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Exploring Stone Town

When I set off on my Zanzibar vacation, it 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 - was on the list. I didn't expect too much from it - I was focused on experiencing as many ocean and beach-based activities as possible. I thought a quick afternoon tour of Stone Town would be enough.

Boy, was I wrong! 

Anja 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 wanted time to explore the streets of Stone Town. 

Exploring Stone Town - door & cyclist
One of the beautiful doors in Stone Town, and a local cyclist passes through.

We visited Stone Town twice during our vacation and I 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 very appropriate:

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.

Exploring Stone Town - window & courtyard
A beautiful courtyard, and a turquoise window shutter.

I took dozens of photographs while walking through this cultural melting-pot and have shared some of my favourites below. I have also added a few comments on where they were taken and what I wanted to captured in the moment I took them.

Exploring Stone Town - doors & street
Another beautiful Stone Door, and a typical market scene.
Explore Stone Town - bicycle
Vintage bicycle.
Explore Stone Town -- coffee shop
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
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 BUT there is no way to know what comforts, beauty and elegance lie beyond the rustic exterior. In true villa style, the exteior gives no hint to the cool courtyards beyond. I loved the sense of mystery -  what’s going on behind that Green Door?!

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.

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 (below 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 (below 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 - woodcutter
One of the local craftsmen at work.
Explore Stone Town - local craftsmen
Visit the old fort to see local painters.
Explore Stone Town - authentic kikoys
Colourful piles of traditional Kenyan kikoys at a shop called Memories

There is a shop in Stone Town called Memories which is where we found these traditional Kenyan kikoys. While these products are made on the mainland, the shop is a popular attraction because it offers fixed pricing on all goods - no need to haggle! The stores aren't the only Stone Town shopping experience: hit the streets on a guided walking tour for a full taste of what the local artisans produce. Most walking tours of Stone Town include a visit to a local weaver's workshop where you can see a traditional cotton loom in action and buy cloth and clothing spun on the island. 

Written by Stuart Parker. Connect with him on Google+.

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