Travel Guide to Zanzibar by Mame McCutchin
and zanzibar.org email accounts are available.
Outside of Stone Town
Services in Town
Zanzibar, a part of the United Republic of Tanzania, is a series of many islands, the main ones being Unguja and Pemba. The more populated of the two main islands, Unguja, is better known as Zanzibar Island and is home to Stone Town (also known as Zanzibar Town or Zanzibar City), an historic, bustling city of narrow alleyways and stone coral buildings. In addition to the two main islands, there are many other islands and islets in the Zanzibar archipelago which stretches from the top of Pemba to the south point of Unguja.
Unguja is in the Indian Ocean about 40 km east of Bagamoyo on the Tanzanian mainland. The slightly hilly island itself is about 85 km long and between 20 – 30 km wide at its widest points. Most of the population lives in the more fertile regions of the north and west. The eastern part of the island is arid and covered in coral rag (rock made of coral)making it unattractive for farming, but the beaches and the reefs on the eastern coasts make them ideal for fishing villages, tourist guesthouses, and resorts.
Pemba, located about 50 Kms north of Unguja, is far less populated. Known also by its Arabic name, Al Khundra meaning Green Island, Pemba is covered in steep hills full of palms, clove and rubber trees, rice paddies and the Ngezi Forest in the north. There are many pure, beautiful beaches in and around the numerous inlets and coves. Tourism is not as developed on Pemba as it is on Unguja but resorts are being built and the infrastructure will undoubtedly improve as tourism increases.
The people of Zanzibar are predominantly Muslim, about 95% of the population being followers of Islam. The remaining percentage is a mix of Christians, Hindus and followers of various other religions. Swahili is the official and national language of Tanzania but English is also spoken in Zanzibar, and a percentage of the population also has a working knowledge of Arabic. The population consists of people from the following ancestries: African, Persian, Omani (and other Arab states), and Asian. The local economy is based on agriculture and fishing. The population of the archipelago is estimated at over 740,000 while the population of Unguja is estimated at almost 450,000, forty per cent of which live in Stone Town. The literacy rate in Zanzibar is very high.
Zanzibar is a few degrees south of the equator and enjoys a tropical climate that is largely dominated by the Indian Ocean monsoons. The kasikazi winds are from the north and occur in the winter months bringing the short rains. The long rains, known as mwaka, arrive in March and last until late May or June.
January through March is generally hot and dry with little rainfall.
April through June is wet because of the long rains which start to taper off in May.
July through October are ideal months for visiting Zanzibar because the average temperature is 25 C, the air is dry and breezy and there is little rainfall.
November and December are when the short rains appear.
Average rainfall in Zanzibar is about 165 cm (65 inches) and the average temperature is 26 C (79 F).
The name Zanzibar came from a combination of two Arabic words, 'Zinj', meaning black, and 'barr', being the Arabic word for land, the result meaning 'Land of the Blacks'.
For a small island in the southern waters of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar has a long and unexpected history. Easily accessible for the people of the African mainland, the Zanzibar islands are believed to have been settled first by Africans, some three to four thousand years ago. Centuries later the island began a history of hosting foreigners from Egypt, Greece, Persia, Arabia, India, China and Europe. The first recorded visit to Zanzibar is from about 60 AD and appears in a work titled "The Periplus of the Erythaean Sea", written by a Greek merchant who was living in Alexandria. Claudius Ptolemy, the famous Greek geographer living in Egypt, also made mention of Zanzibar in his work at about 150 AD, although the island was referred to under another name. Trade routes from Egypt, Roman Europe and the African coast, including Zanzibar, were, by the time of Ptolemy's writing, extending to Indo-Chinese ports.
It is believed that Bantu people (Africans speaking Bantu languages) settled in Zanzibar somewhere around the 4th century AD. By the 7th century AD, Islam had made its way to Zanzibar by way of Arab and Persian immigrants who were fleeing political strife, war, and famine in their own lands. The Arabs mixed with the local African population and along with trading goods, traded words as well, which eventually resulted in a language called Kiswahili today. The people referred to themselves and their culture as Swahili (thought to be named from the Arabic word sahil meaning coast) and thus the language was named as well. For the following centuries the Arabs and Persians continued to trade with their homelands while marrying into local society in Zanzibar and along the East African coast. Typical cargoes bound for Persia or Arabia consisted of gold, animal pelts, tortoise shells, ivory, ebony, and slaves; return ships contained porcelains, beads, and cloth. The Swahili culture reached its peak in the 13th century and it prospered up until the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th century.
Chinese shipping logs show entries from junks having visited Zanzibar harbour as early as the 13th century.
The oldest trace of Islam on the island is in Kizimkazi, the southern-most village on Unguja, where there's a mosque with inscriptions dating back to 1107 AD. The mosque has been renovated several times but the old inscriptions are still there and available for viewing by tourists. Remember to remove shoes, keep shoulders and knees covered, speak quietly, and leave a donation. Women are allowed to enter this mosque.
By the 15th century, Zanzibar was its own Sultanate but this independence did not last. In 1498 Vasco da Gama's expedition from Portugal began a stronghold over the whole East African Coast that lasted for two centuries. During this time, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Augustinians built churches and tried to convert the local populace to Roman Catholicism, but were largely unsuccessful. The Portuguese did not send enough men to protect their new territory and by the late 1600s they had lost their last East African holding by surrendering Mombasa on the now Kenyan coast. There is little evidence left that the Portuguese dominated Zanzibar for two hundred years although there are still bullfights on Pemba, some words left in Swahili that originated from Portuguese, and the patterns of the kanga (ubiquitous local cloth) are said to have originated from Portuguese handkerchiefs.
The Bullfights in Pemba, assumed to be a cultural holdover from the Portuguese era, do not result in the death of the animal. The bulls are Indian and not nearly as fat and fierce as those seen in bullfights in Europe.
After the Portuguese were beaten out of the region, the Omanis took control of Zanzibar despite protest from local African chiefs. The Omanis ruled Zanzibar in actuality and in theory up until the bloody revolution of 1963. During this period, about a dozen sultans of the Busaidi family took the throne and ruled the islands. The most influential, successful, and possibly the most kind of these was "Said the Great" or Seyyid Said bin Sultan. Sultan Said introduced cloves to the island in the early 1800s and, together with the lucrative slave trade that ran out of Zanzibar, put his empire in riches. Things were going so well for the Sultan in Zanzibar that, around 1840, he decided to move the Sultanate capital from Muscat to Unguja.
By mid 19th century, Zanzibar was the world's leading clove exporter as well as a large exporter of slaves. A reported 25,000 slaves passed through Zanzibar every year. Slave trader Tipu Tip got so rich off the trade that he was able to afford over thirty concubines and their children in addition to his official wife and her two children.
In 1870 Cholera claimed the lives of over 10,000 people in Zanzibar.
After Sultan Said died in 1856 (on a boat while returning to Zanzibar from a placating visit to Oman), the royal family faced a series of near debilitating power struggles. Plagued by jealousy, intrigue, and the abolition of slavery, the sultans and their subjects faced a post-heyday slump during which the British were successful in wresting away from them much of the control of the island. The British had been trying to abolish the slave trade from the island since Sultan Said's rule but had only been successful in effecting quotas and intimidating traders of certain nationalities. After his death, the British succeeded in pressuring Said's successors to stop the slave trade on Zanzibar. In 1873, Sultan Barghash signed a treaty agreeing to the end of the slave trade in his dominions but didn’t honor it. By 1890, Sultan Ali, the last of Sultan Said's successors, signed the third treaty of its kind promising an end to the slave trade in Zanzibar. This one stuck and all slaves to enter the area after that date were declared free and no more were sold. By this time, members of the Zanzibar Sultanate (having broken by this time from Oman) were reduced to powerless figureheads on a British salary.
At the time of Sultan Said's death he had one official wife and 75 concubine-cum-wives (called sarari). Only 36 of his over 100 children remained. Of these, 18 were male and 18 were female and all were born of sarari mothers.
On August 25, 1896, Sultan Hamed bin Thuwain (Grandson of Said the Great) died leaving the Sultanate's throne empty. Hamed's cousin, Khaled (the son of former Sultan Barghash,) claimed the throne by crawling through a window of the ceremonial palace, collecting supporters and then announcing that he was the new Sultan. During this time Zanzibar was a Protectorate under the British Government, and they were not about to release control of the island to an attempted palace coup. On August 26th they sent an ultimatum to Khaled stating that the British would use force if he did not lower his flag by 9:00 a.m. the next day. On August 27th in the early morning hours, the European women were shuttled to a boat offshore to wait out the day. At 9:00 a.m., with Khaled's flag still flying, the British opened fire and in forty minutes managed to destroy the Palace, the Harem, the Sultan's ship, the Glasgow, and the lighthouse, leaving the House of Wonders only slightly damaged. At 9:45 the war was over and Seyyid Hamoud bin Muhammed was proclaimed as the new, and British- approved, Sultan. The war lasted only forty-five minutes and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest war in history.
From 1902 to 1970 Zanzibar was home to at least fifty newspapers, most of which were published in English, Swahili and/or Gujarati, an Indian language.
The British Protectorate continued until, realizing that independence was looming for the islands, the British granted them independence in June of 1963. Constitutional independence was established on December 10th, 1963 and control of the islands was passed to the constitutional monarch. The new monarchy didn't last long, however, because on January 1964, just a month later, a violent revolution resulted in the emergence of the People's Republic of Zanzibar led by President Karume, the leader of the Afro-Shirazi Party. The revolution was brief but brutal; over 17,000 Arabs and Indians were killed in a period of several days. Many of the remaining Asians and Arabs left the island and their possessions and land were nationalized.
On April 24, 1964 Zanzibar joined with Julius (Mwalimu – Swahili for 'teacher') Nyerere's Tanganyika to form modern day Tanzania. Zanzibar's autonomous state included a constitutional right to keep its own President, Chief Minister, Cabinet and House of Representatives. The union did not place Zanzibar at the feet of Tanzania and Karume managed to keep profits from the clove plantations on Pemba without having to give any over to the mainland. During his rule he established relationships with socialist-based countries such as Cuba, the Soviet Union, China, East Germany, other Eastern Bloc and African and third world nations. Because of the absence of engineers that was created by the post-revolution Asian exodus, Karume was in need of help in order to develop roads, an airport, and other modern necessities; he received this help from socialist governments around the world.
In the late 1980s Zanzibar opened to the idea of free market and started to take advantage of its tourism potential. Zanzibar held its first multi-party elections in 1995.
Zanzibar's capital and largest town is Stone Town, located in the middle of the west coast of Unguja. The town was named for the coral stone buildings that were build there largely during the 19th century.
Modern-day Stone Town is home to 1,700 buildings and over 16,000 people.
Stone Town is known for its narrow alleyways, large carved doors and covered balconies. The doors, large wooden carved affairs with or without brass studs, are a part of the Swahili culture that were influenced by Arab and especially Indian motifs. The large brass studs became decoration after first having served as spike covers; the spikes having been protection from elephant raids during wars in India. Doors with rounded tops, or lintels, reflect Indian influence while doors with flat lintels demonstrate a version popular with Omanis in Zanzibar. Many doors have Koranic inscriptions and some of the older doors found in town are much less ornate than the later ones. Different carvings to look for are chains around the edge meant to bring security, Lotus and rosettes in the center meant to represent prosperity, and fish at the bottom representing fertility.
Stone Town is home to 51 Mosques, 6 Hindu Temples and 2 Christian Churches.
On the waterfront, near the Old Dispensary, is an old tree known locally as the Big Tree. Some locals believe that Sultan Khalifa planted it in 1911 but others believe it was planted in 1944 as a bicentennial of Al Busaid. The Big Tree is quite visible from the harbor and is seen in many old photographs. The shaded area underneath it is currently used as a workshop for men building boats. It's a good place to find boat pilots to hire for a lift to Prison Island or Bawe Island.
Zanzibar as a cultural collage: The following things were introduced to Zanzibar by foreign lands; Rice from Malaysia, Cloves from Indonesia, Bullfighting from Portugal, Islam from Arabia, Cassava and Cashews from Brazil, Tomatoes and Corn from the Americas, Turmeric from India, and some types of Bananas and Coconuts possibly from Pacific islands or Southeast Asia.
The large, loud black birds seen in and around Zanzibar are Indian Crows. They were imported by Sir Gerald Portal who was hoping that the birds would help the sanitation effort by eating 'waste'.
Only 226 or about 13 per cent of Stone Town's buildings are considered to be in good condition – the remaining structures are either deteriorating or in ruins.
1998 marked the year of Zanzibar's first traffic light.
The second train in East Africa was completed in Zanzibar in 1905 and operated under the name of the Bububu line. It traveled from Bububu village to Stone Town, only 8 km away. It was used mostly for transporting people.
Henna Painting was originally done in order to cool ones hands and feet. Traditionally, Swahilis perform henna painting for brides and married women only. Various styles of henna painting are available in Zanzibar whose origins range from Sudan, India and Arabia.
Swahili had been written only in Arabic script, using Arabic letters to spell Swahili words phonetically, until the arrival of the first English-Swahili dictionary that spelled Swahili words in the Roman alphabet. Bishop Edward Steere – the same man who oversaw the building of the Anglican Cathedral over the site of the old slave market, wrote the dictionary.
Things to see
While walking tours are nice and can be arranged with a guide, getting lost in Stone Town is fun and harmless. Because the town is small and all roads eventually lead to either the waterfront or large, car-traffic roads, tourists can wander and explore while they take in the sights; eventually, they will arrive at a building or landmark visible on a map. Local people, both adult and child, are very helpful in aiding visitors to find their way, and there are no dangers as long as you're getting lost during the day. While in town it is polite (and much appreciated) to observe local custom by keeping your knees and shoulders covered; this applies to men and women. Be sure to ask for permission before taking pictures of Stone Town residents. This is especially important when the subject of your picture is a woman.
Built in 1780 by the Omanis (not by the Portuguese, as is commonly thought), the large stone structure next to the House of Wonders (Beit-el-Ajaib) was used to protect people from at least one attack from the mainland. It was later used as a prison and a barracks. Within its walls are leftover structures from a Portuguese church and a previous fortification built by the Omanis in the beginning of the same century. The modern-day fort is a great place to stop for lunch and at night there are often Taarab, Ngoma (local styles of music and dance) or movie nights. Also inside the Fort are shops and a beauty salon that does henna painting.
Quickly becoming a posh neighborhood with the opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn and a new full service beauty salon, Dia Beauty Centre, Kelele Square was once the site of a slave market. The square was presumably named during the time of the slave trade and it must have been a source of considerable noise as its name suggests: 'kelele' is the Swahili word for noise.
Zanzibar's High Court of Justice building is a combination of Arabic design and Portuguese influence and was designed by J. H .Sinclair, an architect and former British resident. It is on Kaunda Road near Victoria Gardens and the President's House.
Hamamni Persian Baths
The Hamamni Persian Baths were commissioned by Sultan Barghash bin Said (son of Said the Great) and were built for public use. Hamamni translates into "place of the baths" and is now the name of the neighborhood where these baths once were. (The tubs are still there, but the water is gone). The baths are an interesting place to visit, but depending on how much time you have, how well you deal with heat, and how interested you are in history, you may want to skip the guide and have a look on your own. There's a nominal fee for entering and it's payable in US or local currency. The front rooms were used for changing, barbering, paying dues and socializing. The long hall leads to the warm room that was heated by underground hot-water aqueducts. Remaining rooms include hot baths, cold baths, toilets and private shaving areas. The original building was larger and featured an arcade and restaurant but that part has since been turned into private residences. Although they were public, the baths were frequented by the wealthy classes only; the poorer classes could in no way afford such a luxury.
The entrance fee to the Hamamni Baths was about ten cents and was therefore only for the upper classes. Although the baths were open to both men and women, they had separate hours of admittance, open to women in the mornings and men in the afternoons. It was (and still is) customary for married Muslim men and women to rid themselves of all body hair; shaving vestibules were provided within the bathhouse.
Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ
The Anglican Church is located on Mkunazini Road and can be reached by car. The church was started in 1873 and it is said that the altar stands on the exact location of the whipping post from the island's largest slave market. There is a small museum just before the church where tourists can crawl into a space that was allegedly used to hold slaves before they were sold (the space was originally built by missionaries who created it for cold storage). It's a horrifyingly small space and gives the visitor a glimpse into the terror of the trade even if it wasn't actually used to store slaves. Visitors pay a fee to enter the museum and this usually includes a guide for the museum and the Church. The Church has a history written inside, in the event that a guide is unavailable.
St. Joseph's Catholic Cathedral
Built between 1893 and 1897 by French missionaries, St. Joseph's Cathedral was designed by the same architect who designed the cathedral at Marseilles, France. Its spires can be seen from any elevated point in town and it serves as a handy landmark for those in search of Chit Chat restaurant although the spires are hard to see from the narrow streets of Stone Town.
The Old Dispensary
The recently restored Old Dispensary, also known as the Aga Khan Cultural Centre is worth a visit for the small museum on the upper level that describes and depicts the restoration process. Old photos of the waterfront are also on display. The first stone of the Old Dispensary was laid in 1887 and the building was finished in 1894. It was built by Tharia Topan, one of Zanzibar's richest men, in order to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The Shakti Temple had a sizable congregation before the revolution, but after a large number of Hindus departed from Zanzibar in 1964, this temple is now rarely full. It is almost always open and welcomes visitors, and will provide a tour but it is almost impossible to find without a guide. Its chimes and bells, rung every day around sunrise and just before sunset, can be heard from the rooftop restaurant of Emerson's & Green, just across the street (as the crow flies).
Aga Khan Mosque
Another place of worship that was built for a larger congregation than it now services is the Aga Khan Mosque. It is a large and beautifully detailed building with an airy courtyard in the front. The façade shows European influence in its gothic windows.
One of Stone Town's oldest mosques, the Malindi Mosque was built by the Sunni sect in a typical simple style. This mosque is unusual because its minaret is conical, one of only three in East Africa. Another unusual trait is that the minaret sits on a square platform instead of starting from the ground as most minarets do. To see the minaret you'll need to stand on a baraza (stone or cement benches on the outside of Swahili style buildings) of a neighboring building that is down an alley and across the road from the mosque itself. You may need a guide to find the best view of the minaret and the door. Across from the mosque entrance is an old mausoleum, one of the few left in Stone Town.
The Palace Museum has a room dedicated to the life of Princess Salme of Zanzibar, daughter of Sultan Said. It contains family photographs and excerpts from her book titled, "Memoirs of an Arabian Princess," as well as a sample of her typical wardrobe. The Palace also has other rooms on display showing a mix of various types of furniture acquired by the sultans over the years. The rooms are in various states of disrepair but provide a good idea about the quality of life for the sultan's family toward the end of their reign. They also show proof of a typical lack of funds for historical preservation. Standing on one of the balconies and looking out toward the harbour, one might get a similar view to what the Sultans saw from the same spot.
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess, by Princess Salme, is an account of her life in the royal court of Zanzibar in the 1800's. It is considered to be a very important work because it is the only one of its kind. Women in the royal court of Oman and Zanzibar were not taught to read or write (outside of basic Koran lessons) and therefore there are no written legacies that describe what life was like for them, except for Salme's. The book is available at some shops in town and it is highly recommended reading for those visiting Zanzibar.
The Peace Memorial Museum
Located on Creek Road near the intersection of Kuanda Road and designed by the same architect who designed the High Court, J. H. Sinclair, the National Museum is home to many of Zanzibar's memorabilia including, most notably, Livingstone's medical chest. Also on display are a piece of Zanzibar's (and East Africa's first) railroad, and an old, palm oil-powered bicycle lamp. For history buffs it's a great place to read up on Zanzibar's history as it relates to everything from slavery, the royal families, coins, stamps, local crafts, trade and the many and varied colonial years. Next door to the museum is a small Natural History museum that includes some stuffed and jarred specimens along with a few bones, including those of a dodo. The only live specimens are the large land tortoises that live outside in a large cage. If your trip doesn't allow you to get to Prison Island – make sure you swing by the Peace Memorial Museum to check out the big tortoises – they're the only ones in town!
Beit-el-Ajaib (House of Wonders)
Sultan Barghash built Beit-el-Ajaib (Arabic for 'House of Wonders') in 1883 on the site of former Zanzibar Queen Fatuma's residence of the 16th century. It got its name by being the first house in Stone Town with electric lights. It was also the first building in East Africa to have an electric elevator. It is easily found because it's the largest building on the island; it's white, has a clock tower, and faces the ocean and fronts on Mizingani Road. In 1896 the building was slightly damaged during the Shortest War in History. Right after the turn of the century the British used the building for their local offices until the revolution of 1964. In 1977 the CCM (Chapa Cha Mapinduzi, Swahili for 'the Party of the Revolution') made the House of Wonders their party school and museum. There are still CCM signs up around the ground-floor veranda and some larger signs closer to the clock tower. Since the CCM moved their museum in the early part of the 1990's, the building has been used for little else other than dust collecting. Some of President Karume's old cars, including a Zephyr and an Austin are inside, covered in dust. Aside from a small craft consortium that has been granted permission to make a small bazaar of the front ground-level porch and foyer, there is nothing, despite plans to make a museum, planned for the building. Apparently, plans had been made for the restoration and development of the building into a museum but after the much-disputed election of 1995, many aid organizations put their generosity on hold.
Darajani Bazaar and Dala-dala Station
Zanzibar's 'mall' is across Creek Road near the main market on Darajani Road. Also known as Darajani Bazaar, this shopping strip is a fun walk and a must to avoid the 'in-town' prices across the street. However, the things available in the Darajani bazaar are mostly Chinese and Iranian imports such as sheets, synthetic fabrics, metal pans, plastic shoes, radios and other products of the modern world. For people planning a long stay in Zanzibar, Darajani is a great place to stock up on items like portable mosquito nets, thermoses and flip-flops. It's also a good place to pick up fabric to take to a local tailor to have some clothes made. Keep in mind that the only natural fabrics you will find are cottons in the form of West African prints, locally-worn kangas (printed in India) and imported plain cotton in different colors. Silks can be found in town but it's a time-consuming search. For people looking for kangas, there are usually kanga sellers behind the dala-dalas on the left toward Darajani Road. They don't have stalls; they lay the kangas on tarps on the ground.
Right next to the beginning of the Darajani Bazaar is the main terminal for Zanzibar's short-haul public transportation system. Dala-dalas crowd the parking lot waiting for passengers. The fare is low, but if you don't have exact change, the fare goes up so try to have an assortment of coins when you climb aboard. They go in four major directions and have letters above their cabs indicating which route they travel. B stands for Bububu and this dala-dala will travel from Stone Town to the center of Bububu village just north of Stone Town. U stands for Uwanja wa Ndege (airport in Swahili) and travels from the town center directly to the airport. (Allow plenty of time in case the driver pokes along hoping for more fares.) A stands for Amani and travels up the hill to Amani stadium, passing the main Post Office and Telephone office (TTCL). M Stands for Magomani and J stands for Janjgombe. These two dala-dalas travel to other villages near Stone Town, but their access routes are the same as traveled by some of the other dala-dalas.
Matwani or Basi, the giant wooden-sided trucks, are the long-haul public transport vehicles. They stop on the Stone Town side of Creek Road near the market. They travel to village destinations beyond the reach of the dala-dalas but they travel slowly and usually there is only one trip to a village per day.
A Dala-dala is a small pickup truck whose bed has had benches installed around the edges and a roof placed on top. The tailgate has been removed and in its place steps have been installed making the dala-dalas easy to board. Passengers sit on the benches in the trunk-bed as well as whatever available seats are in the cab. Plastic tarps are rolled down from the roof on the outside when it's raining. The roof has a rack where parcels are placed.
Dala-dalas got their name from the Swahili pronunciation of 'dollar'; the original fare was a five-shilling coin the size of a silver dollar.
David Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813 in Scotland. He first went to Africa in 1841 as a missionary doctor. His travels led him to East Africa where he landed on Zanzibar and then went into the interior on various expeditions. In 1871, after Livingstone had not been heard from for some years, he met up with Welsh-born American Henry Morton Stanley who had been dispatched by his newspaper to find the famous explorer. After some months of exploring together, Stanley went back to Zanzibar and would never see Livingstone again. Livingstone died in the bush, in search of the source of the Nile, in 1872 in present-day Zambia.
Henry Morton Stanley
Dispatched from New York by his employers at a newspaper there, Stanley reached Zanzibar on January 6, 1871 from where he would begin his search for David Livingstone. After meeting with the Sultan and receiving letters of recommendation that would help him in the interior of the mainland, he set off on his search. Almost a year later on November 10, 1871 he found Livingstone in Ujiji. Stanley's recollection of the meeting includes the words, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume." At the time of their meeting, Livingstone was in a bad state suffering from foot problems and dysentery. The two stayed together for about two weeks while Livingstone's health improved after which they embarked on an expedition. They explored the northern territory of Lake Tanganyika until Stanley returned to Zanzibar in May, 1872 without Livingstone, who was still exploring, and on his way to the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Shopping in Zanzibar
Whether you're in the market for T-shirts, spices, kangas, furniture or hand sewn pillow covers, Zanzibar is one of the last places left for fun shopping and bargain hunts. You will find the inevitable ashtray carved out of a coconut shell, but there are enough Tinga-tinga paintings, woodcarvings and woven goods to keep almost everyone in the market for a tasteful souvenir. Gizenga Street, off Kenyatta Road by the Post Office is an excellent street for finding all the things mentioned above plus postcards, stamps, skin-covered drums, spices, and antiques. Sasik, a store representing a women's cooperative, is highly recommended for locally sewn pillow covers in traditional Arabic and Persian patterns. Some of the fabrics are even dyed on the island from local plant dyes. Throughout town there are several shops (called dukas) that sell everything from groceries to fuel. There are also some antique stores that, although they may have more of a junk store appearance, have some interesting pieces that may bear historical importance and almost all of them sell the ceramic bowls leftover from the colonial era (50 to 60 years old). Look for stamps, coins, currency bills, furniture, ceramic bowls, wooden frames, metal signboards advertising Simba Chai (Lion Tea), antique wall clocks and copper and brass bowls, pans and tea kettles. Coconut massage oil with lemongrass, bitter orange soap and other locally-made products are affordable and unavailable at home so consider stocking up. Spice baskets are available all over town, they travel well, make easy souvenirs for friends and they'll clear customs in no time.
Kangas, the local cloth worn by women over their dresses and covering their heads, are available next to Darajani and in town near the majestic cinema, by the market. Kangas are sold in a pair and most often you'll have to cut the fabric yourself but sometimes they are already separated. They are about three feet by five feet and are available in every possible color and print ranging from humorous to somber. For designs, pictures some kangas have ears of corn, others may have ships or cars and still others will be traditional local patterns of rosettes, paisley, and polka dots. All kangas, without exception, have a message written in Swahili. Sometimes the Swahili is written phonetically in Arabic script, but it is a Swahili proverb not an Arab one. The kanga sellers generally don't have the English capacity to translate the proverbs so ask someone from your hotel to translate for you but be aware that there can be many interpretations of one proverb.
Kangas are named after the guinea fowl whose dark feathers with white spots reminded people of the busy patterns of the local cloth. They are thought to have originally come from Portuguese handkerchiefs sewn six-together in a rectangular pattern and then developed over the years to become the single most popular cultural garment for women on the east coast of Africa. All Kangas have a message or proverb on it and the kangas are sometimes used for non-confrontational communication. The different patterns and colors on the kangas also have meaning. Kangas have significance in every major event in a Swahili woman's life from childhood to marriage to motherhood and more. It's a good idea to know what your kanga says because the messages can be strong, for instance one message says, "I may be ugly, but I'm not for sale."
And don't forget stamps! Maybe you thought that the only items people were still collecting as a hobby were old lapel pins and loppy disks but there are still enough philatelic maniacs in the world to keep the Tanzanian Post Office very busy. What could be a better novelty item than a Bruce Lee postage stamp issued in Tanzania and available for only TSh 75 (about US 13 cents)? You like bats? Collect the whole set of Tanzanian bat stamps. A person doesn't have to be dead to get a stamp here; Whitney Houston, Joan Armatrading and Tina Turner all have their own. A pride of Tanzania, the stamps here are widely varied and a kick to look through ranging from beautiful to kitsch. Don't forget to take a peek and pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home but try the gift shops first – they have better stamp selections and better hours than the Post Office, and they give you more time to browse.
ZALA stands for Zanzibar Land Animals and it is a park where "Zanzibar's native species live in beautiful natural surroundings." It is run by a local school teacher who was tired of seeing other local people kill the local animals (sometimes endangered) out of fear or superstition. Muhammed, the Park's Ranger, started ZALA in an attempt to educate local kids but the menagerie is now on the list of most tours going through the area. Muhammed has made natural habitat homes for snakes, monitor lizards, crabs, turtles, dik-dik (tiny gazelles) and hyrax (the closest living species to the elephant – but it looks like a rabbit with no ears). Muhammed is trying to get some frogs to join his park but they have been fickle and although you can hear them around the park during the rains they have been stubborn and refuse to come out for visitors.
If you show an interest in the park and the animals, Muhammed, will give you a personal tour and take you into "labs" and let you in on all his other projects (starting an aviary, frog-catching, salamander hatching, etc.). He might even let you crawl into the python area (which is caged with a kind of chicken wire) where he keeps four jumbo sized pythons. I was allowed to handle one once but since it weighed 35 kilos, I'm not sure who was handling whom. He complains that the python babies keep getting away before he can catch them but he's learning more about the animals every day. Give generously, he's doing a great thing without formal grants, and it is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. You may also think of donating any related naturalist books you might have as a way of subsidizing his library.
Jozani Forest is a protected forest and is home to some of our primate cousins. The Red Colobus monkeys are indigenous only to Zanzibar and they are e about 1,000 strong in and around the protected forest. They don't all live together, but rather in little groups. Watch your guide closely because, if he sneaks up on the monkeys, they may try to pee on you. Keep your camera ready because if they decide to switch locations while you're there, you'll see them swinging from branches, jumping on each other, and even running on the ground – maybe through your legs. Don't feed them. Don't try to touch them and don't visit if you have a cold or flu.
A nature walk through the forest is a great way to see wildlife on the island that includes over 50 species of butterflies and 43 species of birds, one of which is an endemic subspecies - the Fischer's Tauraco. Other species that live in Jozani Forest are hyraxes, sun squirrels, bushbabies, African civet, Ader's duiker, numerous different frogs, and many kinds of snakes, bush pigs, giant elephant shrews, mongoose, geckos, skinks and chameleons. There's still talk about the rare and endangered Zanzibari Leopard but it's hard to tell if it's folklore or fact. The main trail winds around for a leisurely walk that can be cut short at any point for a quick return to the entrance. You'll pass mahogany trees and three types of palm trees including the oil palm. The oil palm seeds are eaten by bush pigs, monkeys and African civets, the droppings of whom you may come across in the path.
The mangrove walk is about an hour from start to finish but that's only because you have to walk through someone's farm for ten to 15 minutes before reaching the boardwalk of the mangrove. Walking over the coral rag road can be hot and there's not much to look at except for a few cows and maybe a few Zanzibaris tending their plants. There's no shade during this walk unlike the shaded walk of the forest so be sure to dress comfortably. The mangrove walk is on a boardwalk built above salt-water marsh. You'll see crabs running in the black mud and you may learn about the nine different types of mangrove on the island. Different guides have different specialties.
For the nature walk, the monkey walk and the mangrove walk, a guide will take you in and a nominal fee must be paid before going in. Shoes are suggested because ants and other biting insects may get you if you wear only sandals. The information center for Jozani Forest has plenty of pamphlets, maps, migration charts and other papers to answer questions as well as cold soft drinks.
Without a guide, you'll never find nutmeg sitting on the forest floor or think to peel the bark off of a cinnamon tree but these are some of the fun things to do on Spice tour. Almost like a big Easter egg hunt, visitors go from plantation to plantation and from plant to plant trying to find the spice within. A guide may use a knife to carve off a root or branch or bark and then ask you to smell or taste it to guess what it is. Use caution with the bright colored ones because turmeric can leave a stain on clothes that will last a lifetime. Nutmeg grows on a tree and is sort of the pit of a fruit that looks somewhat like an apple. The nutmeg trees are huge and the under-forest is dark. Vanilla is a vine that grows on large trees and cardamom seeds grow at the base of large, ginger-cousin light green plant that has shoots or runners from which the seeds are picked. Cinnamon leaves are good for chewing and pepper is hot, green and fresh tasting before it is dried and ground to become black pepper. The guides may offer you a green coconut while you're on the tour and they're very good. Don't expect a Pina Colada, green coconuts don't have sweet milk – it's more like subtly flavored water – and the meat is delicious. All along the tour there are kiosks where tourists can buy packaged spices including the following: turmeric, tandoori, vanilla beans and extract, masala, hot chilies, black pepper (ground or whole), cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or powder, saffron (not locally grown but affordable), ginger, and others. Tours can be expensive so shop around or ask a reputable hotel to set up the guide and driver. Mr. Mitu is well known on the island as the best tour guide for spice tour - all tour agents should know how to reach him.
Architectural Tour of Stone Town
Discover the origins of architectural trends in Stone Town with the aide of local historian, John da Silva. John's tours point out subtleties in building structure that the untrained eye just won't catch. He'll show you how they built drainpipes into the walls of local homes only to come out again at the bottom of the wall to drain. Why did they do this? Because the streets were so narrow, they put the pipes into the walls so no one would hit his head or catch his cart on the pipes as he walked by. John will point out old lattice work balconies, decrepit buildings, light fixtures and more than a handful of carved doors, each with its own story. You pace the tour by the questions you ask. This tour is highly recommended. To book Mr. Da Silva, contact a local tour operator (see Listings Section).
Swahili is the predominant language but all shopkeepers and tourist-related business people know at least some English, especially "How much?" The Muslim call to prayer is, of course, in Arabic and you'll hear Arabic here and there on the streets in addition to Indian languages. And don't be surprised when local people say "Ciao, como va?" – there are enough Italian tourists here that some shopkeepers have signs in Italian.
Things to see outside of Stone Town
If you are interested in visiting ruins, Zanzibar has many that are well-marked and whose entrance fees are affordable. The Zanzibar Government has developed a receipt called "Ancient Monuments of Zanzibar" for Unguja and for the price of TSh 200 it allows you to visit the following:
. The Old Fort (Stone Town)
. Hamamni Turkish Baths (Stone Town)
. Maruhubi Palace Ruins
. Mtoni Palace Ruins
. Kidichi Persian Baths
. Kizimbani Baths
. Fukuchani Ruins
. Tumbatu Ruins
. Dunga Palace of the Mwinyi Mkuu
. Mangapwani Cave and Cave Chambers (two locations)
. Bi Khole Ruins
. Kizimkazi Mosque
The fee is meant to help preserve the monuments and keep them clean. The ticket is good for one day only but it would be near impossible to see all of these things in one day unless you went at a racer's pace and hit the wind and the tide just right in order to get to and from Tumbatu. Some of the ruins are well marked and easy to find if you're self-driving but others are almost unmarked and overgrown requiring a driver in order to find them. In some cases there will be a guide to tell you a brief history, but often there isn't even a person to collect your money or check your receipt.
Built by Sultan Barghash in 1880 as a day retreat for him and a place to house some of his many concubines, this palace had large Persian baths, the only part of the structure left with a roof. It burned down in 1899. Located on the Bububu road, just outside of town, it's a popular first stop on the way to Spice Tour. The gardens still have coconut trees and there are old pools full of lily pads, leftover columns and wandering cows. It's a pretty site on the ocean. There's a keeper that stays by the driveway selling curios and he'll write your receipt but he does not give tours or answer questions.
These ruins are the mangled and sometimes repaired remains of Sultan Said's main residence. It is said that he spent three or four days at Mtoni and split the remainder of the week among his many other plantations and palaces, and that Mtoni was clearly his favourite. His daughter Salme described it as nothing short of Eden: brimming with flowers and peacocks, close to the ocean, full of well-cared-for people, and surrounded by large trees. The ruins are now in an odd state. It is obvious that various repairs have been attempted over the years, but the only solid wall at present is the front wall that looks more like one end of a warehouse (which it was used for during World War I). The Palace, at one time, had many flights of stairs, courtyards, bedrooms and baths. Look in the back for many hallways and rooms with walls that still have the built-in alcoves. There are baths that you can enter but watch out for bats. This is the house where the Sultan kept the better part of his harem. Sometimes there's a keeper who will sign your receipt. He'll show you around but he was not able to answer any of our questions that were posed in Kiswahili.
Kidichi is a village in the heart of the spice plantations and it is home to bath ruins but this time the baths were built in 1850 by Sultan Said for his Persian wife, Sherehezade, also known as Binte Irich Mizra or Schesade. At Bububu center take a right at the sign that reads Kizimbani and carry on up the road until the whitewashed baths appear at the top of the hill. The baths are the only ones of their kind on the island, where visitors can see the Persian detailing on the inner walls. In strict following of the Muslim faith it is considered sacrilege to create images of anything living, including animals and people. The Kidichi bath ruins are unusual in that they exhibit interesting and obvious portrayals of birds and flowers in the bas-relief detailing of the inner walls. Built by Persian craftsmen, who were brought to Zanzibar by Sultan Said specifically for the purpose of building Sherehezade's baths, they were used by the princess to refresh herself after a journey in the country or after hunting. Sherehezade was apparently something of an avid hunter, a very unusual pastime for a woman in a Muslim community. There's a nice young guide for the baths who is almost always present. He'll want to see your pink receipt to sign it so be sure you have it ready for him. He'll also sell you one if it's your first stop. He'll give you some history and information about the baths and may tell you that these baths are the strongest evidence of Persian influence in all of East Africa.
Kizimbani Baths are found on the road along Spice Tour, past the Kidichi baths. They are similar to the Kidichi Baths except that they are much plainer, with no Persian inscriptions, animals or flowers depicted on the inner walls. The Kizimbani baths were built for Sultan Said at about the same time as the Kidichi baths. Guide is unlikely.
Mangapwani Coral Cave
Oral tradition says that this underground cavern was discovered by a goat that fell in and then bleated until his shepherd who, following his cry, found him meters below the Earth. The shepherd found a natural fresh water spring in the cave. The same story does not include information or rumors about slaves having once been held here in secrecy after the trade had been abolished. People still believe that the cavern contains an outlet onto the beach (when the tide is right). The government has placed a stairway allowing for easy descent into the cave where visitors can look at strange insects, listen to water drip, stare at the coral rock ceiling and feel the clammy, stale air of a closed room. Dare each other to see who is brave enough to go looking for the fresh spring. Bring a flashlight. There is no guide at the location and it is difficult to find without a one - ask local villagers and keep your eyes open for the SMZ sign if you're not being driven by a guide. The drive will take you on horrible roads past the childhood village and current house of former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Minwyi. His is the only house painted white.
Mangapwani Slave Chambers
If you made it far enough to see the Coral Cave you should continue on the few kilometers in order to see the Slave Chambers. After the trade was banned in 1872, Arab dealers still continued to transport slaves to the island before finding buyers and for this they needed secrecy and so built the Slave Chambers. They're cut from coral rock and were allegedly used to conceal slaves at night. The slaves were chained and yoked while transferred from dhow to the chambers. There are few holes in the chambers and therefore little ventilation. This combined with malnutrition, thirst, disease, and overcrowding caused the death of many slaves before they reached the market or were sold to another trader.
Bi (Swahili for 'Lady') Khole was one of Sultan Said's daughters and with her wealth had an estate built as an out of town getaway. Built on the western side of the island at the sea, the driveway is visible from the road that goes to the southeast coast. The sign to the ruins is small but an indication that you are nearing it is the rows of old mango trees on each side of the road. Local rumor has it that Khole planted one tree for each of her lovers. Although this is a romantic thought, it is unlikely that it is true because the trees may predate her estate. The ruins are an interesting stop because of the beautiful setting. The Palace overlooked the ocean and is surrounded by fields and trees. Visitors can see the old courtyard and remains of the Persian baths and fountains. Be careful wandering around the ruins; they're still crumbling.
In 1867 David Livingstone delivered a lively lecture at Cambridge University about the horrors of the slave trade in Africa. As a result of his speech, four universities collaborated to form the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). This mission was to be responsible for the building of the Anglican Church in Stone Town as well as the St. Mary's School for Freed Slave Girls - in addition to many other missionary projects on the mainland.
Mbweni Ruins (not included on the Ancient Monuments because they are managed by the Mbweni Ruins Hotel)
Mbweni ruins was once St. Mary's School for Freed Slave Girls and was built between 1871 and 1874 by the UMCA. As slaves were freed by the British from illegal dhow traders, a village of freed slaves developed around the mission. At one point there were at least 250 freed slaves living there. Orphan girls and daughters of the freed slaves attended the school that trained them to become teachers for other missions on the mainland. Training included basic studies such as math, English and geography and went on to include the religion. The school had 60 to 85 students at any given time that it was open. The grounds contained dormitory living quarters, schoolrooms, a chapel and, later, an industrial area. The Chapel had a marble altar with mother of pearl inlay that is now the altar of St. John's church down the road (also built by UMCA). The construction of the school was overseen by Edward Steere, the same man who designed the Anglican Church in Stone Town and wrote the first Swahili-English dictionary. The second headmistress was a woman by the name of Caroline Thackery who was the cousin of English novelist William Thackery. She remained headmistress for 25 years and after retiring, died at the age of 83 in 1926. She is buried near St. John's Cathedral just near the ruins. By 1917 the school had closed and was abandoned even though a part of it had been sold to the Bank of India when the UMCA ran into fiscal trouble. The ruins remained abandoned except for locals who came to collect water from the cisterns until the current owners of the hotel began renovation.
St. John's Church
In Mazizini between Stone Town and the airport and viewable on the right on the way to Mbweni Ruins, this church was built in the 1800's by the UMCA and although it is in a remote location, it is still used for services from time to time.
Beit-el-Ras was intended to be a palace to house the growing family of Sultan Said, and although it was begun in 1847, it had not been completed by the time of his death in 1856. It was a short way up the coast to the north of the Mtoni Palace that served as his main home. Sultan Said's successor Sultan Majid did not finish the house and some of its stones were later used to complete the Bububu Railroad. The remaining ruins were cleared away in 1947 to make room for the Teacher's College that was built on the site . If you're traveling north on the Bububu Road, keep your eyes on the left and when you pass the small Beit-el-Ras Police Station, you'll be able to see the college up the road a little further north.
Bububu is a village just outside of Stone Town to the north and it is also the gateway to the Spice Tours. Bububu reportedly got its name from a spring in the area that made a sound something like 'bububu' as the water came up out of the ground. There are other rumors about the name of the town but no one is quite sure what the origin is. The first train in East Africa ran from Bububu to Stone Town and the main water source for Stone Town is located in Bububu. As far as tourists are concerned, there's not much to see in Bububu but it is a good place to stop for fresh fruit if you're on your way to the north coast. Another claim to fame for Bububu is that it was home to Princess Salme before she moved back to town and met her husband.
Fuji Beach is near Bububu village center, a short walk down a dirt road if you've been dropped in Bububu by dala-dala. A taxi from town should take you there for no more than TSh 2,500. There's a bar and restaurant and a nice beach for sunbathing and swimming. At night the bar gets hopping and turns disco – especially hot on Sunday nights.
Islands near Stone Town
For most of the islands near Stone Town it is easy to find a boat pilot. Many pilots can be found lingering around the Big Tree down by the harhour. Prices vary depending on the island and the number of people in the boat. Obviously, the more passengers on board the lower the cost per person. Tour agencies can also arrange boat trips as wells as most of the better hotels in town.
Prison Island (Changuu) is the most popular island for people seeking an island excursion from Stone Town. It is a short boat ride (about 10 minutes) and the snorkeling is excellent. There's a small beach that can get quite crowded at high tide but there are other things to do. There's a small trail that circles the island and goes past ruins. Look for the old prison and watch out for giant tortoises and peacocks in the ruins' courtyard. You'll also pass ruins of an old laundry center, a natural lagoon that can be quite beautiful if the tide is right, and the old quarantine housing. A wealthy slave owner who sent unruly slaves there for discipline first owned the island. After the abolition of slavery the island was inhabited by a British General and was later used as a quarantine station. There was a prison built on the island after the General had left but it was never used for its intended purpose, instead housing quarantined visitors to Zanzibar. There's a restaurant in the large house (formerly the General's) and there is a smaller building that serves as a guesthouse. There's a small fee to go on the island, and mask, fins and snorkel are available for rent in the same office. The snorkeling is surely worth the trip. One of the island's main attractions are the large land tortoises that roam around the big house. They aren't dangerous but could take your hand off at the wrist in one bite so don't aggravate them. Peacocks are also inhabitants of the island but sadly, some of them have had their long feathers plucked by uncaring people who won't look nearly so good in them.
Snake Island (Nyoka) doesn't have a beach so is not frequently visited. There are no known trails on this small island that is between Prison and Grave Islands.
Grave Island (Chapwani) is a long and thin island just to the north of Snake Island; it has graves on it primarily belonging to the British who suffered casualties while fighting against Arab slaving ships. There are other graves dating from the First World War. It's a short boat ride from town. There's a nice beach but the island is not great for swimming. The guesthouse and the restaurant on the island are closed so bring your own food and drinks.
Bawe Island is south of Prison and has some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. About a 30-minute boat ride and slightly more expensive than the boat to Prison Island, this island is much less visited. In 1870 the island was used to anchor the first telegraph cables to Zanzibar linking it with Aden, South Africa and the Seychelles. There are no facilities on the island although a hotel has been in the making for some time. Bring your own food and drinks because you can't even buy water on Bawe. The snorkeling is excellent and so is the beach at all times of the tide. There's not much to do on the island but sit on the beach but there are some trees that provide shade allowing fair-skinned people to make a whole day of it.
Sandbar Island is an island only at low tide. It's also located south of Prison Island. It's a great place for snorkeling, for a picnic or for getting a sunburn (there's nothing but sand so bring your own shade in the form of hats or parasols). It's a popular destination when the moon is full because of the view of sunset and moonrise. Boats can be arranged near the Big Tree and they leave at about 6:00 p.m. and come back when you're ready. People bring their own food and drinks and build a fire in a pit. After the sun sets it's very dark on the island and you can't see much but once the moon comes up and loses its redness from the horizon it's like being under a natural floodlight. The city takes on a special appearance under the red moon and looks beautiful too. As the tide continues to go out, the island gets bigger and people walk along the sandbar appearing as if they're walking on water. If you're visiting Stone Town during the full moon and the tide is right – try to go to Sandbar Island for the moonrise. It's also good for day picnics, snorkeling and diving but keep in mind the lack of shade and equatorial sun.
Chumbe Island is Tanzania's first Marine National Park and it is also home to a Nature reserve that boasts an abundance of local birds and flora. It is also known as Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP). Along with establishing Chumbe Island as a conservation area, several practical steps have been taken to preserve it; there are permanent moorings for boats landing at Chumbe and this prevents the need to drop anchor and kill coral. Only authorized tour companies are allowed to moor at Chumbe in an attempt to keep irresponsible boaters from causing damage to the reef. (You will need to make special arrangements with a tour company to find a boat pilot who is permitted to moor at Chumbe.) Nature trails have been set up on the island as well as an educational facility (mostly for locals). There's a lighthouse on the island that is slated to be converted into an observation tower and there is an old mosque that was built in an Indian style and is unique to Tanzania. If you have time, try to visit Chumbe even though it is a little expensive. There's a nice restaurant on the island and the price of dinner includes boat transport. Keep in mind that Chumbe is a private island and only CHICOP approved boat pilots are allowed to moor there. Ask a tour company to arrange a trip or call direct.
Services in Town
There are a small number of consulates in Zanzibar but the capital city of Dar-es-Salaam is where you need to go if you need an embassy. If you lose your passport you'll need to visit the Ministry of the Interior in Zanzibar in order to get off the island. The Ministry can supply you with papers to get you home or to Dar where you can arrange for more temporary papers from your Embassy. See the Listings Section for a complete embassy list.
TV Zanzibar had the first color TV station in East Africa, and in 1972 the first color television broadcast in East Africa was accomplished. The new technology was a dream of the first Zanzibari President, Karume, who was assassinated before the first broadcast. Ironically, the television technology that Karume brought to Zanzibar was used to cover the trial of his murder. Court TV is possibly another Zanzibari first.
Banks & Money
In the last few years, Zanzibar has opened up dramatically to the free world, resulting in some changes in the rules for tourists and currency. For instance, two years ago tourists had to pay for almost everything in hard currency; whereas today it is possible for tourists to pay departure tax in TShillings (but it is wise to always keep a stash of dollars – just in case). Travelers’ Cheques checks are accepted only at large hotels and some restaurants and, even then, sometimes grudgingly. You can convert them to cash at the People's Bank of Zanzibar, the Forex bureaus at some hotels (International, Mazson's and the Tembo) and at the Forex offices at the port and airport. These bureaus will also exchange most hard currencies for TShillings.
There are several local hospitals in Stone Town but tourists should always try Zanzibar Medical and Diagnostic Centre . The office is ideal for any minor medical attention needed. While traveling in East Africa, a trip to the doctor is recommended should you have a question or notice that you're feeling a little off. High fever and headache could be tip-off signs for malaria, and you should seek medical attention immediately at the appearance of these symptoms.
Tourist information can be obtained from the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation located in the Livingstone House on the Bububu Road just outside of Stone Town. The office doesn't have much, but can help to book beach bungalows and bandas (another word for bungalow but usually meant as a modest accommodation on the beach) on the East Coast of the island. They also sell maps that can be purchased from almost any shop in town that caters to tourists.
There are many tour operators on the island, many of whom have offices in Stone Town. Tour companies can arrange anything from hotel reservations to Spice Tours. They'll book a car, a guide, and they'll try to satisfy language requirements as well. There are French, Italian, and German-speaking guides available if booked in advance and if luck has them on the island. Tour operators are excellent for booking trips to Jozani Forest or the small islands off the coast. Tour companies change hands and reputations rise and fall. Ask the hotel where you're staying for reliable tour companies.
Visitors entering Zanzibar are required to have a passport. Nationals from Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Zimbabwe, most Caribbean island countries, and many island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not required to have a Tanzanian visa for entry, but all others must. . A tourist visa can be obtained in your home country at the Tanzanian Mission or Tourism Offices or they can be obtained at the border. Prices have been going up for visas and vary depending on the applicant’s nationality. For some reason, the prices between advance purchase and "at the door" purchase seem always to be different.
Arrival by boat or by air will land you in the immigration line but sometimes, depending on time of day and day of the week, you may not have to go through immigration at the port. There the customs check is sporadic, but it is quick when required. A piece of paper that is absolutely required for entering by way of the airport is proof of a yellow fever vaccination. You will not be allowed on Zanzibar without this card, but it is not always checked at the port. You should have the vaccination if travelling in East Africa whether or not it is required.
Travel Agents in Stone Town
See Listings Section
Travelling to and from Zanzibar by air is possible via the airlines listed below. Schedules vary from season to season, and some flights are only once or twice a week. If coming from Europe, it can be tough if not impossible to find direct flights. Direct flights are usually in the form of charters from Italy, except for the charters operated by Air Europe and Swiss Air (BelAir) that fly weekly during the high seasons (check with your travel agent for more details on these charters). All other European-originating flights will get you as far as Mombasa, or Dar-es-Salaam (frequently with stops in Nairobi) or Muscat, Oman, from which you'll need connecting flights to Zanzibar. If you're coming from America you'll have to get to Europe first and then catch a flight to East Africa.
Air Tanzania (ATC)
Various charter companies also operate flights to and from Zanzibar but schedules are subject to passenger volume. Some operators are:
Eagle Aviation (to Kenya destinations only)
Airlines that fly into and have offices in Dar-es-Salaam are as follows (phone numbers are listed in the Listings Section):
Arrival by Air
The first of a series of three checks upon arrival at Zanzibar International Airport is the health check. You are required to present proof of a yellow fever vaccination upon your arrival. You will not be permitted entry to Zanzibar if you're not carrying this document. Once your proof as been reviewed, you will be given a small piece of paper that you'll need to show to the guards at the door as proof that you checked in at the health desk. Next, onto Immigration, where, even if you're arriving from Dar-es-Salaam, they’ll want to see your passport, know where you're staying and possibly ask you to fill in an entry card. Your passport will be stamped (Zanzibar likes to think it's autonomous from Tanzania) and you may be given yet another small piece of paper to hold onto as proof that you went through the Immigration line. Customs is mandatory at the airport and a cursory check will be made of your luggage resulting in a chalk mark on each bag to get you past the guards and out the door.
Boats to or from Dar-es-Salaam, Pemba, Tanga, and Mombasa
A recent law passed in Tanzania prohibits tourists from travelling in wooden crafts, which prevents tourists from taking dhows to or from the Tanzanian mainland. This law was passed after a German tourist pitched overboard from a dhow and drowned, ruining the fun for the rest of us who might want to spend eight to twelve hours on a wooden boat without shelter from the sun and without food, water, or plumbing facilities. It is a silly law and has silly exceptions such as sunset cruises around Zanzibar harbor such as is offered by Mtoni Marine.
Although dhows are no longer a possible means of transport for tourists in Tanzanian waters, there are many other boats to choose from. If you have your heart set on a dhow ride from mainland to island, you can legally board a dhow in Mombasa that will take you, most likely, to Pemba. The dhows have no services, toilets, or cafeterias and can be dangerous in high swells. Some people have had lovely dhow rides but if the winds die or are light, your trip can last well over eight hours.
Boat tickets are available from kiosks at the port entrance in the Malindi corner of Stone Town. Keep in mind that, after you buy your ticket, you'll need to pay the Port Tax of TSh 500 (if you're going to a Tanzanian destination) and it's a good idea to do this the day before departure just to prevent last minute rushing. Many ticket collectors will allow you to pay the tax while boarding but you'll get nasty looks from other passengers who have to stand and wait in the hot sun while you fish for change.
Sea Bus (1 & 2) operated by Azam Marine leaves the Zanzibar Harbor 3 times a day for Dar-es-Salaam. Both cabins are very clean, air-conditioned and with comfortable seating. Board early to ensure a window seat. For some reason foreigners are occasionally given the first class cabin on a second class fare. Most trips across the harbor are comfortable unless you're susceptible to seasickness in which case Dramamine or some other form of motion sickness medicine may be advisable. Be prepared to see mattresses, chickens, tires, and other forms of cargo aboard. Water, soda, and snacks are available on board in the second class cabin by the door. This area also serves as the prayer area and at 3:45 p.m. it is likely that a member of the crew will be saying his prayers with a prayer mat laid out in front of him. Prayers take place while other crew members try to service requests from the snack counter without disturbing him or his prayers, but the mat can block the fridge. There is usually some form of video entertainment in the way of bad American movies, subtitled Indian movies or Mr. Bean episodes that require no knowledge of spoken language. The ride is anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.
Mega Speed Liners
Talieh and Sepideh are two large modern ferries that travel from Dar to Unguja to Pemba to Mombasa to Tanga - not necessarily in that order.
Sea Express and Flying Horse are two other ferries between Unguja and Dar. These are the fastest boats to Dar (assuming they're running) and the price is roughly the same as the other ferries. They take anywhere from one and a quarter hours to one and three-quarter hours to reach Dar. They are hydrofoils that were originally built for the North Sea by the Russians or East Germans and are therefore not built for hot weather. They are carpeted and retain the scents of past sea sickness; the air conditioner sometimes fails and the windows don't open and there's no outdoor deck like there are on Mega Speed Liners and the Azam Marine Boats. Passage on these boats are usually priced slightly less than that of the Mega Speed Liners or Azam Marine.
For boat trips to other Tanzanian locations the tax is TSh 500 and must be paid at the port tax office inside the gate on the left. Ask a porter or anyone standing around and they'll be happy to show it to you. Sometimes you'll be told that you have also to visit immigration on your way out, but most likely they'll be more interested in a cursory inspection of your bags on your way in. There is probably a fee for leaving to another country but it won’t be nearly as high as the $20 airport tax.
There are many men hanging around the port who will be happy to help you on board with your luggage. TSh 500 is the usual rate for receiving help from one of the porters and a little extra for more luggage is greatly appreciated.
Eid-al-Fitr is the festival at the end of Ramadhan, the month of fasting. Also known as Eid or Sikukuu (days of celebration, festival or holiday), this festival is a time of gift giving and of giving alms. The fasting of Ramadhan is meant to remind people what life is like for their less fortunate brethren and the alms giving at Eid (known as Zakat-el-Fitr) is a continuation along the same idea. Both fasting and the giving of alms are two of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Because the Islamic calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Ramadhan and Eid change every year by about 11 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you're looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid. Ramadhan is a holy month in which drinking, smoking, and eating in public are prohibited. Dress codes should be strictly adhered to. Some restaurants are closed during this month and outside of town it can be difficult to get any food at all during daytime hours during Ramadhan. All three discos mentioned above are closed during Ramadhan. Eid is a nice time to see all the little girls in their new dresses and the boys in their new sneakers/trainers. The girls wear kohl around the eyes regardless of age, and the boys run around firing cap guns. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend Taarab concerts and discos at night. Ramadhan lasts for one full cycle of the moon and is followed directly by Eid, which lasts for four days. The festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Karikoo fairgrounds out by the Main Post Office.
The newest of the major religions, Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammed who was born around 570 AD somewhere near Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Mohammed received messages from God at Mount Hira, near Mecca. After being chased out of his hometown he moved to Medina where, years later, he began converting people to Islam. He worked at converting people for somewhere between ten and twenty years before dying in 632. The five tenets of Islam are prayer (five times a day), testimony of faith, fasting (Ramadhan), alms-giving (Eid-el-Fitr) and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj). The Muslim calendar is different from the Christian calendar in that is starts on the Christian equivalent of July 16, 622 (the day Mohammed fled Mecca for Medina) and features a year of only 354 days based on lunar cycles of 29 to 30 days per month.
Zanzibar Music Festival
Every July this festival runs for one week and features artists and shows from around the world. Most of the performances are held at the Old Fort but there are other venues in town such as at Bwawani Plaza. Taarab and Ngoma are the big sell-outs during this festival but you can also catch performances from Arabia, Asia, and possibly Europe. Keep in mind that you'll have to do quite a bit of asking around to find out where the shows are. They may be advertised on radio only and if you can't understand Swahili, you'll have to get the information by asking residents.
A four-day-long celebration, Mwaka Kogwa is best observed in Makunduchi, a village in the south part of Zanzibar. The origins of this holiday are Zoroastrian (a Persian religion older than Islam). It is a celebration of the New Year and some of the events include huge bonfires and mock fights. These fights are between men who defend themselves with banana stems (in place of the sticks that were formerly used), and this fighting, in which everyone gets a chance, is said to let everyone air their grievances and so clear the air as the new year rolls in. As the men fight, the women stroll through the fields singing songs about life and love. They are dressed in their best clothes and are taunted by the men after the fight is over. The festivities vary from village to village but Makunduchi is where the biggest events take place. All are welcome for the festival because it is a local belief that anyone without a guest for this holiday is unhappy. The holiday is held every year around the third week of July, but check with a local tour operator to get the official dates. The dates are based on the Shirazi calendar and coincide with the Persian New Year called Nairuz.
Taarab is a form of local music that is a mix of sounds and styles from India, Arabia, and Africa. Taarab shows are as much about audience participation as they are about music. Although the music may be a bit harsh for Western ears, the show itself is great theater. Part of the tradition is for women to give money to the singer during the performance. This involves a very showy ascent to the stage and an exhibition of the night's eveningwear, a slow approach to the singer and maybe a tease before giving over the 'tip'. The audience howls at the antics of the other audience members and the Taarab singer carries on with the back up of a forty-piece band that includes horns, strings, and drums. Especially impressive is a horn-blower with the white cloth. Check the Old Fort for performances and check with hotel and restaurant staff to see if shows have been announced on the radio.
Ngoma is traditional African dance and singing accompanied by fast rhythmic drumming. There are performances around the island but they can be difficult to find and may be private. Try the Old Fort in town and ask around at hotels and restaurants. Some restaurants feature Ngoma on certain nights (Friday night at Emerson's & Green Tower Top Restaurant is Ngoma night). Local shows are much longer than Western shows; a Taarab/Ngoma night's schedule may last five hours. Ngoma was originally performed at weddings, harvest festivals, circumcision ceremonies and other celebrations.
International Triathlon and Marathon
In early November 1998, Zanzibar plans to host its third Annual International Triathlon and Marathon. The past two years' events have proven successful in drawing competitors from Africa, Asia, and Europe. Both events are Olympic regulation lengths and cover some of the most beautiful spots on the island. For more information contact The Secretary, Zanzibar International Marathon Committee.
Zanzibar International Film Festival
Zanzibar was the home of the first Zanzibar International Film Festival held July, 11-18, 1998. The committee intends for the festival to be an annual event so look for it again in 1999. There are many categories for competition and non-competition. Films from all over the world will be shown in short and full feature lengths, with a focus on films from East Africa, Persia, Arab states, India, and other Indian Ocean countries. Competitors for the Sheherezade Award will be submitting films that deal with the topic of illusion and reality. There will be Children's Panoramas and programs dealing with women's and environmental issues in addition to a special workshop aimed at examining the problems involved in Intellectual Property Rights and piracy. More information can be had off the Web site at www.zanzibar.org/ziff.
Also in July the Dhow races start in the Zanzibar Harbour. Hotels and Tour Agencies will have more information on when the races start and from where is the best viewing.
Freddie Mercury (Bismallah!) of Queen
Born Farok Bulsara on September 5, 1946 in Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury succeeded in becoming one of, if not the, most famous Asian pop star in the UK and America. Freddie's parents are Parsee, members of the ancient Zoroastrian religion that originated in Iran. Many Parsees immigrated to India during and after the Arab conquest of Iran, resulting in a sizable Parsee population in India of which the Bulsaras are descendents. They moved from Gujarat to Zanzibar before Freddie's birth. Freddie's father worked as a civil servant in the British Protectorate that was Zanzibar and his mother worked as a cashier at Zanzibar's High Court. The family was comfortable. At the age of seven Freddie was sent to India for boarding school and from there he went to London, attended University, and started his rock 'n' roll career as the lead singer of the pop group, Queen. In 1964 the Bulsaras moved to the UK to avoid a pending revolution in Zanzibar. A trace of Freddie's Zanzibari roots can be heard in one of the most famous of Queen's songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody" which contains the Arabic word "Bismallah". This word had special political significance in Zanzibar for a brief period for a group who used it to express discontent. The word itself is used all the time at the commencement of anything. Queen's use of 'Bismallah' was most likely unrelated to the political usage in Zanzibar which itself was accidental.
In India, Freddie attended a private school called St. Peter's just outside of Bombay. It was here, in this English school, that Freddie adopted his English name and stopped using the name Farok (meaning Lucky in Parsee) and started his own music group, the Hectics. Before the age of 20 Freddie was in the UK with his family and, although they were interested to see him become a doctor or lawyer, he pursued a career in the arts and attended Ealing College of Art. At College he reportedly met the other members of Queen and the rest is rock 'n' roll history.
Queen had numerous hits from the 1970's through the 1980's ('We are the Champions', 'Another One Bites the Dust'), and Freddie worked with other famous pop artists including David Bowie ('Under Pressure') and shared the stage with many others during the Live Aid concert in 1985. Queen had a reputation for bright lights, big sounds, and concerts that rocked. Freddie had an onstage persona that lit up TV screens and kept women screaming. Even into the late 1980's and early 1990's when he took on a post-Village People gay look complete with moustache, the women still screamed for him. His fans came from all genders, age groups, and nationalities. He kept in touch with his family including weekly visits to his parents. On November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury died in London of bronchial pneumonia brought on by AIDS. He was cremated in the Zoroastrian tradition and leaves his parents, Jer and Bomi, his sister, Kashmira, and his boyfriend, Jim Hutton.
Zanzibar is home to some of the most pristine beaches in the world and with white sand, palm trees, gorgeous shells, and amazing shades of blue and turquoise waters they are a highlight of the island. Depending on whether you're looking for a great dive or a dark tan, there's a beach on Zanzibar that will be perfect. Getting to the beaches is easy and it's difficult to get lost but the quality of roads varies a lot depending on the destination. Public transportation does run to the beaches but the Basi (wood-sided buses from town) that work the routes to the beach villages generally take about two to four times longer than the actual drive and can be hot, crowded, and uncomfortable. There are only four major roads leading out of Stone Town and most of the beaches can be found by either the road leading north (Nungwi and Matemwe) or the road going East that leads to the East Coast and branches off toward the southern point of Kizimkazi.
Matemwe village is located on the North East Coast of Zanzibar. The drive from Stone Town takes between one and one and half-hours over fairly decent roads. Matemwe is a small fishing village and is home to two guesthouse establishments, Matemwe Bungalows and H Beach Bungalows. Matemwe Bungalows is a favorite among tourists and ex-pats because of its remote location and excellent positioning of the bungalows. For guests looking for peace and quiet and white sand, this is the ultimate in beach side relaxation. There is a dive center in Matemwe that can be used by guests of the bungalows or day-trippers. Matemwe Bungalows has self-contained bungalows as well as shared facilities and full board is recommended if not essential. The food is excellent!
H Beach Bungalows is located just south of Matemwe Bungalows and offers the same remote peace as Matemwe Bungalows with more modest service and a lower price. Highly recommended for budget travelers, H Beach Bungalows has a great view of the ocean as well as clean, functioning, facilities and access to the Dive Adventures' dive center at Matemwe Bungalows. Full board is essential unless you'd like to pop over to Matemwe Bungalows for lunch or dinner.
Matemwe is ideally located for snorkelers and divers because of its proximity to Mnemba Island atoll and Nungwi. Some of the best diving off Zanzibar is reported to be around Mnemba Island and for experienced divers, there are some challenging dives off Mnemba and Nungwi.
Not far off the shore of Matemwe is Mnemba Island and its surrounding atoll. Arguably the location of some of the best diving off Zanzibar, the island is also home to a wonderful set of bungalows run by South Africa's Conservation Corporation. Staying on Mnemba is more like visiting very hospitable friends than staying at a resort, but resort it is. Mnemba Club has diving, fishing, water-skiing, windsurfing, and snorkeling, not to mention an amazing location, an incredible white sand beach that surrounds the island, and the clearest, bluest water I've ever seen. The bungalows are very open so you can expect to find crabs wandering around your laundry basket after you get back from having the ultimately romantic dinner on the beach. Dinner tables are set inches from the surf and lit with small lanterns as tiki torches and placed near by. The food is excellent. The atoll is home to quite a few dolphins and you can expect to see them regularly and even swim with them if you can catch them. The hosts of the island are very well educated on all the wildlife (flora and fauna) on the island and in the water and can answer most, if not all, of your questions. For further study, the club provides a reading room with several books on nature study. For rainy days there's a video room and the bar is stocked with all the usual supplies plus backgammon and cards. There are only ten bungalows on the island and the atmosphere is one of privacy. Mnemba Club is a magical place to visit and the prices reflect it. Highly recommended, but sadly not in everyone's budget.
Nungwi (Ras Nungwi)
Ras is the Swahili word for Point and will be seen before the names of many villages located on points or peninsulas. Ras Nungwi is possibly the best swimming spot on the island because of the depth of the water just off the West Point. Many beaches on the East Coast lose so much water during low tide that swimmers must walk over 1 km to the reef in order to swim in water that's above the knees yet below the 38 degree mark on the thermometer.
Just around Nungwi village there are several guesthouses and at least one large resort. The village itself is on the edge of the water and the guesthouses have been built up on either side. There's at least one in the village itself. To the right of the village there are so many guesthouses and bars being developed that it's becoming like a small tourist village. There's a bar on the water and an excellent restaurant all within walking distance of the many bungalows crowded on that section of the shore. This is a great place for people looking for beach and nightlife but not so good for people looking for solitude. Keep in mind that nightlife in this sense means laid back bar scene and not raging disco.
Dives can be arranged for Nungwi either in Stone Town before you depart or you can try Paradise Guesthouse, Amaan Beach Bungalows, or the Ras Nungwi Hotel (on the left side of the village). Snorkeling trips can also be arranged from Nungwi. Many dives from Nungwi will be at the Mnemba Atoll or at some of the reef along the way such as Nungwi Coral Garden, Turtle Gap or Leon Wall, but other trips are also made to Leven Bank and other dive sites to the west. There's no reef within snorkeling distance off Nungwi which makes for excellent swimming at all times of the tide, but is not so good for snorkelers who have to take a boat to get to see any coral.
For budget travelers the Kigoma Guesthouse offers bed and breakfast. The rooms are small but there are sheets and nets and they're all reasonably clean. All toilets are shared. Bring your own soap and toilet paper. Slightly up the scale there are the Amaan Bungalows whose rooms are self-contained and not built in prison-block row style. Similar accommodations can be found along these lines all around (and in) the village (see Listings for more guesthouses). Keep in mind that Nungwi is a long way from Stone Town and doesn't have its own water or power source which means – just because there's water in the tank doesn't mean you'll get a shower. If there's no power to pump the water – there's no water. If you're staying in a budget place, take a torch and be prepared to rinse in the sea. Most places accommodate guests with washing lines, kerosene lamps, and other bare essentials. Be wary of Salleh's guesthouse where accommodation doesn't necessarily mean having a door on your hut and the staff can be ornery, although some people have reported a nice stay there.
For top end traveling, stay at the Ras Nungwi Hotel located almost on its own on the East side of the village. They have a nice bar, offer full board and the rooms are deluxe compared to the surrounding beach bungalows. Ras Nungwi is the only International-standard full service hotel in the area and the prices reflect it.
Nungwi is home to a small turtle aquarium that was built and is maintained by the local village. The last time I want there an expansion project was under way and excited children were carrying pans and bags full of sand to allow for digging a bigger pond for the turtles. Visitors must sign a guest book to enter and donations are requested. Once inside the aquarium (a lagoon in coral rock surrounded by makuti walls) you'll walk on a boardwalk from which your guide will throw seaweed to the turtles. Look for bright colored fish as well. Another attraction of the aquarium is the two vervet monkeys in residence. They are usually tethered near the entrance but sometimes run wild, their leashes trailing. They are inquisitive about people and will climb on your shoulder, bite your sunglasses, open your camera and lick your skin for the salt it contains. They are mostly harmless and are fun for photos but can bite if provoked. Watch small items such as pens, sunglasses, and anything that may stick out of a breast pocket or bag.
Tumbatu Island is the largest of Zanzibar's offshore islands and it is located to the southwest of Ras Nungwi. It is inhabited by the Watumbatu people who speak their own dialect of Swahili and who claim to be descendants of the Shirazi. There are Shirazi ruins on the island that date back to the 12th Century. Although transport can be arranged to the island, it is rumored that the people of Tumbatu do not welcome strangers. There are ruins on the island and admission to them is included on the "Ancient Monuments" receipt. All visitors planning a trip to Tumbatu need to arrange for a special pass from the Regional Commissioner. Ask any tour agent for help with these arrangements.
South on the same coast of Matemwe there's a village called Pwani Mchangani and it is one of the largest fishing villages on the island. Watch for the turnoff as you're driving north toward Matemwe. Further down the same coast is the village of Kiwengwa.
Northeast of Stone Town there are a few resorts on the coast but they are mostly for package tours and are sold to visitors sight unseen in places like Milan and Frankfurt. They are more expensive than guesthouses and they have less Zanzibari/African flavor than the small guesthouses. The food tends to be Italian served on plates imported from Italy and at night there are discos at which guests do the Macarena. Not all of the large resorts are this way, but it's a good thing to look into if you're going to spend some time at one. An advantage of a large resort is its swimming pool. When the tide is out on the East Coast, there's no sea swimming and pools are a welcome import from the modern world. Resorts on the coast south of and around Pwani Mchangani are Mapenzi Beach Village, Coral Reef Village, Kiwengwa Club Village and Karibu Club Village. Don't let the names fool you – there are no local villages at these resorts.
Between Kiwengwa and Mapenzi there's a place called Shooting Star Restaurant and Bungalows. It's near the sea (near enough for breeze and view) and miles from the nearest anything else. The food's terrific and everything is prepared fresh daily. They're building bungalows and at the time of print, five were finished and available for guests. You'll want to stay there and sleep on the bluff instead of facing the bumpy ride home after dinner – but dinner is worth the trip even if you don't stay overnight.
One of the last villages on the lower half of the northern stretch of the east coast is called Uroa and it is home to the new Zanzibar Safari Club, the Tamarind Beach Hotel and Uroa White Villa. Although these places won't be featuring blaring discos into the night, they will have swimming pools (except the Tamarind), bars and other modern facilities as well as offering deep-sea fishing, diving and other water sports. The village of Uroa is a small fishing village in which visitors can walk around and explore. Be sure to ask permission before taking any photographs of people.
The last village on the northern half of the East Coast is Chwaka and it is actually south of the northern most point on the Southern Coast, Ras Michamvi. Attractions in Chwaka are seaweed farming, fishing boats and excellent snorkeling (if you can get to the reef). Be sure you get the tides right if you plan on snorkeling at Chwaka Bay because if it’s out when you arrive, you have a long walk ahead of you. You may consider booking a ride on a boat from The Chwaka Bay Hotel or from Breezes or Karafuu - depending on which side of the Bay you are on. The Chwaka Bay Hotel can be found by taking the road out of town that heads almost due east. This is road will also get you to Uroa and Pongwe.
Points South of Chwaka Bay
On the road to the southeast coast are some fun places to visit, such as Jozani Forest (the road actually drives through the conservation area) and ZALA park. So you may want to consider stopping off there on your way to or from the coast (see the chapter called Tours). Along the same road, a bit further on, are the Bi Khole ruins (see the section called Things to see Outside of Town).
Thought to be one of the original settlements on the island, Unguja Ukuu dates back to the 5th Century and may have been settled by Shirazi immigrants (a common claim of Zanzibar villages). Possibly abandoned as early as the 10th century, but reoccupied in the 16th Century, the site of the old settlement is accessible to visitors by passing through the modern village of Unguja Ukuu and following the tidal causeway to Uzi Island. Not much remains except for some holes from old digs and some crumbling structures.
Southeast Coastal Villages
Paje is the first village at the end of the road to the southeast and there's a police check (as are common on Zanzibari roads but nothing to worry about) as you approach the village. The road to this part of the island was a horrible, dusty, pockmarked stretch of rocks, dirt, and cows, but it has since been temporarily repaired to a decent level of comfort and it seems that tarmac is on the way. If you've rented a car, be sure you've confirmed the locations of spare tyre, jack, and other essentials for a flat. Paje is a small beach village and is a sort of access point to the other villages on the southeast coast. The beaches are breathtaking all along the coast, but you may want to look into the tides before setting off to be sure there's some water to wade in when you arrive. Snorkeling is reportedly good all along the reef but you may have to walk upwards of 1.5 km to get to it.
Be careful when going to the beach around Paje or in Chwaka to make sure that you don't walk on someone's farm. Seaweed farming is big business on this part of the island and sometimes the seaweed is laid out in such a natural looking way that it hardly looks like a harvest. The farms are easy to spot at low tide because of the sticks popping up out of the water, but use caution walking through the villages so as not to trample the harvest.
Seaweed farming was introduced to Zanzibar less than ten years ago but, as a local industry, it has grown quickly because of the perfect setting for it: shallow tidal flats, warm weather, and water full of nutrients. The plants grow very quickly and can be harvested after only two weeks after cuttings have been attached to the strings that run from the sticks stuck in the flats. After harvest the seaweed is dried out on the beach, between the houses in the village, or sometimes on the tarmac of a nearby road. The dried product is sold, by weight, to Scandinavian countries and other countries around the world for the manufacture of such products as medicines, beer, foods, and cosmetics. The farming on the coasts of Zanzibar is a point of contention between residents and hotel owners. Hopefully a reasonable solution will be agreed upon that provides the space needed for the villagers to practice successful seaweed farming.
Paje has several guesthouses, and recommended among them are Seven Seas, Paje Ndame Village Guesthouse and Paradise Beach Bungalows. If you arrive at the village by way of a minibus driven by a local driver, he may get a commission by putting you in a certain guesthouse, so be sure you go in to check about vacancies or you may be told that your chosen guesthouse is full . Sunrise Restaurant in Paje serves some of the best meals on the East Coast. Also in Paje there is an interesting building that serves as a mausoleum. It has castellated embattlements and crockery set into the walls, a tradition reportedly from Persia. Paje may well be yet another village originally settled by Shirazis.
Going north from Paje you'll pass through the village of Bwejuu. Along the way between Paje and Bwejuu, you'll pass many guesthouses - see the section 'Bwejuu' in the Listings Section for more details. After Bwejuu you'll reach Dongwe Village, which is just before the Sultan’s Palace resort. Sultan's Palace is a high-end resort complete with beautiful bungalows, an airy main house for meals, and a swimming pool by the beach. Further along the same road, in an area called Michamvi, are the Karafuu and Breezes resorts. Karafuu and Breezes are well run, serve good meals, and welcome day-trippers for lunch, drinks, and dips in the swimming pool. Breezes is highly recommended as a place to stay for sports enthusiasts because it has some of the only tennis courts on the island and it even offers horseback riding in addition to other sports facilities. Past Karafuu on the same road you can veer left and land at a breathtaking view of the large and shallow Chwaka Bay.
To the south of Paje you'll reach Jambiani, a good size beach village running several kilometers along the coast. There are many small guesthouses here but there are no large resorts. There are many places to buy food (including a bakery!) and other basics. The Jambiani Beach Hotel and the Shehe Guesthouse are two of many recommended guesthouses. The room rates are modest and the rooms are clean. See Listings Section for more information.
On the southernmost point of the island are two major villages. Directly south from Jambiani on the same road you'll find Makunduchi, the largest village of the south. Makunduchi is a long drive, but the village has most of what you may need including a small post office, a bank, and quite a few little shops. It is also where the yearly Zoroastrian Mwaka Kogwa festival is celebrated most wildly. Along with some ZTC Bungalows there is the Kigaeni Reef Lodge which offers rooms of different sizes for reasonable rates. In addition to budget accommodations, the Lodge can arrange for snorkeling trips as well as rides to and from town that include tours of local sights along the way. Check with any tour operator in town and they'll help you with the arrangements.
Kizimkazi is the on the southern tip of the island. It is home to the oldest mosque on the island and possibly in all of East Africa. The Kizimkazi Mosque has inscriptions that date back to 1107 AD There are Kufic inscriptions on the east wall of the mosque where the muezzin says the call to prayer. The mosque has been remodeled several times and the small part that survived from 1107 is the trefoil and the inscriptions on each side at a height of about three feet. The outside of the mosque doesn't look at all old since it has a corrugated metal roof and new walls. You'll have to ask a local resident where it is because it doesn't have a sign. You may also have to rustle up the keeper, because if you go when the mosque is closed, he'll have to unlock it for you. The mosque welcomes visitors, but please remove your shoes before entering and have your shoulders and knees covered. Women are allowed in the mosque and all visitors are asked to leave a small donation for upkeep.
Kizimkazi (broken into two villages just down the road from each other) is well known for the dolphins that live off the shore. There are only two guesthouses in Kizimkazi and they both play host to visitors who are there in hopes of seeing dolphins. There are many boats and captains who will take you out on a dolphin safari. Dolphins are social creatures and will not shy from the boats unless there's a baby with them. Most dolphin safaris result in a good viewing but it is not guaranteed. There are also resident dolphins off the Mnemba Atoll if you don't get a chance to get to Kizimkazi, you may be able to spot them from Matemwe or on a snorkeling trip from Nungwi. Paje also has a boat that goes down to Kizimkazi to see the dolphins.
Things to watch out for when snorkeling or walking to the reef: sea urchins (easy to spot because they are black and spiky), sponges (can cause skin irritation), coral (can cause nasty infections as well as damage the coral), jelly fish (sting, sting, sting), and anemones (sting and sting again). If you are going to snorkel at a reef, but sure to read up on the local wildlife beforehand; things are much more interesting if you know what you're looking at and it will be much safer to know what to avoid. A good rule of thumb is 'don't touch anything on the reef'.
Diving and Boating
The Zanzibar Islands have excellent locations for diving because living reefs surround many of the islands. There are plenty of places where the water temperature is warm, visibility is usually excellent, and currents are weak, all of which contributes to an ideal location for first time and novice divers. In addition to the warm and still waters full of colorful fish, there are many challenging dives as well. If you want to surf the current through a ravine, go for deep water, or search for wrecks, there are dive companies that can make it happen for you. Many of the larger resorts on the north and east coasts have professionally-run dive shops as well. See the Listings Section for complete listings of dive shops.
Top Dive/Snorkel Sites in the Archipelago
The walls of the Mnemba Island Atoll vary in height from 20 to 60m. A large variety of reef life is on permanent display at Mnemba; from grouper to green turtles to whale sharks, you can see it all at Mnemba Atoll. Snorkeling and diving are so exceptional here that boats from dive centers at Nungwi to Kiwengwa are found daily at various points off the atoll. With site names like 'The Aquarium' you get an idea of the water clarity and the specimens to be spotted. Best diving off Unguja, for both novice and advanced divers).
Leven Bank is a dive only for the experienced. Deep water and strong currents provide a challenging dive but the effort pays off in the form of large and plentiful fish that are always there. This location is in the Pemba channel (open sea) and swells can be large.
Sand Bar Island (Pange Sand Bank)
Located just south of the Serena in Stone Town, the Sand Bar is only about a 30-minute boat ride from town. An excellent location for snorkelers because the reef starts at about one or two meters. Maximum depth for diving is no more than 20m. There is plenty of marine life to satisfy snorkelers and divers.
Bawe Island is another excellent choice for offshore dives within a few minutes of Stone Town. The coral formations include quite a bit of brain, staghorn, and other distinct shapes. There are also plenty of sea cucumbers, giant clams, and anemones. There are many fish, the current isn't strong and the depths are good for novice level divers.
Prison Island, located just 15 minutes from Stone Town, is a popular location for novice diving and snorkeling because of the shallow depths, variety in coral and marine life, and lack of strong current.
The Great Northerner is a must for wreck enthusiasts. Located between Bawe and Pange Sandbar and just about 30 minutes from town, she's lying about 12m under the surface right on the edge of the reef. She sank on New Year's Eve in 1897 while laying electrical cables that were to connect Zanzibar to the mainland. The wreck is in pieces but there's plenty of it and plenty life around it. Sometimes known as "Clown City" because of the number of clown fish, the Great Northerner is ideal for diving but snorkeling is not recommended because of the depth.
Fumba is a peninsula on the southwest part of the island. It is nearly virgin territory because the government has not yet issued permits for tourist companies to operate on that part of the island. One company, Adventures Afloat, operates a day trip to Fumba that includes an onboard barbecue and fishing. The boat doesn't moor at Fumba and departs from another part of the island. Fumba is only 15 km from Stone Town and the village does welcome visitors just don't expect to find a dive shop in the region.
For deep-sea fishing or boat trips to any of the outlying islands around Unguja or Pemba, contact a local tour operator. There are some luxury boats for hire as well as boats that are meant only to get you there and back with no meals served.
Pemba lies 80 km north of its sister island, Unguja, directly east of the Tanzanian city of Tanga. World-renowned for its collective knowledge of witchcraft and the African occult, Pemba is frequently visited by people looking for local cures or looking to learn the trade of witch-doctoring. It is even said that people have traveled from as far as Haiti in order to learn the origins of voodoo. Although its reputation for occult healing and spell casting spreads much farther than Pemba, the locals will deny it emphatically if asked. It is not for public consumption and is revealed to locals only. In its beauty, the island itself is bewitching enough. The epitome of a tropical paradise, Pemba has green valleys with rice paddies and palm trees and clove plantations that shade the roads. Vistas of the Indian Ocean are pleasant surprises as they are presented through the peaks and depths of Pemba's hilly terrain.
There are frequent ferry departures from Unguja to Pemba and the fare is about $30 per person for tourists. The ferries Sepideh and Talieh run several times a week (about a three-hour ride) for which tickets can be purchased at the ports on Unguja or Pemba. There are larger ships such as the Mapinduzi that also go to Pemba but their schedules are erratic and unreliable. At the time of publication it was illegal for tourists to travel in wooden crafts in Tanzanian waters making a dhow journey to Pemba impossible. It is possible to take a dhow from Mombasa to Pemba because Kenyan law does permit tourists to travel in wooden boats. If you're looking for a dhow ride, you may consider something shorter than the six to eight hour sail from Mombasa to Pemba. The dhows don't have catering, can be very dangerous in high swells and there's no way to get out of the sun.
Landing at Pemba is not quite the same experience as Unguja since there are fewer cars, people and bustle. There are several charter airlines that will fly to Pemba for a large group or may sell you a seat on a scheduled flight. Air Tanzania claims to fly to Pemba regularly, but the practice doesn't match the claim. Although air travel is arguably quicker and can be more comfortable, it is more expensive, and for those who like adventure, the ferry trips are fun. Pemba has one airport that services charter flights but at this writing there are no regularly scheduled flights to and from the Pemba airport. The airport is located between Chake Chake and Mkoani.
Geography and People
The Pemba geography is more varied than that of Unguja because it includes hills, valleys, rivers and fresh water ponds. The crops range from rubber trees to cloves and include others such as rice, coconut, bananas, and a lot of cassava. Unlike Unguja, much of Pemba has not been cultivated, leaving beautiful views of green wild valleys leading down to the sea. Pemba's infrastructure is also less developed than Unguja and it is much less visited by tourists. This is considered to be a plus by many of its visitors, even if the roads aren't as good as on Unguja and transportation is more difficult to arrange. The culture is similar to that of Unguja including a 95% Muslim and Kiswahili-speaking population. As on Unguja or in Stone Town, respect the local customs by wearing clothing that covers both shoulders and knees.
Chake Chake is the largest town on the island and it is the capital. Like Stone Town on Unguja, Chake Chake is located about halfway down the West Coast of the island. It is the only town on Pemba that has a city center feel to it with a central market, a hotel and, albeit small, a strip of shops. There is a large state-run hotel, Chake Chake Hotel, in the town center that is pleasant, affordable, and clean. It has a bar that serves beer that can be hard to come by on Pemba, and so can be a gathering spot for the few ex-pats in the area. Restaurants other than the one at the Chake Chake Hotel are the Standard Café whose fare is basic and affordable and the Naas Restaurant whose reputation isn't consistent. Along the roads and at the market, breads and fruit are readily available in the town. Chake Chake is home to the Pemba ZTC office which is next to the Chake Hotel. The People's Bank of Zanzibar has a branch in each of the three large towns on Pemba but only the Chake Chake branch will exchange Travelers' Cheques.
Electricity on Pemba can be sporadic and when it goes out it can be much slower to return than it does on Unguja. It won't be a bad idea to carry a torch if you'll be staying in ZTC houses or other locally run establishments that don't have generators. Although kerosene lamps will be provided, torches can come in handy for many uses.
Chake Chake is an excellent place to buy halua, a confection made of wheat gluten, sugar, nuts and spices. It comes in woven palm frond parcels and is very sticky once you get the package open. Halua is very popular on Zanzibar and in Oman and the Emirates and the best halua is said to come from Pemba. It is said that during Eid, the feast and celebration that follows Ramadhan, large orders of halua are placed with the Pemba manufacturers and they are then shipped to Arab states along the Gulf. Halua is also referred to as 'sweat meat'.
Mkoani is the town with the port. Although the port brings a lot of traffic to the town, there isn't much else to see there. There is a state-run hotel, Wete ZTC Hotel that has the basic services for decent rates. All of the ZTC hotels serve beer. There is a branch of the People's Bank of Zanzibar in town and it will exchange dollars for TShillings.
Wete is the largest town in the northern part of the village and it is equipped with a bank, post office, police station, travel agencies (for ferry tickets), and some restaurants. There is also a cinema in Wete; it's located near the shops on the main road and it's called the Novelty Cinema. Don't expect recent releases.
Car rental and bicycle rental are not so easy on Pemba as they are on Unguja, and indeed, car hire may not even be possible for self-drive. A car and driver can cost from $40 to $60 per day including driver. The advantage of having a driver is that you won't need a hard-to-come-by map. Inquire with tour operators and the ZTC office in Chake Chake if you're interested in renting bikes or arranging for a car.
Things to See
Ngezi Forest is a protected area in the northwest corner of the island. It is home to endemic flora and fauna species such as the Pemba Flying Fox (a big bat) and the Pemba Palm (Dyposis Pembanus) which is found only in the region of Ngezi Forest and is known locally as Mapapindi Palm. If you can get a ride into the heart of the forest, there is an excellent nature walk that at one time was marked by stumps indicating interesting trees and plants. The forest has since reclaimed the stumps but a guide can help point them out and their corresponding facts. Because of the jungle-like canopy and thick forest floor, shoes are recommended for the walk over open sandals. Keep a look out for snakes and listen for monkeys. On the northern side of the forest, on the road to the beach, there is a rubber plantation where you can see the trees with the dark rubber sap being tapped.
Misali Island, just to the west of Chake Chake, is surrounded by coral and therefore makes a great day trip for divers and snorkelers. Tours can be arranged through any of the local tour operators (see the Listings Section) on the island or can be arranged while on Unguja. Misali Island can be a day trip from Unguja.
Pujini Ruins are located 10km southeast of Chake Chake. They are the remains of a fortified town built around the 13th century. The area is largely overgrown and it can be difficult to imagine the original shape of the structure. Known locally as Mkame Ndume, you can reach the site by car or by a long walk from Chake Chake.
For more information on Pemba, visit the ZTC offices in Chake Chake or in Stone Town on Unguja.
Travel Tips (What to pack, what to leave at home, and what to expect when you get there)
Local currency can be used for all transactions including port fees, airport tax, national monument fees, and hotel and restaurant bills. The local currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSh) and at the time this guide was printed the rate was at 680 per dollar but expected to settle to about 640. Credit cards are accepted at large hotels and restaurants only. There are Visa/MasterCard Assistance Points, which allow for cash advances, at Mtoni Marine, the Mtoni Marine office next to the Serena Inn, and at Mbweni Ruins Hotel. Cash advances include a $5 service charge, are transacted at unfavorable rates, and may not be available if the power or the phones are down. Travelers’ Cheques are accepted at large hotels and restaurants and can be exchanged for local currencies at Bureaux de Change as long as you have your passport with you and the Cheques are properly signed.
Check with your local physician about vaccinations before you leave. If possible, see an Infectious Disease or Tropical Disease specialist because they will have perishable vaccinations on hand and won't have to order them. They may also be more aware than your regular physician of the possible health threats in your destinations and can prescribe medications accordingly. If you have special medical needs such as diabetes or a heart condition be sure to wear a medical bracelet or necklace and bring an extra supply of your medication carried separately from your primary supply, in case one gets lost or damaged. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contacts for the same reason. Women may consider packing tampons because they can be hard to find in Zanzibar although pads (sanitary napkins) are readily available.
What to Pack
Waterproof shoes such as rubber flip-flops are excellent for Stone Town because if it rains your feet will get drenched no matter what you're wearing. Flip-flops are also easy to remove and some restaurants are Arab-style and require shoes to be removed at the door. Almost all homes in Stone Town have a pile of shoes at the door. If you are invited into one and see this, remove your shoes before entering. Shoes must be removed when entering mosques (this applies to men only as women are not permitted in Zanzibari mosques except for the old one in Kizimkazi). Take an umbrella or rain poncho if traveling from October to January or March to June. Flashlights (torches) and pocketknives come in handy for all kinds of situations from power outages to missing bottle openers. Clothes should be light and loose and washable. When in town women and men should have their shoulders and knees covered. Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt are perfectly fine but halter-tops and miniskirts are insulting to the local population and could land you unwanted stares and comments (aside from the fact that it would be rude).
Telephones are hard to come by (there are a few pay phones at the post offices) and they are very expensive. Some offices allow callback service (you call home, give the number where you are and someone from home calls you back) but this is frowned upon by the local phone company so we don't name names. Ask around and you'll find the offices that allow callback. To make an international call at the Tanzanian Telephone Company Ltd. (TTCL)/Post Office is very expensive and you're required to fill out a long boring form before they'll dial. Non-TTCL phone offices are more convenient to use. There's one in the same building as TTCL in Stone Town; it's called ASKO and it's on the left hand side of the building. ASKO, Next Step, and Modern Computer Centre all offer email service which, at about TSh 1,000 per message, is much cheaper than the telephone. Modern Computer Centre will also let you access the World Wide Web for a fee. Keep in mind that Zanzibar had only one local ISP when this book went to print and phone connections are pricey, so email and access to the net aren't as cheap here as they are in America or Europe.
The local electricity is the same as England at 220/230 but it is unreliable and inconsistent. To extend their lives, appliances should not be left plugged in when not in use and computers should not be used without an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) box. Laptops don't need the UPS box because their batteries absorb the overages and make up for it when the currency is too low but it's best to unplug them when not in use to save them getting strained from surges. Visitors from America will need an adapter and a transformer to use American appliances in Zanzibar. A working knowledge of kerosene lamps is handy and one might consider carrying a lighter or box of matches in the event of an unexpected black-out.
All visitors are required to have a passport and visas are necessary for all visitors except: Danish, English, Irish, Finnish, Icelandic, Kenyan, Norwegian, Singaporean, Swedish and Zimbabwean nationals as well as residents from most Caribbean island countries and many island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Visas can be obtained from the Tanzanian Mission office in your country or at the border. Check with mission before you leave, just to be sure.
Cops and Robbers
Crime is on the rise in Zanzibar. Drug-related assaults and thieving are a reality of Stone Town. As in any city, don't advertise valuables (better yet, leave valuables at home), don't walk alone at night, and don't resist a group of people demanding your belongings. Watch your possessions and be aware of the people around you. No one will try to rip you off in a crowded market or square unless you make it easy for them by putting your camera or bag down unattended. The local response to thieving is amazing to an outsider. When thieves are caught citizens sometimes stone them to death before the police arrive. If you are robbed, report it to the nearest police station. If you stick to the main roads, take a guide at night and leave the diamond-studded Rolex at home, you'll be unlikely and very unlucky to get robbed.
If you rent a car or Vespa, be sure to have a valid driver's license because chances are it will be checked. You are required to stop at police roadblocks (often set up along the road to Nungwi or the road to Paje but nothing to be concerned about) and sometimes you will be asked to show your license. If you do not have a Zanzibari driver's license, you are obliged to purchase a TSh 3,000 police permit to drive, good for one day only. You may not be asked for it, but it's better to have it than get hassled and/or fined. Be sure to locate the spare tyre, jack, and other essentials before setting off to Nungwi or Paje where roads can be in poor condition. Let someone know where you've gone and when you plan on returning.
Zanzibar is home to East Africa's first color television station, TVZ. This station broadcasts local news and political commentary as well as the occasional western movie. Some places in Stone Town are set up for viewing, and as you walk through town on certain nights you'll see a courtyard filled with blue faces, lit by nothing but the light of a solitary TV screen as they watch a TVZ broadcast. Radio One is the radio station of choice, available from Dar-es-Salaam on the MW Band at about 148. They play a mixture of pop from around the world with special times for Zairian dance music, R&B, and even Country music from America on some afternoons. The news, commentaries, and ads are all in Swahili. Radio Zanzibar reports local news stories and plays local Taarab music and some pop. For the news in English you can get CNN at the following hotel bars, Tembo (no alcohol served), Chavda, and Shangani. Local newspapers are available in English and Swahili but all the English papers are from the mainland and are not solely dedicated to Zanzibar news. There is a glossy tourist magazine called Swahili Coast (www.swahilicoast.com) that will provide up-to-the-minute information about restaurants, hotels, cultural events, and points of interest in Zanzibar and coastal Tanzania.
Sadly this is frequently overlooked. Visitors should act less like they're walking through a human zoo and more as if they are guests in a foreign land. The Muslim population expects and appreciates men and women alike to keep their knees and shoulders covered while in the streets. Once in a restaurant it is okay to show shoulders, but consider a shawl or button-up shirt to cover up with while on the streets. T-shirt and shorts may be comfortable but notice how the local people tend to wear well-cared-for clothes, unlike a number of tourists.