Ultimate Guide to Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar

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Stone Town, the biggest town in Zanzibar, was my first destination during my trip to this island off the coast of mainland Tanzania. It’s an amazing place and you shouldn’t skip it like most tourists do. I suggest you stay there for at least a day or two before heading to the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar. Here’s an ultimate guide to visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar to fully enjoy your experience.

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Stone Town in ZanzibarDSC00232


1. Bring only ‘new’ US dollars & don’t exchange them

This piece of advice applies to the whole island of Zanzibar, not just Stone Town, and it’s very useful. I knew I had to bring dollars, but I had no idea that nobody would accept bills from any series older than the year 2000. There’s also no need to exchange your money to Tanzanian shillings as everyone actually prefers dollars.DSC00193


2. Prepare to get lost in the maze

The first thing I thought about Stone Town in Zanzibar was that it felt like medina in Marrakesh. The streets were narrow and winding and I never knew exactly where I was heading. At every corner I met vendors inviting me to shop at their stalls, but they weren’t pushy when I politely denied. On my first day I asked for a walking tour simply not to get lost and I think it was the best idea I ever had, simply because I avoided being approached by every man in town as a solo woman walking around.

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar


3. Admire Zanzibari doors

Why am I recommending that you admire doors? Don’t worry, I’m not crazy – the doors in Stone Town are absolutely marvelous. You can find three types of doors in town: those influenced by Indians, Arabs, and mixed. You can recognize them by their unique characteristics such as flower motifs and studs (once used as a defense against charging war elephants) on the Indian doors and chains on the Arab doors. My guide explained that the chain symbolizes slavery.Stone Town doors


4. Prepare to pay more than the original price on the spot

Unfortunately, Zanzibar is no different than any other place when it comes to bargaining. The island isn’t cheap, the prices are actually comparable to the US, and you can never be sure how much you’ll pay for everything. For instance, I was meant to take a boat trip to the Prison Island for $30 because I was sharing it with other travelers. However, when I showed up for my boat the guy demanded more money because the other people didn’t show up (I don’t think they were ever going to). I had a similar situation with my transportation to Nungwi, as I paid $20 for a shuttle and right before departure I was told that there aren’t enough people and I need to pay another $10. My advice: no matter what anyone tells you about leaving a deposit, do NOT pay anyone anything in advance, but pay in full on the spot.


5. Don’t book any tours in advance

I really wanted to make sure that I managed to see and do everything I wanted to do during my time in Zanzibar, so I scheduled a dolphin tour with Zanzibar Ecoculture Tours. After a week of exchanging emails and arranging my pick-up at 6 am, the guide… simply didn’t show up! I sent many emails afterward but the company never responded so you probably shouldn’t book any tours with them. I’m even more surprised about the whole situation because I was meant to work with them on press coverage. If I paid for this tour in advance I would have been really angry!


6. Don’t try to visit the House of Wonders

The House of Wonders in Zanzibar is also known as the biggest building in East Africa. It has an elevator, a huge entrance for the sultan and his elephant, and incredibly high ceilings. You can see it from the outside, but don’t try to get inside, as the building is currently under renovation and its floors and walls are falling down. Nobody knows when it’s going to be finished, but I hope it will be soon.DSC00198


7. Book your accommodation in advance

A lot of tourists seem to come to Stone Town without reservations with the hope that they will find a hotel upon arrival. During the low season finding a room will be possible without any trouble but you’re still going to overpay a lot on the spot.

Jafferji House

How cool is that?

I can recommend the beautiful hotel Jafferji House located just 5 minutes from the harbour. This place offers romantic and authentic Zanzibarian decor and it looks like a miniature palace. It has only 10 suites but every single one of them is somehow different from the rest. I had the pleasure of staying at Jafferji Suite on the 2nd floor which has the most spectacular views of the entire house and it even had a bathtub on a private terrace! If I’m ever back in Stone Town I’d stay there again without a doubt! Just check out my video below to see yourself!


8. Plan a visit to the Prison Island

Prison Island might not seem like an attraction that everyone would want to see as it was a prison in the past, but it’s definitely a must-see thing in Zanzibar. Why? This little island located just 30 minutes by boat from Stone Town is a home to over hundred tortoises that you can interact with for as long as you want. I wasn’t really sure what to expect after I’ve already seen a lot of gigantic turtles in the Galapagos Islands, but this was a completely different experience. I was able to hang out with these tortoises for as long as I wanted, massage them and take lots of photos… including a selfie!guide to Stone Town Zanzibar


9. Eat at the night market in the Gardens

Instead of eating in your hotel take a stroll to the gardens near the port. From 6pm onwards the place is full of vendors ready to serve you fresh seafood, Zanzibar pizza and other amazing delicacies.3P3A07730


Check out my video from Zanzibar!


(Click to watch A Trip to Zanzibar, Tanzania on YouTube)

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14 Comments

  1. May 13, 2015 / 8:11 pm

    I’ll remember all the good advice, but I guess I’ll probably book the place on arrival as I’m not quite sure when exactly I’m going to be there 🙂

    • May 13, 2015 / 11:56 pm

      I can recommend some last minute places as well 😉

      • May 14, 2015 / 10:45 pm

        Did you arrive in Zanzibar by plane or ferry?
        I’m planning to get there by ferry and I kind of hope that touts will be waiting when I set my foot on land 🙂

        • May 15, 2015 / 6:07 pm

          I took a plane. I didn’t want to step foot in Dar Es Salaam as it’s super dangerous :/

          • May 17, 2015 / 7:22 pm

            I have no choice.
            But I hope it’s a little bit exaggerated.

  2. May 17, 2015 / 8:06 pm

    Great post Anna! I went to Zanzibar on honeymoon but only spent half a day in Stonetown so reading this actually makes me realise some of the stuff I missed out on like Jafferji house. Looks lovely! I can’t believe your tour guide didn’t turn up and then left you with no responses to your emails. must have been so frustrating. Hope you enjoyed Zanzibar overall ☺

    • May 19, 2015 / 12:46 pm

      I enjoyed Zanzibar for sure – especially the turtles 😉

  3. May 18, 2015 / 5:35 pm

    Great tips! Zanzibar is on our to do list. Love the selfie with the tortoise – my son would love to do that!

    • May 18, 2015 / 5:39 pm

      That was the best selfie I’ve ever taken hehe 😀

  4. Holly
    May 18, 2015 / 8:25 pm

    I love the photos Anna! I’ve never heard of Stone Town, but now it’s on my list!

  5. May 19, 2015 / 2:43 am

    Good to know you had a great time in Zanzibar. It’s one of those places that I most likely will never see, so it’s nice to read about it and “visit” it through your blog and photos! Thanks!

    • May 19, 2015 / 12:47 pm

      Why do you think you’ll never see these places? You never know! 🙂

  6. May 20, 2015 / 2:11 am

    That pic with tortoise is super cute…seems you had a lot of fun… Also this reminds me that i forgot to take selfie tortoises when i had chance… lol… seems like I will have to go to Zanzibar.

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