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Services in Zanzibar Town

Embassies

There are a small number of consulates in Zanzibar but the capital city of Dar-es-Salaam is where you need to go if you need an embassy. If you lose your passport you’ll need to visit the Ministry of the Interior in Zanzibar in order to get off the island. The Ministry can supply you with papers to get you home or to Dar where you can arrange for more temporary papers from your Embassy. See the Listings Section for a complete embassy list.

TV Zanzibar had the first color TV station in East Africa, and in 1972 the first color television broadcast in East Africa was accomplished. The new technology was a dream of the first Zanzibari President, Karume, who was assassinated before the first broadcast. Ironically, the television technology that Karume brought to Zanzibar was used to cover the trial of his murder. Court TV is possibly another Zanzibari first.

Banks & Money

In the last few years, Zanzibar has opened up dramatically to the free world, resulting in some changes in the rules for tourists and currency. For instance, two years ago tourists had to pay for almost everything in hard currency; whereas today it is possible for tourists to pay departure tax in TShillings (but it is wise to always keep a stash of dollars – just in case). Travelers’ Cheques checks are accepted only at large hotels and some restaurants and, even then, sometimes grudgingly. You can convert them to cash at the People’s Bank of Zanzibar, the Forex bureaus at some hotels (International, Mazson’s and the Tembo) and at the Forex offices at the port and airport. These bureaus will also exchange most hard currencies for TShillings.

Medical

There are several local hospitals in Stone Town but tourists should always try Zanzibar Medical and Diagnostic Centre . The office is ideal for any minor medical attention needed. While traveling in East Africa, a trip to the doctor is recommended should you have a question or notice that you’re feeling a little off. High fever and headache could be tip-off signs for malaria, and you should seek medical attention immediately at the appearance of these symptoms.

Tourist Information

Tourist information can be obtained from the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation located in the Livingstone House on the Bububu Road just outside of Stone Town. The office doesn’t have much, but can help to book beach bungalows and bandas (another word for bungalow but usually meant as a modest accommodation on the beach) on the East Coast of the island. They also sell maps that can be purchased from almost any shop in town that caters to tourists.

Tour Operators

There are many tour operators on the island, many of whom have offices in Stone Town. Tour companies can arrange anything from hotel reservations to Spice Tours. They’ll book a car, a guide, and they’ll try to satisfy language requirements as well. There are French, Italian, and German-speaking guides available if booked in advance and if luck has them on the island. Tour operators are excellent for booking trips to Jozani Forest or the small islands off the coast. Tour companies change hands and reputations rise and fall. Ask the hotel where you’re staying for reliable tour companies.

Getting There

Visitors entering Zanzibar are required to have a passport. Nationals from Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Zimbabwe, most Caribbean island countries, and many island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not required to have a Tanzanian visa for entry, but all others must. . A tourist visa can be obtained in your home country at the Tanzanian Mission or Tourism Offices or they can be obtained at the border. Prices have been going up for visas and vary depending on the applicant’s nationality. For some reason, the prices between advance purchase and “at the door” purchase seem always to be different.

Arrival by boat or by air will land you in the immigration line but sometimes, depending on time of day and day of the week, you may not have to go through immigration at the port. There the customs check is sporadic, but it is quick when required. A piece of paper that is absolutely required for entering by way of the airport is proof of a yellow fever vaccination. You will not be allowed on Zanzibar without this card, but it is not always checked at the port. You should have the vaccination if travelling in East Africa whether or not it is required.

Islands near Stone Town.

For most of the islands near Stone Town it is easy to find a boat pilot. Many pilots can be found lingering around the Big Tree down by the harhour. Prices vary depending on the island and the number of people in the boat. Obviously, the more passengers on board the lower the cost per person. Tour agencies can also arrange boat trips as wells as most of the better hotels in town.

Prison Island (Changuu) is the most popular island for people seeking an island excursion from Stone Town. It is a short boat ride (about 10 minutes) and the snorkeling is excellent. There’s a small beach that can get quite crowded at high tide but there are other things to do. There’s a small trail that circles the island and goes past ruins. Look for the old prison and watch out for giant tortoises and peacocks in the ruins’ courtyard. You’ll also pass ruins of an old laundry center, a natural lagoon that can be quite beautiful if the tide is right, and the old quarantine housing. A wealthy slave owner who sent unruly slaves there for discipline first owned the island. After the abolition of slavery the island was inhabited by a British General and was later used as a quarantine station. There was a prison built on the island after the General had left but it was never used for its intended purpose, instead housing quarantined visitors to Zanzibar. There’s a restaurant in the large house (formerly the General’s) and there is a smaller building that serves as a guesthouse. There’s a small fee to go on the island, and mask, fins and snorkel are available for rent in the same office. The snorkeling is surely worth the trip. One of the island’s main attractions are the large land tortoises that roam around the big house. They aren’t dangerous but could take your hand off at the wrist in one bite so don’t aggravate them. Peacocks are also inhabitants of the island but sadly, some of them have had their long feathers plucked by uncaring people who won’t look nearly so good in them.

Snake Island (Nyoka) doesn’t have a beach so is not frequently visited. There are no known trails on this small island that is between Prison and Grave Islands.

Grave Island (Chapwani) is a long and thin island just to the north of Snake Island; it has graves on it primarily belonging to the British who suffered casualties while fighting against Arab slaving ships. There are other graves dating from the First World War. It’s a short boat ride from town. There’s a nice beach but the island is not great for swimming. The guesthouse and the restaurant on the island are closed so bring your own food and drinks.

Bawe Island is south of Prison and has some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. About a 30-minute boat ride and slightly more expensive than the boat to Prison Island, this island is much less visited. In 1870 the island was used to anchor the first telegraph cables to Zanzibar linking it with Aden, South Africa and the Seychelles. There are no facilities on the island although a hotel has been in the making for some time. Bring your own food and drinks because you can’t even buy water on Bawe. The snorkeling is excellent and so is the beach at all times of the tide. There’s not much to do on the island but sit on the beach but there are some trees that provide shade allowing fair-skinned people to make a whole day of it.

Sandbar Island is an island only at low tide. It’s also located south of Prison Island. It’s a great place for snorkeling, for a picnic or for getting a sunburn (there’s nothing but sand so bring your own shade in the form of hats or parasols). It’s a popular destination when the moon is full because of the view of sunset and moonrise. Boats can be arranged near the Big Tree and they leave at about 6:00 p.m. and come back when you’re ready. People bring their own food and drinks and build a fire in a pit. After the sun sets it’s very dark on the island and you can’t see much but once the moon comes up and loses its redness from the horizon it’s like being under a natural floodlight. The city takes on a special appearance under the red moon and looks beautiful too. As the tide continues to go out, the island gets bigger and people walk along the sandbar appearing as if they’re walking on water. If you’re visiting Stone Town during the full moon and the tide is right – try to go to Sandbar Island for the moonrise. It’s also good for day picnics, snorkeling and diving but keep in mind the lack of shade and equatorial sun.

Chumbe Island is Tanzania’s first Marine National Park and it is also home to a Nature reserve that boasts an abundance of local birds and flora. It is also known as Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP). Along with establishing Chumbe Island as a conservation area, several practical steps have been taken to preserve it; there are permanent moorings for boats landing at Chumbe and this prevents the need to drop anchor and kill coral. Only authorized tour companies are allowed to moor at Chumbe in an attempt to keep irresponsible boaters from causing damage to the reef. (You will need to make special arrangements with a tour company to find a boat pilot who is permitted to moor at Chumbe.) Nature trails have been set up on the island as well as an educational facility (mostly for locals). There’s a lighthouse on the island that is slated to be converted into an observation tower and there is an old mosque that was built in an Indian style and is unique to Tanzania. If you have time, try to visit Chumbe even though it is a little expensive. There’s a nice restaurant on the island and the price of dinner includes boat transport. Keep in mind that Chumbe is a private island and only CHICOP approved boat pilots are allowed to moor there. Ask a tour company to arrange a trip or call direct.

What to see in Stone Town

Ruins

If you are interested in visiting ruins, Zanzibar has many that are well-marked and whose entrance fees are affordable. The Zanzibar Government has developed a receipt called “Ancient Monuments of Zanzibar” for Unguja and for the price of TSh 200 it allows you to visit the following:

.The Old Fort (Stone Town)
. Hamamni Turkish Baths (Stone Town)
. Maruhubi Palace Ruins
. Mtoni Palace Ruins
. Kidichi Persian Baths
. Kizimbani Baths
. Fukuchani Ruins
. Tumbatu Ruins
. Dunga Palace of the Mwinyi Mkuu
. Mangapwani Cave and Cave Chambers (two locations)
. Bi Khole Ruins
. Kizimkazi Mosque

The fee is meant to help preserve the monuments and keep them clean. The ticket is good for one day only but it would be near impossible to see all of these things in one day unless you went at a racer’s pace and hit the wind and the tide just right in order to get to and from Tumbatu. Some of the ruins are well marked and easy to find if you’re self-driving but others are almost unmarked and overgrown requiring a driver in order to find them. In some cases there will be a guide to tell you a brief history, but often there isn’t even a person to collect your money or check your receipt.

Maruhubi Ruins
Built by Sultan Barghash in 1880 as a day retreat for him and a place to house some of his many concubines, this palace had large Persian baths, the only part of the structure left with a roof. It burned down in 1899. Located on the Bububu road, just outside of town, it’s a popular first stop on the way to Spice Tour. The gardens still have coconut trees and there are old pools full of lily pads, leftover columns and wandering cows. It’s a pretty site on the ocean. There’s a keeper that stays by the driveway selling curios and he’ll write your receipt but he does not give tours or answer questions.

Mtoni Ruins
These ruins are the mangled and sometimes repaired remains of Sultan Said’s main residence. It is said that he spent three or four days at Mtoni and split the remainder of the week among his many other plantations and palaces, and that Mtoni was clearly his favourite. His daughter Salme described it as nothing short of Eden: brimming with flowers and peacocks, close to the ocean, full of well-cared-for people, and surrounded by large trees. The ruins are now in an odd state. It is obvious that various repairs have been attempted over the years, but the only solid wall at present is the front wall that looks more like one end of a warehouse (which it was used for during World War I). The Palace, at one time, had many flights of stairs, courtyards, bedrooms and baths. Look in the back for many hallways and rooms with walls that still have the built-in alcoves. There are baths that you can enter but watch out for bats. This is the house where the Sultan kept the better part of his harem. Sometimes there’s a keeper who will sign your receipt. He’ll show you around but he was not able to answer any of our questions that were posed in Kiswahili.

Kidichi is a village in the heart of the spice plantations and it is home to bath ruins but this time the baths were built in 1850 by Sultan Said for his Persian wife, Sherehezade, also known as Binte Irich Mizra or Schesade. At Bububu center take a right at the sign that reads Kizimbani and carry on up the road until the whitewashed baths appear at the top of the hill. The baths are the only ones of their kind on the island, where visitors can see the Persian detailing on the inner walls. In strict following of the Muslim faith it is considered sacrilege to create images of anything living, including animals and people. The Kidichi bath ruins are unusual in that they exhibit interesting and obvious portrayals of birds and flowers in the bas-relief detailing of the inner walls. Built by Persian craftsmen, who were brought to Zanzibar by Sultan Said specifically for the purpose of building Sherehezade’s baths, they were used by the princess to refresh herself after a journey in the country or after hunting. Sherehezade was apparently something of an avid hunter, a very unusual pastime for a woman in a Muslim community. There’s a nice young guide for the baths who is almost always present. He’ll want to see your pink receipt to sign it so be sure you have it ready for him. He’ll also sell you one if it’s your first stop. He’ll give you some history and information about the baths and may tell you that these baths are the strongest evidence of Persian influence in all of East Africa.

Kizimbani Baths are found on the road along Spice Tour, past the Kidichi baths. They are similar to the Kidichi Baths except that they are much plainer, with no Persian inscriptions, animals or flowers depicted on the inner walls. The Kizimbani baths were built for Sultan Said at about the same time as the Kidichi baths. Guide is unlikely.

Mangapwani Coral Cave
Oral tradition says that this underground cavern was discovered by a goat that fell in and then bleated until his shepherd who, following his cry, found him meters below the Earth. The shepherd found a natural fresh water spring in the cave. The same story does not include information or rumors about slaves having once been held here in secrecy after the trade had been abolished. People still believe that the cavern contains an outlet onto the beach (when the tide is right). The government has placed a stairway allowing for easy descent into the cave where visitors can look at strange insects, listen to water drip, stare at the coral rock ceiling and feel the clammy, stale air of a closed room. Dare each other to see who is brave enough to go looking for the fresh spring. Bring a flashlight. There is no guide at the location and it is difficult to find without a one – ask local villagers and keep your eyes open for the SMZ sign if you’re not being driven by a guide. The drive will take you on horrible roads past the childhood village and current house of former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Minwyi. His is the only house painted white.

Mangapwani Slave Chambers
If you made it far enough to see the Coral Cave you should continue on the few kilometers in order to see the Slave Chambers. After the trade was banned in 1872, Arab dealers still continued to transport slaves to the island before finding buyers and for this they needed secrecy and so built the Slave Chambers. They’re cut from coral rock and were allegedly used to conceal slaves at night. The slaves were chained and yoked while transferred from dhow to the chambers. There are few holes in the chambers and therefore little ventilation. This combined with malnutrition, thirst, disease, and overcrowding caused the death of many slaves before they reached the market or were sold to another trader.

Bi (Swahili for ‘Lady’) Khole was one of Sultan Said’s daughters and with her wealth had an estate built as an out of town getaway. Built on the western side of the island at the sea, the driveway is visible from the road that goes to the southeast coast. The sign to the ruins is small but an indication that you are nearing it is the rows of old mango trees on each side of the road. Local rumor has it that Khole planted one tree for each of her lovers. Although this is a romantic thought, it is unlikely that it is true because the trees may predate her estate. The ruins are an interesting stop because of the beautiful setting. The Palace overlooked the ocean and is surrounded by fields and trees. Visitors can see the old courtyard and remains of the Persian baths and fountains. Be careful wandering around the ruins; they’re still crumbling.

In 1867 David Livingstone delivered a lively lecture at Cambridge University about the horrors of the slave trade in Africa. As a result of his speech, four universities collaborated to form the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). This mission was to be responsible for the building of the Anglican Church in Stone Town as well as the St. Mary’s School for Freed Slave Girls – in addition to many other missionary projects on the mainland.

Mbweni Ruins (not included on the Ancient Monuments because they are managed by the Mbweni Ruins Hotel)

Mbweni ruins was once St. Mary’s School for Freed Slave Girls and was built between 1871 and 1874 by the UMCA. As slaves were freed by the British from illegal dhow traders, a village of freed slaves developed around the mission. At one point there were at least 250 freed slaves living there. Orphan girls and daughters of the freed slaves attended the school that trained them to become teachers for other missions on the mainland. Training included basic studies such as math, English and geography and went on to include the religion. The school had 60 to 85 students at any given time that it was open. The grounds contained dormitory living quarters, schoolrooms, a chapel and, later, an industrial area. The Chapel had a marble altar with mother of pearl inlay that is now the altar of St. John’s church down the road (also built by UMCA). The construction of the school was overseen by Edward Steere, the same man who designed the Anglican Church in Stone Town and wrote the first Swahili-English dictionary. The second headmistress was a woman by the name of Caroline Thackery who was the cousin of English novelist William Thackery. She remained headmistress for 25 years and after retiring, died at the age of 83 in 1926. She is buried near St. John’s Cathedral just near the ruins. By 1917 the school had closed and was abandoned even though a part of it had been sold to the Bank of India when the UMCA ran into fiscal trouble. The ruins remained abandoned except for locals who came to collect water from the cisterns until the current owners of the hotel began renovation.

St. John’s Church
In Mazizini between Stone Town and the airport and viewable on the right on the way to Mbweni Ruins, this church was built in the 1800’s by the UMCA and although it is in a remote location, it is still used for services from time to time.

Beit-el-Ras
Beit-el-Ras was intended to be a palace to house the growing family of Sultan Said, and although it was begun in 1847, it had not been completed by the time of his death in 1856. It was a short way up the coast to the north of the Mtoni Palace that served as his main home. Sultan Said’s successor Sultan Majid did not finish the house and some of its stones were later used to complete the Bububu Railroad. The remaining ruins were cleared away in 1947 to make room for the Teacher’s College that was built on the site . If you’re traveling north on the Bububu Road, keep your eyes on the left and when you pass the small Beit-el-Ras Police Station, you’ll be able to see the college up the road a little further north.

Bububu is a village just outside of Stone Town to the north and it is also the gateway to the Spice Tours. Bububu reportedly got its name from a spring in the area that made a sound something like ‘bububu’ as the water came up out of the ground. There are other rumors about the name of the town but no one is quite sure what the origin is. The first train in East Africa ran from Bububu to Stone Town and the main water source for Stone Town is located in Bububu. As far as tourists are concerned, there’s not much to see in Bububu but it is a good place to stop for fresh fruit if you’re on your way to the north coast. Another claim to fame for Bububu is that it was home to Princess Salme before she moved back to town and met her husband.

Fuji Beach is near Bububu village center, a short walk down a dirt road if you’ve been dropped in Bububu by dala-dala. A taxi from town should take you there for no more than TSh 2,500. There’s a bar and restaurant and a nice beach for sunbathing and swimming. At night the bar gets hopping and turns disco – especially hot on Sunday nights.