Things to Do in 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.
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.
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 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.
The oldest part of Zanzibar City and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town is best known for its blend of European, African, Arabic, and Asian architecture, as well as its lively food scene and coastal cool. From towering minarets and white stone houses to cobbled market streets, every turn offers something to snap, making this island old town a must-see for any new arrival.
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.
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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