Stone town walking tour and historic sites
You will see the following Stone Town historic sites on a private guided walking tour. We encourage everyone to take a tour to learn the history of Zanzibar and orient yourself to the maze of streets and alleys before venturing out to explore on your own.
Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders) dominates the Stone Town waterfront skyline. Built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial palace it was true to its name for being, among many notable characteristics, the tallest building in East Africa and the first to have running water, electricity, and an elevator.
The Palace Museum. Former residence of Zanzibar’s last sultan, overthrown during the 1964 revolution for Zanzibar independence and ultimate union with mainland Tanganyika to form the Republic of Tanzania. Three floors chock full of memorabilia not removed in the chaos. Exhibits are labeled, but knowledgeable guides with plenty of stories to tell are available at the entrance.
The Old Fort (Ngome Kongwe) was built around 1700 by the Omanis who ousted the Portuguese from the island. Over the years it has been repurposed many times and presently houses several craft shops, a cafe, tourist information, and an outdoor amphitheater.
Forodhani Gardens. Manicured gardens on the waterfront in proximity to all of the above. Pleasant spot for a rest in the shade, but it really comes alive at night when a street food bazaar materializes with an extensive range of freshly prepared local and locally-inspired dishes (with an emphasis on seafood), along with fresh fruit drinks and more. Now catering to island visitors, feel free to indulge worry-free!
Anglican Cathedral and Slave Market. With the powerful British empire wielding influence on the island in the 19th century, slavery was outlawed. To prove a point, in 1873 the British built their cathedral on the location of the slave market. In the basement of the old mission hospital next door can be found the tiny dank rooms where slaves were held.
Central Market. The open-air main market for the city, where you can find everything – from fresh fish to spices to hardware to the latest recordings of local Taarab Music. Prepare for all your sense to be engaged!
In Stone Town there remain more than 500 intricately carved wooden doors, many of them are older than the houses in which they are set. The doors served as a symbol of the wealth and status of a household. Take note as you wander the streets!
The Livingstone House was built around 1860 for Sultan Majid and used by many European missionaries and explorers as their home base before launching across the Zanzibar channel and into the African interior. David Livingstone, the most famous of them all, stayed in this house before his last fateful expedition in 1866. (Located 2km north of Stone Town; not seen on the walking tour.)
A popular half-day activity is to tour a spice plantation to see, smell, taste, and learn about the uses of the many different spices grown on the island. As part of the tour you may visit the ancient ruins of the Sultans’ country palace, the Persian baths built for the wife of one of the 19th century rulers, and see a beachfront shop where craftsmen build traditional sailing dhows using methods handed down for generations. A longer tour can include a trip to the village of Mwangapwani to explore an underground coral cave and ancient slave chambers; a trip to the Jozani Forest Reserve for a pleasant walk and opportunity to spot the red colobus monkey, found nowhere else in the world; or a visit to a distinctive mangrove swamp, nature’s protection against beach erosion.
Festivals and Events
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The island is in a celebratory mood that may last – literally and figuratively – for days. There is plenty of feasting, Taarab music concerts, and everyone dresses in their finest clothes. Stone Town can be a particularly exciting place at this time. In 2019 Eid is expected to commence at sunset on the 4th of June.
Mwaka Kogwa, the Shirazi New Year, is celebrated at the end of July. The best place to observe this festival is Makunduchi, a village in the southern part of Zanzibar, where huge bonfires are lit and mock fights occur between men using banana stems as weapons. As the men fight, women stroll through the field singing songs about life and love.
Sauti Za Busara (“Voices of Wisdom”) is a 4-day celebration of African music, drawing performers from all over the continent and beyond. It is held annually in Stone Town in February.
The Zanzibar International Film Festival is a 10-day cultural extravaganza of film screenings, music, workshops, exhibits, and more. Stone Town, July.
A mere 4 kilometers and 20-minute boat ride from the bustle of Stone Town lies quiet Changuu (Prison) Island, which received its name from the prison for violent criminals that was built in 1893 under orders by Zanzibar’s British administration. The buildings were never used for that purpose and instead became a quarantine center for several decades. The ruins are still somewhat intact and the cells can be visited. A protected colony of giant tortoises – some over 100 years old – live on the island and are easily viewed. A number of rare bird species may also be seen on the island. The beach is superb and the crystal clear waters excellent for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and diving.