I’ll be frank. When we first landed in Zanzibar, I wasn’t feeling totally enamoured with the place. This is a story for another post, but me and this island didn’t immediately get along at first meeting.
However by the time we reached Zawadi – a brand new hotel on the island’s south east coast – my opinion of the island had taken a much more positive turn. We’d grown to love Stone Town and we were about to see the side of the Spice Isle that the glossy magazines and brochures love to shine the spotlight on – the paradise beaches and luxurious hotel escapes.
An hour’s journey from Stone Town to Zawadi Hotel takes you past verdant countryside of lush, towering palms and rows-upon-rows of agave plants. The roads become quieter, the pace gets slower. And when you step into the elegant open-air entrance of Zawadi, that’s when the view of the infinity pool – which overlooks the Indian Ocean – comes into view.
Friends back home were convinced I’d photoshopped my instagram photos (I hadn’t – the colours here really are this bright). Any memories of frantic airports and rainy days in Stone Town had begun to fade. This place had the wow factor, without a doubt.
Although the front of house staff seemed a little surprised at our arrival (it appears there was a slight blip in communication from their head office), they couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. A Zanzibari lady named Dotto greeted us with glasses of fruit juice and while we waited for our reservation to be confirmed Evelyne, the general manager, chatted to us about the property.
An avid diver, she was also a great source of inspiration for BC who was interested in doing his PADI (alas it never happened as we were both hit with the cold later that week). We also chatted about the travels we had enjoyed so far, around east Africa.
At just five months old when we arrived, Zawadi was a baby in the hotel world, but it definitely felt like Evelyne was proud of what they’d achieved so far. And rightly so.
Part of The Zanzibar Collection, this all-inclusive hotel is a short drive from its three sister properties – Breezes Beach Club & Spa, Baraza and The Palms Zanzibar. It’s also the most exclusive of the four, with a very personalised feel.
Zawadi definitely has a touch of the Swahili style with open air thatched buildings and shabby-chic wooden furniture but with brand spanking new fixtures, it seemed much more modern than hotels we stayed in across other areas of East Africa.
The bar and lounge area is filled with elegant arm chairs, wooden benches and carved wooden furniture, all in a matching shade of off-white. In fact, everything here hits the white, earthy brown or beige end of the colour spectrum.
At first, it seems a bit well, colourless, but it really works and looked gorgeous at night. With arty coastal-themed ornaments, the minimalist decor contrasts against the lush green gardens, swaying palm trees and magenta bougainvillea that fill the grounds.
There are nine villas at Zawadi and we were staying in ‘Papa’ which is Swahili for shark (which delighted the shark-obsessed husband no end). When the room was ready, our bags were carried to the villa for us and we followed Dotto who led the way. As we approached, it struck us just how private these villas are.
Guests have their own spacious outdoor area that’s shaded by the edge of the villa roof and it’s cleverly designed so that the path leads around the edge, adding to the private feel. If you don’t want to be disturbed, pull the coconut shell across the path…
…that way you can enjoy a soak in the ‘bath with a view’…
Inside these 100 square metre villas the white theme continues. I guess it’s every parent-of-small-children’s worst nightmare (think of the spillages!). But for a couple who wants to luxuriate and enjoy a level of minimalism you’ll never quite achieve at home (like us) – it’s heaven.
The Papa Villa at Zawadi
In true Swahili style, the villa ceilings reach high up into the roof into a pyramid, ensuring the room stays nice and cool. The rooms also had excellent air-con which meant you could escape the intense heat when you wanted to, and get ready for dinner and use a hairdryer without melting.
The sofa and lounge area was great for relaxing in (when BC was waiting for me to get ready) and we had a wide-screen TV with a range of channels (including international news channels and sport). There was a kettle with tea bags and coffee sachets and a minibar of both soft and alcoholic drinks.
As you can see, the bed was beautiful (and very comfortable) and while we weren’t bothered by mosquitos here at all, it was nice to have the option to close the drapes around the bed. The housekeeping staff did this for us every night. In fact, the turndown service and general housekeeping were excellent – and I don’t think we spotted the staff in our room once. It was as if fairies had waved a magic wand in our villa each time we returned.
As for the bathroom, this was also a high point for me. Put simply, it was huge. If, like me, you get highly annoyed by hotels with a rainforest shower that’s beyond reach, you’ll be happy to know they also have a separate detachable shower here. The bathrooms also have his ‘n’ hers sinks and beautiful frangipani toiletries which scent the room.
And although the artistic tap over the bath leaked quite badly, the bath-with-a-view and gorgeous bath salts ticked another ultra-luxurious box. There’s nothing better than enjoying a long soak after a day on the beach.
In between the bathroom and bedroom areas, the villa had a fantastic wardrobe space complete with security box, slippers and beautiful robes made from traditional African kikoy fabric.
We really did have everything we could possibly need in the Papa villa.
Relaxing at Zawadi
Relaxation is sort of an obligation at Zawadi. Due to its remote location (and beautiful grounds and delicious food), there’s no real incentive to leave the property.
During the day, we found it a little hazy as to how the poolside drinks service worked and we had to try to find a member of staff on a couple of occasions which we thought some guests may find annoying. But it didn’t really bother us, especially as the service was so attentive in the restaurant during mealtimes.
It’s a shame there’s no spa at Zawadi however you can visit the nearby spa at Baraza hotel which is excellent. Or – if you give plenty of notice – I believe you can arrange for a massage in your room.
The onsite yoga and pilates offerings were limited to yoga mats in the room (if you want a proper session you can pop over to their sister properties Breezes and Baraza). However this is the ideal place to just kick back and relax, cocktail in hand, because the views and setting are sensational.
Activities and Things to do at Zawadi
The east coast of Zanzibar is perfect for snorkelling and diving as the coral reefs are teeming with marine life and the water is so clear here. The hotel had a selection of reef shoes, flippers and snorkels – and a concrete path has been etched into the seabed (with minimal damage to the coral I hope) – which meant we could snorkel right in front of the beach.
There’s also a lagoon a short distance along the coast (which BC explored) and beach walks while the tide is out are stunning. Along the beach, you’ll find a restaurant called The Rock. I didn’t go, but I did read a great review by Angie over on Silverspoon London here – check it out, it’s quite unique!
When we weren’t sunning ourselves and instagramming the gorgeous infinity pool, we tried a spot of kayaking, which the hotel will gladly arrange for you. I’d highly recommend you do this as it’s a fantastic way to see the coast and appreciate just how stunning the ocean is here. We went armed with a GoPro and I’ll admit, I slightly freaked out when a ray swam underneath our canoe, but it was a fantastic experience.
Those who want to explore the island while they’re here, can also arrange excursions. Zawadi offers dolphin spotting trips and excursions to the nearby Jozani Forest and Stone Town.
I will follow up with another post about the food at Zawadi. But the cuisine was also one of the high points for me.
In between all the indulgence, I took myself off to the hotel’s garden that’s encircled by a 900 metre path they call their ‘nature gym’ and makes for a handy jogging trail. You’ll also find a collection of chin-up bars, benches and weights made from wooden trunks which allows you to get in some strength work. It’s pretty hardgoing in the heat but it was a nice way to fit in some exercise, as the sun was setting.
All in all, we fell head-over-heels for Zawadi. From the warm and welcoming staff and personalised service, to the excellent dining and sensational setting, this hotel is nothing short of spectacular and I’m sure it’s only going to get better.
So much so, I am making it my mission to return to the Spice Isle. If you haven’t been, I think you should too.
There are several airlines who fly to Zanzibar but it’s near impossible to get there direct from Europe. If you are flying from London, Kenya Airways will make a stop at Nairobi while Qatar Airways and BA fly via Doha. We flew to Zanzibar via Fly540 from Mombasa and it’s a short taxi ride into Stone Town from the airport which costs around $15 USD.
Another way to get there is via Dar es Salaam airport on mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar is a 20-30 minute flight from here in a small plane and we flew back to Dar es Salaam via Auric Air where we took a connecting flight to Johannesburg. You can also reach the island from Dar es Salaam by boat which The Zanzibar Collection can arrange for you.
Getting Around the island
After a couple of days in Stone Town, we took a taxi to Zawadi which took around 70 minutes and cost approximately $30. We got this price from negotiating with a local man on the street. If you’re not keen to do that, you will generally pay double this price if you book through a taxi office, tour company or hotel, which some people prefer for peace of mind.
Zawadi Hotel, Michamvi, South East Coast Zanzibar, Tanzania
Have you stayed at Zawadi or been to Zanzibar – if so, what did you think? Feel free to leave a comment and share your tips for visiting the Spice Isle.