Blazing white sands, clear turquoise waters and year-round sunshine: combine all that natural beauty with African, Indian, Arabic and Persian influences and a rich and cultural backdrop begins to form behind Tanzania’s most famous island. For centuries, Zanzibar has operated as a thriving hub for merchants and explorers, and today it’s one of Africa’s most alluring islands thanks to a wave of luxury resorts flanked by thick forests and long powdery sands. We’ve rounded up the pick of the lot.
This luxurious beach resort, in Pongwe on the island’s east coast, was named Best Luxury Romantic Beach Resort 2020 at the Luxury Hotel Awards and is pure honeymoon heaven. Follow the trail of scattered rose petals in your elegant room to a private terrace overlooking tropical gardens, or in some cases the powdery-white private beach. Take in the view while enjoying a cold one from the minibar or a morning mug of Nespresso coffee, then get ready for a yoga class or a one-hour full-body massage – both are included in the room rate.
The 66 brown-tiled brick bungalows of the Residence Zanzibar don’t scream luxury, but the attention to detail in each one won’t leave you wanting. In the bathroom you’ll find natural coconut body products, while by the bed there are fresh truffles waiting to be scoffed. Each bungalow opens out onto a wide wooden deck with its own plunge pool. Meanwhile, neither in-house restaurant scrimps on choice; the Dining Room’s menu forms a fine selection of African, Omani and Indian cuisine, while the Pavilion serves up a range of Middle Eastern fare by the pool. The resort overlooks a pristine creamy-coloured mile-long beach that’s combed clean of seaweed everyday.
Part of the Wellworth Collection, this resort is big on everything from the smiles of its staff to the size of its pool and the flavours on offer in its multiple restaurants. It’s only a five-minute drive from the airport and yet gives you front row seats for golden beach sunsets that will take your breath away. There are 84 rooms and suites, including the Palace block rooms, set in the pretty landscaped gardens, and the ensuite Chalets with sea-facing breezy balconies. Food and drink options range from laid-back poolside slurping to fancier fine-dining affairs.
There’s a moment at the start of any holiday when you can finally sigh deeply and relax. At Milele Beach Resort in Bwejuu, a village along the east coast of Zanzibar, that moment may well occur in the seawater infinity pool – or perhaps during a soothing outdoor massage. The modern-meets-traditional-Swahili design of the rooms provides an interesting backdrop for long lie-ins in the king-size bed, and each one has a private veranda where you can dine al fresco at whatever time you like.
The grounds of Pongwe Bay Resort, set on the beach of the same name, are filled with native flowers and banana trees swaying under the horizon of the Indian Ocean. The staff work hard to maintain the blissful look and feel of the place while preserving the natural environment, and even harder to tend to your needs. All suites feature handcrafted African furniture, Egyptian cotton sheets, king-size beds and two bathrooms – and some have their own private gardens.
Nungwi, to the north of the island, blends time-worn traditions with contemporary appeal, particularly if you stay at the Zanzibar outpost of one of the world’s leading hotel brands. The service and facilities are as exceptional as you’d expect: an outdoor freshwater pool, a fitness centre, live entertainment, and a deluxe spa all vie for attention. And down on the pristine beach – just five minutes from the palm-leaf roofs of the hotel – you’ll spy local fishermen launching off into the Indian Ocean for their daily catch, and dhow builders plying their ancient craft.
The hotel owner and his team of warm and welcoming staff certainly aim to please. Their objective is for you to leave feeling mentally and physically rejuvenated. The Jungle Spa – surrounded by tropical vegetation and right next to the ocean – offers a menu of natural stress-melting treatments to help you on your way. Then there are the three restaurants: each offering a variety of fresh, healthy and locally inspired cuisine with a few western favourites thrown in. When you aren’t resting in your five-star room or villa, you could be dolphin-spotting on the coast or hiking through the thick Jozani Forest – just head down to reception and book yourself onto a tour.
This resort on the northeast coast of Zanzibar has 134 colour-popping rooms and 19 luxurious suites kitted out with all you need for a comfy stay. There’s also a honeymoon ‘love nest’ with its own private terrace, an indoor hot tub and sprawling ensuite bedroom literally on the beach. And if you really want to push the boat out (this time not literally), you can book the adjoining suite to transform your base into a 92sqm (1000sqft) pad that staff call the Royal Family Suite. Food and drink options are plentiful, from plush restaurants to private moonlit dinners, and a laid back beach bar where cocktails and live music await.
One of the major draws of Zanzibar is its world-class diving – and a stay at Ocean Paradise will make it a central element to your time on the island. A PADI-accredited dive company is housed on site, arranging diving trips for guests led by local, certified guides. Back on dry land, accommodation pays tribute to the African roundhouse style: the conical makuti thatched huts are shaded by coconut palms and leafy tropical gardens, while minimal yet modern interiors keep the focus on all the natural beauty outside.
Fancy more luxury stays in Zanzibar? Check out our guide to the best luxury hotels in Zanzibar, bookable with Culture Trip
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