Happy Monday and Heritage Weekend! If you have been following along, I have spoken about Spice Tours, Mnemba Island and Safari Blue so far and I am getting to the end of this four-part blog series on Zanzibar.
I am really starting to feel sad about being home for two weeks already (I know I am strange, been this way since I was a kid) and almost every night I dream about Zanzibar, which is usually a strong indication that something / someone has left its mark on me.
So I really do hope to go exploring Zanzibar again soon, but in the meantime, today’s post is all about Prison Island and Stone Town….
Visiting Prison Island
If you are staying up north/east/west (where most of the hotels are located) you will want to explore Stone Town (south) at some point during your stay, in fact, you will pass Stone Town on the way to the resorts as it is very close to the Airport.
We organised our tour with a guy on the beach outside of our hotel and it included a guide, taxi and boat fare, which came to $50 (R750), excluding a tip for our guide.
We arrived in Stone Town, met out guide and headed straight to Prison Island on a boat.
Our guide’s name was Fadhil, who has been a tour guide for over 20 years.
As we sped off in our boat towards Prison Island, I started to ask him as many questions as I could about the history of slavery – something that I find both interesting and extremely sad.
The history is very complicated and almost impossible to explain briefly, but here is a VERY detailed summary.
Stone Town was host to one of the world’s last open slave markets, controlled by Arab traders and the slaves were shipped in dhows from the mainland Tanzania, crammed so tightly that many fell ill and died or were thrown overboard.
Arab traders would use Zanzibar as their base to launch slave raiding expeditions in Eastern Africa with cloves, ivory, spices, tea, coffee and gold being a huge part of this trade triangle.
Zanzibar Island came to be known all over the world as the island of spices and slaves and eventually the British intervened and slave trade was abolished in the 1890s. From there, the peace-loving people of Zanzibar returned to their fishing and spice trading ways.
The dark secrets are still buried in the heart of Zanzibar, in Stone Town and other regions of this island paradise. Our tour did not include a tour to see the slave site, which we only realised towards the end, so make sure that you ask your guide to take you there too.
After a 20 minute boat ride, we arrived at Prison Island.
The Aldabra Giant Tortoises
Seeing Stone Town
There is a lot to see (if you have all day) but we only had another two or so hours left of our tour, so we tried to see as much as we could with Faahid as our guide.
House of Wonders
The House of Wonders, also known as Beit-al-Ajaib in Arabic, was once a palace and the first building in Zanzibar to get electricity. This was used to power lamps that had been installed on the exterior walls.
At night, light from these lamps gave the palace a mystical, Arabian Nights vibe, which is what gave the palace its name. The House of Wonders was built in 1883, and was one of the six palaces that Sultan Barghash made throughout Zanzibar. We couldn’t go inside unfortunately as it is currently under construction.
The Old Fort
Walk the narrow alleyways
See Freddie Mercury’s House
See Tippu Tipp’s House
Tippu Tip’s House is where the powerful merchant and slave trader Tippu Tip (1837-1905) lived.
Despite being a tourist attraction, it is not formally open to visitors and it is in such a state of decay that it is dangerous to set foot inside. The large decorated carved wooden door, testifies the great wealth of the historical owner of the house.
Marvel at the Dhow Palace Hotel
See all the doors!
Have lunch at a traditional Zanzibar Restaurant
See Darajani Market
If you’re not up for the busyness (or smell) of the fish auction, then head to the market, a great place to get your hands on some fabulous spices, freshly baked bread, fruit and vegetables (beautifully arranged in neatly stacked piles).
Though pristine beaches are what most people think about when they think about Zanzibar, spending some time walking around the local market was for me a fantastic way to learn about the culture of Zanzibar and to observe local life.