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As I mentioned previously, included in my study abroad semester in Tanzania was a week in beautiful Zanzibar.

I knew next to nothing about Zanzibar and didn’t expect much — if I haven’t heard of it how good could it be!? *shame* — but what I discovered was a breathtaking island rich with intricate architecture, incredible seafood, gorgeous beaches and snorkeling spots, flowers on flowers on flowers, and a somber history of slave trade with touching memorials and museums as reminders.

Zanzibar is just a short ferry ride off the coast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean and can also be accessed by plane. It’s comprised of several smaller islands and two larger ones, the largest known simply as Zanzibar, which is where we stayed for most of the trip. Known primarily for its spices, you can imagine how great the food is, and the spice farms around town are sights to behold. There are Arab, Portuguese, and British influences before Zanzibar joined with Tanganyika to form Tanzania, which can be seen in the ornate and delicate architecture — it felt like we had left East Africa for the week.

The university had planned a full schedule for us that included snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, visiting a tortoise sanctuary with 185-year-old tortoises, romping through a spice farm, and listening to traditional music. We had a couple of free days in which we headed to what were described as the best beaches on the main island, and there we found soft, creamy sand; warm, turquoise water; and all the fruit smoothies our hearts desired. The food was fresh and cheap and nothing was ever crowded. It truly felt like paradise, the best kept vacation spot we’d ever stumbled upon.

I often think about the week and wonder if I dreamed it. If it weren’t for my photos I’d probably believe I did. It was special — all of us together, vacationing in this unbelievable place I never thought I’d see, never thought to dream about. It’s funny the way life works out, if you let it.