The small island of Zanzibar sits off the west coast of Africa near the Tanzania coastline. Zanzibar or Zanzibar Island as it’s known, is actually the Island of Unguja. It is the largest island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. As of 1964 Zanzibar is a part of the country of Tanzania and is governed by a semi-autonomous for of government. Besides tourism, it’s most important exports are spices like cloves cinnamon, black pepper and nutmeg which was been their main exports since the peak of the spice trade with the far east and Europe.
Wen arriving on the island you will notice the beautiful white sugar-sand beaches. They can be found throughout the 45 archipelago islands and each is unique in it’s own way. On the farthest western tip of the island is the city of Stone Town. The city has been a port city for centuries. You can soak in the local culture by walking the street market, going to a fish auction or take a spice tour and try some of their local spiced teas. If you prefer coffee to tea, head to the rooftop of the historic Zanzibar Coffee House. One of the most famous landmarks and a must see is the Old Fort of Zanzibar (also known as the Arab Fort). It is a 17th century colonial fort and is the only remaining Arab castle still standing in East Africa.
A must see is one of the most historic buildings in Stone Town, Sultans Palace, also known as the Sultans Museum. This 19th century palace was built in 1886 as a residence for the second Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said and his family. After the revolution of 1964 it was renamed the Peoples Palace, renovated to include a museum and also a hotel.
A little known fact about Zanzibar is it’s most famous resident. Farrokh Bulsara, also known as Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen was born in Stone Town in 1946. His original family home is still there and you can take a tour at what is known as the Mercury House.
On your visit take a bus from Stone Town to the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Forest. It is the last indigenous forest on the island that is 6207 acres in size. Within the forest is one of the last remaining sanctuaries of the Red Columbus Monkey. It is also home to the endangered Zanzibar Leopard. The Leopard is very reclusive and has not been seen in many years bordering on extinction.
If you are looking for a nice beach to relax, head to the north end of the island. Nungwi Beach is a popular beach but not overridden with tourists or big fancy hotels. Another nice thing about the beach is that it doesn’t have extreme tides; the water doesn’t go out to sea on Nungwi Beach as some of the other beaches. Looking for things to do around the beach check out the Guide to Nungwi for more info.
Another very important landmark in Stone Town is the tallest building in the city, the House of Wonders. It houses artifacts from Swahili and Zanzibar’s diverse history and culture of their people. It is also said that the building sits on the former location of the Palace of the Queen Fatuma of Zanzibar. It gets it name House of Wonders because it was the first house in East Africa with electricity and an elevator. It now contains the Museum of History and Culture for Zanzibar and Swahili Coast.
Prison Island gives a look into this areas dark and inhumane past. It is a small island about a 30 minute boat ride off the coast of Stone Town. During the 19th century slave traders would use the island as a stopping point before traveling on to Zanzibar. Uncontrollable slaves and the sick were removed from the ships and dumped on the island to fend for themselves. It was later used as a location to quarantine people sick with Yellow Fever before they could be released to the mainland. In the early 1900’s a prison was built on the island, which is how it got it’s name, but no prisoners were ever brought to the island. Today a 15 unit hotel has been built on the island and is a destination for many European tourists. You can also find a small population of Giant Tortoises which are protected species on the island and looked after by the World Animal Protection Organization.