Just hearing of Zanzibar evokes visions of an exotic bustling city with winding streets packed with houses, spice markets, bazaars, and mosques with a fusion of cultures and people. We arrived unprepared for Zanzibar, having done virtually zero research. We had no cash and no idea how to get to our hotel! The official taxi cab stand had reasonable rates to Stone Town, the main city on Zanzibar. We exchanged more USD for a couple hundred thousand Tanzanian Shillings (we felt super rich with all those 000’s!). And with that, we were on our way! Zanzibar is a perfect destination to combine with an African safari. We went on our first African safari in Tanzania and loved the game drives.
The Tembo House Hotel is one of the few hotels in Stone Town that offers beach access but also is right in the heart of the city. We set off to explore the city as soon as we dropped our bags.
Exploring Stone Town
Stone Town is an important historical and artistic city for Eastern Africa due to its diverse mixture of influencing cultures from Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and local Swahili. But don’t just take our word for it. As a result of this history, the city has UNESCO World Heritage status for it’s ‘outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization.’
The majestic House of Wonders is a former palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Another nearby former palace is Bait As-Sahel, as well as the Old Fort. All of these buildings were built by the Omani Arabs over 300 years ago when they expelled the Portuguese. They stand proudly facing the harbor, though are many decades past their prime. I think this really adds to the unique appeal of the city.
After meandering our way through some of the narrow streets we found ourselves back at our hotel, where we cooled off enjoying the luxury of air conditioning compared to our safari tent!
Feeling luxurious, we walked next door to the beautiful Park Hyatt Zanzibar for drinks and dinner, with another incredible sunset view.
The beach came to life at sundown and was full of boats returning to shore. Unusually, fisherman took the boat motor with them as they left for the day. And among all of the chaos, kids were playing and swimming.
For our next day we had visions of taking a boat to nearby Prison Island, or complete a spice tour at one of the many spice farms on the island, however, the weather had other stories.
A couple of thunderstorms came rolling through Stone Town during the first half of the day. This allowed us to relax in our hotel room and around the pool – with our trip so far being pretty jam-packed (you can read about our safari here and here) this was our day to sit back and relax, especially through the heat of the afternoon sun.
After the storms had passed, we spent a few hours wandering around the hotel and the beach.
Shop Bettina's Look
Shop Bettina's Look
In the early evening we ventured back out to explore the streets in search of the Darajani Market. It was chaotic...
Shop Bettina's Look
... and full of some the best smells (think fresh local cinnamon, cardamom, and currys) ...
... and worst smells (think of raw fish, raw meat, and rotting vegetables) all combined into one bombardment of the senses.
For dinner we ate at Lukmann Restaurant, which we highly recommend. They have a massive selection of local fare for a reasonable price, and the place was full of both tourists and locals alike, eating like it was their last meal.
Haggling or bartering is not exactly our specialty, but we were getting better throughout the trip. Talking to a Danish couple at our hotel that used to live on Zanzibar, we soon realized were duped at the airport two days before! The ‘Official Taxi Prices’ listed, 30,000 Shilling, was double what the going rate should be if you barter appropriately. We are ashamed to admit our mistake and naivety at paying the listed price. We learned our lesson though and drove a hard bargain with a talkative taxi driver, getting him down to half of what we paid from the airport.
Tip: A cab ride from downtown Stone Town to the airport is about 10,000 - 15,000 Shilling. If you arrive in Zanzibar and receive a quote of 30,000 Shilling to get to downtown, mention that you got it for 10,000 Shilling last time (or your friend got that price) and the drivers will likely meet you at 15,000 Shilling.
We absolutely love Stone Town. There is a very unique blend of Arab, Moorish, English, and African architecture with grand buildings and décor all in various states of disrepair. The streets are tiny, and crisscross the city in no discernible pattern, but Stone Town is small enough that you can walk until you are lost and yet will never be more than 20 minutes off course. The people are friendly and talkative, and the streets are full of energy. We highly recommend spending a few days in Stone Town, and will definitely be doing so again to explore the rest of the island of Zanzibar. Have you been to Zanzibar? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!
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What about these ones?