Our Zanzibar Honeymoon
Rachel & Anthony, Zanzibar 2016:
Zanzibar was the perfect destination for our unforgettable honeymoon, created perfectly for us by the team at Africa&You. A true tropical island paradise off the coast of Tanzania. We arrived in the warm evening to be met at the airport by a driver, who handed us a cool towel and a bottle of water to refresh ourselves with after the flight. Our first night was at the Double Tree Hilton in historic Stone Town, a World Heritage Site (and the birthplace of Freddie Mercury!). A beautiful converted Zanzibari townhouse, the Double Tree offered comfortable luxury with some much-appreciated air-conditioning, and a fabulous restaurant on the top floor with views from the balcony over the corrugated iron roofs of Stone Town to the ocean.
Once we’d had a bite to eat we slept well and the next morning, after breakfast and a quick wander through the narrow alleyways and bustling markets of Stone Town, we were picked up in a 4×4 and taken across the island, passing villages full of kiddies playing, men cycling along selling loaves of bread and fish, and forests of exotic trees with weird and wonderful fruit and spices hanging from the branches. We turned off the main road onto a dirt track, which took us through the bustling village of Matemwe, where the villages sat outside their houses made of stone and mud with corrugated iron or thatched roofs, waving to us with big smiles.
Arriving at Matemwe we were met by their exceptionally friendly staff, who each greeted us by our first names, with a cool drink of coconut juice (straight from the coconut of course). Our bags were taken to our ‘bungalow’ and we were given a brief tour by the Ross, Matemwe’s General Manager. Reception is an open thatch-roofed area with a small boutique shop selling souvenirs made by the local villagers, including bathrobes made from traditional kikoys (a cross between a beach towel and a sarong). To get to our bungalow we passed the 2 pools – one an infinity pool overlooking the clear blue ocean, and the second in a more sheltered area in case the winds pick up. Next to the pool area is the bar – a boat-shaped bar stocking every drink imaginable, with sand at your feet and a thatched roof overhead. True laid-back beach style.
From the bar a winding pathway takes you to the bungalows, through lush gardens full of hibiscus, bougainvillea and palm trees. For the first 5 nights we were staying Matemwe Lodge, and then 3 nights at Matemwe Retreat. At Matemwe Lodge, the 11 bungalows are all ocean-facing and private, some with a private plunge pool and sun-loungers. With one huge bed in the middle, lots of pillows and draping mosquito nets, and a high thatched roof allowing in the sea breeze, we felt immediately at home. The bathrooms are huge, with a large open rain shower area, and a separate room for the free-standing stone bath.
Double doors open onto a deck with a double hammock (yes double!) and seating area, with views over the lagoon and reef and across the blue ocean to Mnemba Island, where the coral reefs are so untouched there are some of the best dive sites in the world. In the morning the villagers walk out onto the reef at low tide to catch octopus, mussels and other small fish, to cook for the day.
Our days were spent relaxing in the warm Tanzanian sunshine by the pool, taking a dip, reading and indulging in the odd spa treatment at the sea & spice spa. With a full board rate all drinks & meals were included and the waiters would stop by at regular intervals to see if we would like any refreshments. Breakfast was a full buffet and choice of hot food served on the restaurant deck, with an array of tropical fruit and juices. Lunch and dinner were 3 courses, with a choice of 2 starters, 2 mains and 2 desserts, with one of the main meals being catch of the day. Seafood was a highlight at every mealtime, caught fresh from the reef outside the lodge by the local villagers. We enjoyed a lot of octopus, calamari, prawns and crab – all cooked perfectly with tantalising accompaniments by the in-house chef, using lots of delicious Swahili spices.
Before dinner we would pop to the bar to sample the cocktail of the day and sometimes play a game of Bao with the barman (a traditional Swahili game using beads or shells – hours of fun to be had!).
Matemwe is certainly off-the-beaten track and the perfect place to get away from the stress and busyness of everyday life. There are daily activities to do from the lodge, should you wish to expend some energy, and one morning we took a reef walk. At low tide the guide took us out through the thigh-deep water, telling us where to walk so as to avoid stepping on sea urchins. We watched as a local villager caught an octopus with her bare bands, found starfish and learnt some Swahili along the way.
Another morning we took a snorkeling trip to Mnemba Island – a true Robinson Crusoe paradise white sand island surrounded by beautiful shallow coral reefs. Towards the end of our snorkel our guide called to us to get back on the boat as dolphins had been spotted close by. We got on the boat and went towards where the dolphins had been seen and jumped in. The 4 dolphins were swimming peacefully along the ocean bed, about 15m down. We swam along above them for a while, cautious not to get too close and disturb them, until in unison they decided to swim upwards towards us. They passed us, seemingly smiling at us, and surfed the waves alongside us for a short while before diving deep again. We were privileged to enjoy mesmerizing experience for about 20 minutes, with the dolphins swimming up and then down again, before they serenely swam off into the distance. This had been a huge bucket list dream of mine and I will remember it forever.
Our final 3 days at Matemwe Retreat were absolutely incredible. We loved our time at Matemwe Lodge and didn’t think it could get any better, but moving into Retreat we were seriously blown away. We had our own private 2-story villa called Safina, with our own personal butler called Ndaki. The ground floor is largely an enormous bedroom with a huge bed covered in fine linens and a silk overthrow made by local villagers. Next to the bedroom is a bathroom, almost the same size, with an open rain shower and a sunken bathtub, next to stack shutter doors that open onto the private deck and views of the ocean. The deck runs the length of the villa and has a day bed, a dining area and a bar, which Ndaki made sure was stocked with our favourite drinks.
Upstairs blew us away completely – a private plunge pool, with 2 sunbeds and a shady lounge area full of cushions with panoramic views over to Mnemba Atoll and out to sea. The perfect place to relax with a good book and soak up the Zanzibari rays of sunshine.
After our morning out snorkeling we returned to find our bath filled with hibiscus flowers and rose petals floating on the warm water, surrounded by candles and 2 fresh coconut juices, all prepared for us in secret by our butler. The rose petals continued into the bedroom and our bed was covered in flowers and candles. When the time came for dinner to be served we noticed our chairs had disappeared from the dining area on the deck. Ndaki innocently asked if maybe they could be upstairs on the top deck. We went up and were blown away to find a table laid out with candles and our favourite wine in an ice bucket – the perfect romantic end to our incredible honeymoon. We can’t thank the staff at Africa&You and at Asilia Matemwe, for putting everything together so seamlessly and with such attention to detail.
We will never forget the incredible 10 days we spent on our paradise island, organized meticulously by Africa&You. It really was the honeymoon dreams are made of. Thank you!