Stone Town ~ A Day Exploring Zanzibar’s Enchanting City!

Stone Town ~ A Day Exploring Zanzibar’s Enchanting City!

A World to Live

Hey, my name is Elyse, I’m Australian and after growing up in Melbourne I currently live on the Gold Coast and working in the airline industry. Work – Save – Travel – Repeat! That’s basically become my lifestyle over the past few years.

When most people think of Zanzibar they picture beaches and perfect turquoise ocean – which is exactly what you’ll find! I do think it’s worth telling you about how awesome Stone Town is though; the old town in Zanzibar city is definitely worth exploring. Before heading up north to Nungwi, we wanted to take a day to explore Stone Town, to see all the markets and learn about the dark history of this little island.

My friend Bianca and I flew in from dusty Nairobi at 9pm and were hit straight in the face with a humid 29 degrees. Loved it! Before all the passengers were allowed to enter the terminal we all had to present our yellow fever vaccination certificates because of where we had been prior to Tanzania. Once we were inside we had to fill out our visa application and proceed to the payment counter. As an Australian passport holder I was required to purchase a tourist visa on arrival for 50USD and I was advised by the Tanzanian embassy that this must be paid for in cash, with a new $50 bill. I was organised and headed to the counter with my new note, only to be told that “our cash isn’t working today so you can only pay by card” huh? How does cash not work? …. Anyway there were also credit card facilities. Getting through customs and collecting our bags was fast and easy. There are a few money exchanges before the exit as well. I got some cash changed here but didn’t want to change it all as I expected the rate in town would be better. The man behind the desk said the rates in town are bad and they all charge commission! I’m glad I didn’t listen to him because as expected the rate was slightly better and no commission.

Out the front of the airport you’ll be greeted by a bunch of taxi drivers wanting your business. Unfortunately they will try and rip you off so make sure you barter with them. A taxi from the airport to Stone Town shouldn’t cost more than 10USD,

(they love USD here, you’ll find most things are quoted in US and local Tanzanian Shillings – 50,000TZS is roughly 22USD).

The drive to town is only about 15 minutes. I was getting so excited as we were driving in and seeing all the Arabian style architecture with the beautiful doors and window frames, I so wished we had longer here. Most places were closed as it was late but I was already picking out the shops I wanted to go to in the morning.

We had booked our one nights accommodation at Hakuna Matata, it looked to be a little cheap and cheerful room for 40USD. We showed the reservation to our taxi driver and he didn’t seem to think the address was right, so we called the number and the man on the phone said he’ll come and meet us at Forodhani gardens. Easy done! The taxi took us there and Bianca and I had already planned to drop our bags off in our room and go out for a second dinner.

So we’re waiting at the gardens, waiting – waiting. We called the man again and he said “we’ll be there in two minutes”, still no one showed up. We called a couple more times and he either didn’t answer or said “yes I’ll be there in one minute!” Basically he was full of shit, our taxi driver was getting so angry at them and by now it was after 11pm. I felt so bad because we didn’t know what was going on and we didn’t want the taxi to leave us. In the end our beautiful taxi driver took us to another hotel, The Garden Lodge, which was great and only cost 60USD. He was such a cute old man and when he was leaving I tried to give him more money but he wouldn’t take it. He said he felt sorry for us and felt responsible like a father to make sure we got a room safely.

That situation certainly put a bad taste in our mouth towards Zanzibar and felt it wasted a whole night. But our taxi driver and nice new hotel restored our faith and we were excited to wake up in the morning to a new day.

In the morning we started with an awesome breakfast at the Garden Lodge and a rough idea of where we wanted to go! I had a map on my phone but it was fun just to roam and explore the winding streets. It’s not necessary to get a taxi anywhere, we spent the day on foot. Here’s a list of things we came across….

Darajani Markets: This is the main bazaar in Zanzibar and it’s so awesome. There are the areas selling red meat and sea food, which are smelly and not for the squeamish but the rest is awesome, filled with so many different colours and (nice) smells. Zanzibar’s nicknamed ‘the spice island’ and you can see why! There are many stalls selling every spice you can think of; I brought so many home and they are all amazing. We also brought a lot of fresh fruit and woven items.

Shopping Streets: If you head towards Gizenga Street and Shangani Street, you’ll find the best shops. You’ll find paintings, shoes, clothes, souvenirs and homewares, some cheaper and some high end good quality items. I found the shopping really good but after a few hours every store started to look the same.

Hamamni Persian Baths: This is an historical building in the middle of Stone Town. To look around each room and see the rooftop only took about 15 minutes and I don’t think it’s worth the entrance fee. The baths are dirty and covered in dust and I found the visit to be very uneventful.

Old Slave Market: This is the site of East Africas most notorious slave trade market. Our visit was certainly a very sobering experience but taught us a lot about Zanzibar’s dark history. The entrance fee is 5USD + tip and includes a guide. We were shown around the premises including the Anglican cathedral and we were able to go into the rooms where slaves were once kept while awaiting the market day. These rooms were horrible, tiny for the amount of people that used to be kept down there and had very little natural light and air flow.

As sad as it was I defiantly think it’s worth a visit to better understand Zanzibar.

I didn’t find Stone Town to be an expensive day, there are a lot of different options to fit within your budget, here’s a few things to give you a rough idea;

Meals between $14,000-20,000TZS // Water 1,500TZS // Beer 6,000-8,000TZS

I wish I had a few more days at the end of my trip to explore more of Stone Town. But after a busy day of shopping and historical tours, I was ready to jump in a taxi and head up to Nungwi for some drinks at the beach.

As awesome as Stone Town was, the beaches are always going to be the main attraction on Zanzibar, click here to check out my time in Nungwi and Paje Villages.

Stone Town Zanzibar
Shopping in Stone Town Zanzibar
Stone Town Zanzibar
Stone Town Zanzibar
Darajani Markets Stone Town, Zanzibar
Local man Stone Town Zanzibar


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