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Zanzibar’s Prison Island in Tanzania

What is now a tiny, beautiful tropical island off the coast of Zanzibar was once not a pleasant place. At first, Changuu Island (known more commonly as Prison Island) was where enslaved people were detained and held until they were transported to locations in the Middle East or Europe.

Prison Island

After that, the island was transformed into a quarantine center where people with deadly diseases were left so they wouldn't spread their illnesses to the healthy.

Today, the island is a nature reserve and a beautiful place to spend the day when you visit Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Getting to the island takes about 30 minutes by motorboat and should cost around $30 – $40 per boat (there and back), each of which can accommodate up to 10 people.

Zanzibar Island
Zanzibar Island

If you don't want to deal with the boat owners themselves, or if you don't have ten people to rent the entire boat, you can easily book a day trip to Prison Island at one of the many tourist offices in the central part of Stone Town – just be sure to negotiate a deal before you go.

The Indian Ocean can be pretty choppy, so be forewarned if you are prone to seasickness. Once you arrive in the shallower waters of the island, the water becomes calm, and the color turns to that beautiful shade of turquoise blue.

Taking a cool dip and snorkeling around the island is one of the activities that the island is famous for. The water wasn't overly clear when I visited, so I couldn't see much while snorkeling, but the swimming was fantastic.

Giant Tortoises
Giant Tortoises

A gift from the Seychelles, on one side of the island is a colony of giant tortoises, one of the highlights of Prison Island these days. Some are gentle goliaths, creeping around silently while munching everything green in sight.

Though it is not permitted to ride them anymore (as it was a few years ago), you can still feed and touch them. They do look and act just like dinosaurs.

The Old Prison
The Old Prison

About a 5-minute walk away are the former ruins that once functioned as the prison.

The structure has aged and weathered into an interesting combination of concrete and overgrown vegetation, offering a lovely view of the water below.

Another iconic symbol of Zanzibar's Prison Island is the rickety wooden bridge that stretches from dry land to about 50 meters into the water.

Related: World Famous Prisons

Prison Island Bridge
Prison Island Bridge

With every wave, the bridge shakes a little, and apart from being a decent place for locals to go fishing, it doesn't serve much another purpose.

Most people visit Prison Island as a day trip on their busy schedules in Zanzibar, but if you choose to spend the night, there is one pricey private island resort where you can stay.

I think it's not worth staying on Prison Island as there are more beautiful beaches around Zanzibar. Still, the island's beauty and its history (and the tortoise colony) are worth a day trip from Stone Town. 

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Mohamed Issa

Monday 17th of November 2014

Prison Island is a quiet beautiful place to spend the day.However the Znz goverment should also think of lowering prices for the locals.They shoud promote local tourism.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

Wednesday 18th of January 2012

I will pay someone to imprison me there! ;-)

Mark Wiens

Wednesday 18th of January 2012


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