Tanzania : Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a place which evokes exotic and mysterious images, where Arabia meets and joins with the Dark Continent of Africa. An island, which has lured visitors for centuries and it is this strange history and the differing cultures which still draws them today. The old quarter of Zanzibar is Stone Town, which is a muddle of tiny streets, intricately carved woodwork, huge brass studded doors and overhanging balconies. Wandering through these winding back streets you come face to face with Stone Town life, passing spice sellers, tailors and mosques. Many of the older buildings have become quite dilapidated, although efforts are now being made to restore them, this adds further to the atmosphere.
A visit to the rest of the Island is essential with forests and ancient Omani ruins, glorious white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees, fishing villages unchanged by modern life with dhows and out rigger canoes pulling up on the beaches. The sea holds a different world of reefs and coral gardens where you can dive and snorkel amongst tropical fish and sea fans. A visit to the spice plantations is a fascinating experience of tasting and learning about the spices, which have changed the history and fuelled the economy of Zanzibar over the past 2 centuries.
Zanzibar Palace is a charming nine-room 'boutique' hotel in the heart of Stone Town, just a short walk from the sea front and all the main sites. The Dutch owners, Co and Frans, have restored what was a fire-gutted ruin to a palace worthy of a spice-trading sultan with tasteful and authentic Arabian, English and Indian decor. The tall thin building wraps around an atrium, and each of the spacious bedrooms, two of which are suites, are decorated in true Zanzibari style with colourful silks and Persian rugs, majestic beds and lattice work shutters. Each has a well-equipped bathroom, and the suites have al fresco bathrooms and private decks overlooking the town's ramshackle roof-scape.
"A quirky hotel with very jolly staff."
Pamela and Guy, Cambridge
236 Hurumzi Street (formerly the well-known Emerson and Green Hotel) offers Arabian Nights-style luxury in an old Zanzibari palace on the north side of old Stone Town. It has 10 large en-suite bedrooms over three floors, all with Zanzibari beds swathed in mosquito nets and all, except one, with large stone bathtubs. Each room is different, for example the gigantic Ballroom has a wood-carved balcony running its length while the Keep Suite has its own tea house in a turret on the roof. The roof-top restaurant, which has an amazing view over Stone Town, is undoubtedly one of the most romantic restaurants in Africa, and has become famous for it.
Ras Nungwi is located on a long beautiful beach at the northern tip of Zanzibar island and is the ideal location for all forms of watersports, or merely relaxing under a palm tree. It is quite a large lodge with 32 rooms, tastefully furnished, with handcrafted four-poster beds with Mosquito nets, indigenous décor, and all have en suite facilities and balconies. There are 4 types of rooms, lodge rooms have a garden view and 3 types of chalet room with a sea view. There are also some new villas with their own pools further down the beach. When the tide is out you can relax around the large swimming pool between the lodge and the beach.
The variety of the surrounding reefs makes Ras Nungwi the perfect diving destination, and the hotel has an on-site fully equipped dive centre. The waters between Zanzibar and Pemba are home to some excellent game fishing. A wide range of other watersports are also available such as snorkelling, sailing, dhow trips and dolphin safaris and other activities include; spice tours, bird watching, visiting historical ruins, visiting Jozani Forest with its Red Colobus monkeys.
Matemwe Bungalows is a small luxury beach lodge in a great location on Zanzibar’s north-east coast. It has a very relaxed atmosphere and is an ideal place for just relaxing and soaking up the Zanzibari pace of life. There are 12 thatched sea view cottages set among tropical gardens and overlooking a stunning white sandy beach and the Mnemba Atoll, which has fantastic snorkelling and diving. The suites are built from local materials, and have thatched roofs and colourful, rustic interiors decorated with Swahili fabrics, rush matting and driftwood sculptures. They all have large en-suite bathrooms and big sea-facing verandas with hammocks. There is great snorkelling and diving from here and activities also include sailing in traditional ngalawa outriggers, snorkelling, scuba diving and big-game fishing, as well as reef-walks, bicycle-hire with picnic lunches and visits to the local fish market.
Matemwe Retreat is a fantastic new luxury addition to Matemwe Bungalows, the popular 12-cottage beach lodge on the north-east coast of Zanzibar. The Retreat has four, large split-level beach villas, set away from the main lodge and offering a wonderfully private island retreat ideal for those who really want to get away from the world. Each villa, which is built from local materials and elegantly decorated with swathes of neutral fabrics, has a huge bed dominating the room and a large romantic bathtub overlooking the Indian Ocean. They have their own plunge pool on the roof overlooking the sea, as well as own butler, and each meal is discussed with you and prepared personally by the Retreat's chef. In front of each villa is your own small area of private beach in front of the villa, and if you fancy a massage, the masseuse will come to your room or rooftop. You could easily pass several days at The Retreat without going anywhere, but it is just a short walk to Matemwe Bungalows if you decide to venture out for a drink or for dinner. Matemwe Bungalows also has an infinity pool, small spa and watersports centre.
Mnemba is a private tropical island off the northeast coast of Zanzibar, and an absolutely idyllic setting for an exclusive holiday. The individual cottages are hidden in the dappled shade of the tropical beach forest and, built from natural materials, their comfort and simplicity reinforces the feeling of the natural life on the island. The comfort and personal attention you receive is second to none and the standards are extremely high but in a relaxed and unobtrusive way. The island is on the edge of a large coral atoll where there is excellent snorkelling and diving, and game fishing can also be arranged. Mnemba is an expensive option but everyone who has been there has said it’s worth every penny.
Shooting Star Lodge is a great, colourful little hotel on the eastern side of Zanzibar. Set above the white sands and coconut palms of Kiwengwa beach, it is a small, relaxed, family-run place, with 14 guest rooms and two fantastic new suites, ideal for honeymoons or other special occasions. There are 10 sea-view cottages built in traditional Zanzibari style with white lime-washed walls, high beamed ceilings and large windows, and four smaller lodge rooms. They are all simply decorated with Zanzibari wood furniture and batik linen. The two new suites, Kusi and Kaskazi, are set on the crest of the hill apart from the main hotel guest rooms. Each suite has three floors with two bedrooms and a private swimming pool, and is set in its own tropical garden. The restaurant serves great coastal food, and there are lots of little bars and nooks and crannies where you can find your own corner. Although the hotel is set slightly above the beach, it has a small bar on the beach itself as well. A variety of watersports are available nearby including snorkelling, sailing and diving, and you can also explore the island by bike, visiting the fishing villages or the red colobus monkeys of the Jozani Forest.
The Pongwe Beach Hotel is a low-key beach getaway dotted with hammocks and loungers, and with a great infinity swimming pool suspended on a coral cliff. Set in a secluded cove on a beautiful stretch of white, sandy beach it has 16 palm-thatched seaview cottages, modestly decorated with traditional Zanzibari beds and Moroccan-style walk in showers. The cottages are surrounded by tropical gardens and each cottage has its own private terrace where you can watch the sunrise and have breakfast. This is not luxury, but it is wonderful simple escapism with excellent food, swimming and snorkelling on the coral reef as well as game fishing and scuba diving.
Mchanga is a lovely new beach lodge on the north-east coast of Zanzibar, built and run by a great German-American couple. There are eight thatched, white-washed rooms, six of them with sea views and two set further back in the garden, which are slightly larger and have their own small garden. The interiors are simple and pretty, dominated by a carved four-poster Zanzibari bed covered in batik throws, and with a cushion-covered alcove ideal for retreating to in the heat of the day. There is a large swimming pool, overlooked by the bar on one side and the dining room on the other. You can swim from the beach, and PADI courses and other watersports - as well as Spice Tours and visits to Stone Town - can be arranged by the lodge.
Breezes Beach Club is a lovely, authentic and well-run Zanzibari hotel on a pristine white beach on the east coast of Zanzibar. The 40 rooms and suites are scattered among the exotic plants of the landscaped gardens, grouped in threes, with a suite on top and either two deluxe or two standard rooms with a terrace below. They are all very simply and elegantly decorated and have all the mod cons. Most but not all rooms have sea views. The hotel offers a wide variety of facilities within the grounds, including three restaurants, one of which is a fine dining restaurant for just 12 people, a well-equipped watersports centre and an excellent spa run by Balinese and Thai experts. Breezes is personal enough for honeymoon couples and special occasions but with a wide range of activities and no age limit, it is also great for families and other travellers.
The Palms is a wonderfully intimate hotel, perfect for honeymooners or for a bit of pampering after safari. Part of but totally separate from Breezes Beach Club, it has just six private villas, with their own bar and restaurant but you have the use of all the great facilities next door if you want them. Each of the very spacious villas has a large, main bedroom with a huge king-size bed, a living room, full en-suite bathroom, walk-in closet and an extra bedroom with its own en-suite bathroom. The private terrace has a plunge pool and sun loungers. Each villa also has its own corresponding 'beach hut' with sun loungers on the beach itself just a couple of minutes walk from your villa. The restaurant, bar and library are next to the pool which can be used at low tide. There is also a small spa for exclusive use of guests.
Baraza is a new luxury resort (built late 2008) set on Bwejuu beach, recently voted by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the top 30 beaches in the world. Evoking the romantic era of the Sultans and Zanzibar’s heritage, the 30 villas are a fusion of Arabic, Swahili and Indian design, with stone archways, carvings, antiques and decadent interiors. Each villa has a large luxury bathroom and a spacious terrace with a private plunge pool. Suited to both families and couples seeking sunshine and relaxation, Baraza has a swimming pool, a fitness centre and spa with a jacuzzi and tennis courts, a main restaurant, a poolside restaurant serving lunches and two bars, including a Sheesha Bar. A few strides along the beach are all the facilities, including a full watersports centre, of sister hotel Breezes Beach Club.
"A generally outstanding place and great service."
Henry and Christina, Edinburgh
Fumba Beach Lodge, about 35 minutes south of Stone Town, is one of the few small lodges on this southern peninsula. It is a lovely, colourful oasis with twenty spacious deluxe rooms nestled in the manicured tropical gardens, each with an en-suite shower, private terrace and stunning ocean view. There are also four luxury suites with a private roof terrace, open air shower and a bath overlooking the Indian Ocean, as well as two unique Baobab Suites, cradled in a magnificent baobab tree. You can enjoy an early morning dip in the sea just yards from your room and the cliff-top infinity pool has wonderful views over the sea especially at sunset. The convivial bar is constructed from a dhow, and the informal dining is dotted around the beach and grounds, as the mood takes the management on the evening, which makes it great for couples, groups and single travellers. There is a new scuba diving centre at Fumba and a spa, built around a baobab tree, offering a variety of treatments.
Set in the Chumbe Island Coral Park, a Marine Protected Area (MPA), Chumbe Island Lodge is an award-winning eco lodge with just seven Robinson Crusoe-style palm thatched 'bungalows'. The bungalows generate their own electricity and the lodge catches, filters and stores rainwater for their water supply. Built entirely from local materials, the bungalows have two storeys with the bedroom on the second floor with views of the sea and one wall open to the stars. There is a sitting area, hammock and bathroom below, and you are only a few seconds from the inviting waters of the Indian Ocean. You can learn about the island's project with forest walks, enjoy incredible snorkelling around the long-protected and therefore almost intact coral reef or go out scuba diving. The restaurant, which is also an education centre for the coral park project, overlooks the sea between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, and serves a fresh mix of Zanzibarian, Arabic, Indian and African dishes with lots of wonderful seafood.