Things to Do in Zanzibar
Travelers looking for an authentic East African experience need look no further than the crowded stalls and narrow passes of Darajani Market (Marikiti Kuu). From early morning until late at night locals and visitors alike wander between merchants selling tree-ripened fruits, freshly caught fish, savory stews and spicy local delights.
While Darajani is mostly a food-lovers paradise, with plenty of vendors selling fresh ingredients and homemade delights, visitors can also find some random items, like brand new electronics, spare tires and modern clothing shipped in from overseas. Travelers should be prepared to haggle for the best price—particularly on fragrant spices—one of the best souvenirs from a trip to Zanzibar.
Built in the 17th Century, Old Fort is one of the main attractions in Stone Town and perfect starting out point for first-time visitors to Zanzibar. Its giant stone fortress once protected the city from an outside attack, and it was later used as a prison to house local lawbreakers. Today, the Old Fort has been transformed into a cultural center that caters to tourists interested in exploring the history of the place and purchasing souvenirs like popular paintings and handmade jewelry.
The open-air theater is the perfect spot for travelers to catch a live dance performance or experience the local live music scene. The Old Fort also provides space for major festivals and even has an information desk for travelers in search of tips, advice and guidance from residents in the know.
House of Wonders, which is home to the Museum of History and Culture, is not only the largest—but also the tallest building in Stone Town. Built in 1883, the palace was the first building on the island to have electricity and the first in the region to have a working elevator. Since the early 2000s, House of Wonders has showcased a permanent collection of artifacts related to Swahili and Zanzibari culture.
Travelers can explore the grounds, which include a traditional Swahili boat, old-world fishing tools and famous ships, or wander the halls that offer an up close look at traditional garments, historic portraits of royalty and ancient furniture taken from former sultans’ homes. A visit to House of Wonders provides travelers with a window into the local culture and the island’s rich history.
Located on Zanzibar’s northernmost beach, Nungwi Mnarani Aquarium is home to the Marine Turtle Conservation Lagoon, a community-led project aimed at safeguarding sea turtles. Visit to see hawksbill and green turtles in a tidal pool, learn about marine life in the Indian Ocean, and even take part in the center’s ongoing release program.
This untouched island off the coast of Zanzibar offers travelers the perfect beachfront escape. Commonly referred to by locals as the “Green Island” because of its lush forests and tropical vibe, it’s Pemba’s incredible stretches of white sandy beach and turquoise blue waters that make it a destination for visitors from around the globe.
Chake-chake, Mikoani and Wete are some of the most popular cities on the island, and small-scale farms in the rural inland produce cloves, coconuts, bananas and cassava that are common in local cuisine. But it’s Pemba’s unspoiled beaches that draw travelers to this tropical getaway, where a history of (now resolved) political unrest and inaccessibility has left the island mostly untouched for decades.
This ancient palace on the western shores of Zanzibar was the birthplace of the late princess Salme and today is among the top destinations for travelers to the island. Travelers can tour the grounds aboard a traditional donkey cart and wander through the Persian baths, main palace and beautiful botanical gardens.
Though this ancient structure is in ruins, Mtoni Palace provides visitors with a look into the Arabian royal past that played such an important role in the development of Zanzibar. Visitors can wander through what remains of the old reception hall and trace the Omani family footsteps through the palace garden, palace baths and remnant of the royal courtyard.
Established in 2004 as the only protected park in Zanzibar, Jozani-Chwaka Bay is home to several animal species unique to the island. Travelers who wander the thick forests of this 19-square-mile park will likely spot the indigenous Zanzibar red colobus and families of Skyes monkeys. Travelers say close encounters with these playful creatures are one of the major highlights of any trip to Jozani, and a lucky few may even spot the indigenous Zanzibar Leopard—a wild cat found nowhere else on earth.
The surrounding mangroves at Chwaka Bay are also home to more than 40 species of birds, making it a popular destination for travelers looking to check some of these two-wing wonders off their lengthy Life Lists. A well-kept boardwalk that winds through the lush coastal flora makes navigating Jozani’s scenic landscape a breeze.
Often referred to as Mji Mkongwe—the Swahili word for old town—Stone Town is the oldest part of the Zanzibar and a popular destination for visitors to this incredible island. Pastel-colored mosques and ancient Persian, Indian and European-style stone buildings line the cobbled streets of lively place that was once a hub for spice and slave trade, but today, has become a hub for tourism and travel. Trans-continental influences can be seen in the culture and community of crowded city street corners and are also evident in the richly-spiced food available throughout Stone Town.
Visitors can navigate the maze of narrow passes that connect major city streets to the rest of this lively destination on foot or aboard bikes or motos. It’s the perfect way to explore the island’s unique architecture, which includes former palaces, churches and mosques that date back as far as the early 1800s.
In addition to the traditional Mwanakwerekwe Market, travelers should explore the Forodhani Gardens, the Darajani Market bazaar and the Peace Memorial Museum. And no trip to the Spice Island is complete without one of Zanzibar’s famous spice tours, which takes visitors straight to the forests and plantations where some of the nation’s most precious items are harvested and sold to the rest of the world.
This traditional African market is one of the largest and busiest in all of Zanzibar. Local Tanzanians wander the streets as the sun rises—or hop aboard rusty metal bikes just after the call to prayer—to collect fruits, vegetables and other family essentials well before the day kicks off.
Travelers can explore dozens of vendor stalls where cheap produce, fresh meats, dried maize meal, local crafts and inexpensive imported clothing line the narrow passes of this covered market. The thick smoke of cooking food mixes with dust, sweat and the sound of shouting voices, making a trip to Zanzibar’s Mwanakwerekwe Market a truly African experience.
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