Turquoise waters and coral reefs...
Think of a Zanzibar beach resort. Images of pristine, white sandy beaches lapped by warm turquoise waters will float into your mind. Add a few coconut palms, nearby coral reefs, great cuisine and hospitality. And you have a pretty fair impression of a stay at one of the top Zanzibar resorts.
Zanzibar only really began welcoming overseas visitors in the late 1980s. This means that aside from a few Zanzibar resorts catering for incoming southern Europeans on direct charters (not featured here!), there are plenty of smaller Zanzibar beach lodges. All offer local character and oodles of charm.
The Zanzibar resorts on the East Coast are probably the best known. And they most closely reflect the classic Zanzibar beach paradigm - Long white beaches which overlook a long barrier reef just offshore.
The North-East offers various beaches such as Matemwe, Kiwengwa, Paje, and Pongwe. This area is famous for its fine beaches, the contrasting colours of the Indian Ocean and the coral reef. Great options include Matemwe Lodge, Kasha Boutique Hotel and Zanzibar White Sand.
The South-East includes the Michamvi Peninsula, which also offers long powdery beaches, palm trees and a barrier reef for snorkelling. Here the tidal effect is not so marked as further north so that your sea view remains attractive at all times. Plus from here you can take an excursion to visit the red colobus monkeys in the Jozani Forest. Check out the perennial favourite Breezes Beach Club or its more exclusive sister hotels, Zawadi Resort and Baraza Resort & Spa.
Some of the Zanzibar beach resorts in the far north face the mainland (and thus are less affected by the tidal range). Ras Nungwi is probably best area for experienced divers. But the village of Nungwi itself has become quite busy and over-developed. Yet there are some more secluded Zanzibar lodges such as Zuri Zanzibar and Elewana Kilindi. Note that the transfer time to the far north is quite long, up to 2 hours. So it's ideal for a longer stay.
There are also some great little Zanzibar resorts in the south-west of the island - such as Fumba Beach Lodge or Unguja Resort. The beaches here may lack the classic coconut palm adornment. But they have their own charm and tranquillity in this friendly and unpretentious part of Zanzibar. Dolphin encounters are also a strong possibility here as the dolphin pods often congregate off the southern coast near Kizimkazi. The South-west is also less affected by the tidal range.
Note on Tidal Range - It’s worth mentioning that the shallow gradient of most of the beaches on Zanzibar means that you cannot swim in the sea at low tide. Plus some visitors report annoyance at the large populations of sea urchins.
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The Palms was built a few years ago as the five star sister hotel to Breezes. It is very small with only six villas so it offers the exclusivity and personal attention which the grander and larger Baraza hotel may not. It has a more traditional, less Arabic ambience to it.
The suites are smart with a terrace, two day beds and a small spa bath. Inside there’s a sitting area (with TV and DVD player) which is open plan into the bedroom. Behind the bedroom is a large dressing room and sizeable bathroom (with separate toilet/bidet). The spa bath is functional but not super-stylish but perhaps I am being picky.
It doesn’t take kids under 16 years (though curiously each villa has a second bedroom with a single bed, and shower room so an older child could share with you. Go figure!)
However what is particularly nice about Palms is that each villa has its own private ‘banda’ right on raised beach area behind the main beach, with steps directly down to the main beach. Here are two loungers, coffee table and a double day bed which is screened on three sides for privacy and also protection from the winds. (I am actually writing this sitting on my banda day bed!) This is a really nice feature of The Palms - which Baraza doesn’t have. I suspect that a lot of people simply hang out at their banda for much of the day. The staff bring you sundowner cocktails and nibbles to your banda or morning coffee if they see that you have headed down there. Nice touch!
However overall I still prefer Baraza next door to The Palms, except perhaps at the peak of high season...