Hakuna Matata! My tips for visiting Zanzibar

So if you follow me on Instagram and saw my last blog on The Z Hotel you’ll be well aware that my husband and I just spent 10 days on the beautiful Tanzanian Island of Zanzibar. How tropical and exotic does that sound??!

Apart from the fact that Zanzibar is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury and features in one of Tenacious D’s naughtier songs, it’s famous for a whole host of other reasons. I thought I’d give you the lowdown on our trip and where I’d recommend staying and eating…

Nungwi:

Through recommendations and research we decided to visit Nungwi. Situated at the northern tip of the island and supposedly home to one of the best beaches in the world. Well, we certainly were not disappointed! Think powdery white sand and turquoise blue waters. Depending where you are staying you will probably need to drive through Nungwi village. The rollercoaster of a dirt track will test the most concrete of dental installations but makes the beach that greets you at the end all the more welcome. Once you make it to the beach in Nungwi however you will truly feel like you’ve arrived in paradise.

Where to stay:

We stayed in The Z Hotel, which we loved and cannot recommend enough (see my previous post for more info). It’s got the perfect view in a great location on the beach with some fab little restaurants. A number of friends also recommended the Essque Zalu Zanzibar but instead of staying here we opted to visit for lunch one day in order to do a reccie.  The resort is lovely and has a great vista out over the shimmering water, however it’s quite isolated with little around it (I guess you are paying for the privacy) and is a little on the pricier side. The beach facing bungalows looked gorgeous but some of the common areas and the pool looked a little bit dated.

the z
The Z Hotel

Where to eat:

As you may already know from my previous post The Z Hotel has 2 fabulous restaurants. Cinnamon is a more casual, cafe-bar affair serving up great pizzas, burgers and salads with an awesome view over the beach. If seafood is your bag then check out Saruche which is directly below, serving up great local dishes and some classics in a candle-lit setting on the beach for those romantics amongst you.

If you are after something cheaper and more casual there are plenty of little places dotted along the beach. We checked out Baraka one evening, just a few tables scattered on the beach and a small kitchen at the back where you can score a large grilled lobster slathered in garlic butter sauce for around $18! I’d also recommend Langi Langi, which has a great deck that juts out over the water at high tide, all dark wood and candlelight, this is a charming, rustic restaurant serving up local curries and fresh seafood. You must try the Jambo Jambo prawns! The only complaint I have is that the staff are obviously on island time as the food took a long time to come out. That said, this isn’t such a hardship as it’s not a bad spot to watch the tide roll away.

For a treat, visit The Jetty at the Essque Zalu Zanzibar. As the name suggests this is a restaurant set at the end of a long jetty offering incredible cocktails, tapas-style European dishes and seafood orientated main courses. We opted for a few of the tapas dishes (try the tomatoes, feta and pesto) along with a few cocktails whilst we basked in the sun. A really beautiful spot for lunch and I’m sure even more special at night.

What to do:

We are normally very active on holiday (no sleeping on tour is our motto!) however given the demanding prior 6 months we decided to use this trip as a complete chill out holiday. Although I know there are plenty of tours and safaris you can experience we chose to spend our days soaking up the sun intermittently interrupted by the occasional snorkel. We did manage to get off our bums one day to do the trip out to Mnemba Island, which is a private island (supposedly owned by Bill Gates) to the north-east of Zanzibar. You’ll see plenty of locals selling this trip along the beach and for $20 you get picked up in the morning and taken to Mnemba reef by dhow boat for a couple of hours snorkelling, followed by a BBQ and relax on a nearby beach (since you can’t go on the island itself). This is rounded off by a leisurely journey back to Nungwi under the billowing sails.  I was rather giddy about this as I’d heard great things about the coral. However, whilst a lovely day out at sea complemented by the usual underwater suspects, the coral was quite damaged. An unfortunate yet inevitable consequence of the daily volumes visiting the site. When later talking to a local he suggested getting a private boat to Tambatu island instead which apparently has a much healthier reef but isn’t as well-known. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do this but firmly on the list for our return visit.

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Daytrip to Mnemba

Matemwe:

After a wonderful time in Nungwi we travelled to Matemwe, about 45 mins away, on the north-east cost of Zanzibar. This was in contrast to Nungwi very quiet, with a few hotels and bungalows dotted along the beach front but very little else. Perfect if your plans involve not planning on doing a lot! The beach was beautiful but not the best for swimming as it’s very flat and rocky so when the tide goes out you’d have to wade out a considerable distance to reach deep water.

Where to stay:

We chose to stay at Villa Kiva based on TripAdvisor reviews and given that there wasn’t a huge selection left at the time of booking. Set right on the beach this endearing little resort offers only 13 rooms. We opted for a sea view room, which resulted in a cosy little bungalow facing out to the beautiful ocean. The rooms are a fair size with a nice big bed and designed to be in keeping with the rustic theme that runs through the resort. The bathrooms could definitely do with a bit of modernizing but otherwise it was very comfortable, leaving you feeling very far away from home. The hotel has two pools (which could also do with some attention) and a restaurant facing out to the sea with sun loungers on a small, raised private beach area. It’s super chilled and perfect for those who really want to get away from it all. During our few days here we wandered down the endless stretch of white beach having a nosy at some of the other hotels around. We stumbled upon the small resort of Zanzibar Bandas one day and decided to stay for lunch which left us very impressed. It has 8 new bungalows built from locally sourced materials directly on the beach, with a lovely pool at the back and an incredible seafood restaurant. This would definitely be another good option if you are considering staying in Matemwe.

Where to eat:

We ate at the Villa Kiva restaurant a few times for lunch and dinner. Their menu has quite an Italian influence so I can highly recommend their pizzas. We also tried some of the seafood and curry options and whilst the food was lovely it wasn’t life changing so if you are going to dine here I’d go pizza all the way. There is a small restaurant just down the beach from Villa Kiva called Seles which we visited one lunch for a game of darts (random I know!) while the heavens decided to open on us and ruin our sunbathing plans. A few beers down and following a chat with our waiter we decided to return of an evening after he told us all about their special Coconut Curry Jumbo Prawns. I’m pleased to inform you they were every bit as good as they sound and if we’d have had another day we definitely would have returned. Seles had a bit of a “British Pub on the beach” feel to it and was rammed to the rafters with 80’s music blaring out, which seemed very odd given the locale, but it was great fun. As I mention above we also ate at Zanzibar Bandas as I had read they offered some of the best seafood around. I had the Octopus which was ridiculously fresh (I’m pretty certain it walked itself to the kitchen!), well-seasoned and perfectly grilled. Definitely one to check out.

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Grilled Octopus at Zanzibar Bandas

What to do:

Chill out! It’s hard to go out and do too much snorkelling or swimming here given the shallow water and rocks. You can however arrange to join one of the safari and snorkelling trips if you are keen. We also saw plenty of people hiring mopeds to travel up and down the beach to explore further if that floats your boat. Luckily for us there was a mini-spa located in Villa Kiva which came in handy just to make sure we were extra chilled during our stay. It’d be rude not too right?

Will we return to Zanzibar?

Is the Pope a Catholic?!! Its beautiful white beaches and turquoise water are straight out of a Bounty advert. Coupled with the reasonable hotels, food and booze and friendly local people it’s easily become one of my top destinations. We are already considering returning next year with a stop in Tanzania for a couple of safaris having heard such great things!

Nicole x

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