Zanzibar’s Stone Town

Fortresses, Mosques, hotels, and houses all crowd together in the cosmopolitan heart of Zanzibar. The buildings lean into each other affectionately, not unlike Amsterdam or Venice, but with the look of a faded tropical paradise. Stone Town has many quirky and interesting aspects about it and there’s no shortage of wandering to be had. We spent a few days meandering through the narrow, winding alleyways, soaking in the sights. 

John and I were drooling at the thought of Zanzibari food. Don’t get me wrong, food in Namibia is good, it just leaves a little for the imagination. The night market in Stone Town, Forodhani, is something to be experienced. Vendors set up their stands around sunset, and people start rolling in after dark. Each stand is outfitted with portable cooking equipment (barbecue or wok heated with a gas canister) and lit by the warm glow of a gas camping lantern, making the whole place is warm and inviting.

We had Zanzibari mix, which is a soup made with a savory Tamarind broth and filled with finger foods like meat kabobs, potato dumplings, potatoes, and topped with crunchy cassava chips. Then, we had Zanzibari style pizza, which is a little pancake filled with savory mince, onion, herbs and cheese. We washed it all down with a glass of freshly pressed sugar cane juice. About a million well-fed cats scurried about, waiting for the next scrap of dinner. Forodhani has been on just about every adventure type foodie show, including Parts Unknown.

Wandering down the waterfront on our second day, we stopped and took in the sight of Beit El-Ajeib.  The House of Wonders (Beit El-Ajeib) got its name because it was the first building in east Africa with electricity and an elevator.  This colonial behemoth looms over the waterfront with two cannons pointed outward. Somewhat resembling a giant haunted house, it’s really the national museum. Right now it’s closed to the public, so we could only see the outside.

While strolling about Stone Town, we started noticing all of the hefty, beautifully carved wood doors. Each door has a story, and the more elaborate the door, the more money or status you have. From delicate carvings to hefty polished brass spikes, these doors are super cool. You can find entire books about the doors in Zanzibar.

While in Zanzibar, we figured we should see the slave market. We stopped there on our last day for a quick visit. Zanzibar was one of the major hubs of the slave trade, and many of the markets were destroyed after slavery was abolished. The local government left one market intact to serve as a museum and memorial. You can hire a guide for about $5USD, who will walk you through the underground holding cells and describe all of the things that usually happened at these markets. Not the best historical tour we’ve been on, but certainly interesting.

We also did a bit of shopping. I loaded up on Kangas, the traditional two-piece garment that women wear in east Africa. It is a piece of printed cotton fabric, often with a border along all four sides. Each Kanga has a proverb or message written on it. Things like “Provocation is not good, you should choose what to say” and “Hate me, but I won’t stop telling you the truth” and even “Bless this marriage.” Some of these sayings are really hilarious. I luckily had a Swahili-speaking friend with me to help guide my purchases, so I didn’t buy something that said “I’m a slut.”

One of our favorite things about Stone Town was the beach culture. Every single night, throngs of boys would rush to the beach to play soccer, swim and compete against one another in crazy somersault/flip/jump/dives into the water. These kids have so much fun and it’s almost as fun just to watch.  Girls don’t get to swim and play in the water, so they sit on the beach in little clusters, talking and laughing. I don’t agree with this gender separation, but the girls do make their own fun by hanging out and having girl time on the beach.

We’ll post more pictures from our trek out to the beach soon!

Photo Highlights from Stone Town


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