Take trips to the surrounding islets and learn about the former slave markets and prisons in the impressive old Stone Town.
Zanzibar is a historic cultural hub on the island of Unguja. It is the capital city of its namesake archipelago, with most of its exceptional structural treasures in the Stone Town historic district. Learn about the island culture and former slave trade in the museums and ecclesiastical buildings here.
The oldest structure in the historic center is the Old Fort, which dates back to the late 17th century. Marvel at the tall, brown walls and enter the courtyard for the artisanal market. Attend a film festival here and learn about the fort’s use over the years as a prison and tennis club.
Adjacent is Forodhani Gardens, a pretty park overlooking the Indian Ocean. Visit at night for stalls selling a range of Zanzibar culinary specialties. Try the local crepe-like version of pizza alongside potato ball soup and omelets.
Among the Stone Town highlights is Christ Church Cathedral. Snap photos of the intriguing coral stone design and visit the museum to learn about slavery. The church was built to commemorate the abolition of slavery on the location of the old slave market. For a more modern side of the city, explore the Ng’ambo district.
Visit from June through September for the driest months. Be ready for immense tropical rainfall in April and May. Temperatures are warm to hot year-round, providing ideal sunbathing conditions on Shangani Beach. Take a ferry to one of the surroundings islets, such as Chapwani Island, Chumbe Island and Kwale Island. Prison Island is a former slave prison and quarantine station.
The city is on the western coast of the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago. Fly to Zanzibar’s international airport or arrive at Dar es Salaam Airport on the Tanzania mainland and take the 90-minute ferry to Zanzibar. Get around by rental car or taxi. Nearby landmarks include Kichwele Forest Reserve, Tumbatu Island and Tele Island.
1. Nungwi Island
Enjoy a beautiful stretch of white sand and blue sea surrounded by plenty of amenities, as well as a turtle conservation site.
Running along the western coast to the northern tip of Zanzibar is Nungwi Beach, known for its sugary white sand and clean water. Stay nearby or plan a daytrip from elsewhere on the island for many hours of enjoyment of the sun, sand and warm ocean.
Zanzibar’s waters are known for tidal extremes, but Nungwi offers a pleasant stretch of sand all day. Get some shade underneath the banana palms, mangroves and coconut trees lining the shore of the beach or stop at one of the many thatched huts for a drink or snack.
Nungwi Beach faces west, providing amazing sunset views. Photograph silhouettes of fishing boats in front of an orange sun, watch weather changes over the vast horizon or sit at a terrace or rooftop bar to enjoy a cocktail as the light fades.
Interestingly, the beach offers a variety of wildlife. Expect to see cows in a southern section of the beach enjoying their break in the sunshine. Watch for colorful shells and small marine animals, including brilliant red starfish, as you stroll along at low tide. Local residents may be gathering that evening’s dinner from the pools created in the coral beyond the beach.
Walk toward the lighthouse at the north end of the beach to visit the Mnarani Natural Aquarium. Here you’ll see hatchling and adult green and hawksbill turtles and may have a chance to swim with them in their protected lagoon. Local residents operate this conservancy site to rescue endangered turtles and return them to the sea in February.
Fishermen operate in this part of Zanzibar. See them at work on their nets in wooden outriggers and sailboats. Watch or participate in building a dhow or ride in one for a snorkeling or sunset cruise.
Enjoy freshly caught fish at one of the oceanfront restaurants. Select from numerous accommodations choices ranging from small bungalows to luxury hotels along the length of the beach.
Nungwi Beach is at the northwestern part of Zanzibar, beginning just over a 1-hour drive north of Stone Town. Expect very warm temperatures year-round with excellent weather for enjoying the beach.
2. Vist the House of Wonders
See one of the early buildings of Zanzibar’s modern development, with wide verandas overlooking the ocean and relics from the late 1800s.
Stone Town’s House of Wonders houses the Beit El-Ajaib National Museum. Learn about the history of this structure on a walking tour.
The house was built in 1883, designed by a Scottish marine engineer. Look up at the tall clock tower and the many thin cast iron pillars connected by delicate balustrades along balconies surrounding the structure at several levels. The architecture is described as tropical Victorian industrial style, with open verandas allowing breezes from any direction to cool the interior.
The building was part of a plan by Omani Sultan Sheikh Barghash bin Said Al-Busaid, who brought infrastructure to Stone Town, including roads, parks, hospitals and piped water. Note that this building had the area’s first electricity and running water.
During its grandest days, the home had exquisite marble floors, cedar-paneled walls and elegant furniture. In 1896, during the 38 minutes of the Anglo-Zanzibar War, possibly history’s shortest war, the Zanzibar Palace was destroyed and the House of Wonders suffered damage. See the cannons surrounding the house; they were of little use against heavy British bombardment.
After the war and some reconstruction, the House of Wonders became the seat of the government before being converted to a museum in the 20th century. Inside, the furnishings include elegant chandeliers and carpets, beds with canopies and mosquito netting and carved and richly upholstered chairs.
In addition, in the courtyard is a dhow, with information describing the important boat-building culture of Zanzibar. A carved door has gilded text from the Quran. Check at the gate to see if the museum is open for visits as it may be closed for renovation.
The House of Wonders is a short walk southwest of Zanzibar Port. Its balconies give views of the dhows in the ocean and overlook Forodhoni Gardens, a revitalized green space along the seawall. Come to the gardens to join local residents buying or eating seafood and other delights at the open-air sunset food market. Visit the nearby Old Fort for tourist information or possibly a film viewing.
Visit Slave Market Stone Town
An Anglican cathedral now stands on this site where slaves once suffered before being sold into harsh servitude.
The Slave Market of Stone Town has been inactive for decades, but memorials provide remembrance of the horrific acts that once took place here. Visit this site and reflect on the atrocities of the past as you stand in the shadow of the Anglican Church.
Learn about the important role slavery played in Zanzibar’s history. For nearly 1,000 years, Arab traders traveled to the interior of Africa as far as the Congo, where they purchased or kidnapped healthy young people. The slaves who didn’t perish on the long march to Africa’s eastern coast were put in dhows and transported to Zanzibar for sale.
Slaves were crowded into underground holding cells where they awaited the market day. Chained to a whipping post, they were slashed by stinging branches. Those best able to withstand the whipping drew the highest prices. Learn more facts about this brutal history in displays and excavations inside the church.
View an outdoor art installation of life-sized sculptures of slaves chained together in an open chamber, much less crowded conditions than the slaves actually experienced. The artwork is Memory for the Slaves by Clara Sornas.
The Slave Market of Zanzibar is near the center of Stone Town, about a 10-minute walk south of Zanzibar Port. Pay a fee to enter the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral to see the museum displays. Stone Town of Zanzibar has been identified as a UNESCO heritage site.
4. Visit Forodhani Garden
Relax in this scenic tree-filled oceanside park that transforms into a lively and busy seafood market after the sun goes down.
Known for its exciting food market, the Forodhani Gardens is a picturesque park that overlooks the Indian Ocean. It is an ideal place to learn about local culinary traditions and the region’s succulent seafood. Barter with vendors in the evening for food ranging from squid and lobster to Nutella pizza.
Sit in the park with a book and read or watch people go by in the afternoon. Lay down a blanket for a picnic with your family and enjoy the warm rays of the sun. This verdant park is decorated with plenty of trees, providing shade and ample refuge from the heat as well. Capture photos of the pretty park, with its green trees, lawn and backdrop of the blue-green Indian Ocean.
Stay for the sunset and watch the sky make a dramatic change, taking on moody shades of red. As evening begins, the park livens up with rows of vendors and sightseers in search of a typical Zanzibar meal in the open-air food market.
To eat like a local, try the urojo soup of potato balls and the chipsi mayai omelet. Pilau spicy rice and cow soup are also popular dishes here. Consider the so-called pizza that better resembles layered crepes. Accompany your culinary delights with a glass of hand-pressed sugar cane juice with ginger and lime. Enjoy the electrifying ambiance, as the market thrives at night.
Due to the unpredictable and authentic charm of the park, it is best to stay vigilant in taking care of your belongings. Agree upon meal prices with stall occupants before eating, ensure the food is cooked in a clean area and stay clear of independent touts. Alcohol is prohibited in the gardens.
Find the Forodhani Gardens on the main coastal boulevard in the historic Stone Town district of Zanzibar City. It is a 10-minute walk west from the Dala-Dala Bus Terminus. Visit other attractions in the old town, including the Old Fort, Christ Church Cathedral and the House of Wonders.
5. Visit Christ Church Cathedral
Admire the coral stone design and see the museum and memorial of this church that was built to celebrate the end of slavery.
Christ Church Cathedral, also known as the Anglican Cathedral, is a historic 19th-century remnant of early Christian architecture in East Africa. Made mostly from coral stone, the cathedral has a fascinating design that is a blend of Gothic and Islamic details. Learn about the intriguing history of the church, which was built on the location of the island’s biggest slave market to celebrate the abolition of slavery.
Examine the work of art in the heart of the plaza that pays tribute to the slaves sold in the market that once stood here. The solemn memorial comprises a portrayal of slaves chained in a pit. It is said the altar today stands on the spot that held the central whipping post of the market.
Learn about this poignant and momentous part of history in the Slave Museum in the church. It explains the impact on the region by the slave trade. Embark on a guided tour for a greater understanding of the history and architecture of the structure. Slaves captured on the mainland were brought to the market here in chains to be sold.
Admire the serene atmosphere in this church, which serves as a respite from the scorching afternoon sun. Notice how light permeates the beautiful stained glass of the large, intricate rose window. Listen to a performance by the church’s choir, enhanced by the excellent acoustics of this large stone cathedral. Hear a passionate Mass in native Swahili.
Note that the structure was built over a period of 10 years starting in 1873. The church is free to enter, while tour guides will expect a small tip.
Christ Church Cathedral is in the historic Stone Town district of Zanzibar City on the western coast of Zanzibar’s main island. It is a 13-minute drive north from Zanzibar’s international airport. See nearby sights, such as the Mau Sentung Stadium, the Mnazi Mmoja Grounds and the Old Fort.
6. Visit Old Fort
Browse the stalls of the courtyard market and attend festivals in the amphitheater in the oldest site in the historic center.
As the oldest building in the Stone Town district, the Old Fort is among the most popular attractions. The Omani people built this protective fortress in the late 1600s to ward off attacks from Portuguese fleets. Take a tour of the high-walled structure and courtyard to learn about its many uses over the centuries.
Capture photos of the tall brown walls of the fort, which is flanked by tropical trees and has a view of the Indian Ocean. Watch one of the live dance and music recitals that take place in the open-air amphitheater. The courtyard also has a restaurant, where you can pause for a meal with a historic backdrop. Go to the information desk and chat with the docents to hear about scheduled performances and arrange a guided tour of the fort.
Find out about the rich history of this site, which was used as a prison and place of execution. Later, British colonists converted it into a ladies’ tennis club.
Attend the Sauti za Busara music concert and the Festival of the Dhow Countries, which is the island’s main film event. Explore the various restored rooms, which contain the offices of the Zanzibar Cultural Center. In the heart of the courtyard is a market area, often adorned with stalls displaying a range of crafts.
Note that the site is also known as the Ngome Kongwe and the Arab Fort, in reference to its construction by the Busaidi Omani Arabs. It opens to the public for free daily from morning until late evening.
The Old Fort is in the heart of the Stone Town historic district on the western cape of Zanzibar City. It abuts the Forodhani Gardens, which overlook the Indian Ocean. Go to other sights in the area, such as the House of Wonders, the Beit-el-Sahel and the Hamamni Persian Baths.
7. Pemba Island
Sited to the north of Zanzibar, Pemba affords a romantic, tranquil island to devote your seaside vacationing time in Tanzania. Azure ocean waters, powdery white sands and the contrasting rich verdant of the lush tropical vegetation have a unique allure.
But you might want to plan your trip after taking into consideration the weather conditions on the island. Dependent on the seasonal month of travel, the temperatures on Pemba range from the nighttime lows of 20 C (68 F) to 25 C (77 F) to the daytime highs of 28 C (82 F) to 32 C (90 F).
Since Pemba has a coastal location south of the equator, monsoon ocean breezes also help to maintain constant temperatures without any extreme climatic variability. These conditions are ideal for swimming, sunbathing, diving, snorkeling, angling and other water activities.
If you were to island tour Pemba in the wet seasons, you could experience the monsoon rains bring a renewed freshness to the air. Like the mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, Pemba Island also has two wet seasons. The long rains initiate from March to April and May as dual peak months dusting off by June. The short rainy period is through months of November and December.
While some of the water activities are limited during the wet seasons, it does not rain all day long nor every single continuous day, and on some mornings and afternoons, the skies usually clear and the sun shines through for a few hours with an overcast rebuilding up.
The warmer Kaskazi trade winds blowing from the northeast starts around November through March while, the cooler Kusi monsoon winds blow in from the southeast from July to September with little or no rain.
The best times to holiday on Pemba Island are its cool-dry seasonal months from July to October which typically sees temperate weather conditions and also the humid-hot dry seasonal months of January and February that occur around the same time as the peak winters in the northern regions of America and Europe.
To escape from the harsh winters, like-minded travelers prefer to spend time in the warmer climes of Eastern Africa. These ideal tour months see increased visitors on the island because it is also the peak time for wildlife safaris in Tanzania, and many families plan their vacations around their children’s summer school break in America and Europe.
8. Visit Prison Island
Prison Island is simply paradise on earth. See the giant tortoises wandering around, escape for some peace and quiet and enjoy the coral reefs while snorkeling.
This historical Island was formerly owned by an Arab and used for the confinement of refractory slaves. In 1893, Lloyd Mathews built the prison, with the idea of sending violent criminals from the Tanganyika mainland to the island. The Prison Island ended up being used as a quarantine center, instead of a prison, for yellow fever epidemics that once raged through the region. Prison Island is still owned by the Zanzibar government.
The old prison still remains standing, providing shelter for the giant tortoises which are conserved on the Prison Island. You can walk in the quarantine center and come face to face with these amazing creatures.
The island is a superb spot for the photographer. On this little paradise one can also swim, snorkel, sunbathe or just relax and enjoy the peacefulness that this beautiful island. It is fringed with a beautiful coral reef, ideal for snorkeling, and has a lovely white beach for sun-bathing.
This tour is a perfect half day-trip with refreshments available throughout the day. The island also has a small restaurant where you can enjoy simple meals. If you would like to stay longer and enjoy the beach and ocean, this is no problem!
9. Visit Kazimkazi Village
Kizimkazi village, located on the Southern coast of Zanzibar Island, where you can see both bottle-nose and humpback dolphins.
The shallow coastal waters around Kizimkazi are a favorite hangout for dolphins as they come here for the reliable food supply, to nurse their calves, rest and socialize. There are also rather shyer humpback dolphins that sometimes put in an appearance here, although their schedule is a little more erratic.
The dolphin tour is best very early in the morning because in the afternoon as the sun rises, the sea water tends to become warm and the dolphins dive deep down to escape the heat. For guests who are staying in a Stone town hotel, we’ll pick you up from your hotel at 6:30am. It is also possible to do the trip later in the afternoon, but the probability of seeing dolphins is smaller.
The dolphin trip lasts two to three hours. Although dolphin-spotting is a popular activity, sightings aren’t guaranteed 100% and sometimes spottings require time and patience as the animals are in their natural environment.
Kizimkazi is also the site of a 12th-century mosque, the earliest evidence of Islam in East Africa, and is thus worth a visit for both cultural and historical reasons.
The dolphin trip can be combined with Jozani Forest, as the forest is on the way to Kizimkazi; we pass through the forest on the way back from dolphin tour.
Visit the Jozani forest and explore this natural part of Zanzibar, home to several habitats including swamp forest, evergreen thickets, mangroves, as well as a variety of wildlife, including sykes and red colobus monkeys, bush pigs, Ader’s duiker and suni antelopes, elephant shrews, chameleons and lots of birdlife.
The Jozani forest is best known for its kirks red colobus monkeys (kima punju in swahili), which are endemic to Zanzibar. About 10 years ago, the monkeys were considered to be in danger of extinction, but this trend has since reversed due to the conservation project. There are about 6000 red colobus monkeys now residing in
10. Jozani Forest.
After visiting the monkeys, walk across to the Pete-Jozani mangrove boardwalk, which entwines through coral thicket vegetation, mangrove forests and across a creek. The mangrove forest is extremely crucial to Zanzibar’s ecosystems, providing a habitat for many lizards, snakes and birdlife as well as preventing the coastal erosion.
Jozani Forest is situated 38km southeast of Stone Town. In 1995, the Jozani Chwaka Bay Conservation Project was set up to protect the largest remaining patch of indigenous ground-water forest that used to cover Zanzibar. Local communities are involved in the project and some of your entrance fee contributes to development projects and to compensate local farmers whose crops are often damaged by the red colobus monkeys.