Stone Town, Zanzibar

Off to Zanzibar? You were probably lured by the island’s endless sandy beaches and sparkling turquoise water. You plan to swim with sea turtles, snorkel with starfish, and sail across the water in a dhow. And you have to buy spices. Lots of spices. Nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla. They call it the Spice Island for a reason. It sounds like the ideal island getaway. Just don’t miss Stone Town.

Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the melting pot of the Indian Ocean. Arabs, Persians, Indians, Europeans, Japanese, and even Russians descended upon the Tanzanian island and mixed with the Swahili culture. Buildings are made of coral, limestone, and mortar. Alleys wind in a maze-like pattern between them. Motorbikes and donkey carts zig through town. Men wear long white robes and taqiyahs; women don electric blue headscarves.

While in Stone Town, wander through the waterfront Forodhani Gardens, and eat prawns and lobster on skewers. Walk through the 17th-century Old Fort, where street performers and shops will keep you occupied longer than expected. Visit the House of Wonders, an ornate palace built by the third Sultan of Zanzibar. Buy masala chai tea, colorful kangas, and fresh fruit at the chaotic Darajani Market. And sleep in an old townhouse or even a former palace.

Photo: Kisiwa House
Photo: Kisiwa House

The Kisiwa House, a boutique hotel on a quiet street near the Anglican Cathedral, was built by an Omani merchant in 1840. It has antique furniture, Persian rugs, modern amenities, and Swahili hospitality. You’ll smell Udi incense and hear taarab music when you arrive. Sip Zanzibar tea by the fountain at the Courtyard Lounge. Eat dinner on the rooftop terrace. And enjoy a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean as the sun sets.

Photo: Mashariki Palace Hotel
Photo: Mashariki Palace Hotel

Your second option is the Mashariki Palace Hotel, which was built by the first Sultan of Zanzibar. Each room is unique, but expect high ceilings, balconies with sea views, Arabian beds, and carved doors. Enjoy a hot hammam scrub in the solarium. Take a nap on the terrace. Spritz on jasmine perfume before dinner. And sip champagne while overlooking the Forodhani Gardens and the House of Wonders.

With two perfect places to stay, there’s no reason not to add Stone Town to your itinerary. Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of beach time.

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