Prison Island, at a glance
Situated 5.6km northwest of Stone Town, Unguja, Prison Island is a small island in the Indian Ocean which can be visited as part of a Zanzibari adventure. The island is also known as Changuu, the Swahili name for a fish which is abundant in the surrounding waters, and its total length is 800m.
Beneath its pristine beauty, Prison Island has a sinister history. Prison Island was uninhabited until the 1860s when the first Sultan of Zanzibar, Majid bin Said, gifted it to 2 Arab slave owners who used the island as a prison for rebellious slaves.
In 1893, British First Minister, Lloyd Matthews, acquired the island and planned to build a prison on this tranquil outpost. Although the building work was completed in 1894, the prison never housed any inmates.
In the 1920s, Prison Island was transformed into a quarantine island that served British territories in East Africa. The prison buildings were converted into a hospital, and patients were monitored for 1-2 weeks before they were permitted to leave.
Where does Prison Island fit into your Tanzanian adventure?
Prison Island is a tropical paradise which contains an abundance of wildlife and great scenery. Most travellers visit Zanzibar at the end of a safari adventure on mainland Tanzania, and a visit to Prison Island is a great day trip for travellers who want to immerse themselves in Zanzibar’s history.
The 5.6km boat trip from Stone Town to Prison Island takes around 25 minutes, and the return journey costs US$30-40. You can negotiate the price with local boat owners, or you can book through a tour company whose prices will be higher. You must also pay a US$4 entry fee upon your arrival at Prison Island.
The waters around Prison Island are notoriously choppy, so you should avoid this excursion if you are uncomfortable with rough boat journeys.
Activities at Prison Island
Prison Island is famous for its population of Aldabra giant tortoises. In 1919, the British governor of Seychelles gifted 4 tortoises to Prison Island. The tortoises thrived on Prison Island and it contained a population of 200 tortoises by 1955. Unfortunately, during the late c.20th, many tortoises were stolen for sale as pets or meat.
Thankfully, conservation efforts have saved the tortoises from extinction, and their population is beginning to recover. Visitors can feed the tortoises and observe their social interaction.
Prison Island’s sapphire waters are a great destination for snorkelling. If you book a Prison Island tour with a travel company in Stone Town, most packages will include your snorkelling gear.
The Zanzibar Dive Centre in Stone Town is one of the most popular tour operators. If you book with us, we will take care of organising your chosen activities.
Accommodation at Prison Island
Changuu Island Lodge
If you choose to spend a few nights at Prison Island, you will stay at Changuu Island Lodge, the only lodge on the island. Changuu Island Lodge offers 27 rooms which are separated across two locations.
You can choose between 15 cottages in the northwest of the island, and 12 cottages in the southwest of the island which are situated in the former quarantine zone. The accommodation in the northwest of the island is crafted from natural materials and it is a great choice for travellers who value their own space.
The cottages in the southwest of the island have private verandas which offer sweeping views of the Indian Ocean, and they are ideal for travellers who enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean. The lodge has excellent facilities, including a swimming pool, a restaurant, and a bar.
Most travellers choose to stay in Stone Town and visit Prison Island as a day trip. Stone Town offers a more extensive range of accommodation, from luxury to budget.
Popular Trips to Tanzania
The tours below showcase just some of what is possible. Use these itineraries as starting points, or to draw inspiration. Then get in touch, and let our expert team help craft the perfect itinerary for you.
Combine the northern safari circuit with a trip south to Ruaha National Park, finishing at Dar es Salaam. Along the way, discover the beautiful landscapes and incredible wildlife that make Tanzania so special.…
- 9 Days
Honeymoon in Tanzania
Stay in romantic lodges in the heart of the Serengeti before heading east to the Zanzibar archipelago for a few days at Matemwe Retreat. East Africa safari meets tropical island paradise.…
- 7 Days
Kenya and Tanzania Combined
The ultimate East African adventure. Starting in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, work your way south through the Serengeti towards Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. Close out your trip with a couple of days on the island paradise of Zanzibar.…
- 13 Days
Southern Tanzania and Zanzibar
Combine Tanzania's southern safari circuit with a few days on the tropical beaches of Zanzibar. Beautiful camps and lodges will keep you comfortable along the way.…
- 10 Days
Tanzania’s Chimp Circuit
This 9-day adventure takes you across the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Serengeti, and out on to Lake Victoria. In these waters lies Rubondo Island, home to over 60 chimpanzees.…
- 9 Days
Tanzania’s Northern Circuit
The northern safari circuit in Tanzania. From the verdant slopes of the Ngorongoro crater to the vast savannahs of the Serengeti, this is the safari of your imagination.…
- 12 Days
Maasai Mara & Zanzibar
Combine two very different sides of East Africa. Head to the Maasai Mara for a few days of safari, before crossing the border and heading south-east to the island paradise of Zanzibar. …
- 10 Days
Snorkelling, kayaking, diving, stand-up paddleboarding and kitesurfing - the oceans around Zanzibar are your playground. Book the trip direct, or include as part of a wider…
- 4 Days