Zanzibar’s Stone Town Mosaic: From Slave Trade to Luxury Resorts

Day 97, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Tuesday, April 9, 2024; Zanzibar, Tanzania.

If yesterday was all about the natural side of Zanzibar, today is about Zanzibar City and its historic center of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again, we took a half-day excursion through our travel agency. We could easily have explored the town on our own, but if a tour has a good guide, I learn so much more.

Stone Town is such a small area that once our bus dropped us off, we toured by foot. Our route was through winding narrow streets bounded by wide busy roads.

Zanzibar was an important hub for Swahili trading, and the area reflects its African, Arab, Indian and colonial influences. As such, it was a main East African port for the slave trade, and our tour started at the Anglican Church built on the site of the huge slave market. About all that is left of the market are two underground rooms that housed 50 to 70 slaves at a time. We felt crowded with a dozen or so people. As many as 60,000 slaves passed through Stone Town each year.

Next to the church is a small museum consisting mainly of descriptive panels about the slave trade era. The name William Wilberforce jumped out at me. Until a month or so ago, I had never heard of this Englishman instrumental in abolishing the slave trade. He was a subject of my book club’s February selection. It is just one of many seemingly random connections that delight me during my travels.

From there it was just a few blocks to the Darajani Market. It is hard to tell where the market actually begins, as vendors line the streets and lanes for blocks. With Ramadan ending tomorrow, it was busy with shoppers preparing for the end of their fasting season. I knew we were here the minute we entered the fish building. Tables covered with all sorts of fish lined the walkway, as vendors worked to clean and filet them.

It was the meat market in the next building that had me putting away my smartphone – the sight and especially the smell of butchering beef and goat was not an image I wanted to capture. In fact, it had this steak-lover from Kansas City and Texas seriously thinking about becoming a vegetarian.

Much more picturesque was the spice section. Zanzibar has long been known for its production of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper.

We wove our way from the market toward the oceanfront through winding lanes and alleys, interspersed with charming old buildings, storefronts and small inns. We wandered past the Sultan’s Palace (under reconstruction) and through the Old Arab Fort now used for concerts and events, and finally past the childhood home of Queen singer Freddie Mercury.

The downside of some excursions is their tendency to include shopping stops, and today it included both a tanzanite jewelry shop and a souvenir store. Most of us just found seats in the welcomed air conditioning and waited.

After a break at the Serena Hotel for soda or juice, we had the option of taking the waiting bus back to the tender pier or staying in Stone Town on our own to later take the ship’s shuttle. We opted to stay right where we were, on the beautiful terrace overlooking the water and enjoyed the local Kilimanjaro beer. It was a nice opportunity for a quick sketch.

Next door was the Park Hyatt Hotel, with its simple and serene lobby. I can imagine staying at one of these resort hotels for a few days after a Serengeti safari – I’ll have to add it to the bucket list.

The pier was busy with ferry passengers heading for the mainland and other nearby islands. I saw a t-shirt I liked, but it was only available in my size in beige, not my best color. Still, I haggled until I could buy it for a good price. And walked down the row of vendors only to find the same shirt in a nice blue, so I bought another. When I later tried them on, I realized both are too big. They may end up donated to the charity auction later on the cruise.

Once again, it was a lively sail away, as we said goodbye to Zanzibar while listening to a soundtrack of music by Queen.