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Sky's the limit
If you flew into Zanzibar, your jaw probably dropped to the airplane floor as your plane soared in over the island’s breathtaking coastline – the jumble of houses comprising the main town, the lush tropical look of the land, dotted with coconut palms, the white beaches etched into the shoreline and of course that sea that is too turquoise to be true. When passengers descend onto the tarmac to the sweet, heady smell of humid earth and cloves they are usually a little in love with the island already, but for most tourists, this will be their only aerial view of the island until they leave at the end of their holiday.
Visitors here tend to think only about the land and the sea – maybe they will explore Stone Town, do a spice tour, see the monkeys at Jozani, and go diving to see the archipelago’s marine life. Until now it has never really occurred to anyone to look up to the sky for options. But now the sky is no longer the limit. Microlight flights have landed on Zanzibar, and are an amazing way of seeing the contours and diversity of this place. The little taster you get flying into Zanzibar is like an amuse-bouche in a restaurant compared to the main meal that is your own tailored microlight flight.
2010 saw the launch of Zanzibar’s first specialist microlight company, ZRP1, and the opening up of Zanzibar’s skies to enthusiastic visitors. ZRP1 was set up by Frenchman Cedrick Mottequin, who lived on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion for 14 years. There, microlight flying was a passionate hobby, but Cedrick recently decided to move to Zanzibar and make his love of the skies into a business reality.
After lengthy negotiations, his company now has the right to take off and land its microlights whenever they want from the island’s main airport, which is also where the main office for the company is situated. This gives the pilot and passenger (just one person can fit into a microlight with the pilot) the freedom to go when and where they want. Cedrick says that the experience is like taking your own car into the sky – you can go where you want, as fast as slow as you want, high or low, for a short trip or a longer trip. “It is really, really a la carte,” he explains. There is also a sampler option for those who may be scared of flying or unsure about splashing out on a longer flight.
Prices are reasonable – ranging from $80 for a taster flight to $125 for a trip to see the dolphins from above at Kizimkazi on the south of the island, or $315 for an aerial tour of the entire island including whale watching to the north of the island (in the right season, which is July to August). The prices mean that a sky tour is not much more expensive than diving, and Zanzibar is certainly a spectacular vision from the air.
Photographers will get stunning shots from the air, and can ask the pilot to swoop down low if there is a particular sight or scene they want to capture. Cedrick says the windows can be opened for photographers to get the best possible shots, whether of the island’s green interior; the sprawling coastal villages; the marine life; or the tiny islands and sandbars that dot the circumference of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago.
Honeymoon couples can, once the company’s second microlight has arrived, go up in the sky in two separate planes but with the ability to communicate via headsets and fly alongside one another - here's hoping the bride doesn't fall for the pilot!
As well as tourist flights, ZRP1 will carry out transfers to tourist destinations such as Nungwi and Kiwengwa, where the company hopes to open bases in the next few months – and later they hope to open a base also in Paje or Jambiani. This means tourists based on the beaches of Zanzibar will not need to travel to town in order to take a microlight trip but can access local microlight centres instead. ZRP1 will also be able to offer medical transfers, to as far away as the Tanzanian commercial capital of Dar Es Salaam.
There’s also good news for dedicated skydivers – they can go out on the microlight and jump from the skies above Zanzibar so long as they have more than 300 jumps under their belt and bring their own equipment. There can be few places in the world so beautiful to launch yourself into the air.
Cedrick is even launching a microlight pilot school. “There has been much demand for learning to fly microlights from locals,” he explains. These lightweight planes are relatively simple to fly and safe to land, and are much more affordable to those wanting to start a business than conventional airplanes. To qualify for a Private Pilot’s Licence in flying microlights, it takes approximately 40 hours of tuition to get through all the practice and theory, and the price of lessons is $170 per hour.
But even if you are just a tourist grabbing a ride on one of the microlights, Cedrick says that chances are you can take the stick and steer the plane for a bit, an offer that will excite some and possibly scare others stiff. There is even the chance to get a bit acrobatic in the air if you are an adrenaline addict – swooping and soaring through the air is some people’s idea of heaven. But if you’re a more cautious flyer, Zanzibar offers reasonably calm skies, with little of the turbulence that comes with islands featuring more rugged terrain (Zanzibar is almost as flat as a pancake, or the sheets on a luxury hotel bed).
Whatever kind of flier you are, the opening up of this new aerial playground offers the chance to sample the island from a great height, with an eagle eye.
If you want to experience Zanzibar’s skies as a visitor, or even learn how to fly, contact ZRP1 direct at their airport office or visit their website.
Check out Mambo's photo gallery of aerial shots from our microflight flight