Stone Town and the Park Hyatt Zanzibar

I booked our last two nights in Zanzibar at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar, a beautiful and historic former mansion set on the water and in the middle of Stone Town (also known as “Mji Mkongwe” which means “old town” in Swahili). Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar, which sits on the west coast of the island facing the direction of mainland Tanzania.

The architecture and layout of Stone Town reflects the island’s historic ties to Oman as well as a complex fusion of the many cultures that have influenced it over the centuries. Stone Town was the seat of the Sultans of Oman and Zanzibar. Zanzibar became a part of the holdings of the Sultan of Oman in 1698. Around 1840, a later sultan moved his capital from Muscat to Stone Town. In 1856, a struggle over succession divided territories into the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat and a separate Sultanate of Zanzibar which existed until 1964 when the sultan was overthrown in the Zanzibar Revolution.

Throughout its early history, Zanzibar was influenced by the slave trade and the spice trade. Europeans from the United Kingdom and Germany, in particular, as well as Arabs and East Africans from the mainland and South Asian traders left their mark on the island. These influences can be found in the island’s food and language as well as architecture.

As our Zanzitaxi driver navigated the winding streets of Stone Town, we admired the buildings and made note of places to visit. The Freddie Mercury Museum and his adjacent former home (now a hotel) caught our eye and we made sure to walk the three minutes back from the Park Hyatt to check it out.

The Park Hyatt Zanzibar itself is a building to explore and enjoy. It’s lovely but un-air-conditioned lobby reminded me of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. This old part of the hotel is beautiful and still houses some of the hotel’s best suites (all air-conditioned unlike the common areas), but we were staying in the newer adjoining air-conditioned building.

Older portions of the Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The new building apparently caused some concern, pre-construction, that it would risk Stone Town’s status as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Happily, the architecture blends wonderfully with its surroundings and any controversy seems to have disappeared. My Hyatt points put us in a large street-facing king room. The room was large and stylish, but when I mentioned a relatively minor issue with the room to Reception and asked for it to be dealt with, we were quickly moved to a waterfront room with balcony. Later, the manager sought us out in the dining room to apologize and to make sure we were happy. We were!

Our upgraded waterfront king room with balcony in the Park Hyatt Zanzibar
[Our original city-view room actually had a larger seating area, but the balcony
and waterfront view made the new room truly special.]

Staying at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar allowed us to experience Stone Town in a unique and immersive way. Located in the heart of Stone Town, we were an easy walk away from major sights, a short walk to: the Old Fort (free, but not a lot to see), Forodhani Gardens, the House of Wonders (closed and under repair after a major collapse in December 2020), the Freddie Mercury house and museum, and more.

Around Stone Town (from top left, row by row): Forodhani Gardens, Old Fort walls and passage into old town, “Painters’ Coridoor,” old town street with Freddie Mercury House and Museum to the left, the Old Dispensary, Cape Town Fish Market

We enjoyed a brief, lazy time in and near the Park Hyatt and I don’t claim to be an authority on Stone Town. I did my research, but had no real must-sees there. Boat rides out to Prison Island did not appeal. We’d seen tortoises in the Galápagos, prison ruins didn’t intrigue me, and I really didn’t want to find myself stuck on a small touristy island in the heat and at the mercy of someone else (and marine conditions) to get back to the main island and away from omnipresent beach vendors. With our time in Stone Town limited, I preferred to take advantage of the Park Hyatt, explore the old town surrounding the hotel, and relax. Given the high heat and humidity, we limited our walks around Stone Town in both time and time of day, saw all we cared to, and enjoyed ourselves.

But just exploring the Park Hyatt Zanzibar offered a glimpse of old and new Stone Town. Aside from the lovely building and its courtyards (including one with an artist working on the latest in a collection of canvases near a towering 200-year-old Muyuni mango tree), the Park Hyatt Zanzibar sits on a strip of beach frequented by locals and overlooking clusters of tour boats and the passing of ferries between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania. We found people- and boat-watching from the hotel terrace and balconies or its pretty little zero-horizon pool endlessly entertaining.

Practical info:

I deliberately chose to end our stay in Zanzibar in Stone Town so that we would be near the airport. I read too many stories of random traffic problems causing hours-long delays when people drove to the airport from other parts of the island. I can’t verify that and we had no issues the day we drove from Nungwi to Stone Town, but I was happy not to have that worry nagging in the back of my mind.

We used Hyatt credit card annual free night certificates plus a point top-up to book a king bed room at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar. This included an impressive breakfast buffet that featured sparkling wine on our last morning (due perhaps to a temporary move that morning due to renovations from the usual dining area).

A short walk from the Park Hyatt, we enjoyed a casual sunset dinner one night at 6° South Zanzibar Grill & Wine Bar.

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