Rwanda and Ethiopia were incredible, but we packed a lot into those three weeks. Needless to say, Brian and I were really looking forward to our third country, one that guaranteed a week of relaxation, Tanzania, specifically, Zanzibar. Our flight from Addis to Dar Es Salaam was, you guessed it, far from easy, but I'll save you the details. We made it, and that's all you need to know for now!
Our good friends Brad and Semira gave us a great piece of advice before we left the States. They said to pre book a hotel for one night and arrange an airport pick up to keep you from the stress of trying to figure it all out when you land. You should check into the hotel and get the lay of the land before booking your more permanent stay. So far, we are loving that advice and have been sticking to it. We arrived really late into Dar Es Salaam and stayed one night at the Golden Tulip City Center, which was walking distance to the ferry port and had the hotel arrange our airport pickup. Easy as pie! Thanks Brad and Semira (and Sophia)! 😃
How to Take the Ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar
Before getting into the details of our time in Stone Town, here is our take on how to take the ferry.
We found a lot of research out there on what type of ferry ticket to buy and who and what to be cautious of. Here is our little bit of advice. No matter what, you are going to stick out (even as much as I tried to blend in with all my local fare 😃), so just kindly decline all the gestures and handouts you are bound to receive. Head straight to the Azam Marine Ferry Terminal and purchase your tickets for the fast ferry. As non-residents, booking the lowest fare ticket is the business class ticket, and it costs around thirty-five dollars for each leg, so seventy for a roundtrip.
If you are like us and have time to kill, make sure you arrive at least thirty minutes before (we arrived an hour before). If they try and tell you to check your bag, tell them it's a carry on and show them it's light (hopefully it is). When boarding the ferry, take a seat in the last row so you are closest to the exit when the ferry arrives either in Stone Town or Dar es Salaam. Make sure to walk outside to the front during the ride, it's beautiful. Don't forget to pack motion sickness meds if you tend to get seasick. If you plan on taking a cab to your hotel in Stone Town, make sure you leave the mass of crowds gathering at the exit, and watch your belongings. It's pretty chaotic. If you do decide to take a cab, find out from the hotel what the expected price is before, and ensure you pre-arrange your price. Remember, everything is negotiable, but you still want to be fair. The locals need to earn a living just like everyone else, even if they are trying to rip you off (which they are). Okay, that's it! Hope it helps! It wasn't nearly as hectic as we had prepared for but having all the extra info is always helpful!
Back to Dar!
We had a couple hours to kill before our 4:00pm ferry, so we took to the streets with all of our bags. It's not the easiest of tasks when you are dealing with uneven pavement and brick monsters every other step. I nearly ate it in the middle of a busy intersection, which really shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me. We needed a SIM card, since Google Fi wasn't working (most likely user error) and once again found ourselves in the middle of a mall. SIM card secured, we decided to take it easy and eat at the Grand Casino Cafe which is basically the Tanzanian version of our Cheesecake Factory. They had everything on the menu from Chinese food to baby back ribs, and it wasn't half bad. The best part was meeting a couple of expats, Sharif and Li, from the New York area who spent the rest of lunch giving us the insider tips on Dar Es Salaam and Tanzania. Sharif even has several contacts in France, so we exchanged emails and said our goodbyes as they wished us off for a safe journey to Zanzibar. Thanks again guys; it was so lovely meeting you!
We had booked two nights at the Stone Town Cafe. However, a couple weeks before arriving, the owner emailed saying they couldn't accommodate us, and she rebooked us at the more expensive Forodhani Park Hotel and graciously paid the difference. Works for us! The location was perfect. Walkable from the ferry terminal and adjacent to the famous Forodhani Gardens. Our room was beautiful. Top floor, king size bed, a beautiful tiled shower, and for an added bonus, right next to the roof top pool. Brian and I agreed it had a very 'Moroccan' feel to it. At least we think it did. We've never been, not yet, that is. 😉
Our ferry was delayed at the Stone Town port for two hours leaving us desperately anxious since we could see the island through the windows but were denied access due to who knows what. Everything in Africa causes a two hour delay. Everything. We finally made our way through all the touts, checked into our beautiful hotel, and walked over to the Forodhani Gardens. We took a stroll around the vendors before choosing the winners (which actually turned out to be the losers as they grossly overcharged us for a plate of food, and I had to argue with them for thirty minutes before they reluctantly refunded us the equivalent of $12 USD! He must not know about the budget!). The food has a lot of Indian influence with chicken tandoori and naan at every vendor. The strange thing was even though we were on the sea, no one offered any seafood. A stark contrast to when Brendan and Brit visited a couple years ago. Their pictures were overflowing with fresh octopus, squid, and other under the sea delicacies. We ate heaping plates full of various meats on sticks and the infamous Zanzibar pizzas. We even indulged in an ice cold coke (alcohol is hard to find as Zanzibar is predominately Muslim).
Thirsty for beer, Brian and I decided to explore the wandering streets of Stone Town. Even in the dark, the narrow, windy streets reminded me of that game we played as a child. You know the one with the marble in the square box with all the wooden paths and holes haunting your path to the finish line using two round knobs on either side to lean the platform this way and that? A wooden labyrinth transformed into a tiny town. We found one of the few restaurants serving alcohol and sat outside on the balcony watching as people nestled into their homes and the sun slipped away into the night. A couple Killi's later, we too stumbled back to our tranquil hotel and called it a night. A little buzzed on beer and excitement, we fell asleep happy and full ready to greet the next day.
As we walked out of the hotel, you could already hear the constant calls from the local vendors, "Sister! Come look! Sister, looking is free. I have low price for you!" And you know what? It worked! I bought a pair of pants and my favorite local dress to date! All for under $15. A bargain if you ask me, a pain if you ask Brian. Walking through Stone Town is like taking a magic carpet ride, dipping and twirling around every corner. The sites and smells are captivating. We loved it. I half expected to see Aladdin and Abu every time I turned the corner. I could have spent hours getting lost just following my ears and nose all day and night. Whether you find yourself discovering your own path through the spice market or just sitting by the waterside, it's a place to really let it all soak in.
Stone Town is packed with history as well. As the birth place of Freddie Mercury and a major port for the slave trade, there are countless excursions any tourist could happily enjoy. We considered heading over to Prison Island but in the end decided to keep finding our own adventures through the streets. If you find yourself in Stone Town, a splurge we definitely recommend is having lunch, or a sundowner, at The Tea House restaurant on the top floor of the Emerson on Hurumzi hotel. Beautifully situated on the roof deck with colorful cushions laid out for seats, the atmosphere and food is unbeatable. The scenery was enough to keep me there, but I was hooked when they came by table side to wash our hands in warm rose water. I could get used to this.
One beer turned into four and we found ourselves back at the Forodhani Gardens for dinner night two, our liquid courage aiding us in our Swahili (the best language) and being more prepared as to not get ripped off with the price. The sun was setting, painting colors we don't even have names for in the sky. For every, "sister I have good prices. Original Zanzibar pizza just for you," you also heard a roll of splashes from all the young locals ending their day jumping into the Indian ocean. It was such a fun and exciting way to end our short stay here.. Stone Town may be a tiny part of Zanzibar, but boy did it leave a giant impression in our hearts.
Tomorrow we head out to Matemwe Beach, the north east side of the island, for a week of sun, seafood, and relaxation. Yes please!! 😉