The interns took a trip to Zanzibar this weekend to immerse ourselves in the vibrancy and tranquility offered by the Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Although known for it’s magnificent beaches, Zanzibar offers some cultural and historical wonders.

We started our journey in the old city and cultural heart of Zanzibar, called Stone Town. From a fishing village at Shangani, it developed as a cosmopolitan society. It has unique architecture based on a foundation of Swahili building technology, elegant simplicity of Arab tradition, Indian embellishments, and “Saracenic” features superimposed by the British. With it’s balconied houses and brass-studded, carved wooden doors, it is said that there has been little visual changes in this city for the last 200 years. It has winding alleys, an abundance of vendors, and numerous mosques. We spent hours wandering through the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. Fun Fact: Freddie Mercury (lead singer of the band Queen) was born in Stone Town! They have a door dedicated to him, and he is featured in many souvenirs and there is even a restaurant located near the Ferry called “Mercury’s”.

In the middle of the city, is the grand Beit el-Ajaib or the “House of Wonders” which now holds the Zanzibar National Museum of History & Culture. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2000, this prominent building was built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash as a ceremonial palace. In 1896 it was the target of a British naval bombardment and after it was rebuilt, Sultan Hamoud used the upper floor as a residential palace until his death. Later it became the local political headquarters of the CCM. The building was officially opened by the Vice President of Tanzania Hon Dr Ali-Mohammed Shein in 2002. Its enormous doors are said to be the largest carved doors in East Africa. Inside it houses exhibits on the dhow culture of the Indian Ocean and on Swahili civilisation and 19th-century Zanzibar. Inside the entrance is a life-size mtepe (a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without nails, the planks held together with only coconut fibres and wooden pegs).

The Old Fort or Ngome Kongwe courtyard is occupied by local artists and merchants selling their work, but this large defensive structure was built by the Busaidi Omani Arabs when they seized the island from the Portuguese in 1698, and did duty as a prison and place of execution…. until the British transformed it into a ladies tennis club in 1949. Stone Town is also characterized by the Old Slave Market, Darajani Market, Anglican Cathedral, and the Old Dispensary. At nighttime, the Forodhani Gardens turns into a massive market with all kinds of delicious, questionable, and tasty foods including mishkaki and the famous Zanzibar Pizza. The seafood looks tempting… but trust me, avoid it. You can accompany your street meats with fresh sugar cane juice. It starts around 5pm, but it was recommended not to go until about 7pm to make sure we were getting fresh foods and not yesterdays leftovers.

Prison Island or Changuu was a former prison for slaves and a quarantine station but nowadays is a chance to escape for some peace and quiet and visit giant land tortoises. They came to Zanzibar as a gift from the government of the Seychelles, and the oldest one there was a sassy 192 year old tortoise with a bit of wear and tear on her shell. Our lovely guide from Eco & Culture Tours Zanzibar walked us around and let us feed and pet the reptiles while we all posed for some photos. Our final day in Stone Town was completed with a trip to the Zanzibar Spices and Heritage Centre, where we smelled and tasted different spices, tasted exotic fruits, and bought fresh spices, coffee, tea, and soaps. Our clothes smelled like a mixture of clove, nutmeg, lemongrass, and cinnamon as we headed out of Stone Town to Paje.

We drove out of town through the avenue of mango trees (said to be planted over the bodies of past lovers of a 19th-century sultan’s daughter) and past the Jozani Forest (a national park in Zanzibar filled with trees and monkeys and home to the rare Red Colobus Monkey). As we bounced over the many speed bumps on the road, our taxi driver informed us that they had recently been placed because of all the monkeys crossing the road, which we sadly didn’t see. We arrived in the small town of Paje. We explored the long dusty streets, and made it through the entire town by foot in about an hour with the help of our new friends at the resort. We enjoyed the local atmosphere and chatting with the locals. Our new friends with fun nicknames taught us how to fly kites, which I quickly crashed into the ocean, told us about their town, and introduced us to the coolest and funniest Maasai. Page had amazing views, white sands, and is tranquility at its finest.

We ended the trip by a ferry ride back to Dar es Salaam to continue with our Food Systems project fieldwork with a sunburn on my back, nausea from the boat, yet feelings of contentment from our incredible adventure.

Need a reason to go? Here are some more articles about tourism in Zanzibar:

“Tanzania: Zanzibar Needs More Tourists”

“Tanzania: UK Firm to Build Sh2 Trillion Resort in Zanzibar”

“Turkish Airlines expands its route network with a new services to Zanzibar, Tanzania”

“Zanzibar economic growth encouraging – Minister”

Information on the buildings and history of Zanzibar obtained from government postings outside the buildings, conversations with locals, and from travel guides.

One thought on “Mambo Zanzibar!

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