From the beaches of Part One, Jelena Zoric returns with her second journal from the island of Zanzibar. This time we dive into the sights and smells of Stown Town.
A word that best describes how I felt each day in Tanzania. And the feeling that is still here, a month after I came back.
A trip to Zanzibar is one of those adventures you remember as long as you live because it’s a world so much different than yours. You go there as a one person – you come back as a better one.
Get Uncomfy to Get to Stown Town
A crucial part of this experience was our visit to the historical heart of the island – it’s capital.
On today’s menu, we are serving you the majestic story of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stown Town.
Believe it or not, this excursion was one of 15 in total, that me and my friends, travel freaks, experienced during our stay in Zanzibar.
It’s my duty to recommend you the fancy and less fancy version to reach the town.
You can always go with a booked minivan or become a local and hop onto a “dala dala” – an unforgettable and uncomfortable public transport (packed with people, sometimes food and plants, too).
A Lively Salute, Impossible to Forget
Vans and local buses leave you just in the right place – the city’s market.
The air is filled with smells of fresh tuna and spices, people that shout bargaining, chaotic traffic, exotic fruit sellers, local women with baskets on their heads, adorable curious kids smiling at you saying “Jambo” (Hello)…all of this comes at you at once, the moment you step into the core of Zanzibar’s capital city, Stown Town.
We started our city adventure walking through the crowded fish market.
It was all there: hard working fishermen chopping the pieces of huge tunas in front of us, others were busy with arranging the piles of freshly caught octopus, while some were simply dozing off on the brick walls hiding from the heat of the summer Saturday morning.
Papayas, pineapples and Jackfruit were tempting us just on the next corner, together with the most delicious and colourful spices from the island’s numerous plantations.
Quick tip – One of the best things about Zanzibar is the variety of flavours and wonderful healthy food. Don’t miss ‘catch of the day’ and order it anywhere you can.
It’s fish caught in the morning and served to you the same day – usually tuna or delicious red snapper. You will remember this taste forever, especially if you live in a part of the world with no sea or ocean.
Captivating Blend of Diverse Cultures
Stown Town is a vibrant labyrinth of narrow streets full of life and rich historical heritage.
While walking in the hottest part of the day, I forgot about sweating, humidity and the fact I was thirsty non stop – all you want to do is keep exploring and talking to locals.
It’s easy to get lost but it doesn’t really matter. You’ll enjoy wandering around the bazaar and it’s little stores packed with hand-made wooden figurines, magnets with traditional motives, bags, drums, Maasai sticks and stunning African toga dresses.
Vivid colours of Tanzania greet you on each corner: yellow, green, black, purple, red – especially on the carefully crafted jewellery.
It’s also about bargain hunting, it’s fun! And make sure you buy at least one ebony bowl or statue and a skirt or a scarf.
Many different cultures made Zanzibar what it is today. Arabian merchants brought Islam to the island and ruled for almost 200 years.
The island was once a Sultanate. It was also under the power of Portuguese until the British took over in the 19th century.
Today, you see all those cultures merging into one in the beautiful architecture of Stone Town – melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European tradition.
Pay attention to famous Zanzibari doors. You won’t find these giant wooden masterpieces anywhere else in the world.
Elaborately carved with astonishing detail, the heavy doors in Stone Town tell us valuable stories. Most of them were crafted by skilled Indian tradesmen out of imported teak.
The large spikes served as a defence from elephants, and if you see the chain motif on the edges that means the house belonged to a slave owner.
Painful Part of the City’s History
Zanzibar was once the key port for slave trade in East Africa.
Old Slave Market, today Anglican Cathedral, stands in the heart of the Stown Town as a reminder of this dark chapter of the island’s history.
Started by the Portuguese, the slave trade in Zanzibar reached its zenith with the Omani sultanate until it was banned by the British in 1873.
This revolution would never happen if it wasn’t for the most celebrated historical figure on the island – Scottish explorer, Sir David Livingstone.
He led the anti-slavery campaign. I warmly recommend you book a tour and find out more about this topic.
Did You Know?
- The shortest war in recorded history took place in Zanzibar. It lasted for only 40 minutes and it happened on August 27, 1896 between the British Army and the Zanzibari Prince Khālid ibn Barghash.
- Name Tanzania is a combination of three words: Tan + Zan + Nia. Tan from Tanganyika, Zan from Zanzibar and “nia” meaning peace. The name is symbolic as it represents the union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964.
Don’t Miss the Prison Island
A short and pleasant 30-minutes boat ride will take you to the island across the Stown Town – famous Changuu Island.
Leave two hours in the afternoon to explore the complex that should have been a prison in the 1860s but was never used for this purpose.
However – this is not the key attraction of this place. The Superstars of the island are its hosts – cute Aldabra giant tortoises.
In 1919, the British governor of the Seychelles gifted the island with four Aldabra giant tortoises.
Today, there are more than 100 of them and they will welcome you together with their neighbours peacocks.
Many of them like to be caressed and locals will give you some lettuce so you can feed them. Still, be careful while taking selfies with the tortoises! If they are too hungry they may bite your finger, which happened to my friend Jelena.
Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit as the Prison Island has one of the most stunning beaches in the city area.
Iconic Zanzibar Pizza is Not Pizza at All!
Add the last round of thrill to this excursion by ending your visit to Stown Town at the Night Market.
Feel the buzzing vibe of the city at this colourful, seaside food market in front of the Old Fort and mix with a bunch of local families who come here to walk, hang out and enjoy the seafood and legendary Zanzibar pizza.
After waiting in a super long line, we were lucky to meet the funny and charming local chef.
He prepared the specialty of the island for us, Zanzi pizza, that is actually a fat double layered pancake filled with the delicious mix of local vegetables and spices!
This demanding and memorable adventure is one of many daily trips you can take to really get to know the island.
If you are ever lucky to fly to this pearl of East Africa don’t miss the wild dolphins chase, the spice tour and a boat ride to one of many sandbars where you’ll be able to interact with gorgeous colourful starfishes.
After an unforgettable 15-hour excursion, few bruises, swollen feet, sore muscles and slight sun burns we went to bed tired but ecstatic.
We realised we managed to: explore the city and the food, play with huge turtles on a remote island, go back to the Bazaar and bargain for a bunch of souvenirs and have dinner at the Night Market – all in one day. We couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning to see what’s next!
Photos: Jelena Zoric, Natasha Dyduch, Pojechana, Easy Travel & Shari Tucker
Jelena returns for the final part of her Zanzibar adventure soon. In the meantime, check out Part One now.
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