It was a fleeting visit to Zanzibar, but more than enough to introduce me to the soft sandy beaches, warm azure ocean and wide smiles of the Zanzibari people. On top of that the warm hospitality of the luxurious Diamonds La Gemma Dell Est ensured that I left a tiny part of my heart in this tropical Indian Ocean Island.

We were here for a brief introduction to the beautiful Spice Islands and to celebrate the new direct flights by Mango Airlines into Zanzibar from South Africa’s Lanseria Airport. In addition to this the visit gave travel agents an idea of what their clients could expect with some fantastic special offers that AfricaStay, the Zanzibar specialists, have compiled for the occasion.

The lengthy hour-or-so drive from the airport had me in local mode… a man held a huge fish aloft on the back of a small truck selling the day’s catch, while cars, taxis, trucks and Dala-Dala’s (the local transport) jostled with one another for space on the road.  Both young and old rode motorbikes or bicycles, while some took to ox drawn wagons.

I delighted as roadside traders seemed to haggle with one another, their tables laden with bananas, pawpaw and other tropical fruit and vegetables, children played in the sandy patches between homes and women, adorned in colourful headscarves, walked together, chatting away. Coconut palms swayed in the breeze, silhouetted against the late afternoon sky and indigenous forests gave way to paddy fields and subsistence crops… and as we neared our destination in the north of the island, glimpses of the ocean came into view.

The day was still hot so the chilled fragrant facecloths and iced hibiscus tea on arrival at La Gemma were most welcome. As was the serenity of my beautiful room that overlooked the garden… time for a spot of hydration from the mini-bar and a quick munch on fresh local fruit then it was time for the beach. The beach, after all is what any visit to Zanzibar generally revolves around.

The sand was soft and the G&T perfect. I took a deep breath and relaxed as the suns last rays kissed the warm Indian Ocean goodnight turning it a silvery grey.  Time for a quick freshen up before cocktails on the jetty followed by a traditional Swahili dinner on the beach and under Zanzibar’s night sky.

An early morning beach walk yielded spiky sea urchins, which I was warned against touching by a local man punting Felice Tours… not daunted by my tight schedule and lack of business opportunities for him, he continued to chat as we walked along the beach. He told me not to fret over the numerous starfish that were beached by the low tide and explained that they can remain out of water for a few hours waiting for the tide to turn and envelop them once again. There were red ones, speckled ones and even chocolate brown ones – I’m sure he was amused by my fascination at something so common to him.

Dhows bobbed on the water waiting for their helmsmen, whilst sleek yachts stood by as their occupants slept off the partying of the night before. Lobster baskets sat waiting as fishermen readied themselves for the day. Just another perfect day paradise…

But paradise would have to wait as we were here to learn about PlanHotel Hospitality Group and their extensive selection of hotels and resorts, from right here in exotic Zanzibar to the shores of mainland Tanzania and Kenya, and from the sandy beaches of Mozambique and the Maldives to a hillside location on the shores of Lake Lugano in Switzerland and a renovated 15th-century mansion in Tuscany, Italy.

The PlanHotel story doesn’t just cover hospitality – something that they’re exceptionally good at and strive for excellence in, they also encompass caring for the environment and their local communities. They are committed to sustainable tourism practices in East Africa and are proud to be a member of ‘Ecotourism Kenya’.  And their initiatives include marine conservation projects in the Maldives and community projects in Mozambique and Zanzibar – in addition to this, employing local and empowering local communities is high on their priority list.

This was followed by a fabulous lunch at PlanHotel’s Sandies Baobab…

A fitting end to our #MagicalZanzibar experience at La Gemma was a gala dinner under the stars at the Baobab Conference Centre – an aesthetically pleasing architectural masterpiece – add to this beautifully plated cuisine and lively music performed by local musicians.

There were speeches by Minister Mahmoud Kombo, Zanzibar’s Tourism Minister and PlanHotel Group Vice President, Paolo Rosso, who gave us some insight into his love for Africa and the tourism industry, which incidentally started as a tour leader in Kenya.

“To succeed, we believe that we must be players, not spectators. When we uncover a problem that affects the quality of our service, we have the personal responsibility to solve it. When we discover a way to improve our operation, we have the personal authority to implement it. Our employees pledge themselves to the achievement of complete guest satisfaction and are dedicated to the excellence in operation of our hotels,” explains Paolo Rosso.

Besides its beautiful beaches and warm sea, for most of us Zanzibar conjures up visions of swashbuckling sailors, spice traders and richly adorned sultans… and of course Stone Town with its narrow streets, bustling trade and hidden treasures and its nooks and crannies that invite exploration and roof-top bars expansive views. And, as no visit to Zanzibar would be complete without this experience, we managed a quick whizz through these intriguing streets on our way to the airport – far too short to appreciate it to the full but just enough to ensure another lengthier visit is planned.