Shopping in Zanzibar Town
Zanzibar Town is something of an Aladdin's Cave for visiting shoppers, with a vast array of shops, large and small, catering for the ever-growing tourist influx. Even die-hard deal-hunters will be hard pushed to visit them all, and there are bound to be more by the time you visit. A selection of favourites is listed here.
One of the best places to start any shopping trip is the Zanzibar gallery
on Kenyatta avenue. This shop sells an excellent range of carvings, paintings, jewellery, materials, maps, clothes, rugs, postcards, antiques and real pieces of art from all over Africa. You can also buy local spices, herbs, pickles and honey, and locally made oils such as pineapple bath oil or banana-scented bubble bath – all made naturally from Zanzibar fruit. It also has a very good selection of books (see opposite). The Zanzibar Gallery is run by local photographer and publisher Javed Jafferji; his own books (signed) are also for sale here, including some beautiful large-format photo books, plus illustrated diaries and address books featuring photos from Zanzibar and Tanzania.
Another good place on Kenyatta Road is Memories of Zanzibar
, opposite the post office. This shop sells everything from beaded flip-flops and silver bracelets to carpets and gourd-lamps, as well as a good selection of books about Zanzibar, and African music CDs.
There are many more shops on Kenyatta Road and along Gizenga Street, as well as its continuations Hurumzi Street and Changa Bazaar, all the way to the Spice Inn. As well as shops, these streets are lined with pavement traders offering carvings and paintings. Most of the shops and stalls stock contemporary carvings and older traditional statues and artefacts from mainland Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa: tinga-tinga paintings on canvas or wooden trays, assorted gold, silver and stone jewellery, packets of spices, and mobiles made from coconut shells in the shapes of dolphins, dhows or tropical fish. Some of the paintings and craftwork stocked in the souvenir and craft shops is bashed out and of very poor quality, but occasionally, if you search hard enough, you'll find real works of art which have been more carefully made. It's worth spending a bit more money (if indeed the stallholder charges more for better quality – some don't seem to) to get something that will still look good when you get it home, away from the glaring sunlight of Zanzibar which sometimes seems to cloud judgement!
Another place for good-quality crafts is Hurumzi Art & Craft Gallery
next to the Emerson & Green Hotel on Hurumzi Street. The same owner has another fine shop called Kibriti on Gizenga Street, just off Kenyatta Road, near the post office, selling arts and crafts and a good selection of antiques and curios.
Around Zanzibar Town there are also several shops selling antiques from Arabia and India, dating from Omani and British colonial times. Coast Antique Shop
on Gizenga Street has a particularly good selection of Zanzibar clocks. There are several more antique shops on the street between St Joseph's Cathedral and Soko Muhogo crossroads.
Other places to buy paintings and pieces of art include Paul's Gallery
at St Monica's Hostel near the Anglican Cathedral (where you can also buy hand-painted T-shirts) and the Tower Workshop
at the Old Fort, where the resident artists deliberately don't stock tinga-tinga stuff and concentrate on watercolours and some beautiful batik-like works 'painted' with different-coloured candle wax. In the main part of the Fort is another cluster of spice and craft shops, including Namaan Art Gallery
, which has tinga-tinga works, some watercolours and some some superb oil paintings.
Outside the Fort, in Forodhani Gardens
, are several more stalls selling carvings and jewellery – especially in the evening when nearby food stalls attract the crowds. Nearby, beside the House of Wonders, tinga-tinga painting salesmen hang their works on the railings, and you can also watch some of the artists (all men) working here. In the same area, local weavers (all women) make mats and baskets from grass and palm leaves. This area is also a good place to find local colourful fabrics and clothing. For a different medium, visit the Capital Art Studio
on Kenyatta Road, near the Dolphin Restaurant, which has a good selection of old photographic prints, most from the 1950s and 1960s, and a few earlier ones. (The shop itself seems unchanged since colonial times.) They also sell camera film and batteries, and offer a one-day developing service.
Local craftwork can also be found in the Orphanage Shop
, near the Fort. The orphanage is a large building on the main seafront road (Mizingani Road) with a tunnel passing right through the middle of it. The shop is on the side nearest the sea. Here, blind craft-workers weave a good range of baskets, rugs and other items.
At Sasik Shop
on Gizenga Street, you can buy very beautiful and intricate patchwork cushion-covers and wall-hangings, made on the spot by a local women's co-operative. Also on Gizenga Street, the tailor at Mnazi Boutique
can copy any shirt, skirt or trousers you like, from material you buy in the shop or elsewhere in town. Prices start at US$8, and go up to US$25 for a complicated dress. If you prefer traditional African clothing, consider a kanga or a kikoi (see box, above). On Kenyatta Road, the smart One Way
boutique also sells piles and piles of T-shirts embroidered with giraffes and elephants or emblazoned with Kenyan and Tanzanian slogans and logos. If you want a T-shirt, this is the place. If not, it's a bit limited.
For postcards you can't go wrong at Angi's Postcards & Maps
, on Mizingani Road, near the Big Tree; there's a truly massive selection here, all at good prices.