Islands near Stonetown - Zanzibar


Background Information

Destination Info

For most of the islands near Stone Town it is easy to find a boat pilot. Many pilots can be found lingering around the Big Tree down by the harhour. Prices vary depending on the island and the number of people in the boat. Obviously, the more passengers on board the lower the cost per person. Tour agencies can also arrange boat trips as wells as most of the better hotels in town.
Prison Island (Changuu) is the most popular island for people seeking an island excursion from Stone Town. It is a short boat ride (about 10 minutes) and the snorkeling is excellent. There's a small beach that can get quite crowded at high tide but there are other things to do. There's a small trail that circles the island and goes past ruins. Look for the old prison and watch out for giant tortoises and peacocks in the ruins' courtyard. You'll also pass ruins of an old laundry center, a natural lagoon that can be quite beautiful if the tide is right, and the old quarantine housing. A wealthy slave owner who sent unruly slaves there for discipline first owned the island. After the abolition of slavery the island was inhabited by a British General and was later used as a quarantine station. There was a prison built on the island after the General had left but it was never used for its intended purpose, instead housing quarantined visitors to Zanzibar. There's a restaurant in the large house (formerly the General's) and there is a smaller building that serves as a guesthouse. There's a small fee to go on the island, and mask, fins and snorkel are available for rent in the same office. The snorkeling is surely worth the trip. One of the island's main attractions are the large land tortoises that roam around the big house. They aren't dangerous but could take your hand off at the wrist in one bite so don't aggravate them. Peacocks are also inhabitants of the island but sadly, some of them have had their long feathers plucked by uncaring people who won't look nearly so good in them.
Snake Island (Nyoka) doesn't have a beach so is not frequently visited. There are no known trails on this small island that is between Prison and Grave Islands.
Grave Island (Chapwani) is a long and thin island just to the north of Snake Island; it has graves on it primarily belonging to the British who suffered casualties while fighting against Arab slaving ships. There are other graves dating from the First World War. It's a short boat ride from town. There's a nice beach but the island is not great for swimming. The guesthouse and the restaurant on the island are closed so bring your own food and drinks.

map kenya
Bawe Island is south of Prison and has some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. About a 30-minute boat ride and slightly more expensive than the boat to Prison Island, this island is much less visited. In 1870 the island was used to anchor the first telegraph cables to Zanzibar linking it with Aden, South Africa and the Seychelles. There are no facilities on the island although a hotel has been in the making for some time. Bring your own food and drinks because you can't even buy water on Bawe. The snorkeling is excellent and so is the beach at all times of the tide. There's not much to do on the island but sit on the beach but there are some trees that provide shade allowing fair-skinned people to make a whole day of it.
Sandbar Island is an island only at low tide. It's also located south of Prison Island. It's a great place for snorkeling, for a picnic or for getting a sunburn (there's nothing but sand so bring your own shade in the form of hats or parasols). It's a popular destination when the moon is full because of the view of sunset and moonrise. Boats can be arranged near the Big Tree and they leave at about 6:00 p.m. and come back when you're ready. People bring their own food and drinks and build a fire in a pit. After the sun sets it's very dark on the island and you can't see much but once the moon comes up and loses its redness from the horizon it's like being under a natural floodlight. The city takes on a special appearance under the red moon and looks beautiful too. As the tide continues to go out, the island gets bigger and people walk along the sandbar appearing as if they're walking on water. If you're visiting Stone Town during the full moon and the tide is right – try to go to Sandbar Island for the moonrise. It's also good for day picnics, snorkeling and diving but keep in mind the lack of shade and equatorial sun.
Chumbe Island is Tanzania's first Marine National Park and it is also home to a Nature reserve that boasts an abundance of local birds and flora. It is also known as Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP). Along with establishing Chumbe Island as a conservation area, several practical steps have been taken to preserve it; there are permanent moorings for boats landing at Chumbe and this prevents the need to drop anchor and kill coral. Only authorized tour companies are allowed to moor at Chumbe in an attempt to keep irresponsible boaters from causing damage to the reef. (You will need to make special arrangements with a tour company to find a boat pilot who is permitted to moor at Chumbe.) Nature trails have been set up on the island as well as an educational facility (mostly for locals). There's a lighthouse on the island that is slated to be converted into an observation tower and there is an old mosque that was built in an Indian style and is unique to Tanzania. If you have time, try to visit Chumbe even though it is a little expensive. There's a nice restaurant on the island and the price of dinner includes boat transport. Keep in mind that Chumbe is a private island and only CHICOP approved boat pilots are allowed to moor there. Ask a tour company to arrange a trip or call direct.