Michele explores Tanzania’s islands including Zanzibar – March, 2016
It was great to revisit and explore the islands of southern Tanzania and I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the smaller islands exclusive, relatively underdeveloped and engulfed in their natural beauty. On the other hand, although Zanzibar itself has seen a lot of development since my last visit with several new hotels, I was impressed with the variety of properties on the island; a good range from small boutique hotels to larger resorts, a super selection to suit individual requirements.
My trip started at Ras Kutani, a lovely lodge south of Dar Es Salaam (Dar). With its relatively close proximity to Dar, it is the perfect retreat to kick back and relax at either at the start or end of your safari particularly in combination with the southern Tanzania circuit (Selous and Ruaha). The accommodation is eco-friendly, rustic, but very comfortable. There is a lovely beach and if you are feeling active, a range of activities.
I then flew south to Songo Songo and transferred by boat to the exclusive Fanjove Island. A little piece of paradise with gorgeous turquoise water and picture perfect beaches. The property itself is simple but comfortable, and bandas are very private. If you are looking for beach destination with incredible natural beauty and accommodation offering simplicity and exclusivity, Fanjove will certainly deliver.
Next stop Pemba Island, north of Zanzibar. I was rather taken with this island, famed for its incredible diving and snorkelling opportunities. Being an avid participant of the latter it certainly did not disappoint! It is not an island of miles of white sandy beaches, but there are some beautiful beaches and combined with its remote location, exotic feel and not forgetting the diving and snorkelling, I think it’s a bit of a gem! I visited two properties on the island (there are not many which is the magic of the island), Manta Reef Resort in the north west and Fundu Lagoon in the south west. Manta Reef Resort is a charming property. From the moment you enter the hotel, you feel part of their ‘family’. The staff are friendly and attentive and it has a very relaxed feel. The rooms are simple, but perfectly comfortable and there is a relatively small, but gorgeous beach, west facing I may add so you can soak up the sunsets whilst relaxing in their beach bar with something cold! The lodge has an excellent dive centre with several dive instructors and numerous dive sites to explore. For the non-divers (like myself), there is a snorkelling trip every morning at 7am to their nearby reef literally in front of the beach only a short few minutes boat ride. The trip is only $10 per person and the money goes to the local village in an agreement that they limit their fishing to the outside their conservation zone. The partnership seems to be working really well and after several years they have seen the reef come back to life and flourishing. I of course did not miss the opportunity to experience the snorkelling trip and it was fantastic, certainly up there with some of the best snorkelling I have experienced in Africa. Countless fish from trumpeter, bat, lion, angle fish, and puffer fish together with large shoals of wide-eye trivalli and a sizeable barracuda! Manta Resort is well known for its unusual underwater villa. You can spend an incredible night or two in the private villa located a short boat ride off the beach with meals delivered to you! The bedroom area of the villa is submerged several metres under water and walls toughened glass. I did not spend the night (no time), but did manage to see the bedroom and spent several minutes in awe as I was literally surrounded by fish, not knowing which way to turn! To spend a night or two would be truly magical and unforgettable experience.
Equally, Fundu Lagoon too was a lovely property, but very different in style. The accommodation is in comfortable tents set in the forest on the edge of a peninsular surrounded by mangroves. It certainly has that Robinson Crusoe feel to it. Sunsets are fabulous; their bar extends off the jetty with a superb ocean view and gin and tonics are plentiful. For the active there is a nice range of activities from kayaking in the mangroves to snorkelling or diving off the stunning Masali Island. If you are lucky, you may see dolphins along the way! The only downside is the beach which in low tide does become very muddy and swimming is not really possible. That said, they do have a lovely pool with great views.
My three days on Zanzibar were of course very busy with numerous hotel inspections. As mentioned above, what I like about Zanzibar is the great variety from small boutique to larger resort style hotels. A few that stood out to me were Pongwe Beach Hotel, a great value, simple property with lovely beach and laid back feel. Baraza I felt was the best luxury hotel on the island, the rooms are very comfortable, food and service good and they have a wonderful spa! In Stone Town, I was pleasantly surprised with the new Park Hyatt. It has a great location overlooking the ocean and combines authentic Zanzibar with a modern twist, and certainly, reasonable value for the quality.
My last, but by no means least stop was the exclusive Mnemba Island. I was extremely fortunate to spend the night and the experience has without a doubt clarified a few things to me particularly when it comes to justifying the price. A small island located just off the north-east coast of Zanzibar, Mnemba blew me away! Don’t get me wrong, so it should. With the amount they charge per night, I definitely had my watchful eye during my stay, but honestly could not fault it! From the moment you arrive, you feel incredibly welcome and relaxed. I could not fault a thing from the rustic, but luxurious accommodation, pristine beach, amazing snorkelling and diving, mouth-watering food, attentive and friendly staff, and the overall attention to detail – it was superb. What I really loved about Mnemba is that you had all the comforts of a five star luxury lodge – comfortable beds, mini-bar in room, hairdryer, private butler etc., but still in keeping with the simple things in life (no television, no phones, although there is Wi-Fi), casual dress, no set times, barefoot to meals (I mean who needs shoes in paradise!) I left the island thinking not about how to justify the expense or value of a visit (even though the high-end lodge is all-inclusive, exclusive, and offers excellent diving/snorkelling with two dives a day included in the price) but calculating how many years I would need to save until I could come back for a holiday!
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