It feels great to be back in Africa for the first time in over a decade. I’m now in Zanzibar, the island off the east coast of Tanzania, where I’ll be for 2 nights before heading to the mainland, after a long but exciting journey.
The journey to Zanzibar
My journey here from Qatar went incredibly smoothly and, while we took off 90 minutes late, we arrived less than 30 minutes late giving me a chance to spend the whole day exploring. I had a nice surprise after take off as the couple in the seats next to me moved to an exit row that was empty meaning that I had the entire row to myself. This was great since it was a night flight and I had a chance to stretch out, turning the row into a bed, to have a decent amount of sleep.
Our route after departure took us over Saudi Arabia and Oman before turning towards Zanzibar. We passed directly over Mogadishu in Somalia before making our way towards Zanzibar. The views, both over Somalia and on approach to Zanzibar, were incredible but they were only an introduction to the many amazing things we were going to see on the trip.
As a small airport, the arrivals process at Zanzibar airport was really quick and efficient. We were through all of the health screenings and passport checks in no time, and when I got through to the arrivals area our bags were already waiting for us. I changed some money at the exchange counter before heading outside to head into Stone Town.
I had decided to pre-book a transfer with Intrepid since, even though it would cost most than a taxi, I didn’t expect to be very awake after a night flight and I just wanted my arrival to be stress-free. This is the same reason that I’m arriving a day early, with an extra night booked into the hotel, both to allow for flight delays and to give myself a full day to explore on my own.
It took a few minutes to find my driver as it was a bit chaotic outside the terminal but once I found him we were soon in the minibus for the short journey into Stone Town.
Arriving in Stone Town
Stone Town is the historic heart of Zanzibar dating back hundreds of years and is a melting pot of Swahili, Persian, and Arab cultures which gives it a unique character. Due to its age much of the town is made up of small pedestrianised alleys and one-way streets and for this reason taxi drivers will often drop you away from your destination and make you walk the remaining few minutes. This was the case with my transfer, although the driver walked with me all the way to the hotel reception.
I was booked into the Shangani Hotel, which is on Kenyatta Street right in the middle of Stone Town. While basic, the hotel is ideally placed for both the beach and for exploring the area as everything is within walking distance.
Unfortunately, my room wasn’t quite ready due to the early arrival and so I had to wait around an hour before I could check in. I didn’t mind the wait as the hotel told me that I could go straight to my room as soon as it was cleaned, even if it was before the official check-in time.
Once my room was ready I headed straight upstairs to change and shower before heading out to explore. The room was basic, and in the sort of condition you would expect for a budget hotel in Africa, but it was more than enough for my two nights here.
Zanzibar Slave Market
The best way to get used to a new place when you visit for the first time is to just get out there and explore, and so as soon as I checked into my room I went straight out into the town.
My first stop was the Anglican Cathedral which is the site of Zanzibar’s original slave market. Unfortunately you’re not able to walk around the site on your own – you have to have a guide. Normally not an issue, however the one that was assigned to me wasn’t that great and he rushed through everything so fast that I had to go back round on my own to take photos when the tour had finished.
During the visit you will see a lot of exhibits that paint a picture of the history of Zanzibar where it was an important slave trading outpost. As well as the Cathedral you see the original slave pits, a memorial, and the original rooms where dozens of slaves would be packed into before being sold.
There is also a museum detailing the history of Zanzibar which gives a great introduction to the things that you will see during your time on the island and so it makes a great first stop during a visit here.
Before starting my trip I had read great reviews of the Traveller’s Cafe in Stone Town which praised the food, the drinks, the price and the location and so I decided to head there for lunch. It was a little hard to find, as it didn’t show up on Google Maps, and it is hidden down a path behind a hotel but I was definitely glad that I chose to go there.
The atmosphere and views were incredible, and the food was very tasty. I had a chicken curry with rice which was a bit on the spicy side, but I loved it.
The cafe was a gem of a location. I think that it gets busier in the evening, as it’s perfectly placed to watch the sunset, but there were only a few people there for lunch. I spent around an hour relaxing and enjoying the view, with cocktails, before walking back into town to do some more sightseeing.
Freddie Mercury House
My next activity was a visit to the Freddie Mercury house. One of the more popular attractions in town, due to the popularity of the band Queen, it’s in the building where Freddie grew up and contains a museum showing photos and artefacts from his life and career. It’s a very small museum so you won’t spend long here, and to be honest entry was overpriced for the size, but I found it interesting.
Swimming in the Indian Ocean
I didn’t want to visit an island in the Indian Ocean without taking a dip in the waters – especially since the beach in Stone Town points straight towards sunset. So, after buying some cheap sandals from shop and changing back at my hotel, I walked down to the beach to relax and enjoy the views. The beach was narrow, and the water was murky, but it was a great place to relax and watch the sunset.
Unfortunately, like most of Stone Town, the beach was full of people trying to sell you things but this is part of the culture of island – especially since it’s a touristy location. Most people took no for an answer but there was one who was particularly annoying and who wouldn’t leave me alone. He also stayed near my things after I went swimming so that he could continue to bother me when I returned. Thankfully the security guard from the hotel I was sat outside moved him on.
So if you visit the beach in Stone Town, especially on your own, then make sure you sit adjacent to one of the hotels and don’t leave any valuables or your room key unattended.
Forodhani Night Food Market
The best way to sample the local cuisine is to head to the Forodhani night food market so I headed down to grab some dinner after a quick shower.
I spent some time checking out all of the stalls and my advice, which is backed up by reviews that I read online, is to avoid the seafood as it didn’t look particularly fresh. I’d also avoid shish kebabs as the ones I had were overpriced and a bit dry. The best things to sample are the Shawarma, Samosas, Zanzibar Pizza, and freshly squeezed juice.
The atmosphere of the market was great, although it looked like somewhere that would be a high pickpocket area so make sure you watch your valuables if you visit. I didn’t feel unsafe, and nobody really bothered me, although I did have a young homeless person called Abdul ask if he could finish the bread that I left since I was full.
We might be changing hotels tomorrow, as we have been told that the group we are joining might be staying at another hotel instead, so I’m going to have an early night tonight just in case I need to move in the morning.