Of course, the beaches of Zanzibar are stunning, but Stone Town, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zanzibar City, once the center for the East African slave and ivory trade is now filled with fascinating history and welcoming local people greeting you with ‘Jambo’ on every street.
Stone Town isn’t just any town. It is a sensory experience not to be found anywhere else in the world that offers a unique look into the melting pot of cultures.
I believe that every person will feel different emotions here but this article about Stone Town, will guide you to everything that made me fall in love with the place.
From the oppressive underground slave cells to the grand colonial architecture and museums, Stone Town offers many activities and tours, but what really made me experience the authenticity of this town is beyond the touristic circle.
Get lost wandering those little alleys
Stone Town is a very lively place where you’ll find a mixture of Arabic, African, Indian and European cultures living comfortably together. Life is lived very much as it was in the past and the many mosques’ call to prayer can be heard echoing above the narrow streets five times daily.
Stone Town can easily be explored on foot. The labyrinthine streets are perhaps the most beautiful of all the sights the island has to offer. Wander the maze of narrow streets and dark winding alleys. This way you will get a glimpse into the sense of community that exists here; a world where kids are running around barefoot, Vespa’s cruising thundering past, where women sitting on their doorsteps chatting to their neighbors across narrow alleyways and men gathering around ‘jaws corner’ for their morning coffee, while they talk politics and play board games. And if you feel like you’re walking in circles, you probably are but that’s exactly how you find some special spots.
Explore the local market
Darajani Market is where you find locals hustling around everyday morning and it is the noise and colors that make this place so authentic. The market sells everything from wide variety of fruits, to meat, fish and spices. You can take a spice tour with a local hanging around or just wander by yourself, which I much more prefer.
Watch the sunset from the rooftop
Most hotels in Stone Town offer a rooftop terrace for sunset viewing. In the early days of November, sun starts setting around 6:30pm and gives an incredible view over the Indian Ocean. Combine that with local Safari beer or a glass of vino and you have a perfect end of the day.
One of the best places to enjoy the view is at the African House hotel rooftop, which offers a large open-air terrace with frontal views of the ocean.
I’ve also spent some evening sipping green tea on Dhow Palace Hotel roof terrace, which was also bliss.
Dine at Forodhani Gardens around the pier
When it comes to street food, your visit to Zanzibar is not complete without experiencing the Forodhani night market. After watching the sunset, head there for dinner. Around 6pm many little stalls set up business and sell ‘finger licking’ foods. It’s by far the cheapest and busiest place to eat. You can find tables full of fresh seafood, samosas and grilled vegetables. My favorites would be Zanzibar beef pizza and chicken shawarma. I usually get them both and eat like a greedy monster. And then wash it all down with a freshly squeezed glass of sugarcane juice (1000Tsh/$0.45)
Visit Prison Island
Changuu, also known as Prison Island, is only 25min away from Stone Town. Once used as a place where rebellious slaves were detained prior to sale and a quarantine for people with deadly diseases, it is now converted into a tourist attraction with one of the main draws being giant tortoises (brought from Seychelles in 1919). There are almost 200 of them, oldest reaching the age of 192!
Tour can be easily arranged but I advise you pairing up with a few strangers and getting a private boat. This way you have an option to leave after midday and avoid the crowds. Just go where boats leave (near Mercury’s Bar) and bargain with boat owners directly. We managed to push it down to 30,000Tsh ($14) for two of us, promising driver that we won’t stay more than an hour.
Entrance to the island cost additional 8500Tsh ($4).
Have a tailor made garment
I know this is a weird one, but if you walk around narrow alleys, you will see many busy sewing shops. And if you keep your eyes open, you will notice women selling all types and patterns of material. I wandered into one of the antique shops, bought a few meters of peacock-patterned cotton and brought it to a nearby tailor. Next day, I picked up a beautiful beach robe. Best part? It cost me only 15,000Tsh ($7) and it’s made to order. Ask for trousers, skirt, blouse…imagination is endless.
Where to stay
From budget accommodations to the luxurious, there’s no shortage of hotels in Stone Town, and the best part is many of them have their own, unique character. It is worth researching and investing in authenticity.
Dhow Palace Hotel
The Dhow Palace can easily be described as a living museum dedicated to furniture, art and oriental ornaments.
I found this hotel very central and fitting to a mid-range budget. Not only I had a very comfortable stay, but I also loved the authenticity of the building and how it breathes history once you step inside. In fact, Dhow Palace Hotel can be traced back as far back as to its original owner Sheikh Mushin bin Mujbia in 1559.
Beautiful sunsets can be watched on their roof top terrace or refreshing dip in the swimming pool can be taken after an exhausting day of sightseeing.
Disclosure: my 3 nights stay at Dhow Palace Hotel was sponsored, but everything expressed in this article is my own personal thoughts and opinions.