Winding Alleys, Ornately Carved Doors, and Super Street Food in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
In the captivating maze of Stone Town’s streets, each intricately decorated entryway tells a story. | Photo: Sabine

Winding Alleys, Ornately Carved Doors, and Super Street Food in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for ‘old town’), Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City — the main city on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. This vibrant coastal destination draws travellers with its history as a former trading post, a melting-pot culture and breathtaking natural landscapes. As you wander through its labyrinth, you’ll be captivated by richly adorned architecture, savour tantalising Zanzibari cuisine, and discover pristine beaches beside crystal-clear waters. Behind the undeniable charm and beauty, you’ll find community pride and a commitment to preserving the environment.

~ This guide is a collaboration between writer Susan Onyango with Amour Suleiman Amour El-Hinawy and Noreen Cichon, local experts ~

Stone Town

Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my town, I always recommend going straight to Forodhani Gardens because it beautifully showcases the vibrant local culture and provides a perfect introduction to the town’s culinary delights.

In the evening, it transforms into a bustling night market, offering an array of delicious street food and live entertainment. You can immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere while savouring traditional Zanzibari dishes and nibbling a selection of delectable sweets.

I tell first-time travellers to take a leisurely stroll through the narrow streets of Stone Town, explore the charming alleys and admire the intricately carved doors. I also tell them to avoid street vendors who may approach aggressively and instead opt for more reputable shops and markets.

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this town is the Zanzibar Museum of History and Culture with its comprehensive overview of the island’s past as a primary trading post on the silk, spice and slave routes. In an exploration of diverse heritage, you’ll find exhibits on the history of Zanzibar’s spice trade, the abolition of the slave trade, traditional Swahili culture and much more.

Parents should take their kids to Forodhani Park playground with its swings, slides and climbing frames sure to provide a fun-filled experience. It’s also a safe and enjoyable space for children to play and interact with local youngsters.

Food from the Heart

In keeping with the cultural melting pot of the area, Zanzibari cuisine is a delightful fusion of Swahili, Arab, Indian and Persian flavours. People from here know better than to rush through their meals; instead, they would rather savour each bite and engage in lively conversation with their companions.

Among the dishes my town is most proud of, our amazing seafood, grilled meats (like the skewers known as mishkaki) and the distinctively delicious Zanzibar pizza are just three of the many absolute musts. I like to go to Forodhani Night Market to really enjoy them.

When we get together to celebrate, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, juisi ya miwa (or juisi ya mua), is what people here traditionally drink. This sweet and invigorating beverage is the perfect accompaniment to hot and sunny days on the island. I like to gather my friends and go to the local sugarcane juice stalls along Creek Road for a round.

When I eat completely local, I will go to Lukmaan Restaurant. I know the food here is authentic, reflecting the traditional flavours of Zanzibar and the best of Swahili cuisine. From mouthwatering dishes like octopus curry to aromatic rice pilau and creamy coconut-based desserts, the restaurant offers a selection of Zanzibari specialities prepared with love and care.

Another two classic, iconic restaurants include 6 Degrees South and The Silk Route. 6 Degrees South specialises in delicious seafood, blending local ingredients with international flavours; while The Silk Route’s modern Indian food takes you on a culinary journey along the historic trade routes, offering flavours inspired by Zanzibar’s spice-rich heritage.

Shopping Locally

My town is known for making superlative handcrafted goods, particularly intricate wood carvings.

The best food market in Stone Town is Darajani Market. The market is a hub of activity, where locals gather to buy fresh produce, spices and traditional ingredients — a must-visit for any food enthusiast.

And the best market to buy items like handmade crafts is Mwanzo Mpya Market located near the Forodhani Gardens. This lively market includes the craftsmanship of local artisans, from wooden carvings and batik fabrics to beaded jewellery and traditional musical instruments.

To buy real, local souvenirs, I always take visitors to the Zanzibar Curio Shop. The products are carefully curated to represent the artistry and heritage of Zanzibar and the vibe is welcoming, ensuring a pleasant shopping experience.

And we know to avoid street vendors selling counterfeit goods, because they often deceive tourists with fake replicas that lack the authenticity and quality of genuine Zanzibari craftsmanship.

Getting Deeper Into Stone Town

A great book to learn more about my town is Zanzibar: A Cultural History by Abdul Sheriff, a Tanzanian emeritus professor of history, member of the Zanzibar Stone Town Advisory Board and former director of the Peace Memorial Museum (Beit el Amani).

Many people know about Stone Town being the birthplace of Freddie Mercury — originally Farrokh Bulsara — lead singer of British band Queen (he has a museum dedicated to him here); but it is also notable for natural beauties like peaceful and picturesque Nungwi Beach with its stunning white sand, crystal-clear turquoise waters and vibrant marine life.

My town is a place people are attracted to because of its enchanting labyrinthine streets, historical architecture and the warm hospitality of its residents.

To really celebrate my town at its best, come during the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) because it showcases the best of African and international cinema. It features film screenings, workshops, live performances and cultural exhibitions.

Most people think of my town as a place to explore historical sites and indulge in beach activities, but really this is a destination to get lost in the local culture and interact with the friendly residents.

This is one of the best places in the world to experience the magic of the spice trade. Locals are proud of that because Zanzibar has been a major hub of the spice trade for centuries, earning it the nickname ‘Spice Island’. Visitors can hit the spice plantations on the outskirts of Stone Town for a tour to learn about the local cultivation and processing of spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper.

Getting Around Stone Town

One thing you should know about getting around my town is that walking is the best way to truly experience the narrow streets and alleyways, take in the historic architecture and appreciate the vibrant atmosphere.

The best way to travel in my town to have as little impact as possible is through walking or cycling. 

Luckily these methods of transportation also allow me to become immersed in the Swahili culture, interact with residents more closely and discover hidden gems at my own pace.

Outside The Town

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to venture to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island. In this idyllic locale, visitors can relax on the sandy shores, snorkel alongside colourful marine life, and even meet the giant Aldabra tortoises that roam freely on the island. 

For a day trip just beyond my town, I like to visit Jozani Forest, home to the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkeys which are endemic to the island.

Many people will head to popular beaches like Nungwi or Kendwa, but locals know to go to Paje Beach which offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere compared to the busy tourist beaches; it’s also is a hotspot for kitesurfing and windsurfing enthusiasts.

I really enjoy the view of my town from the Forodhani Gardens. Situated along the waterfront, the gardens provide a stunning panorama of Stone Town’s historic buildings, the Indian Ocean, and the activities at the nearby Forodhani Night Market. It’s the perfect place to relax, take in the beauty of the area and witness the vibrant energy that defines Stone Town.

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my town, I join the locals in a game of bao. It’s a traditional board game widely played in Zanzibar and throughout East Africa and you can find locals gathered in small groups playing bao in public spaces or at cafés. Joining in on a game not only provides entertainment but also an opportunity to connect with the community, learn about local traditions and forge new friendships. 

To hang out with my friends and go to a real insider spot, I go to the rooftop terrace of the Emerson Spice Hotel where I enjoy breathtaking views of the skyline while sipping on refreshing cocktails and indulging in delicious food.

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town and keeping on top of events and happenings is Zanzibar Events.

When I want to enjoy my town without spending much (or any) money, I explore the historic sites and landmarks that showcase the rich history and cultural heritage of Stone Town. From the House of Wonders (or Beit el Ajaib) and the Old Fort to the Sultan’s Palace Museum and the narrow winding streets, there are countless opportunities to uncover the fascinating stories and architectural marvels that make this destination so special for travellers.

The local live music scene encapsulates the soul of Zanzibar. Many bars and restaurants in Stone Town feature live music performances, showcasing talented local musicians and bands playing traditional Swahili music, taarab and other genres with a Zanzibari twist. And when I feel like dancing, I go to Monsoon Restaurant and Bar for the mix of music styles including Afrobeat, reggae and modern hits.

Finding Solitude in Stone Town

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible town, I go to the Forodhani Gardens. With its shaded benches, swaying palm trees and views of the Indian Ocean, it’s the perfect spot to unwind, read a book, or simply sit back and soak up the beautiful atmosphere.

The place that makes me proudest of my town is the Cultural Arts Centre Zanzibar because this institution is dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich cultural heritage of Zanzibar. It serves as a hub for artists, musicians, dancers and artisans to showcase their talents and share their traditions with the community and visitors.

When the Seasons Change, This Town Shines

Dry season (June to August) is the best time to explore the rich marine life and vibrant coral reefs in locations like Mnemba Atoll, Leven Bank, or the Menai Bay Conservation Area. Encounter colourful fish, sea turtles, dolphins and maybe even whale sharks.

I always recommend that visitors come to Stone Town during the dry season; the weather is comfortable, making it perfect for exploring the narrow streets and checking out historical sites. With sunny days and cooler temperatures, it’s also a great time to embark on spice tours and visit the plantations that the island is renowned for.

The semi-dry season (September to November), here is magical when you can witness the annual dhow sailing regatta. During this time, local fishermen and sailors come together to showcase their skills and compete in traditional sailing races. The sight of these elegant wooden boats with their billowing sails against the backdrop of the endless blue horizon or a fiery sunset is truly captivating.

The wet season (November to May) is a great time to explore some of the other wonderful museums here. Visitors can investigate a variety of treasure troves from the Princess Salme Museum to the Old Dispensary to the Hamamni Persian Baths, to name just a few of several fascinating options.

Susan Onyango

Local Expert

Susan Onyango is a young African woman hailing from Kenya. A travel enthusiast and a responsible tourism ambassador passionate about tourism in East Africa, Susan has an academic background in Mass Communication with a major in Public Relations. For over a year now, she has been working in the tourism industry in Kenya. Her most recent professional engagements have been with Ecotourism Kenya, Tierranjani Africa and Kenya Utalii College

Noreen and Amour

Local Expert

We are Noreen Cichon and Amour Suleiman Amour El-Hinawy from AMO Zanzibar Tours & Safaris, a Travelife Certified, family-owned, well-established tourism company situated in the middle of Stone Town’s maze in Zanzibar. We aim to offer thoughtful — and therefore responsible — tourism which provides our guests with an authentic insight into the Swahili coast territory and the region while minimising the negative aspects of mass tourism in terms of environmental and social degradation.

Time to Read:  9 Minutes
Local Expert(s): Susan Onyango and Noreen and Amour
19 April 2024
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Navigating the Crossroads: Reconsidering Synthetic Prayer Flags on Everest
Professional mountaineer / IFMGA Mountain Guide Dawa Yangzum Sherpa in Rolwaling using biodegradable prayer flags.

Navigating the Crossroads: Reconsidering Synthetic Prayer Flags on Everest

As the Everest season approaches again, the towering peak beckons climbers from around the globe. Among the rituals performed at its basecamps and summit is the tradition of adorning it with prayer flags, symbolising victory and spreading blessings to all corners of the earth. However, amidst the iconic allure of Mount Everest, a stark reality looms: the mountain’s summit has become a symbol not only of triumph but also of human impact.

While the visible garbage strewn across its slopes captures headlines, there exists a less conspicuous yet equally significant form of waste — synthetic prayer flags. These seemingly harmless symbols of religious and cultural significance have quietly amassed into an overlooked source of environmental harm. As climbers ascend Everest, bearing these synthetic flags as offerings, they inadvertently contribute to the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in one of the world’s most pristine environments.

In recent years, the use of synthetic prayer flags has become increasingly prevalent. These flags, crafted from synthetic fabrics and adorned with harmful dyes, are strung together with nylon ropes. While they may serve their purpose of adding colour to the landscape and carrying prayers on the wind, their impact on the delicate ecosystem of the Himalayas cannot be ignored.

The extreme conditions prevailing at high altitudes expedite the degradation of synthetic prayer flags, resulting in the shedding of microplastics that disperse into the surrounding environment. These minute particles find their way into the delicate ecosystems of the region and, propelled by melting glaciers, eventually permeate our rivers. Subsequently, they settle onto the fertile farming lands, infiltrating the very essence of our agricultural practices. Tragically, this pollution poses a grave threat to both the flora and fauna of the region, disturbing the delicate balance that lies at the heart of Buddhist philosophy.

Ceremonial prayers at Everest Base Camp, with synthetic prayer flags flying. | Prakash Mathema
Ceremonial prayers at Everest Base Camp, with synthetic prayer flags flying. | Prakash Mathema

Recent research has shed light on another disturbing phenomenon: the entanglement and subsequent death of wildlife in nylon ropes used to hang prayer flags. In the serene Tsum Valley, the rugged landscapes of Upper Dolpo, and the sacred grounds of Halesi, nature thrives in its purest form. Yet amidst this beauty, a silent tragedy unfolds — one that threatens the very existence of the animals that call these regions home. From the dense forests of Tsum to the remote corners of Upper Dolpo and the hills of Halesi, nylon ropes present a deadly hazard to creatures roaming freely.

Monkeys, agile and curious, unwittingly become entangled as they explore their surroundings. For leopards, stealthy hunters of the night, and the cows and goats that roam the hills peacefully grazing, the ropes become invisible snares, trapping them in a fatal embrace. They are all at risk of falling victim to these seemingly harmless strands, their lives cut short by nylon twine used in the observance of a tradition meant to bring blessings and goodwill.

Is it enough to simply hang prayer flags in devotion, or must we also ensure that they do not become instruments of harm? The very essence of our tradition is at stake, as is the well-being of the creatures that share our world. In Buddhism, reverence for all living beings and the interconnectedness of life are fundamental tenets. To harm even the smallest creature is to betray these principles.

Moreover, the use of synthetic materials contradicts the essence of the Gyaltsen Tsemo, a very ancient origin of all prayer flags also known as victory prayer. True victory, according to Buddhist teachings, lies not in conquest or domination, but in harmony and respect for all beings. By perpetuating a practice that harms the environment, we stray from the path of true enlightenment.

Synthetic prayer flags on Boudhanath Stupa. | Prakash Mathema
Synthetic prayer flags on Boudhanath Stupa. | Prakash Mathema

In light of these concerns, it is imperative that we reconsider our approach to prayer flags in the Himalayas. As Sherpas, Nepalese, and members of the global mountaineering community, we have a responsibility to uphold the values of our tradition while also preserving the fragile ecosystems that surround us.

One potential solution lies in the adoption of biodegradable prayer flags. However, even this alternative requires careful consideration in consumption. Biodegradable materials may degrade more quickly than synthetics, but they still require resources for production. Moreover, the rapid increase of biodegradable prayer flags could lead to unforeseen consequences, such as increased demand for raw materials and energy-intensive manufacturing processes.

Hanging biodegradable prayer flags at Halesi. | Sushil Manadhar
Hanging biodegradable prayer flags at Halesi. | Sushil Manadhar

So while biodegradability presents a step in the right direction, it is essential to approach the adoption of these alternatives with caution and mindfulness, ensuring that our efforts to minimise harm do not inadvertently contribute to it.

Ultimately, the issue of synthetic prayer flags calls for a broader conversation within the Buddhist and mountaineering community and beyond. It is not enough to simply replace one harmful practice with another. Instead, we must strive to find solutions that align with our values and respect the sanctity of the natural world.

Biodegradable prayer flags at Everest Base Camp. | Ramila Nemkul
Biodegradable prayer flags at Everest Base Camp. | Ramila Nemkul

As we prepare for another Everest season, let us not only conquer the summit but also conquer our own ignorance and greed. Let us recommit ourselves to the principles of compassion and stewardship that lie at the heart of Buddhism. Only then can we truly honour the spirit of the mountain and ensure its preservation for generations to come.

Ang Dolma Sherpa


Ang Dolma Sherpa is an environmentally and culturally engaged social entrepreneur who won the top ‘ideator’ award at Idea Studio Nepal 2019 for her concept of Biodegradable Khatak (Tibetan traditional offering scarves) and Lungta (Buddhist prayer flags). This led her to open Utpala Craft in Nepal in 2020, encouraging a shift from synthetic khatak and lungta to biodegradable ones in response to the discovery of microplastics in Himalayan glaciers. Ang Dolma carries out community education initiatives in her native Sherpa Nation in Nepal and is part of an international movement along with scholars and researchers from India, New Zealand and Canada: Biodegradable Blessings. Find out more online by searching ‘Biodegradable Blessings’ or ‘biodegradable prayer flags’.

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
Activist: Ang Dolma Sherpa
12 April 2024
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Getting Full (Super)Market Value
A trip to the local grocery store in a new country can be an eye-opening (and eye-popping) experience.

Getting Full (Super)Market Value

Though I do love to browse through a local outdoor market with all its sensory enjoyments, one of my favourite things in a new destination is a visit to the supermarket. Strolling through miles of fluorescent-lit aisles as a travel activity may seem tedious to some, but for me they’re the most fascinating microcosms of a place and its people.

Grocery stores not only show us how people shop but also give an indication of so many other things. A sense of abundance or scarcity; an idea of whether there’s freedom of choice or a lack thereof. They illustrate a culture’s relationship to its food; show how eating it or cooking it is woven into the day-to-day fabric of existence; and highlight how it’s produced, procured and prepared.

Meanwhile, the interiors of supermarkets the world over tell us the story of what’s going on outside their doors. What’s on (or missing from) the shelves can reflect everything from a booming economy to tough financial times and from seasonal bounty to periods of flooding or drought. At the same time, we can see the effects of less localised factors that still have an impact on the neighbourhood and its inhabitants, like rising energy costs or global supply chain issues.

Getting Full Market Value

Supermarkets may now be the norm for many shoppers, but historically the earliest food retailers were peddlers who carted their goods through the streets. In time, this commerce moved into shops — sometimes as a general store but frequently specialised for a specific provision, like the butcher, baker, or greengrocer — where customers indicated their choice and a clerk behind a counter plucked it from showcases or shelves to make up their order. While the interaction was sociable, the time-consuming process of a big shop could take up the best part of a day.

But beginning in the early 20th century, this rather leisurely style of service began a transformation into premises with dedicated areas for all the different categories of foodstuffs under one roof, where much of the physical separation between consumer and product disappeared. Shops got bigger and shopping got faster as the self-service markets that we know today gained global prominence.

A bit like shoppers in the mid-1900s must have felt on their first forays into the brave new world of supermarkets, my first visit to the grocery store in a new place is both excruciating and exhilarating. Excruciating in how many hours I could spend admiring what’s on display; exhilarating as I delve into enigmatic refrigerated cabinets and wonder what’s behind puzzling packaging. That said, tools like Google Translate can make this much easier, for those who don’t fancy being completely in the dark about their mystery purchases. I, however, like a surprise more often than not.

In any case, whether I’m prepping for a picnic in a nearby park or stocking the refrigerator in our accommodation, it’s best for me to make these maiden voyages into the food unknown on my own… anyone with me will just be exhausted by the time we reach the tills.

Speaking of the tills, that brings up another great thing about supermarkets: even if I’ve only just arrived in town, they’re an instant way to engage with people. Whether it’s at the cash desk or elsewhere, I can use whatever bits of the native language I possess, even if at first that’s limited to hello/goodbye or please/thank you. The most basic encounters can provide a feeling of connection.

However before we get as far as the checkout, as we make our way through the store many things are revealed about local food and how it’s sold. Is it mass-produced, plastic-wrapped and pre-packed? Are all the products already individually weighed out and portioned, or is some of that done for us? Are meats, poultry and fish pre-butchered and ready to cook, or as we browse are we more likely to find something with feathers, scales or eyes gazing back?

We can also gain an appreciation for a place’s — and a retailer’s — priorities. Does sustainability seem to be high on the list, with reusable carrier bags and compostable sacks for fruit and vegetables front and centre? Do we note a culture of shoppers who all seem to bring their totes with them? Is there loads of unnecessary excess packaging? Are regional specialities with low food miles easy to find, and can we tell whether they’re sourced from ethical and responsible producers?

Wherever possible, I like to peruse the offerings of both big supermarkets and smaller independents — not only for the different selection, but for different experiences. And while spending your money in a large, potentially multi-national chain establishment is still ultimately good for the host community’s economy, your purchases can be that much more meaningful and have a greater impact at the non-chain local alternative.

No matter where I end up, this is also an excellent way to pick up some truly authentic souvenirs representing the taste of a destination. Whether it’s a colourful tin of sardines in Porto, Portugal, a delicate little package of Calisson d’Aix in Nice, France or a jug of the finest amber Canadian Maple Syrup, each is a delicious memory in portable form.

If we had any doubt about how our taste memories connect to where they’re made, as outlined in Science Daily, research has shown ‘a functional link between the brain region responsible for taste memory and the area responsible for encoding the time and place we experienced the taste’. These experiences are truly engraved upon us.

So while travel food experiences allow us to literally internalise other cultures, edible mementoes help us share our joy of culinary discoveries with the people back home, not to mention filling our kitchen larder. In feeding the local economy through the benefits of our purchases, we can also bring back these supermarket-sourced delights as a lasting reminder of the travel moments that nourish our souls.

Emily Cathcart

Resonate Team

From her base in Ireland, Emily Cathcart was delighted to join Resonate as a Content Manager and has been revelling in the opportunity to collaborate with writers worldwide ever since. Emily enjoys encouraging authors through the creation process and also helping non-writers to tell their tales — all with Resonate’s ethical principles in mind. When she isn’t busy commissioning or editing, she can be found, camera in hand, seeking out-of-the-way discoveries for her own site that’s literally All About Dublin. And when Emily’s not working on any/all of the above, she’s writing articles and photo essays as a freelance journalist for publications from boutique magazines to national newspapers.

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
Resonate Team: Emily Cathcart
4 April 2024
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