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Exploring Stone Town

Before I travelled to Zanzibar, it had never occurred to me that Stone Town would be a highlight of the trip. I had done some research on what activities to do on the island and of course Stone Town - a World Heritage Site - came up but I didn't pay it much attention. It was my first visit to Zanzibar and I was focused on experiencing as many ocean and beach-based activities as possible. I tentatively added Stone Town to my to-do list but thought a quick afternoon visit - if at all - would be more than enough.

But I was wrong. 

As my partner and I left Zanzibar Airport and headed through the city, my fascination for Stone Town was ignited. I suppose it was a combination of what I could see out our minibus window (chaotic streets packed with taxis, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians) and what our fabulous guide Solomon told us about Zanzibari culture. Settling back into our drive to the Hideaway of Nungwi Resort, I knew I had to walk the streets of Stone Town. 

Explore Stone Town - a classic scene
The tiny houses are set very close together; this view shows a washline strung up between two abodes.

In the end, we visited Stone Town twice and still could not get enough of it. The Stone Town experience is difficult to explain but I found these quotes from the UNESCO World Heritage website:

The Stone Town of Zanzibar is an outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization.

For many centuries there was intense seaborne trading activity between Asia and Africa, and this is illustrated in an exceptional manner by the architecture and urban structure of the Stone Town.

Zanzibar has great symbolic importance in the suppression of slavery, since it was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa and also the base from which its opponents such as David Livingstone conducted their campaign.

I took many photographs while walking through this cultural melting-pot and have assembled my favourites below. I have also added a few comments on where they were taken and why I enjoyed taking them. 

Explore Stone Town - a local street
Wandering through the streets takes you into another time.
Explore Stone Town - use a scooter to get around
One of the easiest ways of getting around is by scooter.

I took these pictures late in the afternoon. We were rushing, it was getting dark and there wasn't much time to get fancy. I set the camera to a high ISO and took a few pictures as we walked. I liked these images because they depict a typical Stone Town scene: narrow streets and old derelict buildings.  

Explore Stone Town - bicycle
A bicycle leans up against a crumbling old wall.
Explore Stone Town -- coffee shop
A tiny coffee shop in Stone Town - classic simplicity.

This picture was taken outside a shop from which I had just bought a handmade cotton shirt. Bicycles are one of the main forms of transport in Stone Town and they regularly caught my attention as we walked through the streets. I took this picture because I liked the simplicity of the scene (above left).

At the end of a busy afternoon in Stone Town, we stopped at a coffee shop to sample some real Tanzanian coffee. The inside of the shop was very simple with two sets of tables and chairs. Behind the counter were a coffee machine and a selection of coffees. There was nothing sophisticated about this place at all but that’s what I loved about it - pure, timeless simplicity (above right).

Explore Stone Town - green door
A lot of buildings in Stone Town look like this. I wonder what is going on behind that Green Door...

A lot of buildings in Stone Town look like this. The stone work is cracked, plaster is falling off in patches and, thanks to high levels of humidity, mould grows all over the walls. I again liked the simple story this image tells. Any ideas what’s going on behind that Green Door?!

Explore Stone Town - woodcutter
One of the local craftsmen at work.
Explore Stone Town - local craftsmen
Visit the old fort to see local painters.

If you walk through Stone Town, you must visit the old fort to see local craftsmen at work. Anja (a Go2Africa safari expert) bought a couple of things from this man (above left) and asked him to do an engraving on one of the boats. He cheerfully obliged and was more than happy for us to watch him work. Keep an eye out for these highly skilled, traditional craftsmen: they create beautiful works of art and are worth supporting.

I also found this artist in the old fort (above right) He was working on a large canvas painting and the shop was full of his works.  I loved the vibrant colours and intricate detailing. This is the type of painting you'd want to take home with you to remember your Zanzibar vacation. 

Explore Stone Town - handmade clothing
Local, handmade clothing is popular in Stone Town; make sure you have the real deal though, and not cheap imports.

Local, handmade clothing is very popular in Stone Town. You need to be careful though: many shops seem to sell only imported curios and clothes from the Tanzanian mainland and Kenya.  

Explore Stone Town - authentic kikoys
There is a shop in Stone Town called Memories which is where we found these traditional Kenyan kikoys.

There is a shop in Stone Town called Memories which is where we found these traditional Kenyan kikoys. While these products are not made in Zanzibar, I thought I’d mention the shop as it is a popular attraction. Because it offers fixed pricing on all goods, it's the ideal place to shop if you don’t enjoy haggling with shop owners. Having said that, this store does not really represent an authentic Stone Town shopping experience: you'll need to hit the streets for that! 

I hope you have enjoyed the pictures. If you have any feedback or comments, I’d love to hear from you. 

Written by Stuart Parker, one of Go2Africa's Africa Safari Experts.

Connect with him on Google+.

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