glass tank.
  • You don’t see as much marine life as the sales pitch tells you that you are going to see. I’m sure the shadow of a hulking boat scares away many creatures.
  • Vendors are trying to sell you stuff before, during and after the tour. It drove me crazy as a parent when sellers stick ice cream right under the children’s faces.

Our verdict?  Just go snorkelling if you are able to do so. There are nice coral reefs near land so that you can avoid any deep water issues.

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Dolphin Encounter in the Gulf of Aqaba

Dolphin Encounter in the Gulf of Aqaba

What started out as a simple snorkelling expedition off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula turned into the most amazing dolphin encounter.

We set off from Sharm el Sheik in a small inflatable boat bound for Tiran Island in the Gulf of Aqaba.  Tiran Island is known for having great snorkelling.

Remember we took the Royal Seascope Adventure in Sharm because because my son had an irrational fear of sharks in the area and my daughter just didn’t like snorkelling at all? Well, I was able to tempt my son with the thought of visiting a shipwreck. My daughter was a harder sell.  She was satisfied though when she was outfitted with full face snorkel mask (so any fish/fish poop wouldn’t brush her face – yes really that was the concern!).

As luck would have it though, on our way, we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins.  They jumped from the deep blue water for the sheer joy of it.  Some of them tried to race the boat underwater.  These dolphins were super fast!

Neither my kids nor I had ever seen dolphins in their natural habitat before.  We have, of course, seen them at aquariums or at places like the Florida theme parks.  This experience was completely different.  Their playful nature and intelligence was readily apparent as they formed groups to jump, to call to each other and to race.

Dolphins in the Gulf of Aqaba , Egypt

We opted to spend so much time watching the dolphins we did not have time to see the famous shipwreck of the Thistlegorm which was sunk by the Germans during World War II.

Dolphins Gulf of Aqaba Egypt

Did we regret our decision to skip out on a famous shipwreck?  Nope. Ok, well maybe just my son who has a ghoulish boy’s interest in disastrous events, natural phenomenon etc.  My daughter and I thought that even the fabulous snorkelling at Tiran Island was nothing compared to the exuberance of the dolphins.

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The Entertaining Old Market in Sharm

The Entertaining Old Market in Sharm

People tend to think of Sharm El Sheik as a fairly new resort town. In fact, there was a small community here long before the hotels and tourists arrived en masse.

The heart of the old part of Sharm is Old Market, a maze of little streets that make up an Arab bazaar. Despite the convoluted streets and crush of people, the market really isn’t very big.  Not like the Marrakech Medina where you could easily get lost.  

The stores sell everything from fish for the locals to fake designer bags for the tourists.  

It’s a fab place to pick up souvenirs.  I wondered if a belly dancer costume would be appropriate for my daughters World Book Day outfit next year. I’m sure there was a belly dancer in 1001 Arabian Nights.  And it couldn’t be worse than the kid who went as Christian Grey this year.


There was so much stuff to tempt you to part with your money. I was scared off buying anything because I just wasn’t in the mood to haggle.


 I was surprised by all the signs in Russian. Apparently the British and the Russians make up the majority of tourists to Sharm.  

As ever, there were men with camels trying to coax you on for a ride.


Our favourite part was the section called Old Egypt. For a small cover charge, the kids and I sat and watched a lot of different entertainment. 

A couple of restaurants had stages which showed everything from snake charmers and fire throwers to belly dancers.  You could sit at tables or the traditional divans and relax. 

Drinking sodas in the balmy night air, we lounged and were thoroughly entertained.   Unlike the Marrakech Medina,he Marrakech Medina, the snakes and the charmers were on a stage at a safe distance from the kids which they appreciated!


This camel guy stood on his camel’s hump to try and get attention away from the cobra dancer. It didn’t work but his diversionary efforts were amusing!


Old Market is a somewhat chaotic place with all the traders, entertainers and shoppers. It’s fantastic for people watching and getting a favor of a real Egyptian bazaar.

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