23 Fun facts about Zanzibar you probably didn’t know


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Here is a fun fact about Zanzibar
… it’s not an island.

Zanzibar is an archipelago.

Zanzibar archipelago consists of two larger islands and many small ones. Two larger islands are Unguja and Pemba. Pemba is a smaller island, and Unguja is the island where you will find the capital Zanzibar City, and UNESCO World Heritage Site Stone Town.

Besides this, there are so many other Zanzibar fun facts and things you may not have known about Zanzibar in this article.

⁉️ If you have been wondering “Which interesting fact about Zanzibar surprised Anja the most?”, you will find the answer hidden in the blog.

anja on Adventure

In the minds of most people, Zanzibar is usually seen as a postcard-perfect beach destination on the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. However, the majority of people don’t know the facts about Zanzibar, its culture, and its people.

This island archipelago is packed with rich culture, world-class food, incredible heritage and natural beauty. There are so many Zanzibar facts that will show you why this is a fantastic place for your next adventure and that there is something for everyone.

Below are 25 Zanzibar interesting facts – a blue travel destination that I definitely recommend for a relaxed holiday or honeymoon in the Indian Ocean.


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1. List of best Fun Facts about Zanzibar

23. Zanzibar got its name from Persian and/or Arabic language

The origin of the name Zanzibar is believed to have Persian or Arabic language roots.

Some believe, that the word Zanzibar comes from Persian words ‘zang’ (black) and ‘bar’ (coast, land, country), referring to the “dark soils of the islands“. Others believe the Zanzibar name has an Arabic origin, with ‘Zinj el Barr’ meaning “land of the blacks” or “coast of black“.


22. Zanzibar’s nickname is the “Spice Islands”

Islands in the Zanzibar archipelago were once an important spice trading hub.

The most important role in spice trade history was given to cloves, followed by other spices like cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg. Production of spices is still one of the main industries Zanzibar is known for.


21. Stone Town is not the capital of Zanzibar

Contrary to popular belief, UNESCO World Heritage Site Stone Town, with its labyrinth streets and food markets, is not the capital of Zanzibar. Title of Zanzibar’s capital city belongs to Zanzibar City, with Stone Town being the historic center.

Stone Town is the cultural heart of the archipelago, known for its famous doors and significant landmarks. There are many things to do in Stone Town that show a rich blend of African, Arab, Persian, Indian, and European influences.

Streets of Stone Town
On the streets of Stone Town | Anja On Adventure


20. Main practiced religion in Zanzibar is Islam

Almost 99% of Zanzibar’s population is Muslim and practices Islam.

Mainland Tanzania is predominately Christian. There is a tiny fraction of the Christian population in Zanzibar, practicing their religion in the cathedral in Stone Town.

Mosques can be found all around Zanzibar (Unguja) island, and the oldest one, 900-year-old Shirazis Mosque in Kizimkazi, is one of the oldest Islamic buildings in East Africa.


19. Swahili is the official language of Zanzibar

Swahili or KiSwahili is, besides English, one of the official languages spoken in Zanzibar.

Many locals also speak dialect Kiunguja and Arabic language. In towns with bigger resorts, like Nungwi and Kendwa, you can also hear locals speak in French and Italian.


18. Swahili got its name from the Arabic language

The name Swahili comes from the Arabic word ‘sawāḥilī’ and it translates as “coast, of the coast or shore“.

Swahili is a language spoken in East Africa. It is the official language in Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. As a second language is Swahili used in Rwanda and Burundi.


17. The Giant Aldabra Tortoises on Prison Island were a gift

Endemic to Seychelles, the Giant Aldabra Tortoises found on Prison Island have a unique origin story – they were a generous gift. Four tortoises were presented as a gift to Zanzibar from the British governor of Seychelles in 1919.

They felt at home and had good breeding conditions on Changuu Island. Today there are around 100 tortoises of different ages and sizes living on the Prison Island tortoise sanctuary.

Aldabra tortoise on Prison island in Zanzibar
Giant Aldabra Tortoises on Prison Island | Anja On Adventure


16. Prison Island was never a prison

Changuu Island or Prison Island was constructed by the British as a prison. It was originally intended to be one, yet it never housed any prisoners.

Complex on the Changuu Island was used as the main East Africa’s quarantine station, for all the travelers who wanted to visit the island. They had to stay on Prison Island from one to two weeks, to get clear of cholera, yellow fever, and bubonic plague symptoms.

Now is used as a tortoise sanctuary.


15. Freddie Mercury from Queen was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury, was born in Stone Town Zanzibar on 5 September 1946.

He spent his childhood in Zanzibar and India as Farrokh Bulsara. His family moved to London, England in 1964. Later he became one of the most famous singers and songwriters of all time.

Thanks to the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, Zanzibar and Stone Town are getting more popular among the Queen enthusiasts. In the center of Stone Town, you can visit Freddie Mercury’s house, now transformed into a museum.

Freddie Mercury museum Zanzibar | Anja On Adventure


14. Stone Town was a capital of Oman

Positioned at the crossroads of Indian Ocean trade routes, Zanzibar, and particularly Stone Town, played a pivotal role in the spice trade. The strategic location and flourishing economy of the islands made the Sultan of Oman, Said Bin Sultan, move the capital of the country.

In 1840 capital of Oman was moved from Muscat to Stone Town. This encouraged the development of clove plantations and established a ruling Arab elite.

Stone Town was the capital of Oman until 1856 when Zanzibar and Oman were divided into two separate sultanates, Zanzibar Sultanate and Sultanate of Oman.


13. Zanzibar flag is from the 21st century

The current flag of Zanzibar was adopted on 9 January 2005. It has three horizontal stripes of green, black, and blue and the Tanzanian national flag at the top left.

The top blue stripe represents the Indian Ocean, while the black stripe represents the Swahili people and their African heritage. The green stripe at the bottom symbolizes the rich natural resources of the islands.

Prior to the current flag, Zanzibar had 6 flags. For some time it shared Tanzania’s flag, before that it was all red, red with green circle and cloves, once there was a flag with black, blue, and yellow stripes and the flag of the Sultanate of Oman.

Swahili words | Anja On Adventure


12. Zanzibar is part of Tanzania but has its own president

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region in Tanzania. The union between the independent Sultanate of Zanzibar and mainland Tanganyika happened in 1964 when they formed the United Republic of Tanzania.

Inside the union, Zanzibar has its own government, president, administration, and legislature. People of Zanzibar are Tanzanian nationals and you can visit Zanzibar and go on a safari in Tanzania mainland with the same visa.


11. Tanzania and Zanzibar have a plastic bag ban

Since 2019, both Tanzania and Zanzibar have implemented a ban on plastic bags to address environmental concerns.

The plastic bag ban aims to fight against pollution, preserve ecosystems, and protect wildlife by reducing the use of non-biodegradable materials.

Ban of plastic bags is in place for manufacturing, bringing in, selling, and using plastic bags, followed by strict penalties for violations. So you will not get your souvenir in a plastic bag. Exceptions include certain types of plastic bags, such as those for medical waste or in the construction industry. Zip-lock bags used in airports are also allowed.

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Zanzibar cost of travel


10. Stone Town in Zanzibar was center of East African slave trade

Zanzibar was the center of the Arab slave trade in the 19th century. This was the largest and one of the last operating slave markets in East Africa and in the world. It was closed down by the British in 1873.

More than 50.000 slaves were brought to Stone Town, sold, and shipped to Africa and overseas. At the height of the Arab slave trade around 15,000 slaves were exported annually from Stone Town in Zanzibar.

You can pay your tribute to the victims at the Christ Church Cathedral, an Anglican church, built directly on the site of the former slave market. There is a Slave Market Memorial that honors more than 50.000 slaves sold, or you can visit the slave chambers.

⁉️ “Which interesting fact about Zanzibar surprised Anja the most?” The ones under the number 1, 4, 10 and 11.

slave monument in stone town
Slave Market Memorial in Stone Town | Anja On Adventure


9. There is a Jozani Forest in the heart of the Unguja island

Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park or shorter Jozani Forest is the only national park in Zanzibar. Inside Jozani Forest you can find a diverse array of flora and fauna.

There are canopy-height trees, groundwater forest, coastal forest, grassland, and three different types of mangroves. It is home to the endemic Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey, an endangered primate species, Sykes’ monkeys, a small to medium-sized Ader’s duiker brown antelope, and a variety of bird species.


8. Red Colobus Monkey is endemic to the Zanzibar archipelago

Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey (Piliocolobus kirkii) or Kirk’s red colobus is endangered. There are only around 2000 to 2500 left.

Red Colobus monkeys are endemic to the islands in the Zanzibar archipelago, and the majority live in the Jozani Forest.

Red Colubus name comes from their unique appearance with vibrant red fur and a contrasting black face. They have an immense ecological importance as seed dispersers in the coastal forests.

red colobus monkey
Red Colobus Monkey (Piliocolobus kirkii) | Anja On Adventure


7. Zanzibar cuisine is a mix of cultures and flavors

Zanzibar is known for its delicious food created as a fusion of diverse cultures and flavors, reflecting the island’s rich history as a trading island and cultural exchange. Swahili cuisine is a mix of influences from Arabia, Persia, India, and Europe combined with the local Swahili traditions.

There is a tropical fruit, a mixed rice dish originating from Asia called biryani, curries from India, spice-infused pilau rice, flavorful seafood, and Zanzibar pizza.


6. Seaweed is the third largest source of income

Exporting seaweed is the third largest source of income for the island, and the majority of the workers are women. Two main types of red seaweed are Kappaphycus alvarezii (cotonii) and Eucheuma denticulatum (spinosum).

In Jambiani and Paje, and other coastal areas, you can see seaweed farms at low tide. In the villages, you can also see seaweed getting dried on sheets.

Dried seaweed is sold and used to make carrageenan or agar thickening agents found in food (yogurt, ice cream, beer …), cosmetics (soap, toothpaste), and pharmaceutical products.

Seaweed farm at a low tide on Jambiani beach | Anja On Adventure


5. Uniquely crafted doors are the spotlight of Stone Town

Doors in Zanzibar’s Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, date back to the 17th century. There are approximately 550 original doors left that served as a decorative element and a status symbol. Doors are a legacy of the city’s history as a trade hub.

There are two distinct styles, Arabic and Indian, showcasing the fusion of cultures and architectural styles in Stone Town. Arabic doors, with detailed carvings, emphasize Islamic culture, while Indian doors, inspired by Mughal architecture, feature vibrant colors and brass spikes purely for aesthetic purposes.

Doors of Stone Town | Anja On Adventure


4. Shortest war ever recorded happened in Zanzibar

Zanzibar holds the record for hosting the shortest war in recorded history. The Anglo-Zanzibar War, on 27 August 1896 lasted 38 minutes.

The shortest war was triggered by a succession dispute between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate. British forces came out as victors after they bombed the Beit al Hukum Palace.


3. There are red bananas in Zanzibar

Red bananas are named after their red skin. Their flesh is yellow to orange color and have a sweet, creamy flavor. Red bananas are used for ice creams and milkshakes and are rich in nutrients, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and antioxidants.


2. Dhow boats are traditional sailing vessels seen all over Zanzibar

Dhow, pronounced as ‘dow’, was invented by Arabs or Indians. They are made from coconut, teak, or mango wood and have a triangular-shaped sail, first made from coconut or palm leaves and later from cotton.

Those traditional fishing and trading vessels between India, East Africa, and the Middle East using monsoon trade winds. They were used to carry spices, slaves, water, and other goods and also played a huge role in the exchange of ideas, religions, flavors, and skills. 

dhow boats in Zanzibar
Dhow boats in Zanzibar | Anja On Adventure


1. Zanzibar was among the first countries in Africa with color TV

Zanzibar was one of the first countries in Africa to introduce broadcasting in color television.

That was in 1974. On the other hand, mainland Tanzania was for years, the largest country in the world without television. Up until 1994 president, Julius Nyerere, opposed the TV in the country.


2. Final thoughts on Fun Facts about Zanzibar

What is the most interesting fact about Zanzibar you found out today?

After learning about all the amazing facts about Zanzibar, you can be convinced that this East African archipelago, is much more than your typical beach escape. It’s infused with spice smells, vibrant markets, Swahili speaking locals, unique flora and fauna, and interesting history.

Zanzibar offers something for everyone.

History-rich destination where different cultures and spices created a unique architecture, cuisine, and culture that you can see, smell and taste! With spice aromas all around the island, beautiful colors in Jambiani and Nungwi, and upbeat music. A perfect destination with pristine beaches to combine it with a safari in mainland Tanzania.

Start planning your perfect Zanzibar itinerary and craft a Zanzibar budget to envision, experience, and escape to Spice Island and historic Stone Town.

Explore fun facts about Zanzibar and see for yourself what is Zanzibar known for.

Karibu Sana,
Anja


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🗨 FAQ

What are 10 fun facts about Zanzibar?

1. Zanzibar was among the first countries in Africa with a color TV.
2. The shortest war ever recorded happened in Zanzibar.
3. There are red bananas in Zanzibar.
4. Uniquely crafted doors are the spotlight of Stone Town.
5. Red Colobus Monkey is endemic to the Zanzibar archipelago.
6. Tanzania and Zanzibar have a plastic bag ban.
7. Seaweed is the third-largest source of income.
8. Swahili got its name from the Arabic language.
9. Stone Town is not the capital of Zanzibar.
10. Freddie Mercury, from Queen, was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Find more fun Zanzibar facts to know on Anja On Adventure travel blog.


What spices is Zanzibar famous for?

Zanzibar, also known as “Spice Island” is famous for cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. These aromatic spices define the island’s rich history and cultural identity.

Find more interesting facts about Zanzibar on Anja On Adventure travel blog.


Is Zanzibar a country?

No, Zanzibar is not a country. Zanzibar archipelago is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, with it’s own president,  government, laws and flag. 

Find more things you may not have known about Zanzibar on Anja On Adventure travel blog.


Who is Zanzibar famous person?

Freddie Mercury, the legendary Queen singer and songwriter, is one of Zanzibar’s most famous persons. Born as Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar, he remains an iconic figure in the music world.

Find more fun facts about Stone Town, Zanzibar on Anja On Adventure travel blog.


What is Zanzibar famous for?

Zanzibar is famous for its pristine white-sand beaches, rich spice trade history, diverse marine life, intricate Stone Town doors, slave trade, as the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, and the island’s unique blend of cultures and flavors.

Find more interesting things about Zanzibar and travel tips on Anja On Adventure travel blog.


About Anja On Adventure

anja on Adventure

Anja On Adventure is a travel blog, a collection of insider tips and information on destinations, that I visited as a solo female traveler, tour guide, teacher, yacht stewardess, and Survivor challenge tester.

Anja, is a thirty-something adventure-seeking, sun chasing, beach hopping, gin-loving, tropics enthusiast with a creative mind and sarcastic spirit, who loves coconut and mango but doesn’t like chocolate and sweets. I am passionate about all things travel, maps, and puzzles. Click here to learn more About me.

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