Zanzibar – the name says it all. Only 15 minutes by plane from the mainland lies the wonderfully sleepy island of Zanzibar. The obvious beach tack-on to a safari in mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar is East Africa’s finest beach destination surrounded by coral reefs with numerous idyllic beaches lined by huge sweeping palm trees.
Though most visitors spend a night or two in Zanzibar’s Stone Town it is the beaches, snorkelling and diving that attract people to Zanzibar’s shores, and with an ever increasing tourist trade it is remarkable that the island has kept its African charm.
Zanzibar is much larger than one might expect; driving from top to bottom takes about two hours. Stone Town and the airport are found on the Western edge, with a transfer from any beach lodge taking about an hour. The island’s best beaches for a Zanzibar holiday are found on Zanzibar’s Eastern and Northern coastline with miles and miles of seemingly endless beaches, and a wealth of accommodation choice. Western Zanzibar (where Stone Town is located) and Southern Zanzibar have poor beaches. Zanzibar is the jewel in any Tanzania holiday.
Zanzibar: where to stay – bottom end
The most economical hotels that we use for a Zanzibar holiday are Shooting Star, Mchanga and Echo Beach. All are well established, good value small hotels that have good beaches and personal service. Shooting Star is the oldest of the bunch and with its location on the top of a cliff it has the best views on Zanzibar. The rooms are spacious and the food and service is very good for the price. Mchanga is a similar style lodge with the same owners, located further North from Shooting Star. With only 10 rooms it’s much smaller and a more cosy feel. The pick of the bunch however is Echo Beach. Located further South on Zanzibar’s southerly-east beach. Echo Beach is near Breezes and Baraza offering charming accommodation and the best kitchen around. Fantastic food cooked by the owner Andrew and a beautifully relaxed approach to service, making Echo our favourite lodge in this price bracket.
Zanzibar: where to stay: Mid Range
Step up a level and you have hotels that cost between $250pppn and $350pppn. General standards are a step up from the lower end of the market and the hotels tend to have their own dive centres and the facilities of larger resorts such as tennis courts etc. General food and service levels are very high. To start with is a hotel that we have supported since it was built: Ras Nungwi on the Northern tip of the island. Nungwi has arguably the best beach on the island and all the facilities of a large resort but with only 28 rooms. Ras Nungwi has stood the test of time to consistently deliver great service. It is a small hotel that delivers great reports. It is superb value and with the best dive centre on the island it excels in its price bracket. Matemwe Bungalows is an old favourite in the office but also one that seems to split opinion amongst travellers – you are either a Matemwe Bungalows person, or you are not! The beach here is poor in comparison to elsewhere, but for those wanting to stay as far away from the crowds as possible on the island, it is a good bet. The largest resort style hotel we use is Breezes Beach Club, a great value resort with finely tuned operations and rooms that suit families and honeymooners alike. Breezes has been around for years and has earned the reputation of the best resort on the island.
Zanzibar: Where to stay: Top End
Breezes sister hotels Baraza and The Palms are much more expensive, but they are amongst the finest hotels on the island and make a superb location for a Zanzibar Holiday or Zanzibar honeymoon. Baraza has 36 rooms and with private plunge pools, offers some of the best accommodation on the island. It is our favourite hotel for families wanting the best the island can offer. The Palms is next door and with only six rooms offers a more intimate experience that fits very well with couples wanting to keep to themselves. The newly opened La Residence is a new top end resort with exceptionally high, albeit fairly expensive, service levels. The quality of the beach here is our only issue but we cannot deny their effort; your every need is attended to here! A smaller hotel also at the top end of the market, is Kilindi, an elaborately designed hotel that has amazing rooms and certainly offers the most privacy of any hotel, though the beach is not as good as it should be
But, without a doubt the best lodge in Zanzibar is Mnemba island, located off Zanzibar’s North East tip. Mnemba is a small island with Africa’s finest beach, and only ten rooms. Needless to say, Mnemba costs an absolute fortune, but it is exceptional. Having debated this for a long time in the office, and having staff who have viewed many of the worlds top beach hotels, we believe it is deserving of the price tag. Mnemba is one of the best beach islands in the world.
The Geographical Area of Zanzibar
Zanzibar is much larger than one might expect; driving from top to bottom takes about two hours. Stone Town and the airport are found on the Western edge, with a transfer from any beach lodge taking about an hour. The island’s best beaches are found on Zanzibar’s Eastern and Northern coastline with miles and miles of seemingly endless beaches, and a wealth of accommodation choice. Western Zanzibar (where Stone Town is located) and Southern Zanzibar have poor beaches.
The Northern coast is called Nungwi, appropriately named after Nungwi village. This is arguably Zanzibar’s best stretch of beach and if you choose the lodge correctly, one of the more quiet areas.
South west of Nungwi is Kendwa, known for its pristine beach but also for being a backpackers haven and very busy. if you are on a real budget then this is the place. It also boasts a few parties, beach stalls and a buzzing local atmosphere.
The north-eastern coast is called Matemwe. The beaches here are really not very good at all, but this does deter people and therefore you actually get a relatively remote stay with amazing views of Mnemba island.
Even further east of Matemwe is Kiwengwa and Pongwe. These areas have great beaches, but also a few large hotels that don’t really offer much charm. Unlike most other areas of Zanzibar, there isn’t any real focus or central point to head to here, such as a village. Bweju and Dongwe are home to some of the best beaches on the island and a very long stretch of pristine beach. Although there are a few big properties here, they are very good and this area is well worth staying in.
On the far southern coast is Kizimkazi. The beaches here are mainly coral rock but the dving and snorkelling around these area are incredible, especially at Unguja.