If you want to go back in time and experience life along the Swahili Coast at its most authentic, then Stone Town is a must. Amidst a maze of old houses, bazaars and shops, you feel as if you travelled back in time.
Over the past 400 years or so the island of Zanzibar was ruled by different powers, from the Portuguese, the Sultanate of Oman, Sultanate of Zanzibar to the British Empire.
Finally, in 1964 the Zanzibar Revolution took place after which the island was run by a socialist government as the People’s Republic of Zanzibar. Eventually, Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined to form the Republic of Tanzania as we know it today.
Most areas of Stone Town were built in the early 19th century when trade flourished on the island. It was also during this time that communities of immigrants from Oman, Persia and India settled on the island. Today, you will still recognise these influences in Stone Town.
Most buildings in Stone Town were built using coral rock, which is actually quite a strong material. However, over time weather has eroded the structures. When you wander about town, you will notice that some buildings look like they are in dear need of restoration.
Stone Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000 and some organisations like the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority (STCDA) are working on restoring some of the buildings.
Another interesting thing about the already enchanting streets of Stone Town are the famous carved wooden doors in the buildings. There are two main types of doors: one has a rounded top which is of Indian style, while the other ones are rectangular in an Arab-Omani style. Each door is as spectacular as the next and whenever I think I have seen the nicest door, the next corner reveals an even prettier one!
Here is my personal list of “Must-Dos” when in Stone Town:
- Just spend a day exploring the winding streets! There are plenty of curio shops where you can find spices, antiques, clothing, wooden carvings and the list goes on.
- Have lunch or dinner on one of the many roof top terrace restaurants. Stone Town is packed with hotels where you can just pop in, even if it’s only for a coffee.
- Visit the Forodhani Gardens food market! This food market is open every evening from 5.30 pm onwards and is located directly in front of the House of Wonders museum. There are lots of different food stands selling fresh sea food and other Zanzibari delicacies like the Zanzibar pizza. You have to try the fresh sugarcane juice.
- Go for a sundowner at Livingstone Beach Restaurant! It is located right near the tunnel and old fort on the beach. This is a great spot to enjoy a colourful sunset whilst watching traditional dhows gracefully passing by.
- Go on a spice tour! Zanzibar was once one of the largest exporters of cloves. Today one can still explore and learn about different spices and how they are grown. Your hotel or lodge will happily organise for you to join a tour.
Stone Town is truly an enchanting place full of surprises. It has kept its authentic flair and is a lively and bustling town.
Walk through the meandering narrow streets, gaze upon the ancient architecture, the detailed workmanship of the bazaars and doors. Now and then a Vespa hoots its horn while it zips past you and disappears around the next bend. Friendly and welcoming people host you as you discover what lies behind the next corner.