I did the mistake to stay in Stone Town, Zanzibar, for three full days and nights. On the last day, I got totally bored and already regretted it. Two days are absolutely enough to see and visit everything in Stone Town, and you literally have nothing to do on the 3rd day. In addition, I was expecting a Middle Eastern fairytale, something monumental, with fancy colonial-style buildings, heavy traditions, and magical ambiance remaining from the Omani Sultanate and the British Commonwealth (Tanganyika, the mainland, got its independence from Great Britain in 1962 and merged with Zanzibar in 1964 = Republic of Tanzania) Unfortunately, Zanzibar city is quite run-down. My dreamed Zanzibar adventure began a little disappointing.
Regardless of my minor tone, I’ll try to be objective and to summarize what’s worth to see, how to avoid being scammed (yes, it could happen), and what to adopt into your program. So, here we go, two days tour, that’s all.
The first day is for visiting the sightseeing in the Old Town. The second day – to take a boat trip to the Prison Island, spend some time there, and meet the giant turtles, brought from Seychelles at the beginning of the 20th century as a gift for the Omani Sultan, residing in Zanzibar.
In my opinion, it’s pointless to pay for a guided Stone Town tour that costs between 35 and 55 Euros per person. I was curious, though, to reveal what’s included in the offer for the guided tour in the Old Town. After detailed research, the conclusion was that if you are already staying in Stone Town and are a semi-intelligent person with some Internet browsing skills, you definitely won’t need to pay for it.
All the sightseeing is next to each other and the information the guide could provide already exists on Google. Replying to those of you who believe they could get lost in the narrow streets of Stone Town, NO, you cannot. I tried to get lost because I adore being lost at an unknown spot, but each randomly taken way led me either to the seaside promenade or to Freddie Mercury’s House in the center.
All you need to make in advance, prior to your arrival (just because of the possible lack of internet in Stone Town) is to check on Google Maps your preferred route, and once you allocate the landmarks, there is no way to get lost. If you already got a Zantel sim card with a 4G internet package, then Google Maps will be your guide.
I started my tour from the Old Portuguese Arch, which I already mentioned in my previous article “Zanzibar pre-travel hacks to know” as the landmark for finding the Vuga Zantel Office, and this is the route I would suggest here. Well, to be precise, I was accommodated nearby, so it was a logical circuit. I’ll skip the explanation about the sightseeing because you can find the same information on Google anyway.
After seeing the Old Portuguese Arch, take the street that is just opposite the arch facade. It leads to a small park next to Serena Hotel, then your route passes by Park Hyatt and Tembo hotels (all three hotels are next to each other). When you leave Tembo hotel behind, you would reach your first main destination – Freddie Mercury’s house. It’s quite central for Stone Town and everyone wants to take a picture in front of it. The legendary Queen’s frontman has lived in this house in Stone Town from September 1945 (his birth) till 1964.
From this landmark, you have two ways. Either you start your shopping tour – most of the souvenir shops, local colorful clothes, jewelry shops for the rare Tanzanite gemstone, street vendors that offer ice cream, fresh fruits, or cashew are here. The other option is to go further with sightseeing. Just follow the promenade street, parallel to the seashore, and you will find all the Zanzibari famous buildings and spots worth seeing.
I began with Forodhani Gardens, the favorite place for the locals to gather and hang out the whole day and night long. Very pleasant spot with great scenery. Just behind the Gardens is one of the main sightseeing – House of Wonders. It was called this way becoming the first house on the island with electricity. Unfortunately, it’s no longer open for tourists and at the moment is under restoration, partially ruined after flooding rain showers in December 2020 that destroyed the construction and damaged the facade.
Next to what’s left from the House of Wonders is the Old Fort. I should admit in a super great condition, stays firm and solid. Erected by the Omani Arabs in 1700 from the materials of the Portuguese chapel and stone residence nearby Besieged, it was used later as a prison. There is a stone amphitheater inside and now is full of artists who are crafting local Zanzibari art. The entrance is free of charge. On the same line is the Palace Museum – that’s the palace of the last Omani Sultan who ruled Zanzibar. The Palace Museum is in good condition and is very interesting to be seen, I recommend it!
Following the same pathway, you would reach Khole House. That’s the residence of the daughter of the Sultan, princess Khole. I liked the building, It’s in light green/turquoise color, quite spectacular, Oriental style, with lots of ornaments. Here I attach a picture of the Stone Town Map, so you can get an idea. Such a map is available complimentary in the Old Fort, right at the entrance with the Information desk. Just ask for it.
Keep going after the Khole House and when you are at Zanzibari Port, where the ferry from Dar es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania) embarks, turn right and follow Malawi street. It will lead you to the main road, where you should take the right again, and you are already at the fruit and Old Slave market. If you get confused, just ask for Darajani Market.
At this market is also located the dala dala parking. You don’t know what dala dala is? Let me explain because it’s a well-kept secret.
Dala Dala is a small simple truck with wooden benches on both sides. This is the popular and extremely cheap inter-town transportation on the island, used mostly by the locals. I find it quite comfortable, very exotic, and a great way to mingle with the Zanzibaris. The name dala dala is believed to come from the English word “dollar” because each route you take on the island costs just a dollar= 2000 TZS (Tanzanian Shillings).
10 important facts you need to know about Dala Dala:
- There is no schedule or any timetable. The truck leaves when it’s full which desirably means 16 seats but could accommodate up to 24 passengers (sitting on the floor between the benches)
- Each truck has a number and sometimes the name of the final destination
116 to Nungwi
117 to Kiwengwa
118 to Matemwe
All of those are on the North side of the island. There are also dala dala to Jambiani and Paje (on the South), I do not know their numbers but it’s easy to find it at the parking
3. Whoever asks you to pay in advance or upon your entrance in the dala dala, just stay calm and say politely “No, I’ll pay after we leave” and take your seat on the bench. There are guys around who pretend being the driver of dala dala, trying to trick you and to request the ticket payment in advance. Beware, those guys are cheaters and have nothing to do with dala dala. You pay when the rest of the passengers pay.
4. Keep your baggage with you inside dala dala. They may offer you to put it on the roof of the truck, say “No, I’ll keep it with me”, put it in your lap or between your legs for not to bother the other passengers.
5. Sit as near as possible to the entrance/exit point of the dala dala and let the rest of the passengers sit deep inside, next to the driver’s cabin. It guarantees you easy hop on and hop off
6. About 5 km after dala dala has left the parking in your desired direction, the conductor will start collecting the money for the ticket. It’s 1500 TZS or 2000 TZS but never, absolutely never more!!! And you won’t receive a ticket.
7. Tell the conductor where you want to hop off (in my case I knew in advance I should get out at a road sign of Skuli ya Kairo for Kiwengwa). Kiwengwa is a long village and there is not downtown, so better ask in advance the contact person from your upcoming accommodation where is the nearest point to get off the dala dala. The same is applicable to the other towns/villages.
8. To Nungwi usually the transport is a minibus, not a truck, but all of them are called dala dala and the price is the one, I have already mentioned above.
9. Take a scarf with you to cover your mouth and nose, it could get windy or dusty sometimes (I didn’t have this problem at all).
10. Dala Dala has lots of stops even being full, so do not expect going directly to your destination. There are no defined in advance stops. It stops where someone from the passengers needs to get off but do not worry, the max time for the ride is about an hour.
Let’s go back to the Stone Town tours. At the end of the day, you will get lots of invitations to go to ”the super famous Forodhani Night Market”. It’s usually described as something extraordinary. Well …it’s not 🙁 All I’ve seen was raw seafood everywhere, often covered by flies, waiting to be cooked in front of the potential customer. The Night Market happens after sunset at the same Forodhani Gardens I mentioned above and is a place where the local gigolos are trying to harass (they believe to attract) single white female tourists. Personally, it was not my cup of tea.
If you want to eat cheap but super delicious food, I won’t hesitate to recommend Lukmaan restaurant in Stone Town (No, they didn’t pay me to promote it). The menu offers great variety at a very reasonable price, mostly Zanzibar Swahili cuisine, and grilled seafood. It’s a type of buffet, so when you choose you pay immediately but you know in advance how much it’s going to cost you.
I would recommend a Kingfish meal (1 portion = 10 000 TZS, about 5 USD), 2 pieces of calamari = 6 000 TZS). Most of the garnish is about 4000 TZS each – rice, grilled or cooked vegetables and etc. A big mixed fresh of mango and passion fruit costs 3000 TZS only.
The restaurant is fairly clean but could leak a bit during rain showers. Good quality and good value for money. The ground floor is much better than the terrace. There is no view from the terrace, except for the poor surroundings. Opposite Lukmaan restaurant is the Pharmacy in case you need it. You can buy bottled water everywhere in Stone Town – never pay more than 1000 TZS per 1,5 l bottle.
Moving to the second day of the Stone Town tour. Next to Tembo Hotel and Mercury’s house, right on the beach are waiting the boat owners who offer Prison Island tour. The first price they offered me was 20 USD for round trip and two hours on the island. If you want to go to Prison Island and spend some fun time with the giant turtles do not postpone it, your trip should start from Stone Town.
The name of the guy who offered me the Prison Island tour was Omar, a very smiling, persistent, and flexible Zanzibari. At the moment I made a funny face at his 20 USD offer, he immediately switched and updated me that if I agree to share the ride with other tourists, then the price will drop to 10 USD. Sure, I want to share it, can’t see any reason not to, because two hours on the island is plenty of time and you have not much to do there.
There are spice tours and gastronomic tours offered but I wasn’t into it. The locals promote Zanzibar as the island of the spices but after being in Sri Lanka and Madagascar (promoted the same way) I wasn’t interested in enrolling in those tours. If you have never seen how the exotic spices grow, it might be interesting to you, especially the Spice farm tour but you can get information at each hotel or guesthouse reception. Do not forget, in Zanzibar everything is negotiable, so never accept the first offer and try to get a discount or to directly decrease the price.
So, the second day in Stone Town is over. You have seen everything that is worth it, saved lots of money from the walking guided tour and the Prison Island boat trip, and are ready to go further. Most of the hotels’ check out time in Zanzibar is at 10:00 am so plan to leave in the morning to your next destination. I hope the information above was helpful and you will be lucky enough to enjoy your time in Stone Town as I did. 🙂