Zanzibar Archipelago – The Jewel in East Africa’s Crown
Located in the Indian Ocean, 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania and comprising two large islands fringed by many more, the Zanzibar Archipelago vies with the Serengeti as Tanzania’s most precious natural asset, able to mesmerise even the most jaded traveller into meditative contemplation.
Undoubtedly, one of the jewels in East Africa’s crown, Zanzibar (Unguja) can only be described as a slice of tropical heaven. Turquoise blue waters gently lap palm-fringed beaches, which stretch for miles; traditional white-sailed wooden dhows sail on warm sea breezes; bustling spice markets fill the air with a heady mix of Middle Eastern and African scents that leave you breathless.
Also known as the ‘Spice Island’, Zanzibar’s rich history and alluring mix of cultures add to the flavour of the island from the ancient Persian caliphs that dot the island, to the heavily laden scents of India that float in the air above the vibrant markets. Uniquely East African flavours assault the senses, from the network of alleyways that wind past Arabic-style houses with brass-studded wooden doors and the tall, traditionally garbed Maasai striding across the beaches to the colourful back-street markets of Zanzibar City’s old quarter filled with Swahili and Indian traders in long salwar kameezes and embroidered skullcaps. Add to this uniquely East African flavours of Swahili and Arabic and you have an exotic melting pot of distinct and undeniably ‘Zanzibarian’ charm that can only be found in this magical East African archipelago.
Home to some of the world’s most magnificent beaches, gin-clear waters teem with myriad marine life, colourful, pristine reefs offer excellent snorkelling and diving, and a network of small, nearly deserted islands promise secluded retreats to hide away from the world.
AccommodationCapturing the vibrant essence of the ‘Spice Island’ in an exotic blend of laid-back beach life and ancient culture, Zanzibar offers a range of beautiful places to stay from intimate seaside escapes to elegant spa resorts that reflect the island’s beauty and character.
Renowned as one of the world’s most romantic honeymoon destinations with pristine, white sandy beaches, azure blue waters and breath-taking sunsets, there is no lack of luxury beachfront cottages and exclusive boutique hotels, tucked away in secluded coves, for couples wanting an intimate escape.
The island also offers a range of family-friendly hotels with safe swimming beaches and a variety of activities for an all-inclusive family holiday, while luxurious spa resorts with private beaches and spectacular views are ideal for an idyllic, island paradise getaway. If you prefer to be surrounded by culture, Zanzibar’s historical capital of Stone Town has several great hotels in and around the city.
For something a little more remote, head out to one of the island’s neighbouring atolls where islands such as Pemba Island, Mafia Island, and the private Mnemba Island are home to luxurious lodges that promise an intimate and exclusive island escape. Dive or snorkel teeming coral reefs, swim with dolphins, or just laze on the beach and soak up the stunning surroundings.
Known as ‘The Green Island’ in Arabic, Pemba Island lies 31 miles (50km) to the north of Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago and together with Mafia Island forms the ‘Spice Islands’ of Zanzibar. Separated from the mainland of Tanzania by the Pemba Channel, Pemba Island is an untouched slice of paradise. Boasting footprint-free white sandy beaches and healthy coral reefs, lush mangroves and tranquil lagoons, hilly, fertile terrain lined with fruit and spice trees, Pemba is an idyllic and secluded island escape.
Pemba Island Accommodation
The Manta Reef Resort
Tucked away on the remote north-western tip of Pemba Island overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Pemba Channel, The Manta Reef Resort takes barefoot luxury to new heights. Romantic and relaxing, Manta Resort boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and waters in Zanzibar with world-class snorkelling and diving.
Ancient Moorish design meets European chic in the stylish all-suite accommodation with all the luxurious comforts needed for a perfect stay. From opulent suites overlooking lush tropical gardens and luxurious penthouses to magnificent suites located on the beach with incredible ocean views, and a unique underwater room, a choice selection of accommodation is available for every taste.
Lunch over a poolside picnic as you soak up the sun in style, spend the day being pampered with luxurious beauty treatments at the resort’s exclusive spa and watch the sun set over the horizon with colourful cocktails at the elegant beach lounge, followed by alfresco-style cuisine of fresh seafood and other local delights. Stroll along miles of untouched sand or explore the myriad of sea life in the azure blue Indian Ocean waters. Take a romantic dhow cruise on warm sea breezes or lounge by the pool with your favourite book and simply soak up the island’s beauty.
Nestled on the exquisitely secluded Pemba Island and only accessible by boat, Fundu Lagoon is the ultimate paradise island escape.
Eighteen spacious Makuti thatched tents and suites offer discerning guests luxurious comfort, with airy, elegantly furnished rooms, cool seductive spaces that look out over pristine white sandy beaches and weathered timber terraces flowing out onto decks with unobstructed ocean views. Contemporary, beach house chic décor creates a relaxed and luxuriously laid-back island living feel. Unique pieces of décor such as hand-carved bar stools and beautiful freeform bathtubs create an atmosphere of understated luxury, while creamy, natural tones with touches of blues echo the miles of pristine white sands and azure blue sea.
Savour superb Afro-Asian cuisine and sumptuous seafood at the excellent restaurant or luxuriate with sensual spa and aqua therapy treatments at the luxurious Fusion Spa. Explore the myriad of marine life on the beautiful coral reefs or end the day with a magnificent sunset dhow cruise along the tropical shores of this coastal paradise.
Mafia Island is the southernmost island of the three Spice Islands and a secluded untouched paradise far from the touristy crowds of Zanzibar’s larger islands. The largest of a score of islands, atolls and tidal sandbars that make up the Mafia Archipelago, Mafia Island is approximately 31 miles (50 km) long by 9 miles (15 km) across, and is surrounded by a barrier reef teeming with marine life. With a small fishing community of laid, back friendly locals, warm sea and air temperatures year-round and pristine beaches and coral reefs within the protected Mafia Island Marine Park, Mafia Island is the perfect post-safari or honeymoon destination.
Mafia Island Accommodation
Powder-soft sands, azure waters and cloudless blue skies are just some of the reasons that make Pole Pole the perfect island getaway. Tucked away on Mafia Island, the exclusive ‘Crusoe-esque’ style eco-resort is located on a secluded beach overlooking the infinite hues of Chole Bay in the heart of the Mafia Island Marine Park and offers an unpretentious, unforgettable stay. Perfect for relaxing after a safari or spending time with loved ones, Pole Pole boasts seven beautifully appointed bungalow suites, surrounded by lush tropical gardens and spectacular ocean views.
Designed in a laid-back Balinese style to echo true island living, spacious living spaces flow effortlessly into one another with elegant timber furnishings and chic contemporary décor. Wood is the main element throughout the villa, with weathered timber decks, louvre doors and stylish timber tables and chairs. Dine on a fusion of Swahili and Italian cuisine which features freshly caught local seafood, enjoy pampering massages and spa treatments in the wellness center overlooking the beach or spend hours snorkelling or diving in the exquisite waters around the island. Pole Pole is all about relaxation and once you are there, you will be hard-pressed to leave.
Mafia Island Lodge
African and Arabic influences blend in a tropical haven in the award-winning Mafia Island Lodge. Resting on a sandy beach in Chole Bay in the Mafia Island Marine Park, the charming island-style Lodge offers a romantic location and a range of fun, water-based activities. Epitomising comfortable Crusoe-chic, rustic thatched suites furnished with stylish contemporary décor are nestled amongst a shady canopy of trees on pristine white sands.
Spacious living areas seamlessly integrate with the surrounding environment through open-sided rooms, while weathered timber boardwalks connect to intimately-appointed, luxurious en-suite bedrooms. Natural features of wood, thatch and reed combine with bold, vibrant colours inspired by the natural fauna and flora to enhance a relaxed, island-style ambience. Days can be spent soaking up the sun on the magnificent beaches and dipping in the Indian Ocean, diving, fishing or exploring the incredible coral reefs.
Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia Island can be reached by air on daily flights from Arusha, Serengeti, Selous and Dar es Salaam.
© Photos Thierry Cellier, The Manta, Pole Pole, Mafia Island Lodge, Fundu Lagoon