Introduction

Stone Town is the historical centre of Zanzibar City, the capital of the Zanzibar archipelago. 

As a primary trading post on the spice, silk and slave trade routes for over a millennium, Stone Town has been a unique meeting place, blending African, Indian, Arabian and European cultures. It isone of the few remaining ancient towns in Africa.

It’s beauty, and historical value has earned it a well-deserved place on the UNESCO world heritage list.

Not only is this city visually beautiful, with old colonial buildings and exquisitely carved Zanzibari doorways, but your senses will be overwhelmed with the scent of the sea and spice and the calls to prayer echoing from the minarets.

For history buffs and culture addicts, Stone Town offers plenty of activities for 2-4 days of exploration.

Stone Town

Things to Do

Forodhani Garden Markets

Arguably one of the most popular activities in Stone Town, this market opens in the late afternoon at 5 pm, and runs until 9 pm. Here, locals and tourists gather for some alfresco street dining – colourful stalls and grills are lined with kebabs, local fish, coconut bread, grilled cassava, roasted corn, sweet potato chapatti and fresh fruit drinks. This is one of the liveliest areas of town, and the food is not only tasty but very cheap.  

Darajani Market

Another popular market in Stone Town, this market is excellent for spices, fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. For those that prefer quieter market experiences, it is best to go early in the morning, when the sellers are still setting up and the produce is fresh. 

Mtoni Palace Ruins

These ruins offer an insight into the former administrative and trade power of Zanzibar. Every Tuesday and Friday, there is a concert with traditional melodies, dances and a buffet. The night begins with a guided tour of the ruins, followed by a buffet with a final performance to finish off. Or, you can attend the traditional coffee ceremony with coffee roasted the Zanzibari way. 

Stone Town

Old Slave market and the Cathedral of Christ Church

The old Anglican cathedral of Christ Church was built by a British abolitionist symbolically over the old whipping post of the island’s largest slave market. 

This was the first African cathedral in East Africa, and offers beautiful architecture and important knowledge on the history of the slave trade in the country. 

Hamami Persian baths

These were the first public baths built in Zanzibar by Shirazi architects from Iran. They are no longer in use, but you can pop your head in and have a look by asking the caretaker to unlock the gate for you for a small fee.

Stone Town

Sultan’s Palace/Beit al-Sahel

The magnificent Sultan’s Palace is one of the main historical buildings of Stone Town. Inside, you can spend an hour touring the history of Zanzibar with a free guide (tip recommended) for only a $3 entrance fee (at the time of writing).

The Old Arab Fort

This impressive building was constructed in the late 17th century on the former Portuguese fort. It houses an art gallery and curio market, as well as an impressive amphitheatre. If you can, try and catch a live performance in the open-air amphitheatre – in February each year, the Sauti za Busara Music Festival, with musicians from all over Africa, occurs here.

St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral

In memory of European colonial presence in Zanzibar, this cathedral was built by French missionaries in 1893-7. Its twin spires are a familiar feature to Stone Town. The cathedral’s front doors are only open during mass, but you can enter through the back when these are closed.

Stone Town

Exploring on Foot

Most sites to see in Stone Town are within walking distance.

Stone Town is known as a maze, a veritable labyrinth where maps are of little use. With this in mind, one of the best things to do in Stone Town is set down the map and wander in whatever direction takes your fancy. If you want to see a particular sight, ask locals, and they will point you in the right direction.

If preferred you can take a guided tour of the city. Walking tours usually last 3hrs and can cost $30 for a good private guide. These tours will be filled with the history of Zanzibar and should give you a good grasp of the layout of the town. 

Stone Town

Spice tour

The Zanzibar archipelago is known, rather exotically, as the ‘Spice Islands’, for its historical and modern role as one of the main producers of spice. 

The spice tour takes you on a walk through a spice farm to see cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, lemongrass, vanilla and nutmeg, helping you appreciate the island’s rich history in the spice trade.

Most tours include the entrance fee price, tour guides, transport, and sometimes a traditional lunch, or you can organise your own tour. Most farms are only 15 km outside of Stone Town and can be reached by taxi or rental car. 

Stone Town

Prison Island/Changuu Island

This is an excellent half day activity that includes a beautiful 20-minute boat ride offshore to Prison Island, which was a quarantine centre.

On the island, you will be introduced to the giant tortoises, the oldest of which is 192 years. 

Afterwards, you can cool down and snorkel off the Nakupenda beach. Some tours offer lunch and provide snorkelling equipment. 

Stone Town

Jozani Forest Tour

This protected area holds one of the world’s rarest animals – the red colobus monkey – as well as a variety of birds, butterflies, and the bush baby.

Walking around the forest is made easy thanks to the boardwalks, but you can be assigned a guide at the entrance if you want more information on the plant and animal species you may see. 

The area can be reached by taxi, dala dala, tour, or you can drive yourself. If you decide to take a tour, ensure that the price of the tour incorporates the price of the transfer, park entrance, and a guide.

Stone Town

Where to stay

Stone Town holds a number of luxury hotels, boutique hotels, and backpackers’ hostels.

The Lost and Found Hostel is a well-known backpacker hotspot with a good location, friendly staff, bunk beds with curtains, and the all-important air conditioning. 

The Emerson Spice Hotel is a beautifully decorated boutique hotel which once was an old merchant’s house.

Beyt al Salaam is one of the most popular boutique hotels in Stone Town. It is away from the bustle of the centre, but not completly cut-off being only a five-minute walk away. 

Jafferi House is situated in Stone Town but is away from the hustle and bustle of the lanes. It is in a prime location, sitting just behind Forodhani Gardens and the Old fort

Stone Town

When to go

The best time to visit Stone Town,  Zanzibar is during July - August and December to February.  These are the dry seasons, so the weather is warm and there is less chance of rain ruining planned excursions. 

These seasons link perfectly with Tanzania if you are looking to combine your trip with a Safari or Trek.

Like Tanzania, Zanzibar has two rainy seasons, one short, the other long. 

The long rainy season often sees monsoons from March to May, which means the beaches are crowd-free and hotels offer discount rates, but you will be sunbathing in torrential rain

If you can, aim to avoid being in Stone Town on a Friday. This is the holy day for Muslims and as such some restaurants, bars, activities and sights may well be closed during the day. 

During Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, most restaurants and food shops will be closed during the day, and most bars and nightclubs may well be shut for the entire period too. At this time, it is best not to consume food or water in public, as this is considered socially insensitive. Further, modest dress for both men and women is particularly necessary at this time. If you are keen to avoid these measures, make sure you check the dates for Ramadan each year. 

Stone Town

Getting There

There are direct flights to Zanzibar city offered by Condor, Jetfly, Ethiopian Airways, Kenyan Airways, Oman Air, Qatar Airlines, Arkia Israeli Airlines, KLM, FlyDubai, Meridian, Fasyjet, Mango and Turkish Airlines.

Alternatively, you can take a 20-minute flight from Dar es Salaam to the airport in Zanzibar.

A ferry operates from the harbour in the centre of Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar City. It runs four times a day, and prices are usually half the plane ticket cost (around $35). The ferry takes approximately 2 hrs.

Zanzibar ferry terminal is located within walking distance of Stone Town. If you only have a few bags, you could walk to your hotel in Stone Town.

A taxi from the ferry port to the hotel should only cost roughly $5.  Due to the one-way systems and narrow roads of Stone Town, if you take a taxi, they may not be able to take you and your luggage directly to the front door of the hotel. 

Stone Town

Sailing on the blue waters of Zanzibar

Permits, Visas, and Vaccines

Although Zanzibar is united with Tanzania, it has its own immigration service, and requires a separate visa for those travelling from the UK, Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand (although other commonwealth member states, South Africans, Namibians and others do not require a visa).

The tourist visa can be bought on arrival, or online. In both instances, the visa costs $50 for a 3-month single entry visa, or $100 for US passport holders (at time of writing). This can be paid in cash or by card.

If you are travelling from countries with Yellow Fever epidemics, you will need proof of vaccination.

Stone Town

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