The best markets in Zanzibar

20 June 2019

To truly immerse yourself in a destination, you should find out where the locals' shop – and in Zanzibar, this means heading to the marketplace or bazaar. Towers of intoxicating spices and tropical fruits, fresh out of the ocean fish, brightly coloured fabrics and hundreds of people haggling over the price of their daily groceries makes for a memorable and invigorating glimpse into everyday life.

Stone Town’s must-visit market

Zanzibar’s capital of Stone Town is the site of the main bazaar, also known as Darajani Market or Estella Market, with a history dating all the way back to 1904, and little has changed since then. The structure has separate sections for various types of produce and spills over to the narrow lanes and roads that surround it, creating a scene literally bursting at the seams with activity and excitement.

If you’ve managed to get to the market in the morning, then it’s worth heading straight to the fresh fish section where local fishermen come in to auction off their catch. All kinds of exotic creatures are on sale – from octopus (which is a popular delicacy in Zanzibar) to shark.

Zanzibar isn’t called the Spice Island for nothing – and Darajani market is the place to buy Zanzibar’s most famous exports at bargain prices. Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg are found in abundance, alongside turmeric, cloves, pepper and dried aromatics like chilli, garlic and ginger. You can also buy pre-packaged spice mixes to create authentic Zanzibar curries. Right next-door is the fruit and vegetable market, where you may able to sample some local produce like jackfruit or durian. But be warned, only the brave should head into the meat section, which is definitely not the place for those with a weak stomach!

All around the market you will find vendors selling freshly baked bread, dates, as well as clothing, shoes and leather products, so it’s worth spending some time wandering the surrounding streets.

Zanzibar’s famous night market

At sunset, the Forodhani Gardens along the sea walk in Stone Town are transformed into the island’s most popular street food market. Tables are laden with skewered seafood, from crabs to prawns and spiced fish, which is cooked on the grill while you wait and served up informally on paper plates. Foodies also have the chance to sample all kinds of local delicacies, including samoosas, cassava, and freshly pressed sugarcane juice – all available at bargain prices. Again, this market is just as popular with locals as it is with travellers, so pack a picnic blanket and come with an empty stomach.

What you need to know before you shop in Zanzibar

  1. It is best to dress modestly, so for women this means covering your shoulders and avoiding miniskirts and short shorts.
  2. Try to arrive at the markets early to beat the crowds – at Darajani, this means 09h00 and at Forodhani, as dusk sets in.
  3. Take the time to greet the sellers in the marketplace – this means a friendly ‘Jambo’, or a more formal ‘Shikamoo’ to say hello.
  4. Other useful phrases include ‘Asante’ which means thank you, or ‘Asante sana’ - thank you very much; ‘Pesa ngapi?’ – how much; and ‘Je, Unapunguza bei?’ – do you give discounts?
  5. It’s best to bring along cash to the markets – the local currency is the Tanzanian shilling, but US dollars (issued after 2006) are widely accepted.