With summer coming up, you may naturally be drawn to Zanzibar’s gorgeous white sand beaches, but there’s so much more to the Tanzanian island than that. It’s also home to historic Stone Town; unfortunately, tourists tend to rush through the UNESCO World Heritage site to get to their seaside accommodations. While there’s no arguing the appeal of the tropical paradise, you shouldn’t miss out on the vibrant culture and rich architecture guaranteed to elevate your trip in ways the beaches can’t.
Where to Stay
Nothing beats the Park Hyatt Zanzibar’s luxurious oceanfront property situated right at the heart of Stone Town. Top attractions include the House of Wonders, reportedly the first building in East Africa to have electricity and an elevator; the standout teal-colored Old Dispensary building and the bustling Forodhani Gardens are all short walks away. Don’t forget the breathtaking 59-foot infinity pool that overlooks picture-perfect views of the town alongside the Indian Ocean.
Where to See Art
The port city was formerly the center for the spice (and regrettably, slave) trade. It’s where Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African cultures had the chance to blend, which gave the town its distinct architectural landscape. In case you were wondering, it’s called “Stone Town” because coral stone was the primary material used to construct the city.
There are plenty of 19th-century structures still standing today that many would consider works of art, especially the Zanzibari houses built with intricately decorated wooden doors featuring elaborate floral designs, shiny brass accents, or religious Islamic carvings. No one will blame you if you want to snap a picture in front of them.
To take in art in a more traditional setting, stop by the Hurumzi Henna Art Gallery. The women behind the gallery create standout paintings inspired by the well-known body art practice prevalent in Zanzibar.
Where to Shop
You won’t have to go too far to find striking souvenirs such as sarongs, wood carvings, or jewelry, because the streets are lined with vendors selling all kinds of local items. Just make sure to have cash and be prepared to haggle, as a combination of both will give you a better chance of landing a good deal. Do yourself a favor by also venturing away from Kenyatta Road, because there are smaller shops beyond the main strip with more distinctive finds. If you don’t want to put in the time or effort to hop around to different shops, the Zanzibar Gallery’s selection of quality goods might be what you need—they even accept all major credit cards.
Where to Eat and Drink
Do as the locals do and kick off your day at Jaws Corner, located deep inside the maze of Stone Town. It’s a solid spot to people-watch, especially in the morning, as many locals go there to pick up a cup of Arabic coffee, play board games, and catch up with the rest of the community.
For a taste of the city’s Persian influences, make your way over to the top of the Emerson on Hurumzi Hotel for the Tea House restaurant. Not only does the 19th-century space offer spectacular sunset views, you’ll be blown away by the lavish five-course tasting menu and live Tanzanian Taarab music playing in the background. As noted on their website, book a table in advance to secure seating for your party.
To top off your day, the night market at the Forodhani Gardens needs to be at the top of your list. As soon as it gets dark, chefs cooking meals inspired by various cuisines line up by the ocean to start selling everything from pizza to samosas, seafood skewers, crepes, and more. It’s an exciting food scene that will satisfy any craving and give you a better feel for how people from all walks of life mingle.