Zanzibar: Our Guide to Stone Town

Zanzibar had been number one on the bucket list for many years – hours spent looking at photos on Instagram, researching places to go and dreaming of white sand beaches with clear blue seas. You can imagine how excited we were when finally decided that 2018 was the year to make this dream a reality – yes – very, very excited.

We spent hours looking for flights which meant we could have maximum time to explore in the little time we had. Normally people recommend two weeks to explore Zanzibar, however we only had one week including flight time – February half-term to be exact! This meant jumping on the tube to Heathrow straight from work and landing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania the next afternoon.

Now, you can get a flight directly to Zanzibar, but for us it simply worked out better (and cheaper) to fly to Dar Es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport and then catch the ferry to Stone Town in Zanzibar the next morning.

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During our stop-over in Dar Es Salaam we stayed a Hotel Slipway, around an hour and a half drive from the airport and half an hour drive to the ferry port. It was a lovely hotel located on the shorefront with a pool, two restaurants and breakfast included. For dinner we decided to visit the hotel’s Waterfront restaurant, with live music, a beautiful sunset and delicious food, what more could you ask for on your first night?! Not to shabby a stop over…

Important notes on arrival…

  • A Tanzania Visa will cost you $50 on arrival.
  • In Tanzania and Zanzibar you can pay with either US Dollars or Tanzanian Shilling.
  • Julius Nyerere International Airport’s official taxi rank has set prices for all destinations – $45 to Hotel Slipway. Don’t go with one of the try your luck drivers, much better to get one of the official taxis which are to the left when you leave the airport.
  • Tanzanian Shilling is a closed currency so you’ll need to exchange your money at the airport – however this is quick and easy. Just don’t expect to get as much as it says on E.X.

The next morning we were up bright and early to catch the ferry to Stone Town in Zanzibar. We had been recommended by the hotel to leave an hour and an half to get a taxi to the port and still have time to buy our tickets, get through security and put our bags in the hold. Therefore, we arranged a taxi to pick us up from the hotel at 8 for the 9:30 ferry – you can also catch a ferry at 7:00, 12:30 and 16:00.

The ferry from Dar Es Salaam to Stone Town takes around two hours and costs $35. We’d suggest getting a seat on the top deck so you can sunbath and watch the world go by – this is also a great time to chat to the locals! We spoke to a lovely lady to told us about her childhood in Zanzibar in return for us explaining to her why we were putting on suncream. You may also be asked for a couple of selfies…

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While in Stone Town we stayed at The Swahili House based in Stone Town’s Old Town and a five minute walk from the ferry port. The Swahili House was by far our favourite place to stay during our trip – it was beautifully decorated, the staff were super friendly and it had an amazing view from the rooftop terrace.

Once we’d dropped off our bags and were settled in our room we headed out to explore! But first, what to wear? Zanzibar is Muslin country therefore it is important to be respectful in what you choose to wear, particularly in Stone Town, by covering your shoulders, midriff and thighs. Unfortunately, as we weren’t aware of this before we travelled (an huge error on our part we admit – and we’re blogging about travel!) we weren’t always able to cover everything with the clothes we’d packed, however we tried our best not to have all on show at once. For our first day exploring we opted for long trousers/dresses with long sleeved shirts on top.

By now we’d worked up an appetite and decided we wanted to try some of the local cuisine. Our first stop was a restaurant recommended to us, Lukmaan Restaurant. Visited by tourists and locals alike it is the perfect place to go to get a feel for the culture and try out the local dishes. We opted for the chicken curry and pilau rice which was delicious!

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Afterwards we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Old Town’s MarketForodhani Park and Ngome Kongwe (The Old Fort). All completely free, although a donation to The Old Fort is optional.

While walking around we both agreed that Stone Town had a heavy Indian influence and rather reminded us of Rajasthan, however much more relaxed. We were also lucky as it was the last day of Zanzibar’s annual music festival, Sauti za Busara, meaning that every corner we turned we came across some wonderful live music, ranging from rap battles between the locals to singers more well-known across Eastern Africa.

We ended our exploration watching the sunset with a cocktail by the seafront at Zanzibar’s Floating Restaurant and it was a powerful cocktail at that, half tonic, half gin – but who’s complaining! The festival continued just outside meaning we had the perfect position on the deck to see and hear the singers and performers. It had an amazing atmosphere and truly showed us Africa’s passion for music.

During the twilight hours on of our favourite things to do was to sit on the beach by the port and watch the locals. It seems like every man and his dog comes down to the beach to relax without of the heat of the sun and tons of footballs matches spread along the beach! We spent ages just sitting and watching it all unfold before us.

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After sunset we headed back to our hotel to have dinner on the terrace. The food was amazing, we opted for the tuna tartare and watermelon gazpacho to start, followed by a delicious vegetable curry and calamari. Even if you don’t stay at The Swahili House (although we don’t why you wouldn’t…) we’d still recommend visiting for dinner!

On our second day in Stone Town we were up early again with an amazing breakfast on the terrace. Fresh fruit followed by eggs of your choice with mango juice was spectacular – perfect to set us up for our day! We’d booked a trip through the hotel to visit Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach located just off the coast of Zanzibar.

Top Tip: everything is negotiable, even the prices of the trips from the hotel!

Our guide picked us up from the hotel at 8 o’clock and walked us down to the shore where we jumped on the boat to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island. The island was originally built to hold a prison, however was never actually used as a prison due to it’s need during a yellow fever outbreak to house those infected. The tour of the prison was short but sweet – if we’re honest there isn’t much of the prison building left.

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The main attraction on Prison Island is the Tortoise Sanctuary, said to house the second largest tortoises to those on the Galapagos Islands. Once you enter the sanctuary you’re greeted by tortoises straight away, you’re able to interact with them and feed them. The oldest on the island was 182 years old! Furthermore, Prison Island itself has beautiful surroundings from the beaches to the aqua blue water.

However, our next destination was definitely what we were most looking forward to! Nakupenda Beach, also known as Sand Bank Island is (clue’s in the name) a sand bank not too far from Prison Island. Nakupenda Beach is the definition of white sands and clear blue water. It is exactly what we imagined when we dreamed of our trip to Zanzibar. We spent the rest of our morning relaxing on the sand, paddling in the sea and snorkelling – we have to admit we think it’s the clearest water we’ve ever seen! You also get to enjoy a seafood lunch grilled right in front of you, and you’re going to need it after chasing those fish!

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Now, we suggest starting your trip to Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach early as it can get very busy with tourists towards mid-morning. Once we were heading back to Stone Town around 2:30pm the beach was nearly full with tour groups. Although it was still a beautiful place to be, we believe it’s even better when you’re one of the few people on the island. Most of the tours leave at 9/9:30.. we left at 8:00…

Overall the tour cost us $30 each with a little bit a haggling. We’d say it was definitely worth going to Nakupenda Beach however we could take or leave Prison Island so we’ll let you decide.

Once we’d headed back, showered and got ourselves sorted for the afternoon we decided to stop for a late lunch. Zanzibar Coffee House is located around the corner from The Swahili House and serves delicious and comforting food. We ordered the chicken and mango chapati wraps with banana smoothies, finished off with potentially the best banana cake we’ve ever had! The perfect place for lunch or even a mid-afternoon snack.

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We spent the remainder of our afternoon exploring and shopping at Old Town’s  Markets, from food stalls to souvenirs and paintings there is so much to see – and buy if only we could get it all home! However, one particular stall and person stuck in our minds. We meet this wonderful local man who was making sandals out of old tires, he explained to us how he wanted to help the environment by recycling all the old tires left around the city. He was so passionate about his cause he truly captured our hearts. If you do one thing while exploring Stone Town you need to speak to the locals – they have great stories!

For our last meal we went to House of Spices – a lovely rooftop restaurant with amazing food and great staff! Starting with a sweet potato and lentil soup followed by coconut curry and rice it was one of the best meals we had while in Zanzibar. Not to forget the free bread and dips to begin – who doesn’t love a restaurant who gives you bread and garlic butter to start?!

After dinner we headed back to begin packing as our time in Stone Town had come to an end and we loved every minute! We’d booked a taxi for the next morning to take us to our next destination Nungwi. 

2 thoughts on “Zanzibar: Our Guide to Stone Town

  1. Pingback: Zanzibar: Our Guide to Nungwi – Sister Sister Travels

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