Visit of Prison Island in Zanzibar

Prison island, otherwise known as Turtle Island or Changuu Island or Kibaniko, is a small island located northwest of Stone Town which is the capital of Zanzibar. 

For those who don’t know, Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands located off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is known worldwide for its fine sandy beaches, coconut palms and exceptional seabed. 

One of Zanzibar’s major attractions is the turtle island excursion. 

A little bit of history on Prison Island 

Prison Island, Zanzibar

Also known as Changuu, this 800-metre long by 230-metre wide Swahili island owes its name « Prison Island » to the fact that it was used as a prison for rebel slaves in the 1860s and then for prisoners in Tanzania.

Subsequently, the island became a quarantine island where people were brought there, including people with yellow fever.

Subsequently, in 1919 the English Governor of the Seychelles offered Changuu Island 4 giant turtles. Gradually, the number of giant turtles increased enormously and people started stealing these turtles to sell them. 

Since then, the Zanzibar government has implemented a protection program for giant turtles on Prison Island. Today, more than 200 turtles are welcomed. Among them, the oldest in the world is 200 years old.

What is the best time to go to Prison Island in Zanzibar?

Prison Island as well as Zanzibar and Tanzania enjoy a very pleasant equatorial climate, it is possible to visit Prison Island throughout the year.

However, you should know that there are two rainy seasons in Zanzibar. 

  • From March to May
  • From October to December

Many people will therefore tend to advise you to avoid these two rainy periods, however, it is also the low season when there will be the least people.

Personally, I went to Prison Island in April, in the middle of the rainy season, but I was lucky enough to enjoy a wonderful climate during my excursion on Turtle Island.

You should be aware that weather conditions in this country are very variable, so you can visit Turtle Island at any time of the year.

How long does a trip to Prison Island in Zanzibar last?

Turtle Island is located 5.6 km from Stone Town, about 30 minutes by boat. The excursion starts, depending on your preferences, in the morning or afternoon and will last about half a day, or 3-4 hours.

How does the tour on Prison Island in Zanzibar proceed ?

Prison Island, Zanzibar

It is from the port of Stone Town that you will start your excursion aboard a small boat accommodating 6 to 20 people.

The crossing to Changuu Island takes about 30 minutes. 

Once on site, the excursion is divided into three parts:

  • The visit to the Giant Turtle Sanctuary protected by the Zanzibar Government: this visit lasts about 30 minutes. We will explain to you for a few minutes this program to protect giant turtles with a little history. Afterwards, you will have the opportunity to walk among these magnificent giant turtles.
  • Visit the rest of Prison Island: you will have the opportunity to walk around the island and visit the place that served as a former prison and hospice during the quarantine for the sick. 
  • A game of idleness and snorkeling around the turtle island: to finish, you will be able to rest quietly on this beautiful beach of fine sand and swim. Also, you can admire the seabed if you have thought about taking your masks and snorkels. It will be possible to have the equipment lent to you by the tourist agency through which you will pass. Don’t forget to ask them before you go on a trip.

What is the price of an excursion to Prison Island, Zanzibar?

Prison Island, Zanzibar

The price of the Turtle Island Tour depends on the options that have been selected and your bargaining power.

Indeed, prices can vary from US$10 to more than US$80.

Expect a higher price if you want to include a taxi from your hotel to Stone Town. 

On the other hand, you will pay a lower rate by going to the port of Stone Town by your own means (i. e. by taking the dala-dala for example).

It should be considered that on average, tourists pay about US$30 to make this excursion.

For my part, I paid US$10 in May, during the rainy season and therefore the low season. During this period, as tourists become more discreet, it is easier to negotiate the prices of tourist excursions on the island.

What should you bring with me on a trip to Turtle Island in Zanzibar?

During your excursion on Turtle Island in Zanzibar, depending on the weather, it is important to bring the following items:

  • Bathing suit
  • Towel
  • Sunscreen cream
  • Cap/ hat
  • Snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins)
  • Camera
  • Flip-flops are enough to walk around the island

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