Mangapwani Coral Cave
Mangapwani (meaning 'Arab shore') lies on the coast, about 20km north of Zanzibar Town. The Coral Cave is a deep natural cavern in the coralline rock with a narrow entrance and a pool of fresh water at its lowest point. Water was probably collected from here by early inhabitants of this part of the island but at some time in the past vegetation grew across the entrance and the exact position of the cavern was forgotten.
Later, the area became the property of a wealthy Arab landowner called Hamed Salim el Hathy who had many slaves working on his plantations. During this time, the cavern was rediscovered by a young boy searching for a lost goat. Local people were able to use the water again, and Hamed Salim arranged for his slaves to collect the water regularly for his own use. It has been suggested by historians that the cave may have been used as a hiding place for slaves after the trade was officially abolished in 1873.
Most people come here on an organised tour, or by privately hired car or bike. Buses on Route 2 link Zanzibar Town and Mangapwani village, but services are not frequent. To reach the cavern from Zanzibar Town, take the main road through Bububu to Chuini, then fork left towards Bumbwini. After 6km, in Mangapwani village, fork left again and head westwards towards the coast (the Serena Restaurant and Watersports Centre, due to be the site of the new Serena Hotel, is also signposted this way). About 1km from the junction, a narrow dirt road leads off to the left (there's a small signpost). Follow this to reach the cavern. A flight of stone steps leads through the entrance down into the cave itself.
Mangapwani Slave Chamber
The Mangapwani Slave Chamber is a few kilometres further up the coast from the Coral Cave. Although sometimes called the Slave Cave, it is a square-shaped cell that has been cut out of the coralline rock, with a roof on top. It was originally built for storing slaves, and its construction is attributed to one Mohammed bin Nassor Al-Alwi, an important slave trader. Boats from the mainland would unload their human cargo on the nearby beach, and the slaves would be kept here before being taken to Zanzibar Town for resale, or to plantations on the island. It is thought that some time after 1873, when Sultan Barghash signed the Anglo–Zanzibari treaty which officially abolished the slave trade, the cave was used as a place to hide slaves, as an illicit trade continued for many years.
To reach the Slave Chamber from Zanzibar Town, follow the directions above to the Mangapwani Coral Cave. Instead of turning into the Coral Cave, continue on the dirt road for another 1km to reach the entrance to the Serena Restaurant and Watersports Centre. Just before you reach the Serena a small dirt track branches off to the right. Follow this for 1km through palm trees and bushes to reach the Slave Chamber. With care, you can reach the steps that lead down onto the chamber floor. Nearby a small path leads to a secluded beach, separated from the main Mangapwani Beach (described below) by some coral-rock outcrops.
Mangapwani Beach lies a few kilometres west of Mangapwani village. This is the planned site of a new Serena Hotel, but for now it's the location of the Serena Restaurant and Watersports Centre. You can come here for a slap-up seafood lunch (US$30 for three courses), or something less gargantuan like lobster or prawns for US$9, or a pasta dish for US$4. There's also a nice little bar beneath the trees. The beach is exceptionally beautiful at high tide, and a great place to swim or relax. For other activities, the 'watersports' tag is a bit optimistic, as there's only one boat for snorkelling etc (about US$10 per hour) and even that was out of order when we visited.
Transfers by boat and road are arranged by the Serena Hotel in Zanzibar Town (where you can also get more information), and by local tour companies.