Arriving by boat from Dar es Salaam, you will see the waterfront of Zanzibar town looking much as it did in the days when Victorian explorers used the island as a staging post for their expeditions into the interior of Africa. David Livingstone, who discovered the Victoria Falls, started out from here, as did Henry Morton Stanley, the journalist dispatched to find him.
Right in the middle of the waterfront is the Sultan's Palace, Built in the 19th century, it was called the House of Wonders because it had electricity and the first Lift in East Africa. After years of neglect, it has now been restored and houses a fine museum. Zanzibar has a colourful history. Omani sultans ruled much of the Swahili coast from the island, establishing the trade routes that still lead from here to the Middle East. Their domain dwindled in the days of the British Empire, and finally ceased with the bloody revolution of 1956. Zanzibar. Even the name is exotic. conjuring up images of sultans and explorers and of wooden Arab dhows redolent with the aroma of spices.
The long history of Zanzibar has its darker side. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was the main base for the trade in African slaves brought from the interior by Arab traders, who often purchased their captives from warring tribes. The slaves were sold to European and American merchants, and shipped in appalling conditions to the Americas and the Caribbean. It is still possible to visit the old slave pens, but an Anglican cathedral has been built on the site of the slave market. The altar is on the very spot where the whipping post once stood, and the cross beside it is made from the tree under which Livingstone died. During his time as a missionary Livingstone became a tireless crusader for the abolition of slavery, but the trade continued illegally for some years after it was banned. The heart of Zanzibar town, built of stone, is a tangle of narrow winding streets that seem to lead everywhere and nowhere. Look out for the ornate, carved wooden doors, many of which date from the time of the sultans. They were designed both to display and protect the wealth of the house-owners.
In the early morning, when the tourist shops are closed, life in the town seems to continue much as it has for hundreds of years. It is not difficult to imagine explorers combing its streets, looking for supplies and porters. Everywhere you go you will be greeted with shouts of jambo (hello) and karibu (welcome). Take a walk to the old dhow harbour and you can watch fishermen haggling with locals over their catch. You can also get a close-up view of the remarkable sailing boats, held together entirely with wooden pegs, that have been used along the Swahili coast ever since the Arabs first arrived from Oman. Although still used to move goods between East Africa and the Middle East, their use is dying out.
While the town has a number of top-quality restaurants, the nicest place to eat is at the Jamituri Gardens on the waterfront. From sunset every day locals set up open-air stalls to cook and sell some of the freshly caught fish landed every morning. You can get crab and lobster for just a few dollars, and wash it down with a glass of freshly squeezed sugar-cane juice, while chatting with the friendly Zanzibaris about everything from politics to football.
Zanzibar lies off the coast of Tanzania, a few hours by ferry boat from Dar es Salaam. There are a number of morning departures, returning mid-afternoon. Details are posted on the ferry dock but steer clear of touts and buy your tickets directly from the ticket office. Alternatively. Air Excel fly from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar and sometimes from Zanzibar to Arusha. Although Dodoma is the new official capital of Tanzania, many flights arrive at Dar es Salaam. There is a wide range of accommodation in Zanzibar town. The northern and eastern coasts of Zanzibar have a number of beautiful beaches with accommodation ranging from simple beach huts to luxurious resorts. Local travel agents will arrange reservations and transfers.