Changuu is a small island with an intense history.
It lies 3 ½ miles to the northwest of the Stone Town of Zanzibar and it is oblong in shape about ½ mile long and 250 yards broad at the widest point.
The importance of Changuu in the History of Zanzibar can be today seen through its different names: Changuu is its original name, which in Ki-swahili is the name of a common fish in these waters.
In the 1860s, the uninhabited island was given by the Sultan Seyyid Majid to two Arabs, who used it as a detention centre for rebel slaves. In 1893, when Zanzibar had become a British Protectorate, the First Minister, General Sir Lloyd William Mathews, bought Changuu Island for the Zanzibar Government from its former Arab owners with the objective of building a prison. The construction of the Jail was finished by 1894, when the island became known as Prison Island. But the island was never used as a Prison: at the end of 19th century Zanzibar was East Africa’s main port and the authorities were concerned about the danger for epidemics brought through cargo and passengers. At the end of the 1890s it was therefore decided to establish a Quarantine Station on Changuu Island for the whole of British territories in East Africa and the former jail was then used as a hospital; since 1923 the Island was officially named Quarantine Island.
Although the main function of Changuu was to hold the sanitary station, the island was frequently free of quarantined people due to the monsoons and seasonal arrival of vessels only between December and March. During these periods, Changuu was one of the favourite leisure resorts for Zanzibaris and European residents. For their short holidays and parties on the island, visitors used to stay in a bungalow, built in the late 1890s, known as European Bungalow, which has been now restored and converted into Mathews’ Restaurant. The number of leisure visitors had to be strictly controlled, since the only available fresh water was rain water stored in underground tanks. Today, fresh water reaches the islet through an underwater pipeline from Zanzibar mainland, which enables visitors to enjoy the delightful swimming-pool.
In 1919 some visitors came to settle permanently on the island: the community of the endangered species of Aldabra Giant Tortoises, a gift of the Government of Seychelles. The initial group consisted of 4 Tortoises, but since grown and today the population is over 100 individuals. The Group continues its happy growth in The Tortoise House and the Tortoise Foundation ensures their welfare.
In 1931 a new Quarantine Area with new buildings were erected in the south-west of the island, which gave the Quarantine Station a capacity to accommodate 904 people. After the island lost is role as a Quarantine Station, due to lack of use, the buildings started to collapse. Today, the remains of these semi-collapsed buildings have been skillfully converted into 12 exquisite sea-view rooms.
Since 2002, Changuu Private Island Paradise has restored the island’s many historical buildings to make them living structures, adapted to new uses while preserving their authenticity, and many recreational facilities have been incorporated, such as shops, cultural centres and sport venues such as a footlight tennis court. The prison ruins have now been restored and converted into a bright living structure, and the island also offers a host of entertainment facilities, such as a café, boutique and library, the library being the cultural centre of the island. The 15 exclusive cottages built in the north-west of the island offer an unrivalled, luxurious experience.
This awesome renovation has been achieved whilst maintaining the perfect balance between nature and culture. Welcome to our small Paradise on Earth.