There’s more to Zanzibar than pricey hotels and sunloungers – from overgrown palaces to forest trails, we pick the Spice Island’s best giveaways
Sailing from Pemba or Dar es Salaam, the approach into Stone Town’s Zanzibar Port gives a wonderful view of the waterfront, from the balconies of the Old Customs House to the clocktower of Sultan Barghash’s Beit al-Ajaib (House of Wonders).
Hurumzi, the heart of Stone Town, is a labyrinth of packed houses and slender alleyways – but getting lost has never been so fun. Sip bitter coffee in tiny cafés, browse dusty antique stalls and have a guess at what lies behind all those heavy studded doors…
Africa House Hotel once provided a haven of cricket matches and costume balls for its elite British members. Now renovated, its ocean-facing bar is one of the finest places to enjoy a sundowner – but the terrace is open to paupers, too.
Jozani forest’s most famous residents are the Kirk’s red colobus monkeys – endemic to Zanzibar Island. Entry to the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park is $8 (£5), but the monkeys don’t stick to boundaries –a troop can often be spotted near the gate.
Head out early for a morning’s birdwatching in Changuu Island’s lush coral rag forest, then grab a snorkel to explore the shallow reef. The island, a penal colony in the 19th century, is also home to giant tortoises and a sweeping white-sand beach.
Scottish botanist Sir John Kirk (who named the monkeys) came to Zanzibar in 1870 and created Mbweni’s botanical gardens, now part of the Mbweni Ruins Hotel. Pop in for lunch or tea, then enjoy the 650 plant species in the garden for nowt.
Tucked away west of the mangrove-fringed Chwaka Bay, Chwaka is a quiet fishing village where you can watch the pink sunrise over Michamvi Peninsula, browse the open-air market, then enjoy the bustle as fishermen trade their catch.
Sultan Barghash built Maruhubi Palace in 1882 for himself and his wife – and his 99 concubines. The palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1899, but dark tales of ritual executions and carnal desire still remain.
Mangapwani’s idyllic shoreline hides a dark secret. Its dank cells, hollowed out inside the soft coral rock, were used by slave traders to hide their wares from the British Navy’s anti-slavery patrols.
Swimming and sunbathing are the main events in chilled-out Kendwa, but time your visit carefully and you’ll catch the legendary full moon party – a free knees-up that brings the sleepy town to life.
Standing tall in the centre of Stone Town, 236 Hurumzi (formerly the Emerson & Green Hotel) is a sumptuous re-imagining of Zanzibar’s royal palaces. A grand staircase leads to the rooms, each of which is dressed with lavish throws, hand-woven carpets and antique Zanzibari treasures. The building itself was once home to Sir Tharia Topan, advisor to Sultan Barghash – and his opulent style lives on.
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