"Dhow trip to Prison and Bawe Islands" Top 5 Page for this destination Zanzibar Island Things to Do Tip by toonsarah

Zanzibar Island Things to Do: 153 reviews and 222 photos

  Landing on Prison Island
by toonsarah
  • Landing on Prison Island - Zanzibar Island
      Landing on Prison Island
    by toonsarah
  • Giant tortoise - Zanzibar Island
      Giant tortoise
    by toonsarah
  • Chris feeding the tortoises - Zanzibar Island
      Chris feeding the tortoises
    by toonsarah
  • Approaching Bawe Island (by Chris) - Zanzibar Island
      Approaching Bawe Island (by Chris)
    by toonsarah
  • On Bawe Island - Zanzibar Island
      On Bawe Island
    by toonsarah

We took a trip by dhow to visit two of the islands that lie off the coast of Zanzibar near Stone Town – Prison Island and Bawe Island. The first of these, also known as Chumbe Island, is famous for the giant tortoises that live there, some of whom are well over 100 years old. They were originally brought to the island from the Seychelles as part of a conservation effort to extend the range of these giant reptiles. We visited the tortoises in their enclosure in the grounds of the old prison, and enjoyed feeding them. We also spent some time on the lovely white sand beach, strolling by the sea and taking photos.

Prison Island was formerly used by Arab slave merchants as a place of detention for slaves. It was bought by General Mathews and the jail built in 1893 as a central prison for Zanzibar, though never used as such, but instead became a quarantine island. The jail has apparently been recently fully restored but was still in ramshackle ruins when we visited and closed to the public.

From Prison Island we set sail again, and after a short stop for some snorkelling (not especially good as visibility was poor in the clouded water) we landed again, this time on tiny Bawe Island. It seems from my research that this island is now home to an exclusive resort, but we saw no signs of this and it may not have been built at the time of our visit ten years ago. Instead we had the pretty white beach almost to ourselves. For some reason we were the only people on the tour that day, which was also as it happens my birthday, and we had a wonderful lunch of fresh barbecued fish and squid, prepared for us by the dhow’s crew and followed by refreshing papaya. We swam in the sea after lunch but were deterred by the sight of quite a few sea urchins, so as we didn’t have any swim sandals we retreated up the beach where we sat enjoying the view and the antics of the local crab population. Our dhow then returned us to Stone Town by late afternoon.

Directions: There are several companies offering similar tours.,If you want to visit just one of the islands you can negotiate a fare with any of the boatmen on the water-front in Stone Town – but you’ll need to pay an additional $4 to land on Prison Island

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Apr 17, 2009
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