Zanzibar Island Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Zanzibar Island

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    Mangapwani Beach and Slave Cave

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    On the afternoon of our Spice Tour our guide Mohammed brought us to one of Zanzibar’s best-known beaches, Mangapwani, by way of the nearby so-called “Slave Cave”. This is in fact no naturally-carved cave but a cube-shaped cell cut out of the soft coral rock. It was used as a place in which to store slaves, who would be brought here by boat from the mainland and kept in the cave while awaiting sale in the markets of Zanzibar Town. Even after the slave trade was officially abolished on the island in 1873 it is thought that the practice continued illicitly, and this cave would have been an important factor in allowing the traders to hide their slaves from official eyes.

    From here we walked between the trees to a small secluded beach – not the main Mangapwani Beach (which is now the site of one of the luxurious Serena Hotels) but a smaller one separated from it by an outcrop of coral rocks. Here we could swim in the sea (having been warned in advance to bring or wear swim-wear) and relax on the sands.

    Mangapwani Beach

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    Spice Tour

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    Ten years on, we still regard this tour as one of the best ever value for money holiday experiences! We paid just $10 for a full and fascinating day out, with lunch and snacks also included (see my “Restaurant” tip).

    Setting off straight after breakfast in one of the local “dala-dala” trucks traditionally used as public transport on the island, our group of about ten soon found ourselves joined by what we thought were the guide’s pals hitching a lift but who turned out to be additional guides whose main role seemed to be to spot things we might like to eat! So we stopped several times before even reaching the plantations for them to buy cassava chips and other local delicacies.

    The tour included short walks in several spice plantations, where our guide Mohammed introduced us to a wide range of fruits and spices grown on the island. Touching, smelling and tasting were all encouraged! Among those we saw and/or sampled were:
    ~ cassava (hence the purchase of chips, so we could taste them in another form)
    ~ breadfruit
    ~ cocoa
    ~ jack fruit
    ~ custard apple
    ~ cardamom
    ~ cinnamon
    ~ cloves
    ~ turmeric
    ~ ginger
    ~ ylang ylang
    ~ peppercorns
    ~ lemon grass
    and more!

    We were accompanied on our walks by several young boys who expertly wove palm leaves into hats and baskets (the latter intended to carry the several samples we were acquiring along the route) and sold these to tourists for a few pennies. At one point we stopped at a roadside stall to drink coffee and eat doughnuts and pineapple, and another stop was made to see the (apparently) famous twisted palm tree (see photo 5).

    After a delicious though simple lunch of vegetable curry in a village house we continued to Mangapwani Beach where we spent the rest of the afternoon – see my next tip for more ...

    Mohammed, our Spice Tour guide In a spice plantation Local boy in hand-made hat Mohammed with one of the fruits The twisted palm
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    Dhow trip to Prison and Bawe Islands

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    We took a trip by dhow to visit two of the islands that lie off the coast of Zanzibar near Stone Town – Prison Island and Bawe Island. The first of these, also known as Chumbe Island, is famous for the giant tortoises that live there, some of whom are well over 100 years old. They were originally brought to the island from the Seychelles as part of a conservation effort to extend the range of these giant reptiles. We visited the tortoises in their enclosure in the grounds of the old prison, and enjoyed feeding them. We also spent some time on the lovely white sand beach, strolling by the sea and taking photos.

    Prison Island was formerly used by Arab slave merchants as a place of detention for slaves. It was bought by General Mathews and the jail built in 1893 as a central prison for Zanzibar, though never used as such, but instead became a quarantine island. The jail has apparently been recently fully restored but was still in ramshackle ruins when we visited and closed to the public.

    From Prison Island we set sail again, and after a short stop for some snorkelling (not especially good as visibility was poor in the clouded water) we landed again, this time on tiny Bawe Island. It seems from my research that this island is now home to an exclusive resort, but we saw no signs of this and it may not have been built at the time of our visit ten years ago. Instead we had the pretty white beach almost to ourselves. For some reason we were the only people on the tour that day, which was also as it happens my birthday, and we had a wonderful lunch of fresh barbecued fish and squid, prepared for us by the dhow’s crew and followed by refreshing papaya. We swam in the sea after lunch but were deterred by the sight of quite a few sea urchins, so as we didn’t have any swim sandals we retreated up the beach where we sat enjoying the view and the antics of the local crab population. Our dhow then returned us to Stone Town by late afternoon.

    Landing on Prison Island Giant tortoise Chris feeding the tortoises Approaching Bawe Island (by Chris) On Bawe Island

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    The House of Wonders

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    One of the most striking of Stone Town’s historic buildings is the so-called House of Wonders, or Beit el Ajaib in Arabic. It got its name because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electric lighting and a lift, and perhaps also because it was so very tall and filled with beautiful objects.

    It was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace, on the site of a former building used by Queen Fatuma of the Al Alawi rulers. The door from this former palace is the oldest in Zanzibar, dating from 1694, and is now in the Peace Memorial Museum.

    In 1896 the building was slightly damaged during the so-called "Shortest War in History" (the British Bombardment of Zanzibar). After the turn of the century the British used the building for their local offices until the revolution of 1964. In 1977 the CCM (the Chapa Cha Mapinduzi, Swahili for “Party of the Revolution”) used the House of Wonders as their headquarters, but when they left the building fell into disrepair. When we were there in 1999 it was looking pretty run down but its splendours still shone through, especially the elegant tower and fine decorative work on the balconies.

    The building has been restored and since 2005 has housed a Museum of History and Culture. Exhibits include: dhow culture of the Indian Ocean, the struggle for independence, Swahili civilization, and displays on the history of the Swahili Coast. There is also apparently a great view to be had from the top floor, so it seems the museum would be well worth a visit even if the exhibits themselves don’t interest you.

    The House of Wonders, Stone Town The House of Wonders - another view
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    • Castles and Palaces
    • Museum Visits
    • Architecture

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    The Old Fort

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    One of the most imposing buildings in Stone Town, and the oldest, is the Old Fort, also sometimes known as the Arab Fort. It was built around 1700 on the site of a Portuguese chapel (the remains of which can still be seen inside the walls) by a family of Omani Arabs who had gained control of Zanzibar in 1698 after 200 years of Portuguese occupation. It was used by them to repel the Portuguese and their allies, the Mazruis, who occupied Mombasa. Later, in the 19th century, the fort was used as a prison and a place of execution, and at the beginning of the 20th century as a depot for the Bububu Railway Line. The fort has circular towers at the corners, linked with defensive walls. Its main entrance has a beautifully carved Arab door which was added in 1949, replacing the original fortified entrance gate.

    Today the old fort is a cultural centre, with classes in drumming, henna painting etc, and with drama and music performances in the open air theatre. There are several shops and also a small café, with outdoor seating under an old neem tree and baobob. We came here a couple of times – once just for cold drinks after attending a hot and sticky Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral, and once for lunch. The latter was a simple affair of flat-bread sandwiches washed down with soft drinks, but ample for our needs, and the setting was lovely.

    Old Fort, Stone Town (by Chris) Corner of the Old Fort Neem Tree Cafe in the Old Fort
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    Stone Town

    by toonsarah Written Apr 17, 2009

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    At the heart of Zanzibar’s main town (called, somewhat confusingly, Zanzibar Town) is Stone Town – a rabbit warren of winding streets and crumbling buildings, where locals gather to pass the time of day and tourists flock to absorb the atmosphere, take in the sights and shop in the many crafts bazaars.

    Stone Town takes its name from the many coral stone buildings that were built there largely during the 19th century, and it is these old buildings that give the town its character but also pose its greatest challenge. The coral is a soft stone and many structures are suffering badly from the ravages of time. While this creates a quaint appearance for visitors, it makes for poor living conditions for the locals (more than 16,000 people live here) and also means that the very thing that attracts people to the town is under threat. However, there is hope for Stone Town. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 and the Stone Town Heritage Authority was established. This body is now working towards restoring the ancient town before these buildings are lost for ever.

    Much of local life is lived out on these streets, which are too narrow for cars. Locals sit in doorways or pause on street corners to gossip, goods are sold from small stands, children play underfoot. Tourists are accepted and even encouraged, and we certainly experienced no problems when asking to take photos of local people. On one occasion a group of men sitting on a step with a newspaper called us over; they had heard our English voices and wanted to show us the English football results in their paper, knowing from experience that we would be glad of this piece of news from home.

    The architecture of the buildings here is traditional Arabic in style, with thick and fairly plain walls surrounding a central courtyard. Usually the only ornamentation is on the thick wooden doors (see my separate Local Customs tip). Scattered between the houses are mosques (51 in total), six Hindu temples and two Christian Cathedrals (Roman Catholic and Anglican). There are schools, bazaars (many now focusing on the sale of crafts to tourists) and workshops. A wander through the streets of Stone Town is definitely a “must see” activity, and life there will keep you engrossed for hours, as well as providing many great photo opportunities.

    Local men in Stone Town A street in Stone Town Another Stone Town street scene
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    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

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    LOOK AT THE DOORS !

    by DAO Updated Oct 13, 2008

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    Zanzibar, and Stone Town in particular, are blessed with huge decorative wooden doors. They are usually found at the entrance to large building that may house 10-15 families. These expressions of art are up to 200 years old and originated from Arab Trading families. Their lack of depiction of living things is in keeping with Islamic tradition. If you do wander around Stone Town you will find shops that will sell you this massive thick works of art. There are also at least 2 workshops I came across who are in the business of restoring some of these magnificent doors.

    THE BEST DOOR IN ZANZIBAR MODERN REPRODUCTION
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    Zanzibar Spice Tours

    by flytheworld Written Apr 10, 2008

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    A popular activity in Zanzibar is the spice tour. Visitors can take a guided walk through the spice plantations on Zanzibar island and learn about all the different types (and there are many!) of spices that are grown on the island.

    Zanzibar Spice Tours

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    THE PALACE MUSEUM & MAKUSURANI GRAVEYARD

    by DAO Updated Jan 19, 2008

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    The Palace Museum is also known as Beit el-Sahel. This palace served as the Sultan's residence until 1964 when the Al-Busaid Dynasty was overthrown. It is now a museum devoted to the era of the Zanzibar sultanate. The interior is suitably grand and many (but not all) of the last Sultan’s possessions are on display. Some of the displays are possessions of Princess Sayyida Salme. She created quite a stir when she eloped with a German businessman, Wilhelm Ruete. They settled in Hamburg Germany and had 3 children. She did return to Zanzibar twice and wrote her memoirs later in life.

    The building has exhibits on 3 levels and the top floor contains the living quarters of the last Sultan, Khalifa bin Haroub (1911-60), and his two wives.

    Outside in the grounds is the Makusurani graveyard, where some of the Sultans are buried.

    OPENING HOURS:
    Tuesdays - Thursdays 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
    Sundays & some Public Holidays: 9.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.
    Mondays & most Public Holidays: CLOSED

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    THE HOUSE OF WONDERS

    by DAO Updated Jan 19, 2008

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    The House of Wonders is a very large square building with several stories that is open in the middle. Each level has a series of pillars and balconies, and topped by a large clock tower. Locals called it Beit el Ajaib, meaning the House of Wonders because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electric lighting and the first in Eat Africa to have an elevator. It was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash on the site of Zanzibar Queen Fatuma's residence. It was damaged in 1896 during the shortest war in history (40 minutes) between Britain and Zanzibar. A clock tower nearby had been completely destroyed in the battle, so a new clock tower was incorporated into the House of Wonders when it was repaired.

    It was used by colonial officials as offices until the revolution in 1964. It is now a national museum and downstairs is a replica of a Mtepe: a traditional Swahili boat. Several rooms on different floors tell you about some of the history and blends of culture that have shaped Zanzibar.

    If you climb to the top and go outside onto the veranda, you will be rewarded with the best view of Stone Town and the port of Zanzibar. You can see the Arab Fort next door, both Cathedrals, Forodhani Gardens, the Port and several nearby islands. Definitely worth a visit.

    VIEW FROM THE TOP (FORODHANI GARDENS)
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    MANGROVE SWAMP AT JOZANI (Chwaka Bay)

    by DAO Updated Jan 19, 2008

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    No visit to Jozani Forrest would be complete without a tour of the Chwaka Bay Mangrove Swamp across the road. Mangroves are strange trees that have intricate root systems above the ground that actually hold the tree up. Because the swamp is in ‘brackish water’, a mixture of sea salt water and fresh, the Mangroves grow as an extension of a mother tree. The seeds cannot grow in the water, so it must use this unique process to reproduce.

    The whole area is lined with infinitely long boardwalks that take you through the grove. Small black crabs scurry underneath and eat the broad Mangrove leaves that fall down to where they are. Occasional birds, fish and the odd Colobus or Blue Monkey are also seen.

    Just inside the Mangrove Swamp is a plaque that celebrates the agreement between 8 local villages and the Government not to kill the Colobus Monkeys. The villages are: Chwaka, Pongwe, Uroa, Marumbi, Mapopwe, Charawe, Ukongoroni and Michamvi. The Colobus are destructive to trees in their eating habits. Locals used to kill them and they almost made them extinct. The Government agreed to pay the 8 villages not to kill them and the agreement has held.

    Related to:
    • National/State Park
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    By nglawa from Michemvi to Chwaka

    by eli034 Written May 20, 2007

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    Go to Michemvi by bus with sign Bejeew (ask in front if its leaving to Michemvi). When arriving in Michamvi ask some locals to arrange a trip in a local boat call nglawa (made of mangotree) across the Chwaka bay. Depends on the wind, the journey takes around 1,5 hour. In the small village Chwaka they have a nice fishing market with a lot of different fish. From Chwaka you can take the bus back to Stone Town.

    to buy a fish makes works for this boy on our way home with fresh fruit its a hard life.....

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    Stone Town

    by eli034 Written May 20, 2007

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    The real name of Stone Town, is Zanzibar City. Stone Town is the old (and charming) part of Zanzibar city. In this part you will enjoy walking around in the narrow streets, together with people, bicycles, motorbikes, donkeys and a lot of small shops. Go away from the touristic area and go to the market Dhardjani where you can find the old and local market. Here you can buy cheap kangas (3USD) and spices to bring home. If you dont mind the smell, its nice to go to the fishmarket to see sharks, octopus and big tuna.

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    Diving, snorkling and fishing

    by eli034 Written May 20, 2007

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    Diving, snorkling or fishing
    The eastcoast is perfect for fishing and snorkling. A nice village is Paje or Bejeew (close to Paje) If you want to walk on the reef, the village Jambiani is nice, but Jambiani doesnt has so nice beaches. sometimes you have to walk a long way to reach the sea because of tidewater. If you want to go to Paje or Bejeew, just take the local bus with the sign Bejeew on, it leaves from the bus station in Stone Town (you never know when) its costing around 1USD.
    To go fishing or snorkling is about 10 USD per person (+/- season or out of season)
    Enjoy the Islands beach life!

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    Full moon party

    by eli034 Written May 18, 2007

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    If you are planning to go to Zanzibar, try to be there when the full moon appear. Every month its a full moon party north of Zanzibar, at Kendwa. Dont miss it! You are dancing in the sand under the very special african night and the full moon is shining!

    The road to Kendwa is unbelievable! its the worst road ever! But remember not so long ago a lot of the roads at Zanzibar was like this. Are you renting a car, just be prepare. the best way to get to Kendwa from Stone Town is shared taxi. You can go to Forodhani Garden and ask some locals in front. They take you to Kendwa and back the same night.

    Full moon party; Made for romance and joy! Have fun!

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Zanzibar Island Things to Do

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