Cars with driver are also available. In addition, a plethora of tour companies and freelance 'guides' offer group transport to and from the coast and arrange trips to other areas of interest on Unguja and Pemba. Prices, reliability and condition of their vehicles vary so if you're concerned, use a reputable tour company such as Zan Tours (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Fisherman Tours (email@example.com), or a private guide such as Hisdory Jumane (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For those on a tight budget, or for shorter distances, dala-dalas (trucks converted into passenger vehicles) and local buses run all over the island, with fares starting from just a few shillings. They congregate in the Creek Road area of Stone Town - just turn up there and enquire as to the right route for your chosen destination. Bear in mind, however, that this form of transport will be significantly slower and less comfortable than a minibus, and that accidents involving buses and dala-dalas are frequent.
Zanzibar, and especially Unguja, is an ideal place to explore by mountain bike due to its flat terrain. Reasonable quality mountain bikes can be hired from several of the tour companies in Stone Town.
When most of the Western world was still sunk in the darkness of the Middle Ages, Zanzibar was already a meeting place for traders from the great Oriental cultures - China, Persia and Arabia. It nestled in the middle of its own mercantile civilisation, stretching from Somalia in the north down the coast of East Africa to Mozambique in the south. This kingdom and its inhabitants were known as the Swahili - the people of the coast. They traded gold, ivory and cloth with visitors from across the Indian Ocean, built handsome stone houses and had well developed systems of government. Envoys, merchants and even pirates from as far away as Japan and Russia came to Zanzibar and its environs in sailing ships, blown across the seas by the north east monsoon and returning, their holds laden with trade goods, on the south west wind.
The first Europeans to 'discover' Zanzibar were the Portuguese, who arrived in the late fifteenth century. In keeping with their conduct in the rest of their empire, they had little interest in the place beyond keeping it out of the hands of their enemies. They built a fort or two, introduced the sport of bullfighting to Pemba, and a few choice words into the Swahili language. In fact, the Portuguese words still in use in Kiswahili give a fairly good impression of how the Portuguese spent their time here: Meza - table. Mvinyo - wine. Pesa - money.
Chief among the trade visitors to Zanzibar were the Omani Arabs, who had developed one of the most powerful navies in the Indian Ocean, the centre of a thriving sea-going commercial empire. The Sultans of Oman accrued immense wealth by mounting slave trading expeditions into the African interior, shipping their captives back to the Persian Gulf and selling them as household servants or plantation labourers. It was Zanzibar which became the hub of this commercial empire, a handy storehouse for slaves fresh from the interior, who could be confined on the island until the ships which were to transport them north were made ready.