The next morning dhow cruise to Prison Island was the perfect way to start a day. I left the hotel at around six in the morning with the rest of my overlanding group mates and the air was refreshingly cool. There was no heavy saltiness in the breeze. The calm, gentle sea was a complete opposite of the busy port and fishing boats unloaded huge amounts of fruits of the sea. All kinds of fishes, crabs, squids, octopuses, oysters, mussels and sponges dripped seawater from their glistening wet bodies. Seagulls, cats and little boys swarmed around the boats looking for discarded leftovers. My dhow waited for me amidst the morning bustle and it was an old fashioned wooden beauty with huge, white sails. The crew included the captain and a helper, who also doubled up as a cook and they were already busy preparing for breakfast. I fell in love with the barnacle-encrusted boat at first sight and claimed my spot on the deck.

sunrise over zanzibar

A beautiful sunrise

Prison Island day starts with cerulean ocean and sunrise

The wooden deck which was polished soft by thousands of footsteps was big enough for sunbathing and a small open cabin had hammocks for noon siestas. A sturdy ladder led to the roof the cabin where we all enjoyed the sun after a cool morning swim in the sea. We sailed off for Prison Island with a soft sunrise and watched in amazement as it quickly turned into a deep blue day. The pace of the fishing folk of the island increased with the rising sun and ribald jokes rang through the air. Off the bay, we dropped anchor to snorkel amongst some of East Africa’s most famous coral reefs. The marine life was rich and thriving there and the ocean spread around us in different shades of blue. Somewhere in the horizon, the sky merged it and the panorama turned into one huge sheet of cerulean. Our breakfast was served on the deck and it was a simple one. Complete with roughly hewn slices of bread, there were lots of condiments, exotic tropical fruits and we counted fluffy white sails of the passing dhows while enjoying slices of ruby red watermelons.

Recommended Read: My first day at Zanzibar

prison island boats leave from here

The beach and port for the local fishing boats

Prison Island is home to endangered Aldabra Giant Tortoise

It was a morning full of sailing and sea, with a brief stop at Prison Island, which housed a super expensive resort along with the giant Aldabra tortoise rehabilitation center. One of the largest tortoises in the world, aldabras are real giants with some of them often reaching over one meter in length. Once a thriving species belonging to the Indian Ocean, these gentle giants were nearly extinct in recent times, thus raising a lot of concern among marine conservationists. The Prison Island rehabilitation center was thus created to save them from disappearing from the face on the earth. The island was a quintessential slice of tropical paradise, which once housed an infamous prison. Today a beautiful expensive, isolated from everything stood in its place. Though, remote the Changuu Private Island Paradise resort had its own peacocks, peacocks, mangrove forests and bejeweled birds. Some bush babies too called it home and silence reigned supreme there. Only the rushing waves filled the tropical air with whispers and sometimes bickering peacocks and mating tortoises could be heard over the ocean. If I were ever to be jailed, Prison Island is where I would like to be.

Suggested for You: Stone Town, Spices, and Slave Market

prison island entrance

First sight of the gorgeous Prison Island

Prison Island Travel Facts

  • Prison Island or Changuu Island as it is locally called, is just 20-30 minutes boat ride from Stone Town.
  • The dhows charge about 30 – 40 USD for a round-trip and can be shared with 10 other people.
  • There is a 4 USD entrance fee to the island.
  • Snorkel gear is available for rent at 2 USD.
  • Most travelers opt for Prison Island small group day trip from Stone Town. This includes boat fee, island entrance fee, refreshments, and snorkeling gear.
  • Prison Island trip can be booked from your hotel, though asking around brings better prices. Prices go down considerably if it is a large group.
  • Those wishing to stay overnight at Prison Island should book a room at Changuu Private Island Paradise Resort.
    giant tortoises at prison island

    Be careful while feeding these gentle giants. Their snappy jaws are very powerful.

    Prison Island excursion is

    Most popular day trip from Stone Town, Zanzibar.

    It comes with a morning dhow sail

    Swimming in the clear cerulean ocean and

    Spending half a day at the lovely Prison Island.

    A former prison and quarantine for errant slaves,

    Prison Island now has a beautiful, secluded resort

    And a sanctuary for giant Aldabra tortoises.

    With so much of beauty, Prison Island

    Is perhaps the only place, where I want to get arrested.