Prison Island – Home to the endangered Aldabra Giant Tortoise

Africa, Tanzania, Travel

Prison Island is known by many names and has played an equal number of roles in the Zanzibarian history. It was designed to house prisoners of war but before that could be executed, the plague broke out and the kingdom needed a quarantine station. So it was converted into a hospital cum quarantine station in preparation of the plague but the plague never reached Zanzibar. Later on, it was used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Therefore, it is called Prison Island, Quarantine Island, Changuu Island, Kibandiko Island and also Giant Tortoise Sanctuary because it houses thousands of Aldabra Giant Tortoise, originally brought here from Seychelles.


How to get to Prison Island?

Prison Island is a 20 minutes boat ride from the Stone Town Ferry station. The island remains open from 10AM to 6PM and you can book a half day trip with your hotel or take a walk to the ferry station and ask around for a cheaper deal.

How much does a trip to Prison Island cost?

Most hotels will offer you a half day trip package for USD35 per person. Larger group rates will be lesser and individuals will be charged more. Some people also like to snorkel there and you might be able to get the snorkelling gear included in the trip price. We however, were offered a price of USD 30 by a local tour guide at one of the Museums in Stone Town. Then, as we were walking around the ferry station, the boat man offered to take us to the Prison Island for USD25. We saved up a couple of dollars even in that price, not by haggling but by using a simple trick ! Can you guess what it could be? Here’s a list of simple tricks to save money in Zanzibar.

Who says tortoises are slow?

How much time should you plan to spend at Prison Island?

Visit to Prison Island is half a day’s plan. You can plan your trip after breakfast and come back in time for lunch or leave after lunch and start back at 6PM to view the sunset on the boat. I would suggest the second half of the day as their feeding time is 4 PM and that’s when all the giant tortoises are active. It’s quite a lot of fun to feed them. Some pointers to plan your trip are given below:

  • Reach the Zanzibar Ferry Station from your hotel.
  • Take a boat to the Prison Island. It is roughly a half an hour journey one way to the Island.
  • Spend an hour with the Giant Tortoises, feed them if you reach before 4 PM.
  • Take a stroll around the Island and visit the restaurant and pool area. There are some beautiful panoramic views you can see from both these points. Spend some time the restaurant if it is open. Sadly, it was not operational when we visited Prison Island. The pool, however is open to public and you can just lounge around or take a dip.
  • If you enjoy snorkelling and have arranged for your snorkelling gear, just as around and you will be directed to the snorkelling spot.

Is it worth going to Prison Island?

Although, there is nothing much to do in Prison Island other than the Giant Tortoises. But the Tortoises are so rare and so huge that you would not want to miss them. Although, the price to pay for this half day’s trip is a bit much, it was worth our time !

Sunset Cruise on the Dhow
If you are travelling in a group, you can also talk to the hotel / locals about hiring a Dhow for half a day. Zanzibarian Dhows are the traditional sailing vessels with one mast. There are a lot of companies that offer Sunset Dhow cruises around Zanzibar (Kendwa & Nungwi).

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Zanzibar Travel Advice

South Africa Tipping Guide

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Skydiving in South Africa – An unforgettable experience !

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