Zambia to Zanzibar — Stone Town

Zanzibar Tanzania.
Zanzibar Tanzania.

Stone Town in Zanzibar, The Night Market and Gardens

By Jemima Price

Forodhani Gardens night market
Forodhani Gardens night market

Stone Town is a photographer’s dream, all narrow alleyways, crumbling Arabian-inspired buildings, ornate doorways hinting at the secrets that lie within their rooms, children running through the streets playing and shouting, women in headscarves scurrying along in the shadows, men in their skullcaps walking to one of the numerous mosques to pray.

We went to the Forodhani Gardens night market on our first night for dinner where stall after stall sells masses of fresh fish and seafood and the whole thing is lit by candles and gas lamps.

While Tanzania seethes with tourists and sellers can become pretty animated and insistent that you buy their wares, there is something still exotically authentic about it.

You could spend hours just gazing at the rows of fiery red crabs, lobster meat in sticks and the whole squid glistening in the candle flames. Once you have bought your food you perch on benches with paper plates on your lap and eat with your fingers while listening to the water lapping against the wall of the harbor.

The following day we hired a car and set off to explore the island.

Stunning Countryside

Once we left the grotty outskirts of Stone Town and reached the countryside it was simply stunning. Between the palm trees that line the road, we caught glimpses of the azure sea winking at us and teasing us as we drove along the pot-holed road.

We stopped at a tiny hut in the middle of nowhere to buy the ubiquitous Coca-Cola – it really does get everywhere. The family of the stall-owner sat there quietly amongst the palm trees staring at us mutely like we were exotic animals.

We finally reached our destination, far up on the north-east side of the island — Kendwa Rocks. And it really did! Turning off the dusty, unremarkable main road and heading towards the coast along a very rutted and rocky lane, we decided to have a quick look at the small resort area of Kendwa before checking out other places further up the coast.

Massai warriors on the beach with sunglasses and cellphones
Massai warriors on the beach with sunglasses and cellphones

However, within about four minutes of arriving at Kendwa Rocks, the most well-known of the resorts along this little stretch, and walking down along winding paths through thatched huts and onto an expanse of blinding white sand, all three boys had their tops off and I was in a hammock. We realized we weren’t going anywhere!

With bandas (thatched reed huts) right on the powdery beach, a breezy beach bar and restaurant among the casuarina trees with chairs made from sailing boats, ceilings made from dhow sails, hammocks slung everywhere, and one of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen, we knew this was the place.

It wasn’t long before we were settled on the beach with a cider in our hands, after a refreshing dip in the crystal clear sea, watching the arresting sight of scarlet-robed Masai warriors loping languorously up and down the beach selling jewelry. It was strange to see them draped in their traditional, fiery-red outfits, but wearing sunglasses and carrying mobile phones.

Swinging in Hammocks

The next couple of days were spent in much the same vein; nights were spent swinging in the hammocks watching the stars and listening to locals play bongos around bonfires on the sand. The only downside we found is that, although you feel like you are traveling in a country where tourism has not been long established, and you would expect prices to be low, they are often pretty hefty so you often get frustrated when at a bar or restaurant and your meal is disappointing or drinks are expensive. But then you get back onto that beach and it all seems to melt away.

After a few days, we decided to head east. It was another spectacular sunny drive through the green heart of the island on dirt roads that weaved through groves of palm trees, and reed-hut villages, passing girls bedecked in white headscarves on their way to school.

Children in Jambiani
Children in Jambiani

We stopped in a small market square in a little village and the car was immediately surrounded by local people, trying to sell us things, practice their English or simply gaze at us. A very elderly, toothless old woman stared pointedly at a mango I had on the car seat until I gave it to her. She walked away with a gummy grin on her leathery face.

We passed through the shady Jozani Forest where we saw the extremely rare Red Colobus monkey that only exists on Zanzibar. It gazed down at our car, its tawny fur shocking against the foliage.

We finally got to the East Coast and I was excited to see palm trees along the coastline because in the North, the only thing the beaches didn’t have were palms, which for me is a vital ingredient for a perfect beach!

We found our way into the dusty streets of the village of Jambiani where all the crumbling houses were built from white coral, and stumbled onto the startlingly white sand of the beach. It was more windswept and wild than the north coast and even more beautiful.

We stood there for ages staring at the sight and playing with local children. They ran up to us, intrigued, yet wary at first, the little girls in candy-colored frilly dresses, the little boys clutching old bike tires as toys. The oldest girl watched over a baby on a blanket who cried every time we went near it.

Women gathering seaweed in Jambiani
Women gathering seaweed in Jambiani

Tourism has barely touched the East coast, in comparison with the North and West of the island. We chose to stay in a quiet pretty guesthouse right on the beach – its very garden was the sand.

Time had been taken to line the paths up to the stone chalets with pebbles from the beach, and shell mobiles hung from the branches of trees over the wooden tables placed in the sand for guests to dine on or have a beer.

Empty Guesthouses

There are a handful of guesthouses there, most of them surprisingly empty. Tourists tend to stay in big resorts along the coast as part of package holiday deals.

The sea was surprisingly warm because it is shallow for miles. This is the only negative thing about this beach and may account for the lack of tourists – the shallowness of the sea means you can never cool off properly, nor have a proper swim, unless you pick your way across the rocky sand and the hundreds of sea urchins that dot the beach out to the reef. We also shared the shallow water with fishing dhows and women in multi-colored scarves and sarongs collecting seaweed.

That evening, we went to the only beach bar, a round thatched hut in the sand, and were almost the only customers. I imagine if we came back in three years this place will be one of many, and will probably be the most popular because it was the pioneer. This is obviously the plan for the owners; they even had a DJ for the five customers.

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