Zanzibar is one of the world’s greatest cultural gems, rich with history spanning thousands of years since the Later Stone Age. Popular for its picturesque beaches and abundant spices and architecture, the island offers many off-the-beaten-track activities to give you an authentic taste of this spectacular destination. Here are our top 10:
1. Tangawizi Spice Farm
Zanzibar is known for its spice trade, so what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture than learning about its most profitable industry? Choose from a variety of tours and explore the winding streets with expert guides who will enlighten you about the origins of the industry and educate you about the wide variety of spices that Zanzibar produces and trades in.
2. Malindi Mosque
Malindi Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Stone Town and one of three in East Africa with a cone-shaped minaret on a square platform. The mosque with its interesting features is conveniently located just opposite the town centre and well worth a visit.
3. Dhow Countries Music Academy
Opened in 2001 as a non-governmental initiative to provide music tuition for Zanzibar’s citizens and to promote the island’s musical heritage, the Dhow Countries Music Academy regularly hosts an eclectic mix of vibrant concerts in a beautiful setting, as well as free workshops and seminars. The academy is definitely well worth a visit for the musically inclined and anyone who supports community initiatives for cultural and artistic enrichment.
4. Hamamni Persian Baths
Built between 1870 and 1888, the Hamamni Persian Baths were the first public baths in Zanzibar, and were used for this purpose until 1920. Hamamni means “the place of baths”, and the baths were described as “Persian”, because they were built by Shirazi architects, with origins linked to Shiraz and the southwestern coastal region of Persia (now Iran). Although the baths are no longer in use, you can see many of the chambers for a small fee. Just ask the caretaker across the alley to unlock the gate.
5. Christ Church cathedral
Built in 1873 by Edward Steere, the third Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar and famous British abolitionist, the Christ Church cathedral in Stone Town was symbolically built on the location of the whipping post where the island’s largest slave market used to be. The unusual architecture includes a unique barrel-vault roof and Gothic and Islamic details. Steere himself was buried behind the main altar, as he died a few weeks before its completion. The grounds is also home to a well-known monument to Zanzibar’s slaves.
6. Old Dispensary
First built as a dispensary during colonial times, this impressive four-storey building has a long and interesting history. After first serving as a charitable institution and then as apartments, it fell into disrepair during the revolution, but was successfully restored to become a thriving cultural site. Located right on Zanzibar’s seafront, the Old Dispensary is now the town’s cultural centre and houses its own restaurant, as well as several shops and offices. There’s also a hookah bar on the second floor for those looking to explore local nightlife. Don't miss this symbol of multicultural Zanzibari architecture on your visit to Stone Town.
7. Marahubi Palace
This once-imposing palace, 4km north of Zanzibar town, was built by ruler of Zanzibar Sultan Barghash in 1882 to house his large harem. In 1899, it was almost completely destroyed by fire, although the remaining ruins (primarily columns that once supported an upper terrace, an overhead aqueduct and small reservoirs covered with water lilies) hint at its previous scale.
8. Nakupenda Beach
Snorkel and swim with dolphins at Nakupenda Beach, a wide stretch of white sand gently sloping into turquoise waters. Rent equipment from the beach’s dive centre and venture into the waters to see the multicoloured marine life. Alternatively, take a boat cruise or go reef game fishing. You can feed tortoises and watch peacocks in the lush greenery behind the beach. Tents on site prepare fresh seafood dishes.
9. Prison Island
A half-hour boat trip from Zanzibar, Prison Island – or Changuu private island – provides a fascinating glimpse into Zanzibar’s darker past. The small island was once used to detain slaves and, after slavery was abolished, it functioned as a quarantine camp for people with deadly diseases. Today, the island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises. The ruins dating back to the time of slavery can still be seen.
10. Malindi Fish Market
Malindi Fish Market is a bustling market specialising in seafood caught by local fishermen. With many sellers peddling their catches of king fish, tuna, squid, octopus and other seafood fresh from the Indian Ocean, the market offers a true Zanzibar experience and great atmosphere and vibe.