We follow our tour guide, Elvis, through a maze of narrow alleyways of small businesses, hotels and residential spaces with locals, tourists (and vespas!) in what used to be the capital of Zanzibar. You’ll see how these African streets embrace cultures from the Arabs, Indians and Europeans through design. It is no surprise that Stone Town is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The buildings, made from Zanzibar’s coral stone, are ornately decorated with beautiful carved timber doors. You’ll find two styles of doors, Arab (square tops) and Indian (arched tops), both a symbol of protection and security but also a door into Zanzibar’s history.
Arab and Indian merchants, through the spice and slave trade, constructed Stone Town in the 19th century. Before then the Portuguese came and built a fort to protect their settlements in the 16th century. During the tour you will see the slave chambers in the former slave market site – now a museum recording the slave trade with a poignant sculpture outside the building by the artist Clara Sornos titled ‘memory of the slave’.
The old fort is now a centre for arts and culture showcasing events and performances. Look for the post on the International Film Festival. Near the fort you’ll pass Forodhani Gardens, which holds an evening food market all year round – here you should try the Zanzibar pizza and see it made right in front of you. You will also pass the House of Wonders – wonders because it was the first building in Africa to have an elevator! It is now closed due to building repair. The building used to be taller but it got destroyed in the world’s shortest war that lasted less than an hour, between two brothers…you might want to ask your tour guide about that one.
Along the tour you’ll see local markets selling all sorts including fruits, vegetables, spices. Look for the post on the spice tour.
One little known fact of Zanzibar is that it’s the birthplace of Freddie Mercury; you can look for Mercury House to find out more.
The narrow streets of Stone Town fall dark come nightfall, so walk in groups if you decide to stay out late. Be carful and vigilant, it is a very busy environment, especially around sunset, if you are female, you may attract unwanted attention.
Stone Town is the perfect place to buy gifts for family and friends, eat lunch – try 6 degrees for a seaview (a sit down restaurant at tourist prices with one hour free wifi) or Lukmaans near the former slave market (a budget buffet at local prices) and ask for Salim for a great service. If you want to see the sun set go grab a juice at Sunset bar, be sure to go a little early before the best seats are taken, or go to the Floating Restaurant and watch it from the pier.