Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania, consisting of Zanzibar Island (locally called Unguja), Pemba Island and many smaller islands. Zanzibar Island itself which is the main island, is approximately 90km long and 40km wide.
The local language in Zanzibar is Kiswahili and Arabic, although some of the locals speak a little English. Like most African countries, visa can be obtained on arrival. A Tourist Visa for a three-month single entry and a three-month double entry is US$50 and US$100, respectively.
The currency here is the Tanzanian Shilling (TZS), which is being exchanged at a rate of around USD1 = TZS2232 in most places. Although US dollars are accepted almost everywhere on the Island, it’s at a poor exchange rate. If you plan to exchange your US$, we’ll advice to do so at the bureaus, as they have better exchange rates than banks. We exchanged some amount on arrival at one of the bureau in the airport.
As per ATMs, there’s only one outside the arrival airport, however, it’s mostly out of service. Other ATMs are only in Stone Town, none outside Stone Town, not even at tourist centers, and the maximum withdrawal is TZS 400,000.
There’s a lot to see and to do on the Island. The best part for us was the Seafood, which is the main delicacy on the Island, from Lobsters, Crabs, Prawns, and tuna, to mention a few. We ate to our heart’s satisfaction.
Stone Town is the main city on Zanzibar Island, with a number of historically important buildings like The House of Wonders and The Arab Fort (also known as The Old Fort). The House of Wonders was the former palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar, and also the first house in Stone Town to have electricity, running water, and an elevator. While, The Old Fort is the oldest building in Stone Town, located on the main seafront, adjacent to The House of Wonders, and facing the Forodhani Gardens.
The Stone Town inner city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Blending Moorish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African traditions and architectures, it is possible to spend days winding through Stone Town's labyrinthine alleys. That said, we explored the city in a day by foot, and we had a lot of insight. Though, most buildings have been converted to boutique hotels, clubs, or restaurants, while others are in bad shape as a result of the rough sea climate.
Stone Town is a one-stop shop for souvenirs. You can find beautiful textiles, handmade jewelry, intricate wood or stone carvings, spices, knick-knacks, and the list goes on and on. However, we never bought the first things we saw. We always took a walk through the market, to see more variety and get a feel of the actual price. And just like most African countries, do haggle! It’s always better to start with half the price they ask and work your way up to a price you find acceptable.
If you want to hire a guide, ask your hotel to recommend one. However, you can choose to go with one of the many guides offering their services in Stone Town. Just make sure you agree on the fee upfront. And yes, best believe the tour guide will take you to the shops where he gets a commission.
Another historic site is the Former Slave Market. The museum only consists of slave chambers, a memorial, and an Anglican Church built on the site of the tree that served as whipping post. Apparently in those times, when it was time to auction a slave, s/he would be tied to the whipping post and whipped severally. The less s/he cried, the more valuable s/he is, thus increasing the individual’s auction price.
We also visited the slave quarters below, which are small dark dungeon-type cells. About 50 men to a tiny cell and one for 75 women and children. These cells had no toilets or beds. They barely had windows even. The men, women and children defecated right there amongst themselves. One can only imagine how terrible the conditions were back then.
The museum is adjacent to the church and is on the original grounds of the Slave market. A sculpture outside also shows a representation of slaves going to the actual market, chained to one another. This is definitely a tour you want to go on, either on your own or with a tour guide. It serves as a sobering reminder of how people were sold into slavery.
On a brighter and refreshing note, we went on a few sea adventures. No doubt, this was one of the best adventure on our trip. We took a sail boat to a little island called “Changuu Island” a.k.a. Prison Island, which is 5.6km North-West of Stone Town. This Island was built as a prison complex by the First Minister of Zanzibar, who was British, Lloyd Mathews in 1893. However, this island soon became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases and no prisoners were ever housed on it. Apparently, the station was only occupied for a few months in the year, and for the most part, it was a popular holiday destination.
More recently, the island has become a government-owned tourist resort and houses a collection of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises, which were originally a gift from the British governor of the Seychelles.