Zanzibar Hotels

Prison Island Tour

Changuu Island was used as a penitentiary for rebel slaves by the sultans from the 1860s until the end of the slave trade. After which the British began building a prison on the island under the guidance of First Governor, Lloyd Matthews. This was completed in 1894. However, the ‘prison’ was only ever used as a quarantine centre for possible yellow-fever victims, and even then was hardly used as that. Don’t be deceived by the word ‘prison’ in the island’s English name, the significance of the island, like so many of Zanzibar’s cultural sites, has been made little of and the ‘prison that never was’ now houses a resort and restaurant.

The island is a popular day-trip destination from Stone Town. About 20 minutes from the city by traditional Dhow sailing boat, the island offers excellent snorkelling, a beautiful and quiet white sandy beach, giant turtle sanctuary and coral rag forest.

What to do on Prison Island

One can take the footpath through the woodland, spotting birds, bats, various butterflies and duiker antelope (so long as you tread quietly). The Aldabra Giant Tortoise sanctuary is a major tourist lure. The turtles are not indigenous. Many of those on the island today are descended from 4 that were presented to Lloyd Matthews by the governor of the Seychelles. They are magisterial creatures, weighing in at an average of 200 kg some are as old as 100 years. For TSh 1,000 you can feed them, but watch out for their snapping beaks.

Other marine life is also reasonably rich and Changuu provides good snorkelling. It is by no means the most extensive or varied snorkelling spot off the coast of Zanzibar, but being so close to Stone Town and so easily accessible makes it ideal for those who want to see ‘under the sea’ a little while on a city break.

The island’s restaurant, Matthews, is good and well-renowned. A meal and drinks will not be as cheap as at some spots on Zanzibar, but at around USD 20 a head is by no means extortionate. This is especially so considering the restaurant’s charming atmosphere and good sea view.

Getting to Prison Island

Numerous tour operators run trips to Changuu; see Excursions page for details. These will usually cost between USD 30 and USD 40 for a half day, including USD 6 island entry fee and snorkelling equipment. Full day trips may also be arranged for those who want more than round 2-3 hours on the island. The island has its own lodge for anyone wishing to stay overnight. If you wish to travel independently to the island you might talk to the boat-boys under the Big Tree on Mizingani Road. It should cost around USD 40 to hire boat and captain to the island and back plus USD 6 entry fee per person.

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