Zanzibar is one of those really wonderful names, isn’t it? Like Samarkand. Or Esfahan. Or Babylon. Every syllable promises adventure.
Earlier this year, I took the ferry from Dar es Salaam across to Zanzibar, meaning to a have look around and perhaps stay the night. One week later, I found myself still on the island.
I stayed in Stone Town the entire time, and spent most of the days doing nothing in particular, just wandering along the streets, the markets and the Indian Ocean beaches…
…getting constantly lost in the labyrinthine alleys…
…and the markets…
I ambled through the gardens of the old Arab fort…
…and stood for a long time before this evocative monument at the Old Slave Market. Zanzibar was once a centre for the slave trade. One doesn’t hear as much about slavery in Eastern Africa. Perhaps because the people here were sent to Arabia – eastwards, rather than westwards.
I gawked at the crumbling colonial architecture, like Beit-al-Ajaib, or House of Wonders, so named as it was the first building on the island to have electricity, and also the first in all of East Africa to have a lift. The building isn’t structurally safe to enter and locals sarcastically wonder when the seemingly forever ongoing renovation will be finished.
I saw the childhood home of Freddie. Not the museum, but the simple house where he was born – or so I was told by an elderly man who claimed to have known the family in the 1960s. I choose to believe him, partly because he didn’t ask for a penny. I was taken inside for a look and met one of the families who lives there today. (Sorry, no photos; it’s someone’s home.)
I admired the many intriguing doors equipped with metal spikes for protection against warrior elephants – though I can’t picture elephants trampling through the narrow streets of Stone Town; more of an architectural tradition brought from further east, I suspect.
I’m happy to say Zanzibar lives up to the promise of its name. It’s a magical place, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.
Everywhere are remnants of the island’s past: Zanzibar was once a part of the Sultanate of Oman, before becoming a British protectorate in the 19th century.
The island became an independent country in 1963, for all of 6 months. After a bloody revolution and genocide, Zanzibar joined Tangyanika on the mainland and formed the nation of Tanzania in April 1964.
Nothing bloody here today, though. Oh, there are drawbacks, of course – like the touts, incessantly asking if you want a taxi, a guide, a peek inside his shop… A bit annoying, yes, but that’s all. A simple, polite and friendly no goes a long way; sometimes it even leads to an interesting chat.
Never once did I, as a solo female, feel the least bit threatened. And now that the darkness of the Nordic winter is setting in, I wistfully think of those lazy, hazy days by the Indian Ocean, aimlessly exploring the crumbling alleys of Stone Town, with all the time in the world at my disposal, so it seemed. I miss the sights, the sounds and the scents of Zanzibar. But that’s a whole other post for another time.
Stone Town of Zanzibar is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites I’ve visited around the world.
This looks like an amazing place to visit. That last photo is beautiful. I’m going to South Africa next year I can’t wait!
Africa is a magical continent.
What about Covid there?
This article was written in 2014, so long before Covid. I’m not familiar with the current Covid situation in Tanzania.
Sophie, Gorgeous shots. I’ve had Zanzibar on my list for a long time…gotta go.
Knowing you, you’ll be there very soon 🙂
Oh gosh, you take us right back to our visit in Stone Town! Think we have the same shot of that bread seller (we also have a shot of a man pushing a cart with grilled corn-on-the-cob). It is quite the atmospheric place isn’t it! (Loved the Zanzibari doors) Did you stay in one of the boutique palace hotels?
Yes, I stayed a few nights at the Maru Maru, and the rest of the time at the Serena. Both were just beautiful!
You owe it to your readers to mention that the island is very homophobic and the Freddie Mercury Museum and Mercury’s Restaurant are the result of private initiative. The locals repudiate Freddie’s life style and certainly Tanzania will never put him on a postage stamp
You raise an important point. Travelling in areas of the world where human rights aren’t respected is a forever conundrum, whether it’s homophobia, misogyny or racism. Someone also asked about the perils of travelling as a solo female in Zanzibar. I can only say I had no bad experiences, but I’m sure there are stories (and stats) saying otherwise. In the end, I’ve decided to just stick to sharing my experiences in the moment.
One of the greatest places I’ve ever visited!
Isn’t it just… 🙂
Love it 🙂
Loved it, too 🙂
Hi Sophie, I like hearinbg people telling a story about planning to stay in a place for a bit but ended up staying much longer. I like hearing what magnetized them to a place. Zanzibar sounds magical indeed. I enjoyed virtually meandering through the streets on Stonetown with you through your beautiful writing and photos. It’s interesting to learn about the slaves being sent eastward, and that you get to visit Freddie’s birthplace! Really lovely post.
Hi Sophie. When you arrive for the day, and stay for a week you know you’ve found something special. Love the sculpture; so much emotion portrayed. The doors are gorgeous, too. Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday
Your last photo says Zanzibar to me. Such an evocative photo, and I agree it is an evocative name as well.
Great place will visit someday.
Also amazing article and great photographs.
Thanx for sharing.
Amazing photos!! Very interesting to see a bit of the daily life along with the history! Thanks for sharing!