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Stone Town

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Stone Town.
Stone Town.

Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar City, boasts a rich history as a pivotal trade hub on spice, silk, and slave routes for centuries. A fusion of African, Indian, Arabian, and European influences, it's a rare gem among ancient African towns. Recognized on the UNESCO world heritage list, its colonial structures and intricate Zanzibari doorways captivate. Beyond its visual charm, immerse yourself in the sea and spice scents, accompanied by the echoes of prayer calls. Perfect for history enthusiasts and culture seekers, Stone Town promises 2-4 days of immersive exploration.

Stone Town, located on the west coast of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, is a captivating destination with a rich cultural and historical tapestry. Here are some more insights into this unique and vibrant city:

Historical Significance: Stone Town has been a hub of trade and cultural exchange for over a millennium. It played a crucial role in the spice trade, connecting Africa, India, Arabia, and Europe. The city also served as a key point in the transatlantic slave trade. Its history is etched in the architecture, markets, and landmarks that narrate tales of a bygone era.

Architectural Marvels: Wandering through the narrow, labyrinthine streets of Stone Town, visitors encounter a fascinating blend of architectural styles. From Arabian and Persian influences in the carved wooden doors to Indian-influenced balconies and European-style buildings, each corner tells a story of the city's diverse past.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Stone Town's significance earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The preservation of its cultural and architectural heritage is vital, making it an essential stop for those interested in history and cultural exploration.

Spice and Scent: The air in Stone Town is infused with the fragrance of spices, a reminder of its historical role as a center for spice trading. The bustling markets offer a sensory journey where you can explore local spices, fruits, and crafts.

Cultural Fusion: Stone Town epitomizes cultural fusion. The Swahili culture, shaped by the blending of different influences, is evident in the language, cuisine, and way of life. The city's diverse population contributes to a vibrant atmosphere.

Activities and Exploration: For visitors, Stone Town offers a myriad of activities. Explore the narrow streets, visit historic sites like the House of Wonders and the Old Fort, or get lost in the vibrant markets. Engage with locals, sample Swahili cuisine, and experience the warmth of Zanzibari hospitality.

A Gateway to Zanzibar's Beauty: Beyond its historical significance, Stone Town serves as a gateway to Zanzibar's pristine beaches and natural wonders. The city's location makes it an ideal starting point for exploring the island's coastal treasures.

Things to Do.

Forodhani Garden Markets:

Nestled in the heart of Stone Town, the Forodhani Garden Markets come alive in the late afternoon, offering a vibrant spectacle until 9 pm. Locals and tourists converge for alfresco street dining, surrounded by stalls adorned with colorful kebabs, local fish, coconut bread, grilled cassava, roasted corn, sweet potato chapatti, and refreshing fruit drinks. With its lively atmosphere, this market is a culinary delight where delicious and affordable food takes center stage.

Stone Town.
Stone Town.

Darajani Market:

A hub of activity in Stone Town, Darajani Market is a haven for spice enthusiasts and those seeking fresh produce. To experience a more serene market ambiance, early mornings are ideal, when vendors are setting up, and the offerings are at their freshest. Whether it's spices, fresh meat, or a variety of fruits and vegetables, Darajani Market offers an authentic shopping experience in the heart of Zanzibar.

Mtoni Palace Ruins:

Transport yourself back in time with a visit to the Mtoni Palace Ruins, providing a glimpse into Zanzibar's former administrative and trade prowess. Tuesdays and Fridays usher in a unique cultural experience, featuring traditional melodies, dances, and a buffet. The evening kicks off with a guided tour of the ruins, followed by a sumptuous buffet and a captivating final performance. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the Zanzibari way of coffee roasting during the traditional coffee ceremony.

Old Slave Market and the Cathedral of Christ Church:

The Anglican cathedral of Christ Church, an embodiment of British abolitionist ideals, stands solemnly over the remnants of Zanzibar's largest slave market. Symbolically built atop the old whipping post, this cathedral narrates the poignant history of the slave trade. As the first African cathedral in East Africa, it not only boasts remarkable architecture but also serves as a repository of crucial knowledge about the country's painful past.

Hamami Persian Baths:

Crafted by Shirazi architects from Iran, the Hamami Persian Baths were the inaugural public baths in Zanzibar. Although no longer operational, a small fee unlocks the gate, allowing curious visitors to peek inside. The baths stand as a testament to Zanzibar's historical connections and the architectural prowess imported from distant lands.

Stone Town Sultan’s Palace/Beit al-Sahel:

The Sultan's Palace, a grand historical edifice, takes center stage in Stone Town. Inside, a $3 entrance fee (at the time of writing) grants access to a guided tour spanning an hour, unfolding the rich history of Zanzibar. This magnificent structure stands as a living testament to the island's regal past.

The Old Arab Fort:

Constructed on the remnants of a Portuguese fort in the late 17th century, the Old Arab Fort is a multifaceted attraction. It houses an art gallery and curio market, offering a blend of history and creativity. The impressive amphitheater within its walls hosts live performances, including the renowned Sauti za Busara Music Festival in February, featuring musicians from across Africa.

St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral:

Erected by French missionaries between 1893-7, St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral stands as a memorial to European colonial influence in Zanzibar. Its twin spires, a recognizable feature of Stone Town, add to the city's architectural diversity. While the front doors open only during mass, visitors can access the cathedral through the back at other times, providing a glimpse into Zanzibar's layered past.

Exploring on Foot:

Stone Town, a captivating maze, invites you to ditch the maps and embark on a spontaneous journey. Wander in any direction that intrigues you, seeking guidance from locals if you have a specific destination in mind. Alternatively, opt for a guided tour lasting about 3 hours, typically costing around $30 with a private guide. These tours unveil the history of Zanzibar and help you navigate the town's layout.

Spice Tour:

Uncover the aromatic allure of the 'Spice Islands' with a spice tour. Traverse a spice farm and marvel at cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, lemongrass, vanilla, and nutmeg. Gain insights into Zanzibar's spice trade history. Tours often include entrance fees, guides, transportation, and sometimes a traditional lunch. Spice farms, located about 15 km outside Stone Town, are easily accessible by taxi or rental car.

Prison Island/Changuu Island:

Embark on a delightful half-day excursion to Prison Island with a scenic 20-minute boat ride. Once a quarantine center, the island introduces you to giant tortoises, some aged up to 192 years. Explore Nakupenda beach for snorkeling, with some tours offering lunch and snorkeling equipment.

Jozani Forest Tour:

Discover the wonders of Jozani Forest, a protected area home to the rare red colobus monkey, diverse birdlife, butterflies, and bush babies. Navigating the forest is made easy with boardwalks, or opt for a guide at the entrance for more insights into plant and animal species. Access the area by taxi, dala dala, or tour, ensuring that tour prices cover transfers, park entrance, and a guide.

Where to stay

Luxurious Retreats: Serenity and Splendor

For those seeking an indulgent and pampering experience, Stone Town offers a selection of luxurious hotels that cater to discerning travelers. These havens of tranquility provide world-class amenities, impeccable service, and breathtaking views, ensuring an unforgettable stay.

Hotel Africa: Nestled on a prime location overlooking the Indian Ocean, Hotel Africa exudes elegance and sophistication. Its spacious rooms and suites offer panoramic sea views, while its rooftop pool provides an oasis of relaxation. The hotel's spa offers a range of rejuvenating treatments, and its fine dining restaurant serves exquisite culinary creations.

Emerson Spice Hotel: Steeped in history and charm, the Emerson Spice Hotel is a captivating blend of traditional architecture and modern luxury. Its beautifully restored 19th-century building houses elegant rooms adorned with local artwork, while its rooftop restaurant offers a romantic ambiance and panoramic views of Stone Town.

Boutique Charm: Intimate Hospitality and Character

For those seeking a more intimate and personalized experience, Stone Town's boutique hotels offer a blend of comfort, character, and personalized service. These smaller establishments provide a warm and inviting atmosphere, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the local ambiance.

The Zanzibar Retreat: Nestled in a quiet corner of Stone Town, The Zanzibar Retreat offers a tranquil retreat away from the bustling streets. Its tastefully decorated rooms feature four-poster beds and Swahili-inspired décor, while its rooftop terrace provides a peaceful haven for relaxation.

Budget-Friendly Options: Comfort and Convenience

Stone Town also caters to budget-conscious travelers with a variety of comfortable and affordable accommodations. These guesthouses and hostels provide clean and well-maintained facilities, offering a practical and convenient base for exploring the city.

Stone Town House: Located in the heart of Stone Town, Stone Town House offers a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Its clean and comfortable rooms feature shared bathrooms, while its communal areas provide opportunities for social interaction.

Traditional Stone Town Houses: Immerse yourself in the authentic charm of Zanzibar by staying in one of the many traditional Stone Town houses. These converted residences offer a glimpse into local life, with their intricately carved doors, Swahili-style décor, and rooftop terraces.

Tips for Choosing Your Accommodation

Stone Town.
Stone Town.

To ensure a memorable stay in Stone Town, consider these helpful tips when selecting your accommodation:

  • Location: Decide whether you prefer to stay in the heart of Stone Town, close to the historical center and attractions, or in a quieter neighborhood.

  • Amenities: Prioritize the amenities that are important to you, such as a pool, rooftop terrace, air conditioning, or spa facilities.

  • Budget: Set a clear budget and compare prices from different establishments.

  • Reviews: Read reviews from previous guests to get an idea of the hotel's reputation, service, and overall experience.

  • Booking: Book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak season (July-August) to secure your preferred choice.

By carefully considering your preferences and needs, you can find the perfect accommodation in Stone Town to complement your unique travel experience. Whether you seek luxury, boutique charm, or budget-friendly comfort, Stone Town offers a diverse range of options to suit every traveler's taste.

Best Time to Visit Stone Town, Zanzibar:

The optimal times to explore Stone Town, Zanzibar, are during July-August and December-February, coinciding with the dry seasons. Expect warm weather, and the reduced chance of rain ensures uninterrupted excursions. These periods align seamlessly with Tanzania, making it ideal for combining your trip with a Safari or Trek.

Rainy Seasons:

Zanzibar experiences two rainy seasons. The long rainy season, with monsoons from March to May, offers crowd-free beaches and discounted hotel rates. However, be prepared for torrential rain.

Avoiding Fridays and Ramadan:

It's advisable to avoid being in Stone Town on Fridays, the holy day for Muslims. Some establishments may close during the day. During Ramadan, when Muslims observe fasting, most restaurants and food shops close during the day, and bars and nightclubs may shut entirely. Public consumption of food or water is discouraged, and modest dressing is essential. Checking the dates of Ramadan each year helps plan your visit accordingly.

Understanding these climatic and cultural nuances ensures a more enjoyable and respectful exploration of Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Getting There

1. Direct Flights:

-Airlines: Condor, Jetfly, Ethiopian Airways, Kenyan Airways, Oman Air, Qatar Airlines, Arkia Israeli Airlines, KLM, FlyDubai, Meridian, Fasyjet, Mango, Turkish Airlines.

-Details: Multiple airlines offer direct flights to Zanzibar City, providing convenient access.

2. Flight from Dar es Salaam:

- Duration: 20 minutes

- Option: Take a short flight from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, providing a quick and efficient travel alternative.

3. Ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar City:

- Duration: Approximately 2 hours

- Frequency: Four times a day

- Cost: Around $35 (usually half the price of a plane ticket)

- Details: A ferry operates from the central harbour in Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar City, offering a cost-effective option. The ferry terminal in Zanzibar is within walking distance of Stone Town.

4. Transfer to Hotel:

- Cost: Taxi from the ferry port to the hotel is approximately $5.

- Details: While walking to your hotel in Stone Town is feasible if you have few bags, a taxi is a convenient option. Due to Stone Town's one-way systems and narrow roads, taxis may not reach the hotel's front door directly.

Stone Town.
Stone Town.

Permits, Visas, and Vaccines.

1. Visa Requirements:

- Tourist Visa: Most visitors to Zanzibar will require a tourist visa. You can obtain it upon arrival at the Zanzibar International Airport or the harbor. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date.

2. Health and Vaccinations:

- Yellow Fever: A yellow fever vaccination is mandatory for travelers arriving from or transiting through endemic countries. Ensure you carry the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (Yellow Card).

- Routine Vaccinations: Ensure routine vaccinations, including measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, are up to date.

- Malaria: Zanzibar is a malaria-prone area. Consult with a healthcare professional for antimalarial medication and take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

3. Travel Insurance:

- Medical Coverage: It's advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that includes medical coverage, including evacuation if necessary.

- Cancellation Coverage: Consider insurance that covers trip cancellations or interruptions.

4. Permits:

- Pemba Island: If you plan to visit Pemba Island, which is part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, check if any additional permits are required.

5. Customs and Regulations:

- Restricted Items: Be aware of restricted items, including narcotics and certain medications. Check the regulations to avoid legal issues.

6. Entry Requirements:

- Passport: Ensure your passport has blank pages for visa stamps and is valid for at least six months beyond your intended departure date.

- Return Ticket: Some visitors may be required to show a return or onward ticket.

Before traveling to Zanzibar, it's crucial to check the most recent visa requirements and health recommendations. Consulting with a travel health clinic or your healthcare provider is advisable to get personalized advice based on your health and travel history.

Embark on a captivating journey with Travel Wise Safari as your guide, navigating the intricate charm of Stone Town. Allow us to lead you through the narrow, spice-scented streets of this historical hub in Zanzibar. With our expertise, immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of culture, uncover hidden gems, and create lasting memories. Experience the essence of Stone Town with tailored tours designed for an unforgettable exploration.

Let Travel Wise Safari be your compass, ensuring every step reveals the unique wonders of this enchanting destination.

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