I have been looking for beautiful tranquil places to escape to when I want to completely unplug from the crazy and busy city life and I think Prison Island Zanzibar has earned its place on my list.
Also on the list is Mafia Island. And the reason Mafia appears on the list is because of a lodge called Chole Mjini. Man that lodge is cool. Forget time machines… if you want to go back to 1900 then that is the lodge to stay at if you find yourself in Mafia Island. You will be as far away from touristy luxury and modern amenities as you can go. No electricity, no internet, no nothing. Just relaxation.
But Prison Island Zanzibar also does the job just as well.
Birds chirping away, breathtakingly colorful butterflies floating majestically around you and the wind blowing gently on your skin as it proceeds to rattle the leaves in the lush greenery. Prison Island Zanzibar has this calming ambiance that can make you immediately forget the stresses of modern life.
The Grand Bridge
As you approach Prison Island, you are greeted by this imposing rustic bridge that extends deep into the ocean.
For some reason, the bridge reminded me of John Snow of Game of Thrones. Then it struck me – the bridge has this striking resemblance to the bridge at Hardhome when John Snow goes to save the wildlings only for wights and the White Walkers to attack.
Remember that scene as the Night’s King walks menacingly on the bridge, stands at the edge then raises his arms like a boss to raise the fallen wildlings from the dead as John Snow looks on from the receding boat mouth wide agape? Epic scene that was. I would become a film director just to direct a scene like that. And I would shoot it at the bridge in Prison Island Zanzibar.
A Prison You Couldn’t Escape From
The Prison Island is also called Changuu Island. It sits to the North West of Unguja some 5.6 Kilometers away.
Back in the day, Zanzibar had a slave market. The island was used by the Arabs as a prison.
When Zanzibar later became a British protectorate, the then Prime Minister Lloyd Mathews bought the Island from the Arabs. The British wanted to construct a prison on the island to house criminals causing trouble in the mainland.
This is how the island came to be called Prison Island.
The prison (the constructed building) was however never made use of as an actual prison. The island later became a place to quarantine Yellow Fever patients.
Prison Island Zanzibar is now a government owned tourist resort.
Aldabra Giant Tortoises
Besides the Prison, Changuu is also famed for its gigantic Aldabra tortoises. The tortoises are huge. Really really huge.
It used to be that visitors could ride the tortoises and that’s why there are some images on the net with people riding the tortoises. But now you can’t ride the tortoises. This is because the tortoises are an endangered species and they are trying to preserve as many of them as possible.
You can feed the tortoises though. And take pictures with them.
The giant tortoises first came to Changuu in 1919 as gifts from the then British Governor of Seychelles.
Snorkeling and Diving in Prison Island Zanzibar
The island has a small beach that can be used for sunbathing and relaxing. It may not be as impressive as the extensive white sandy beaches of Unguja but it does the job.
Snorkelers can also take advantage of the Islands diving and snorkeling spots. The proximity of the island to Stone Town adds to its appeal as a good snorkeling spot.
Getting There & the Cost
Its a 30 minute boat ride to Prison island Zanzibar if you are coming from Unguja. Mostly its a shared boat ride and the boats can accommodate up to ten people. Sharing the boat with others tremendously reduces the cost of the ride.
A day trip will probably cost you something in the range of $ 30 – $ 50 depending on the cost of the boat ride. The entry fee to the island is actually very low – just $4. Its the boat ride that can push the price up.
You will definitely spend a little more if you plan on spending the night in the Island. Changuu Private Island Resort offers pretty comfortable and affordable stays.
Planning Your Trip
There’s really no need to make your booking in advance if you choose to go with a tour operator. It is advisable that you make plans while in Zanzibar. This ensures that your schedule remains flexible during your Zanzibar stay and you can also get some very good deals if you are planning to save money.
Some of the hotels and resorts also organize day trips to Prison Island. Ask your hotel if they have any planned trips to Changuu. If the hotel does not have one then you can contact one of the private tour operators.