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Wonder of Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town

Zanzibar is steeped in history because of its prominence as a coastal trading hub over many centuries. Stone Town, the old city quarters, is a Unesco heritage site where Swahili, Arab, Asian and European influences come together.

A guided tour through the narrow winding streets of Stone Town is recommended. Many buildings have carved Zanzibar doors, their intricate ornamentation once a mark of wealth and prestige. We passed by interesting places like the old British consulate, where European explorers Speke, Burton and David Livingston once stayed, and the house of Tippu Tip, the notorious slave trader.

The Freddie Mercury House is the birthplace of the legendary lead singer of the British rock band, Queen, born as Farrokh Bulsara to Indian parents.

The Anglican Cathedral sits where the infamous slave market was and still has slave chambers in its basement. The Cathedral’s slave exhibition is informative about this dark era, and on the church grounds is the Slave Memorial, a dug pit with stone figurines of chained slaves.

I was fascinated by the Princess Salme Museum, named after a Sultan’s daughter who scandalised society by eloping with a German merchant and converting to Christianity. Her book, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar, has captivating insights into Zanzibar’s royal life.

The Palace Museum has more history on the royal family and the Old Dispensary, with its uniquely embellished façade, is worth a quick look around.

We took some refreshments at the balcony bar of the Africa House Hotel, formerly the English Club but originally the residence of an upper-class Arab family.

Then we promenaded through the Forodhani gardens to the waterfront, lined with ancient cannon guns pointing seaward, and onto the open-air amphitheatre in the Old Fort. A tour of Stone Town takes up a full day or you can look around over two days.

Stone Town has a range of accommodations, from budget to upmarket hotels such as Zanzibar Serena, Park Hyatt and the Hotel Verde. Many of the small, private guest houses are historic residences converted into hotels while still maintaining the traditional charm of Zanzibari-style interiors.

If you prefer a beach property, there are plenty of options in the northern Nungwi region. I stayed at the Breezes Beach Club in the south-eastern Bwejuu area and thoroughly enjoyed the low-tourism density, white beaches fringed with coconut palms and beautiful turquoise ocean.

Zanzibar is one of the best places for ocean sports. Operations such as Rising Sun Dive Centre and Zanzibar Water Sports have professional scuba diving courses, a fabulous way to see the stunning underwater coral reefs. When the winds are right, kite surfing is perfect for thrill-seekers.

As an easy ocean explorer, I enjoyed snorkelling, reef walks at low tide, and sunset dhow cruises. Some hotels and independent operators offer kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding tours in the mangroves.

Immerse yourself into nature with a visit to Jozani Forest, located in Jozani-Chwaka Bay Park and renowned for the rare red colobus monkeys. Wear comfortable shoes for the trail walk and carry drinking water to keep hydrated in the humid environment. We spotted several colobus troops, other monkeys and different birds.

Our park guide was extremely knowledgeable about the indigenous plants and their traditional uses. For more land wildlife, try the giant tortoise sanctuary of Prison Island which once served as a penal colony for slaves.

The spice farms are bucket list places, to see how the island’s famous spices are grown. Clove plantations gave Zanzibar the nomer ‘spice island’ and it was the largest global exporter between the 12th and 19th centuries.

Our guide walked us around a forest-like environment of clove, cinnamon and cocoa trees, showed us cardamom and ginger roots, nutmeg kernels, vanilla pods, and vines of black and white pepper. Our spice tour ended with a refreshing drink of madafu (coconut) water.

Some spice farms offer lunch and Swahili cooking demonstrations.

Being a popular tourist destination, many restaurants serve international cuisines.