BlueBikes – an extraordinary way of exploring Zanzibar

On our way to the BlueBikes-office we watched the grey clouds gathering above Stone Town. “Are you sure we won’t get soaked on our bike tour today?” we asked Yusuf, the leader of BlueBikes who was going to guide us to a Spice Farm by bike that day. By the time we were ready to go the rain clattered down and Stone Town’s narrow streets turned into streams, but Yusuf was confident. “Don’t worry it won’t take long until the rain stops and then we can start our tour.”

BlueBikes live up to their name.
During a short break recovered in the shade of a bread fruit tree.

And he was right: half an hour later we, the SEA-volunteers, and our guide, Yusuf, mounted our blue coloured bikes and left their office towards the main road. The first few meters were the hardest being stuffed with cars, motorbikes and pedestrians, but as soon as we left the narrow streets of Stone Town there was more space. As we gathered some speed we began to enjoy riding our bikes watching the vivid hustle in the shops along the road. Soon we left the busy parts of Zanzibar city and saw the beauty of Zanzibar’s rural areas. Lush green forest lay on both sides of the road and after climbing a short but steep slope Yusuf showed us the wonderful view down towards the city and the sea. On the next hilltop we had a short break and ate some bananas to recover.

Yusuf and Khamis lead us through the spice farm
Yusuf picked a fresh clove for us to see and smell.

After another hour of cycling we saw the signpost of “Hakuna Matata Spice Farm” directing us into a sparse forest to our left. Leaving the tarmacked road behind we followed a rough pathway into the green and ended up in a clearing. 13-year-old Khamis welcomed us and showed us the way to the different spices on the farm. He picked leaves, bark, roots or fruits for us to smell and guess the name. Did you know leaves, bark and roots of cinnamon all have a strong aroma? You can recognize all of them as cinnamon but while the bark has the typical aroma everyone knows, the roots smell fresher and the leaves have a slightly earthier smell. Yusuf explained to us which spice Zanzibaris use for which dish – cinnamon and cardamom for pilau (spiced rice dish), curcuma for curry, lemongrass for tea – the Zanzibari kitchen includes a great variety of tastes. Even vanilla, the second most expensive spice in the world, is grown by the spice farms on the island. We learned that, besides the good strategic location of the harbour, the spices were one reason for the Sultan of Oman to relocate his primary residence to Zanzibar in 1840.

Freshly cut the cinnamon bark smells even more intensive than later on the marketkes

On our return from the walking tour through the farm we got freshly picked coconuts (madafu), drank the delicious coconut water and ate the luscious, snow-white flesh. The plentiful lunch with pilau and various vegetable sauces strengthened us for the way back to Stone Town.

Well satisfied we packed our handmade accessories, mounted our bicycles and the tour continued. After we left the path we naturally started to turn right at the main road, ready to take the same way we used before. “Wait, let’s use a different way back to Stone Town”, Yusuf called and told us to follow the road to the opposite direction. Discovering new areas is always a good idea so we followed him gladly. The way back mainly consisted of a road through the forest. We were rarely overtaken by vehicles and seldom passed little villages. This surrounding made a wonderful environment for cycling. As we had had to climb the hills during the first part of our tour to the spice farm we now enjoyed cycling mostly down hill. This long slope gave us enough velocity to leave the forest behind and roll halfway through the district of Bububu. From here it was not far to Stone Town. After a short rest we went straight back to the BlueBikes office.

Khamis created beautiful accessoires from blossoms and coconut leaves.

BlueBikes was founded by KAWA Training Centre. The organisation trains residents of Zanzibar to be professional tour guides. Last year a group of Dutch volunteers helped them and came up with the idea to combine guided tours with cycling. KAWA realised this was a chance to create jobs for those who were trained at their Centre and started to implement the idea. Since April this year BlueBikes rents out bikes, also offering the tours – Yusuf and his colleagues coordinate everything and are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their enterprise.

BlueBikes demonstrates that a great experience on Zanzibar doesn’t have to rely on motorised vehicles. It is not only a very satisfying but also an environmentally friendly way of getting to know the island.

Despite small difficulties such as a flat tyre, which we could inflate it very quickly as there are a lot of stores offering pumps, it was a great and especially diverse bike tour. It was a well-chosen mix of physical exercise, gaining an insight into some of the off road parts of the island, and being able to relax while watching beautiful nature. Finding out about the spices – an amazing bonus!  We all agreed we’d all rather explore the island in this way more often!

Would you like to join a tour by BlueBikes? Feel free to contact them:
+255 776 828 385 | | Kiponda Street 1348 | Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Passing lush green forests on our way back.