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Prison Island

Prison Island: Our most recommended tours and activities

Zanzibar: Prison Island Tour with Lunch on the Sandbank

1. Zanzibar: Prison Island Tour with Lunch on the Sandbank

Your Zanzibar adventure begins with a visit to Prison Island, purchased in 1893 by Lloyd Mathews, the British First Minister of Zanzibar at the time. Mathews constructed a prison complex on the island which is still visible today, however no prisoners were ever housed on the island and instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever sufferers. On the island, spend some time exploring the area and discover the collection of over 50 tortoises that live here, some of which are more than 100 years old. Learn about why the tortoises call the island their home, as well as taking photos and feeding them too. The island is also home to peacocks and small antelope too. Once you’ve explored the island, enjoy the opportunity to cool off from the hot weather with a refreshing dip in the surrounding crystal clear waters. Spend some time snorkeling in the water just off the island and search for colorful tropical fish and vibrant coral reef. After you’ve worked up an appetite from swimming, relax on the sandbank with a delicious lunch including a seafood BBQ, Swahili cuisine, cheese, tropical fruit, and more.

Zanzibar: Changuu Island and Stone Town Tour with Lunch

2. Zanzibar: Changuu Island and Stone Town Tour with Lunch

The tour begins with a private boat trip to Changuu Island, also known as Prison Island or Turtle Island. The island earned its name after it was purchased in 1893 by the British First Minister of Zanzibar who constructed a prison complex here. Although no prisoners were ever housed on the island, it was eventually used as a quarantine station for yellow fever sufferers, and later became home to more than 50 tortoises who still live there today. On the island, enjoy some free time to explore the beauty of this wild paradise, and get up close to the tortoises that roam freely. Some of the tortoises here are more than 100 years old, and you can even get close enough to feed them and take photos. You can also find peacocks and antelope on the island, then cool off in the crystal clear waters during a snorkel session in search of marine life, colorful fish, and coral reef. After your visit to Changuu Island, head towards one of the most historically prominent and artistic destinations in East Africa, Stone Town. Upon arrival, admire the fascinating architecture of the town, which dates back to the 19th century, and reflects the diverse influences of Swahili, Arab, Persian, Indian and European cultures. Learn about how the town earned its UNESCO World Heritage status, and then visit the Old Slave Market and the City Market. Here you can shop for almost anything whilst soaking up the authentic East African atmosphere and meeting the locals. Once you’ve wandered through the market it’s time to visit the Palace Museum, the local House of Wonder, and of course Freddie Mercury’s former home. There’s also time for a trip to the Peace Memorial and the Natural History Museum before ending the tour with a delicious local lunch at a traditional restaurant.

From Stone Town: Private Tour to Prison Island

3. From Stone Town: Private Tour to Prison Island

Visit Prison Island on a private 3-hour tour, and discover the rich history and beautiful natural surroundings of this location. Meet your guide in Zanzibar, or select the option including hotel pickup, then enjoy the ride to the island on a traditional dhow. Learn how this small island gained its name and explore the place that is now home to more than 50 tortoises, some over 100 years old.   Feed the tortoises and take up-close pictures with them, as you keep a look out for the peacocks and antelope that also live there. After discovering the island and its history, take the opportunity to snorkel in the clear waters off the coast amongst tropical fish and colorful coral. At the end of your tour, return to Zanzibar, where you’ll be dropped off in the city center, or at your hotel.

Prison Island: Private Half-Day Tour

4. Prison Island: Private Half-Day Tour

This private guided half day tour can begin any time from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM. Meet your well-trained guide and boatman as your board your steam-engine wooden boat. Head to the prestigious island and enjoy the 30-minute journey.  Listen to the history of the island and discover the past centuries through the historical buildings, which have served many purposes over the years including a prison, chapel, and hiding place for slaves after the abolition.  Enjoy a swim or snorkel around the colorful coral rocks and turquoise waters. Play with giant tortoises and you may take photographs with these old precious creatures. If you do not have much experience or confidence in the water, you will be provided with a life jacket. 

Stone Town: Stone Town and Prison Island Private Day Trip

5. Stone Town: Stone Town and Prison Island Private Day Trip

See the National Museum of Zanzibar (rebuilt in 1883) and the Arab fort while passing along bazaar streets towards the famous Freddie Mercury house. See the old slave market, fruit market, and spice market — don’t miss the classic Zanzibar curved doors decorating the stone town.  After you have explored Stone Town, you’ll have an opportunity to take a short break before heading to Prison Island. Prison Island is also known as Changuu Island, the nickname came from the island being used by some sultans of Zanzibar to detain enslaved people. While you are on this island, you can swim and take pictures with giant tortoises. 

Zanzibar City: Prison Island and Stone Town Walking Tour

6. Zanzibar City: Prison Island and Stone Town Walking Tour

Ride by boat to Prison Island, famous for its population of Aldabra giant tortoises. Experience the turtles up close and spot the local peacocks. Move along to a walking tour of Stone Town and learn the Swahili culture and its important historical role in the slave trade. Begin with a beautiful boat ride to Prison Island, also known as Changuu Island. View the local wildlife and learn of the slave rebellion that occurred in the 1860s. Start the walking tour of Stone Town at Forodhani Park. Explore the area and visit important sites such as the House of Wonder, Old Fort, the house of Freddy Mercury, and end at the Darajani market before returning to the city.

From Zanzibar: Prison Island Walking Tour with Boat Transfer

7. From Zanzibar: Prison Island Walking Tour with Boat Transfer

Experience a local favorite, away from the big island of Zanzibar. Travel aboard a traditional dhow boat to the famous Prison Island and join a local guide on a walking tour. Surround yourself with fascinating wildlife, relax on the beach, and come across ancient ruins. Board the tourist dhow boat in Zanzibar and enjoy a short but scenic trip. Take in panoramic views of the ocean as you make your way to Prison Island. Embark on an insightful tour around this historic site, exploring old ruins and learning about their cultural relevance. Gaze at the exotic local wildlife and seize the possibility to observe peacocks, giant tortoises, and dik-diks. Take some time to unwind at the beach and go swimming or snorkeling if you wish to. Finally, board the dhow boat for a transfer back to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar City: Private Customizable Tour with Transportation

8. Zanzibar City: Private Customizable Tour with Transportation

Explore Zanzibar City with your very own private driver on this private customizable tour. Benefit from pickup from your hotel or Abeid Amani Karume International Airport and plan your own itinerary, with optional stops at Freddie Mercury's House, the Old Fort, Stone Town, and more. After getting picked up from your hotel or airport at a time that suits you, hop in the car that will take you on your customized tour of the city. Travel in the company of a driver with over 15 years of experience. Feel free to design your own route, or let your driver plan the tour according to your needs and interests. Possible stops include Stone Town, Freddie Mercury's House, Old Fort, the House of Wonders, the People's Palace, the former slave's market, the Hamamni Persian Baths, and more. You may also wish to do a tour of Prison Island, Stone Town's neighboring island, which offers wildlife, history, and white-sand beaches. At the end of your tour, get dropped off back at your hotel.

Other Sightseeing Options in Prison Island

Want to discover all there is to do in Prison Island? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about Prison Island

Overall rating

4.4 / 5

based on 180 reviews

This was our first day in Zanzibar!! A must do if you really want to see the culture and history at stone town . Lots to see and shop . They are a bit pricey though. The boat ride to Changu island was really refreshing and so was seeing the prison island and giant tortoises ! Although we got late and missed the chance to go snorkeling though it was included in the package out guide showed quite a bit and was so so friendly and considerate when we got tired .

My family and I visited Prison Island while at Zanzibar with Simba. It was an enjoyable boat ride from island to island. The turtles were amazing to see. The oldest one is 196 yrs old! Afterwards we enjoyed a relaxing swim in the Indian Ocean. Sjmba went out of his way to accommodate our requests. The views were just amazing! I would definitely do this activity again.

Thank you for this great tour. Our guide Haji was great. Unbelievable what he knew and made the tour very interesting. We could always bring ourselves into the tour if we wanted to see something. Haji always responded to everything. That was really great Haji We can only recommend this tour with Haji. We are definitely planning our next tour with Haji right away

Hyggelige og behjelpelige folk. Spesielt fornøyd med vår guide som kun hadde jobbet knapt en måned. Anbefales å ta denne aktiviteten tidlig på dagen slik som vi gjorde. Bra sammensatt og man opplevde mye på kun 3 timer! Marta og Ingrid.

We had a great time on the island and then snorkling. It is to be done!