Zanzibar Historical sites which are worth visiting include the Maruhubi Palace, built by Sultan Barghash in 1882 to house his harem, the Persian Baths near Kidichi, built by Sultan Seyyid Said for the Persian wife at the highest point on the island (153 metres) and the Mangapwani slave caves (used for illegal slave trading after the legal trade was abolished by the British in the late 1800’s), about 16 km north of Zanzibar town. Stone Town is one of the most fascinating places on the east coast. Much larger than Lamu or the old town of Mombasa, it is a fascinating labyrinth of narrow, winding streets lined with whitewashed, coral-rag houses, many with overhanging balconies and magnificently carved brass-studded doors.
There are endless quaint little shops, bazaars, mosques, courtyards and squares, a fortress, two former sultans palaces, two huge cathedrals, former colonial missions and Persian-style public bathhouse and a bizarre collection of foreign consulates.
Outside town, there are more ruined palaces, other Shirazi remains, the famous Persian baths and that other perennial attraction- magnificent, palm-fringed beaches with warm, clear water, ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
The Old Stone Town
The old stone town of Zanzibar is a fascinating place to wander around and get lost in, though you can’t really get lost for too long because sooner or later, you will end up either on the seafront or on Creek Rd. Nevertheless, every twist and turn of the narrow alleyways will present you with something of interest – be it a school full of children chanting verses from the Koran, a beautiful old mansion with overhanging verandahs, a shady square studded with huge old trees, a collection of quaint little hole-in-the-wall shops selling everything from Panadol to pawpaws, or a gaggle of women in “bui bui” (veils) sharing a joke and some salacious local gossip.
You will see a lot of crumbled and crumbling buildings as you walk around the Stone Town. This World Heritage site is not really possible to suggest any sort of itinerary or route since it takes at least a week for a newcomer to come to grips with the town’s layout, even with a map (though a map does help). Still, it is worth putting in the effort to see more of the town’s major features.
House of Wonders (Beit-el-Ajaib)
One of the most prominent buildings in the old stone town is the Beit-el-Ajaib, or House of Wonders, formerly the sultan’s palace and one of the largest structure in Zanzibar. Built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash (1870-88), it is an elegant four-storey structure surrounded by wide verandahs. In 1896 it was the target of a British naval bombardment, the object of which was to force Khalid bin Barghash (son of Sultan Barghash) to abdicate in favour of a British nominee. Besides, it is the more modest palace to which Barghash’s successor moved after vacating the Beit-el-Ajaib in 1911.
Old Arab Fort
On the other side of Beit-el-Ajaib is the “Arab” fort, a typical massive, crenellated and bastioned structure. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1699, there is craft gallery inside which you can observe. The craft gallery has an excellent selection of first-rate batiks, worth a look even if you don’t want to buy any. This Fort is one of the great attraction which you can visit while in Stone town.
Old Slave Market and UMCA Catherdal
Another prominent landmark is the UMCA Anglican cathedral. Completed in 1877 by the United Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), it was the first Anglican cathedral to be built in East Africa. It stands on the site of the Old Slave Market, alongside Creek Rd.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
The towers of this Roman Catholic cathedral, set back from the fort, are easily spotted on arrival at the island by boat. However, it is deceptively hard to find in the narrow confines of the adjacent streets. Designed by the French architect Beranger, it was completed in 1896.
Hamamni Persian Baths
Perhaps worth a visit are these baths, built by Sultan Barghash as public baths. They are a protected monument and are locked. There is no water inside anymore, so its not that interesting, especially if you have ever been inside a functional Persian/ Turkish bath. They were built between 1870 and 1888 but ceased to be used from 1920.
As Zanzibar is a strongly Muslim society, there are quite a few mosques – 50 in all scattered around the Stone Town. Perhaps the most famous one is the Msikiti wa Balnara (Malindi Minaret Mosque), originally built 1831, enlarged in 1841 and extended again by Seyyid Ali bin Said in 1890. Others include the Agha Khan Mosque and the Ijumaa Mosque, which was also rehabilitated and extended. It is unlikely you will be able to enter any of these, as they are all functional.
Outside the Stone Town, to the north-east along Malawi Rd. this was the base for the European missionary/explorer’s Dr Daivid Livingstone last expedition before he died. The house was built by the famous Sultan Majid in 1880.
It is popular to take one of the popular spice tours while in Zanzibar and the major components of the tour is to visit various spice and fruit plantations around the island. Along the way, you will be invited to taste all the spices, herbs and fruits which the island produces, later there will be some demonstrations from the locals on how they climb a coconut tree and finish with buying few spices from them.
Just south of Zanzibar town off the airport road is the Mbeweni Palace ruins, which might interest you if you have a yen for Arab architecture also a great place to experience the sunset while wandering around the ruins.
Close to the top of the island and north of Mkokotoni are the ruins of Mvuleni, which date from an abortive Portuguese attempt to colonise the island.
Near Kazimkazi in the south are the ruins of the Shirazi Dimbani Mosque. An inscription around the mihrab is dated 1107 the oldest inscription found in East Africa. Excavations have indicated the existence of an earlier mosque on the same site. Kazimkazi was the Island’s capital until the 17th century, and there are remnants of a wall which used to surround the settlement.
Some 10 km south-east of Zanzibar town between Chwaka and Uzi bays, is the Jozani Forest, a nature reserve for the rare red colobus monkey, the Zanzibar leopard, two antelope species and the Zanzibar duiker and Sunni. To get there, you need to organise your own transport or get a group together and hire a taxi. Also at Shizi safaris, we organise such tours to Jozani Forest
The island which everyone seems to visit is Changuu private Island, also known as Prison Island. It is the most famous of the offshore islands and in the 19th century was owned by an Arab who used it, as the sign says, for housing ‘recalcitrant slaves’. It was later bought by a Briton who constructed a prison (which apparently was never used, though the ruins remain). Now it is used by day trippers from Zanzibar as a pleasant day out.
The beach is superb, the sea is crystal clear and there is a whole family of (frequently copulating) giant land tortoise which roam around the main landing spot. It’s thought they were brought to the Island from Aldabra in Seychelles at around the turn of the century. Activities here include windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving, and snorkelling, but you have to pay for the equipment, departure and return times are entirely up to you.
This island takes about 40 minutes of the boat trip is one of the best and amazing eco-friendly island in Zanzibar. It is one of the best places for snorkelling which also provide education to people about conserving the environment and beaches. Spend one night here to have the best experience of this Island located just on top of fossil corals.
The main beaches on the east coast, from the northern tip of the island, are Nungwi, Matemwe, Pwani Mchangani, Uroa, Chakwa, Bwejuu, Paje, Jambiani and Makunduchi while the main beaches on the west coast, from the northern tip of the island, are Fumba, Kazimkazi and MkokotoniEveryone has their favourite but there is actually not too much to choose between them. All are protected by coral reefs offshore and have white coral-sand beaches and, depending on the season, a soup of seaweed to swim in. Don’t knock the seaweed – the local people harvest if for export, and you will see it drying in the sun in all the village.
Zanzibar is also the best place for diving but this will depend on when due to the low clearance of the water. The shallow waters of the west coast (seldom more than 20 metres deep) are moved twice a day by the coming and going tide, which few barriers to prevent turbulence. On the other hand, it is not that bad either but also it is expensive. Possibly the best place to dive is the Mnemba Island reef, in front of the Matemwe beach. The west side of Kwake Island is also good and you should get there from Fumba, south of Zanzibar town.
Until 1991, accommodation in both Zanzibar town and on the beaches was limited, but since then, with tourist development now one of the island’s priorities, many new hotels and bungalow have opened their doors, ranging from budget to expensive. There are very nice accommodations which will give you an authentic Zanzibarian character and atmosphere. The majority of budget travellers come to Zanzibar by boat from Dar es Salaam and others will take a flight either from Dar es Salaam or Arusha after Safari tour or after Kilimanjaro Climb. Both accommodation and flights to Zanzibar can be arranged by us. Contact us for more details