Whether you choose to fly in or travel by ferry, Stone Town will be your first port of call in Zanzibar. Also known as the Old Town, this is the pulse of Zanzibar. With so much heritage and cultural experiences to offer, I always wonder why many travellers to Zanzibar head straight to the beaches, and skip what is arguably the best part of the island. Don’t expect to see state of the art buildings and roads when you get here though. With many buildings looking like they are slowly decaying, the poverty on this island is immediately apparent. Some will say this state of decay adds to the charm on the island. With an open mind and a sense of adventure, this town will find a special place in your heart. So, here’s my list of 14 things you have to do when you visit this town.
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The one thing we tend to do as travellers is follow a set itinerary, ticking off items on a list, then moving on to the next place. Stone Town is one of those places where, if you turn one way, you’ll see just as much as you would if you turned the other way. Walking down the streets, that look more like alley ways, is an experience in itself. Just be sure to look out for a landmark so you can find your way back!
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Yes, doors are actually a thing. A lot of these beautiful doors that you will see in Stone Town tell a story: a story of the wealth and the culture of the family that lives behind that door. It is said that the large studs,which originated in India, were used to protect the people from charging elephants. In Stone Town, they are just decorative, and are more common on wealthy homes.
go here 3. Visit the Old Dispensary
Serving as their cultural centre, this building was built in 1894 after being commissioned by an affluent business man. Entrance is free, so take a walk inside if you have a few minutes. If you just pass by, admire the elaborate balconies of one of Stone Town’s most beautiful buildings. It is also one of the buildings that has recently been restored, which is why it looks “newer” than the others.
4. Stop by Emerson Spice Hotel
Zanzibar has a LOT of hotels. It’s surprising how the island is still so poor when they clearly have a huge market for tourism. But that’s a post for another day. The Emerson spice hotel used to be the house of a spice merchant. It was later bought and converted into a hotel. It’s certainly not a cheap hotel, but they are happy to let you in and have a look, particularly when it’s quiet. The Persian décor will have you wishing you were a guest there. Be sure to ask to see their secret garden restaurant as well, it’s amazing!
5. Walk through Darajani market
This is Stone Town’s fresh food market. You can buy anything from a live chicken to monkey’s bread fruit. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, just walking in the market will give you a view of how the Zanzibaris live. Most people in Zanzibar are very poor, so they spend the day trying to get money so that they can buy food for their families to eat that night. The poorer will tend to go later in the evening after making some money during the day. But don’t let the dilapidated state of the market fool you into thinking only the poor shop here. Our guide introduced us to a deputy minister who was doing his shopping there as well!
6. Pay tribute at the former Slave Market
Zanzibar was the main slave trade port in East Africa.Visit the slave market to learn more about the painful past of this island, and how they have triumphed over this inhumanity. An Anglican church also stands here, as a symbol of the victory over this injustice.
7. Chill by Jaws corner
This is a small square in Stone Town where you will find local men drinking coffee and discussing politics. There are also a few tables around for those who want to play board games. The many political posters and banners around make it easy to spot when you’re strolling around.
8. Visit the Old fort
This fort was built in the eighteenth century as a defence against the Portuguese. It later became a prison where criminals were executed. Today, you will find some shops and a restaurant, as well as an open-air amphitheatre. This is also the location of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.
9. Stroll past Freddy Mercury’s house
Freddy Mercury was a British singer, most popularly known as the lead singer of the rock band, Queen. They’re the band that did the Bohemian Rhapsody. Anyway, he was born in Stone Town, so as you walk along, you’ll likely pass by his house.
10. Have a drink at the Africa House Hotel
Previously built for the British, this is supposedly the best place to watch a sunset in Zanzibar. Though the cocktails don’t come cheap, it’s worth the visit. It’s also a great place to go during the afternoon if you just want to relax and have a drink.
11. Admire the House of Wonders
So this is still undergoing renovations so there isn’t much to see at the moment. But just check it out, because by the time you go it might be complete! So what are the wonders in this house, you may ask? Well, it was named so because it was the first house in Zanzibar to have electricity (from a generator) ,running water and an elevator!
12. Grab a bite at Forodhani Gardens
These gardens are right in front of the House of Wonders. They’re a great place to just rest during the day. But at night, the gardens come alive with many vendors setting up their food stalls. Be sure to try some of the Zanzibar pizza. It’s also made while you wait so you know it’s fresh. If not for the food, just go to watch people!
13. Do some shopping
There are plenty of shops selling clothes, and crafts around Stone Town. Just be sure to negotiate so you get a fair deal. You can by anything from Aladdin pants to spices.
14. Visit Prison Island
So not quite on Stone Town, but the boat ride starts in Stone Town. Also known as Changuu island, it served as a quarantine for people with infectious diseases, as well as a prison for slaves. Today, it is home to giant Aldabra tortoises. This endangered species is said to be a gift from the Seychelles. You can also see the old prison ruins on the island as well. Snorkelling around the island is also a popular activity, so be sure to try this out.
Have you been to Stone Town? What would you add to this list? Comment below. Remember to follow my page on Instagram @thingu.official,like my Facebook page Thingu and subscribe to my youtube channel Thingu Official for more updates!