ZANZIBAR| Stone Town

Stone Town is the historical heart of Zanzibar.  It has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and forms the oldest part of Zanzibar city.  Zanzibar has had a wide range of occupants who have shaped the city that we see today.  Once a major trade hub for spices (as mentioned in Zanzibar Spice Farm) and slavery, it is no surprise that Stone Town exhibits a blend of Arab, Indian, European and African influences.


Stone Town derives its name from its distinctive coral stone and lime buildings – materials which were readily available on the island.  The architecture of the buildings also depict the numerous colonists who came and left the island.  Most characteristic are the doors.  The Zanzibar, or Arab, doors are identifiable by their rectangular shape.  The frames are finely carved with Islamic text and imagery, and are often adorned with brass spikes (for the purpose of warding off elephants).  The Indian doors do not have as ornate door frames as the Zanzibar doors, but are characterised by their dome shape and Indian carvings.

Figure 1: Doors of Stone Town, Zanzibar

The narrow streets of Stone Town are lined with apartments, hotels, small businesses, mosques, shops and bazaars.  At every turn, there is a cultural or historical experience to be had – whether it be the local spa with drums of dried spices outside its doors, the Hamamni Persian baths or Freddie Mercury’s home (aka Mercury House).

Figure 2: Mercury House

Promenade and Forodhani Gardens

Heading towards the promenade is a more local vibe.  The shores are lined with small boats offering rides and tours of the other nearby islands.  The local women can be seen boiling sweet potatoes and cassava which is a traditional cuisine on the island; and youngsters hang out at Forodhani Gardens which is adjacent to the sea and a popular location for the street food night market.

Figure 3: Clockwise from top left: promenade; boats at sea; boiled cassava; Forodhani Gardens


House of Wonders

Overlooking Forodhani Gardens is the House of Wonders (aka Beit-al-Ajaib).  The House of Wonders was a ceremonial palace for the Sultan of Zanzibar and earned its name for being the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity.  In recent years it has operated as a museum showcasing Zanzibar and Swahili culture and history.  Unfortunately, the museum has since been closed and we were unable to enter and experience its wonders first hand.

Figure 4: House of Wonders

Old Fort

Adjacent to the House of Wonders and also facing the Forodhani Gardens, is the Old Fort.  The Old Fort was built during the Omani rule to protect against attacks from the Portuguese.  It later served as a prison and barracks.  Nowadays, the Old Fort is a cultural centre and home to local stalls and souvenir shops.  Within the Old Fort, you can also find an amphitheatre which is famous for hosting the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

Figure 5: Old Fort and amphitheatre

East African Slave Trade Exhibit

Walking deeper into the city, we had to pay our respects at the East African Slave Trade Exhibit. Upon entering, you are faced with the solemn reality of the slave monument – a sculpture of five slave figures chained to one another in a pit.  The exhibit was erected in the location of the old slave market and recreates the conditions of the slave chambers in which an unconscionable number of slaves were kept, and died.  The exhibit itself provides a history of the numerous conquests of Zanzibar and the slave trade.  However, in honour of the abolishment of slavery, an Anglican cathedral, Christ Church, was built on site of the largest slave market in Zanzibar.

Figure 6: East African Slave Trade Exhibit

Local Market

Our tour of Stone Town ended at the local market.  The market is a great way to see Zanzibar’s fresh produce, which has been proudly cultivated and harvested from its self-sustaining lands and oceans.  There are separate sections for meat, seafood and vegetables, and of course other locally produced products such as cosmetics, perfumes and curios.

Figure 7: Market goods

ZANZIBAR| Spice Farm

Zanzibar, “The Spice Islands”, is famous for its rich soils and lush vegetation.  Spices are a crucial element in the lives of the people of Zanzibar, and are used on a regular basis for cooking, medicine and cosmetics.

By far the most important spice in Zanzibar is clove.  Clove was introduced to Zanzibar during the Arab rule and became a major export, particularly due to the island’s excellent harbours and trade routes.  Ironically, clove is not indigenous to Tanzania but was brought to the fertile lands of Zanzibar from Indonesia by the Omani sultans.  Clove plantations flourished thanks to Zanzibar’s ideal agricultural conditions.  Today, clove exports form a significant part of Zanzibar’s economy and are strictly government controlled.

Figure 1: Fresh clove before it is dried

Our spice tour began at a humble establishment called “Big Body With Tatata Spice Farm”.  The spice farms are scattered across the countryside and allow tourists to engage with the locals and experience rural life.  A knowledgeable guide explained how each spice grows and its primary uses; as well as answered all of our questions.  In many circumstances, not only the seed would be harvested, but also the bark, flower or fruit.  The farms are tended with care and experience.  There is almost no wastage, and all produce is completely organic – imparting a sense of appreciation and respect for the land’s natural resources.

Figure 2: Various spices and fruit grown on the farm

While we were mesmerised by the wealth of information exuding from the farm’s guide, another farm employee was masterfully weaving together items from around the property.  Our tour ended with a gift of the woven goods, a demonstration of a skilled climber harvesting coconuts, a refreshing drink of fresh coconut water and a taste of the exotic fruits grown on the plantation.

Figure 3: Coconuts and the King and Queen of Spice

ZANZIBAR| Pwani Mchangani

Three days in Zanzibar were three days in paradise.  There is nothing quite like an island holiday to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.  Having recently moved to land-locked Johannesburg, the smell of the ocean was just what we were after.

We had an early morning flight from Johannesburg and landed at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport by midday.  The air-conditioned shuttle to the resort was refreshing as we thanked our luck for the sunny weather.

We spent our precious three days in Pwani Mchangani, which lies on the north east coast of Zanzibar Island.  The resort overlooked the Indian Ocean and what a sight it was to behold – blue skies and turquoise waters as far as the eye can see.  Flip flops in hand, our feet sunk in the wet white sand as the waves gently caressed our ankles while we strolled along the shore which welcomed the tide.

Figure 1: Pwani Mchangani, Zanzibar


Zanzibar is by far one of the most peaceful and humble destinations I have been to.  It truly lives up to its Swahili mantra, “hakuna matata” – no worries.  The people of Zanzibar are generous and hospitable, reigning from a rich cultural and historical background.  No matter where you are or who you meet, you are sure to be greeted with a warm “jambo”, which means hello in Swahili.

During the day, you can expect to encounter a few stalls and hawkers along the beach, selling locally produced curios.  There are also small businesses offering boat rides to the other islands in the archipelago, or water sports (such as snorkelling or scuba diving) for the more adventurous.

Zanzibar mornings are a different scene.  The tide retreats so far as to unveil kilometres of sand bank.  It is during this time that many of the local people forage along the exposed ocean floor.

Figure 2: Low tide, Zanzibar
Figure 3: Morning stroll along the beach


Our evenings at the resort were festive.  Each night we gave in to the island beat of home-grown Tanzanian music and dance.  Zanzibar is also renowned for its rich vegetation and spices.  Needless to say, each dinner was a feast of North African and international cuisines.

Figure 4: Zanzibar nights