Prison Island

After spending a great few days in the Serengeti we spent one night camping on the beach in Dar Es Salaam. We woke up early in the morning to catch a ferry to the city center, from there we would catch the passenger ferry over to Zanzibar. The first ferry only took about ten minutes and cost about $0.20, therefore it was packed with locals going to work or to sell their products. We didn’t know what to expect from the fast passenger ferry to Zanzibar, so we were pleasantly surprised when we saw the port and finally the ferry, the Kilimanjaro V. It looked brand new and had super comfortable seats, AC and they even showed a movie (without sound, though). Non locals paid $30 for the ride, however it was money well spent for the quality of the trip.

Zanzibar Ferry
The ferry was the nicest we had ever been on. With low expectations after the previous ferry we were on, we were pleasantly surprised.

The ferry ride went by super fast, and after 1.5 hours we arrived at Stonetown in Zanzibar. We waved goodbye to our group, got a stamp in our passport and left the ferry terminal. We didn’t really now how to get to our hotel in Nungwi, in the north of Zanzibar, only that we had to take a local bus with the number 116. Leaving the ferry terminal we were immediately surrounded by locals, trying to sell us hotel rooms and transportation. We were tempted to just take a taxi for a while but then decided to try to make it the way we planned, so we asked a local woman where we could find the Dala Dala stop, which is what they call their public buses. Luckily the woman was happy to help and the station seemed to be only a short walk away. After five minutes we reached a market, where we saw different Dala Dalas and after asking around a bit, we found the one we needed. We had read before, that the Dala Dala should only cost about one dollar each, but when we tried to get in they charged us almost $3. Shortly after paying we saw the guy handing about $2 to the driver and keeping the rest to himself. For the next time we would know better and just pay the driver directly!

We didn’t know how long the drive up to Nungwi would take, so we were pleasantly surprised when we got there in a little over an hour. We jumped off at the crossroad leading to our hotel, the Highland Bungalows. The hotel was really nice. We were greeted by a friendly German lady who built the place together with her Tanzanian husband. Our bungalow was very nice and clean. The most exciting part was to be able to have a real bed again, after a few long weeks of camping. The prices for food and drinks were phenomenal at the hotel, paying $2 to $4 for just about an dish.

In the afternoon we walked for about 10 minutes down to the beach where we started to look around for a scuba dive shop to go diving with the next day. There were plenty of dive shops, but all seemed to have more or less the same price, which was very high. We decided to go with a shop called Spanish Dancers, which was situated right at the beach and would take us to Mnemba Island the next day for $140 each. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, the sand was super fine and almost white and the water had an amazing turquoise color. The only drawback was the large amount of trash on the beach and in the water and some local beach boys trying to sell us their art or boat rides, but most of them were quick to leave us alone after saying no.

The white sand beaches were beautiful with turquoise water just off the shore.

The next morning we walked down to the beach to the dive school, and after a short wait climbed into their speed boat which would take us to Mnemba in half an hour. We made sure our equipment was fine and then hopped into the sea to do our first dive. The visibility was great and the reef was in a very good condition. We saw big schools of fish hanging out and even got to see two white tip reef sharks, one about 5 meters below us and a second small one hiding in a little cave. After the dive we got some fruit and snacks on the boat and then headed down again for our second dive. We saw more beautiful corals and a big octopus.

Zanzibar Scuba
Our dive instructor showed us a species of fish that could be called to follow humans by smacking his fist into his hand. They followed over asnd over as he showed them where food was hiding in the coral.

We spent the rest of the day at the beach and swimming and went to have dinner at the beach in the evening, which was a little more expensive than our hotel but still very reasonable. The next morning we headed down to the beach and walked for about 30 minutes north to the Mnarani turtle sanctuary. The sanctuary was established in 1993, and they have green turtles and hawk billed turtles living there in a natural lagoon right next to the beach. They have rescued over 200 sea turtles from fishing nets and bring in hatchlings as well. When the turtles get big enough they get released back into the wild. We paid $5 each and got some seaweed to feed the turtles with.

I’m feeding a turtle that’s in the lagoon at the turtle sanctuary.

We spend about an hour at the sanctuary, had a short swim and then walked back along the beach. We had to hurry a bit, because the tide was coming in and makes it impossible to walk along some stretches of the beach. The northern part of Zanzibar is not as effected by the tides as the east, but there was still a huge visible difference between high and low tide.

Our third day on Zanzibar we decided to go see some other parts of the island, so we took a Dala Dala again – this time paying the right price – down to Stonetown. From there we would take a boat over to Prison Island, which is famous for its giant tortoises. We walked from the bus stop to the part of the beach where our map showed us the boats would take off just by the ferry terminal. As soon as we got close we were approached by a guy offering to take us out there and back for $18, so we jumped on his small boat and reached Prison Island about 20 minutes later.

Giant Tortoise
A giant tortoise on Prison Island.

The island is pretty small and has a hotel on it where they keep the tortoises. The island was supposed to be a prison during 1894 but after they built the prison it was never used and today is part of the hotel. To see the tortoises we paid another $4 each. The tortoises live in a separated area, which seemed big enough. They aren’t native to Zanzibar, but were a gift from the British governor of Seychelles back in 1919. Because they had a lot problems with theft of the turtles the government of Zanzibar created a protected site for them in 1996, where their population grew again.

Giant Tortoise
This giant tortoise was older than the two of us combined!

After walking  around for a bit and looking at the prison complex we went down to the beach again for a quick swim and snorkeling. The water was very clear and the sandy bottom was full of colorful starfish. In total we spent about an hour and a half on the island and then took the boat back to Stonetown. Before heading back to Nungwi on the Dala Dala we walked around in Stonetown for a bit and had some lunch. The town seemed nice, but wasn’t as great as I would have expected with it being an UNESCO World Heritage site.

A few of the many starfish just off the coast of Prison Island. There were green, blue, red, and white starfish all over.

We got back to Nungwi in the afternoon and went down to the beach for a final swim on our last day on the Zanzibar.

Zanzibar Sunset
I’m watching the sunset on the beach in Nungwi.

The next morning we got up early and took a Dala Dala again back to Stonetown, where we would meet up with the group and hop back on the fast ferry to Dar Es Salaam. From there we made our way back to the Mikadi Beach campsite, where we spent another afternoon and night before making our way through the rest of Tanzania, down to Malawi.

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