Despite being a sliver of an island (along with even tinier ones under its jurisdiction) completely dwarfed by the mainland, Zanzibar has a special status within Tanzania. After all, it used to be an independent country until it joined up with Tanganyika (the mainland) to form Tanzania. With a fabled trade history of its own and a Swahili culture that isn’t just limited to speaking the language, it feels entirely distinct. Even the people look different — many people of Arab (Zanzibar was a sultanate until its revolution) and Indian descent (Indians were British subjects at the time Zanzibar was a British protectorate) continue live here, and many have intermarried with the indigenous population, meaning people here have wildly varying skin colours and builds. And while mainland Tanzania has a pretty large Muslim population already, something like 99% of Zanzibaris are Ibadi Muslim. Every woman’s wearing a veil and/or niqab, and most men are wearing a hat. So yes, like the culturally similar Mombasa in Kenya, but far more concentrated.
Stone Town is a joy to wander, absorb, and take in. Buildings dating back to who-knows-when are all designed with Swahili architecture, with ornate doors, arches, windows, and awnings. Even refurbishments and new buildings all carry the same design philosphy. The town is a mess of disorganised and cramped alleys blocked off by tall buildings, which provides shade from the unrelenting heat but makes you walk in it for longer anyway since you’re bound to get lost a million times. (I never stopped sweating from the moment I got to the island, day or night.)