Stone Town is a city with charisma. I could have left as soon as I landed at the airport, but I had a feeling that he would like the main city of Zanzibar. Visiting Stone Town was the first activity planned for my screenplay in Zanzibar. And so I did.
I spent two days exploring Stone Town, the most populous city on Unguja Island (which is usually called Zanzibar). From everything I've visited, among museums, cafes, streets and markets, these are the places that have marked me the most. It is, so to speak, my list of suggestions with what to do in Stone Town, fit for a two-day stay before exploring the Beaches of Nungwi ou Jambiani, or any other point of Zanzibar. Let's do it!
12 things to do in Stone Town
#1 Visit the Sultan's Palace
The so-called Palace Museum, or Sultan's Palace of Zanzibar, sits in a huge building in the prime area of Stone Town. It was once the official residence of Sultan Seyyid Said, until it was destroyed by the British bombing of 1896. Curious is the fact that much of the palace furniture has survived, and is now on display at the museum.
It is not a spectacular museum but still provides an interesting visit to Zanzibar's past. In my opinion, it's worth it to include in the list of things to do in Stone Town.
#2 Visit the Old Stone Town Fort
At the entrance, a plaque on the wall informs: the old fort was "erected by Omanite Arabs around 1700, from materials of a Portuguese chapel and an adjoining stone residence." That is, after the Omanites expelled the Portuguese from Zanzibar. It is the oldest building in Stone Town.
Nowadays, it is not worth much of your time. It is interesting to peek inside the fort but unfortunately it is transformed into a remembrances, notorious for tourism. In my opinion, it was dispensable; but still, be sure to visit the fort and form your opinion. Even because the entrance is free.
#3 Visit the Museum of Slavery
Impressive and a must see. O Stone Town Slavery Museum this is it and more. Small and created with few resources, but very, very elucidative, the museum explains in detail the functioning of the slave markets that have affected the black population of Tanzania and some neighboring countries.
The photographs, which make it possible to clearly visualize the workings of things like slave caravans, are incredibly revealing of the suffering and inhumanity of the time of slavery. Definitely not to be missed in Stone Town!
#4 Get to know the Capital Art Studio photo shop
As I passed the door, the interior of the store caught my eye. The walls were lined with old photographs, many of them black and white and faded by time. Over there I was a good piece, watching the historical images and trying to convince the owner to let me take a photograph of the space. In vain. If you are looking for something to do in Stone Town beyond the obvious, be sure to visit the Capital Art Studio and maybe buy a vintage photograph.
#5 Have lunch at Lukmaan
Very probably the best restaurant in Stone Town. Or at least the best value restaurant in the whole old town. The food is traditional and delicious, and the prices very considerate for what I found in Stone Town. A simple but absolutely recommendable restaurant (I went there more than once).
#6 Have coffee at the Coffee Shop Puzzle or Zanzibar Coffee House
Leonardo is a Brazilian from Minas Gerais living in Zanzibar; a sort of self-taught barista, to live on the "spice island" for more than three years. Your Puzzle Coffee Shop is surely one of the Best Stone Town Cafes. Small and cozy, it has a quiet environment and an interior space for cowork. "For days I was counting on how many nationalities I've interacted here in the cafe, and they were more than 130," he confided to me, smiling. "It's the world in here." Flavored (good) coffee - from the plantations of Northern Tanzania.
As for the Zanzibar Coffee House, you have the best coffee I drank in Stone Town. It is a mixture of guesthouse and coffee, with a quiet atmosphere and a divine coffee. It has a small terrace ideal for reading a book overlooking the hustle and bustle of Stone Town; and where it is possible to take the requested coffee "downstairs" to the counter. Regrettably, the sympathy of the staff did not seem to be in tune with the extraordinary quality of the coffee. Contrary to what I found in Puzzle.
They are the only two specialty specialty coffee house in Stone Town.
#7 Losing yourself in the alleys of the historic ...
One of the nicest things to do in Stone Town is walking down the alleyways of the city. It has a decadent colonial beauty that gives it a charm to remember - although to the light and notorious differences - cities like Algiers or Havana.
It is in the smallest streets, within the blocks delimited by the greater avenues that the best one feels the pulsar of Stone Town. Do not hesitate: even without a road map or defined goals, go. And let yourself be lost in the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town.
#8 ... and see the Jaws Corner environment
The Jaws Corner is a crossroads of alleys in the historic center of Stone Town, where wooden tables with hard benches and traditional Zanzibar coffee are served. I confess that I ended up not staying to try the spiced coffee, but sure enough, if you want to feel the traditional atmosphere of Stone Town, the Jaws Corner is the ideal window to the local culture.
#9 Embarking on the Darajani Marketplace
The Darajani Market is chaos - there is no other way to put it. I doubt, moreover, that it is appealing to all travelers, especially given the number of indigents I have seen there; but in any case, for those who like markets, it's worth the visit. It is a profusion of smells, colors and flavors - especially vibrant with the warm colors of dusk, before heading to the beach for the last rays of sun.
#10 Watch a sunset on the beach
By late afternoon, all roads lead to the Stone Town coastline. Not much to say. Whether on the beach, in a garden or with a Safari beer in one of the cafes next to the beach, the "order" is to enjoy the late afternoon with the smell of the sea by company. You will not regret it!
#11 Strolling through the gardens Forodhani (but do not eat there)
Many people who have visited Stone Town recommend dining on the street stalls set up in the afternoon at Forodhani Gardens. After reading some very complimentary experiences, and being a self-confessed lover of street food, I could not fail to try. It was one of the biggest disappointments of the city.
First of all, the food is average (and I am being friendly). Think of fish, shrimp, octopus, lobster, chicken or turkey kebabs previously preheated and reheated, which will eat standing or sitting on a garden wall. Then the prices are absurdly high for what is offered. And, lastly, it seems to me to be truly thought of for the tourist - not for the workers and locals, natural customers of street food which I have already met in an urban environment. Proof of this is that it is impossible to walk on the pews without being insistently approached by customer service.
In short, stroll through the Forodhani Gardens in the late afternoon, but do not stay for dinner.
12. Visit a spice farm
One of the most popular activities to do from Stone Town is to visit a Spice Farm (or spice farm, in the literal translation). This is a way of knowing a little better the importance of spices on the island of Zanzibar (to the point of being even called by many a "spice island"). It takes half a day and is one of the things to do in Stone Town if you stay two days in the city.
Map: Places to visit in Stone Town
When to Visit Zanzibar
The archipelago of Zanzibar can be visited all year round but, of course, there are times more favorable than others. Since the days are always hot, keep in mind, for example, the two seasons of the rains; between March and May and after the beginning of November to mid-December. Rainfall usually occurs for short periods of time.
All in all, if you mainly seek to enjoy the beaches of Zanzibar, the best time to go will be during the dry and less hot months. That is, from June until the end of October; is from mid-December to the end of February. On the other hand, for those who intend to go diving in Zanzibar, the months of February and March, or July and August are recommended.
My idea was to get through Zanzibar and return to Arusha airport (or vice versa). But after much searching cheap flights, I chose to fly with Turkish Airlines from Milan; which I joined on a connecting flight between Porto and Milan, with TAP. And I did it because the price difference for a single air ticket originating in Portugal was huge.
The only other inconvenience was the additional hours of travel, which meant sleeping near the airport in Milan. In this regard, in case I have to do the same, I recommend the Holiday Inn Express Milan-Malpensa Airport. To get to the hotel, take the free shuttle bus that connects the terminals 1 and 2 from Milan Malpenza airport and get off at the Case Nuove stop. This Holiday Inn is 350 meters away.
Upon arrival at Zanzibar International Airport, the best option is to take a taxi to Stone Town. At least if you arrive at night, that was my case (15USD).
Where to stay
I stayed in the Ten to Ten Stone Town Zanzibar, and I confess that it is nothing special - it can sleep and it is cheap. For better quality hotels, I recommend the classy Tausi Palace Hotel, Spice Palace Hotel e Sightseeing; highly praised Stone Town Cafe Guesthouse; the popular three-star hotel Al-Minar Hotel; the functional Swedzan House or the hotel is good and cheap Balcony House.
If it's luxury you're looking for (and you're willing to pay for it), the answer is Park Hyatt Zanzibar. For other Stone Town accommodation options, use the link below.
A World Nomads offers one of the best and most complete travel insurance recommended by National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Other excellent and cheaper option is IATI Seguros, which has no age limit and allows multivariate insurance (including long-term travel) to any destination in the world. It's the insurance I use in my travels.