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Stone Town is one of those places that could have us waxing lyrical for days. Making up the most famed half of Zanzibar City, this labyrinth-like, historical quarter is a cultural melting pot, packed full to the brim of ancient trading-hub secrets. Forget all the cliches of powder white sands and turquoise waters that lure tourists to the archipelago's beaches, this is Zanzibar at its most authentic.
Chaotic and crumbling, Stone Town won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But accept the loss of personal space – the narrow alleyways can get pretty packed – learn to be hardened to pushy street sellers and embrace the quarter’s all-round assault on the senses, and it won’t be long before you fall in love with Stone Town’s quirks just as much as we already have. This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s hotchpotch exoticism is infectious, that’s for sure.
It’s here that the island’s mishmashed rhythms really find their beat. Calls to prayer intermingle with the shouts of market vendors, potent perfumes and sumptuous spice smells are only interrupted by the stench from a smattering of fresh fish stalls and the heady concoction is completed by a jumble of enchanting buildings – here you’ll find the very best of Islamic, Persian, Indian, Swahili and European architecture all in one place. Oh, and lets not forget the doors. Elaborately carved, impressive in size and concealing a whole lot of history, your Instagram is about to get quite #doortrait heavy.
With its faded grandeur and bustling bazaars, Stone Town really is Zanzibar’s answer to Marrakech’s Medina. Still-ornate merchant houses are derelict, tired shop facades are offset by colourful wares and fairytale balconies jut out from dilapidated mansions. With whole centuries worth of stories making up its urban fabric, a wander here is much like stepping back in time. Never has decay looked so beautiful.
Images of some of the world’s best beaches may have you wondering why on earth we’re pushing Zanzibar’s Old Town on you, but Stone Town’s allure really is unique. Jam-packed with history, you won’t be short on things to do here.
One of the destination's more unusual claims to fame is the fact that Queen’s legendary frontman Freddie Mercury actually spent his early years here. No matter how much of a Queen fan you are, it’s pretty difficult not to sing along to the fantastical lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody, or tap along to the beat of We Will Rock You, and Mercury will forever be a figure of interest, so discovering his birthplace is quite something – you can even visit the site of his house.
Days here can happily be spent getting lost in the winds of Stone Town’s streets, only stopping your saunter to admire handmade crafts, or to do a spot of souvenir shopping. But, for a real taste of the goings-on of this vibrant epicenter, head to Darajani Bazaar first thing in the morning – Zanzibar’s biggest marketplace is a hive of activity and you’ll find everything from spices to live chickens on sale here. Come evening, Forodhani Gardens food market is where it’s at – a feast for the senses, dinner here will not disappoint.
To tick of the cultural sights, make sure to fit in visits to the Old Fort, Palace Museum and the historical Slave Market. Built by the Omani Arabs as a defence against the Portuguese in the late 17th century, the Old Fort is steeped in the island’s rich history and is now free to wander – if you’re lucky you may even catch a concert on its 400 year old stage. Next up, a peek at the Palace Museum will give you an insight into the former glory of Stone Town. This crumbling Sultan Palace exudes the opulence of a bygone era and showcases the extravagance that once existed here. But, take in the former slave market and you’ll discover Stone Town’s darker history. Here you’ll be able to witness the world’s last ever open-air slave market – a true historical landmark.
And if you’re hankering after some wildlife, a day-trip to Changuu Island will make all your dreams come true. Home to over 100 giant tortoises – the oldest of which is a whopping 192 years of age – here, your selfie buddies will be a bit older than usual.
Makes up the western – and older – half of Unguja Island, Zanzibar.
All day, everyday. Head out early to make the most of the markets and make sure to catch sunset along its energetic seafront – locals flipping into the water backdropped by the setting sun really is a must-see sight.
A walking tour of this historic quarter will be included in your base tour, but, of course, it’s free to wander at your leisure too.
This is a predominantly muslim destination, so it’s advised to keep that in mind when deciding what to wear – out of respect, women should keep shoulders and legs covered.
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