Chumbe Island Coral Park

near Stone Town, Stone Town & around, Tanzania Book from

A tiny coral-ringed island off Zanzibar, with beautifully-designed thatch bungalows, genuinely ecological aims and some of the world's best snorkelling
Picture, if you can, a scaled-down eco-version of the Sydney Opera House, with rooves of pine and palm-thatch, and walls from a restored lighthouse-keeper’s home. Set it on a rocky islet nestling in turquoise seas between east Africa and Zanzibar. Then imagine it gave birth to 7 babies who are sheltering in the woods round about. Add a gentle breeze, some fresh seafood and a technicolor sunset, and what have you got?

A headache, no doubt. It’s not an easy thing to picture. So all the more credit to its inspired German creators, who in 1995 visited this army-owned island, saw its untouched coral reefs and dilapidated lighthouse buildings, and dreamed of turning it into an island retreat which would be the cutting edge of sustainable design and ecotourism. With local help, they created a marine park, brought in new eco-technology, and built the ultimate Robinson Crusoe holiday experience. It's one of our favourites, and perfect for romancers and nature-lovers alike.

Highs

  • One of the most beautiful coral parks in the world; a snorkeller's paradise
  • Beautifully designed bandas (bungalows) and an architecturally inspired dining and living area
  • Fascinating walks in the forest and tidal zones, guests are likely to be able to view the rare coconut crab here
  • The resort has zero ecological impact
  • Maximum 14 guests on the island
  • Full-board rates which also include daily activities

Lows

  • Limited beaches (small sandstrips at low tide)
  • Scuba diving is not allowed within the park
  • Few mod cons (but total peace and quiet)
  • Not much entertainment besides what nature provides

Best time to go

All year except late April and May, when it is closed for the long rains. November can bring short rains, though Chumbe is drier than the main island of Zanzibar. Snorkelling is good year-round, though your best chances of seeing turtles are from January to March.

Our top tips

A family of huge coconut crabs, the size of a large plate, live on the island; this rare species can climb palm trees and break open coconuts with their powerful pincers. They come out night, and staff will direct you to where you can view them view them.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Beach Resort
  • 7
  • Full-board
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Beach
  • Snorkelling
  • Nature walks
Room:

Rooms

There are only 7 Bandas nestling around the main building. Three look straight out onto the coast, and 4 are set slightly back in the dense palm and casuarina woods, which provide ample screening all round. All of them have the distinctive parabolic wood-and-thatch rooves, with an open sitting area and bathroom downstairs, and a sleeping platform upstairs.

In the sitting area, raised a few steps above the sandy paths, you’ll find a small driftwood-table, a seriously comfortable hammock and sofa (made from casuarina and local rope), a stool and a desk. Outlined in white pebbles from the beach, an animal motif crawls along the floor, which is also the ceiling of your rainwater cistern (collected and filtered from roof run-off).

Behind the solid wall at the back of the sitting area - the only cement in the banda - is the bathroom. The sit-down loo uses compost instead of flushing (2 scoops of dried leaves after each visit and, hey presto, no smell at all); the washbasin and shower use water hand-pumped (by one of the staff) into a header tank and heated by the sun. And you needn’t worry about your shower-water seeping into the fragile coral-ecosystem: the soaps are organically made (by a women’s co-operative on Zanzibar), and the residue drains into a sealed flower bed where specially-chosen plants soak up damaging phosphates and nitrates. They really have thought of everything.

Up the pleasingly irregular wooden stairs you’ll find a small sleeping area with shelves, space to hang clothes (not that you need many), and a simple bed - essentially a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net, but it does the job. A light uses electricity from a photovoltaic roof panel, while a solar torch is on hand for night time loo-trips. The piéce de résistance is a rope-and-pulley, which allows you to lower the makuti (palm-thatch) side-wall to look out to sea.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Hot tea and coffee are brought to your door (or where the door would be, if there was one) at dawn; but all other meals are taken in the main building. Wonderful, uplifting, arched parabolas, made from pine branches lashed together with coconut rope (barely a nail in sight) and panelled with makuti thatch, form a huge canopy over the restored walls of the lighthouse-keeper’s home. It’s a piece of design as clever as it is beautiful.

Dinner is taken either in the main lodge building overlooking the water or at tables set up in the sand. Couples can also opt for a private candlelight dinner on the beach. Either way, there’s no menu - holidays are about not making decisions - but an array of dishes for you to dip into as you like. We dipped quite heavily into smooth fish cakes and crunchy stir-fried veg (including aubergines and courgette, rare on Zanzibar), before tackling the main course: a light and creamy chicken curry. A steaming pancake wrapped up dollops of orange and lemon preserve and the meal. We drank local beer and freshly-filtered water (plastic bottles of mineral water are discouraged), though wines are also available. Alcohol is about the only thing excluded from the room price.

Breakfast and lunch are taken on the terrace under the overhanging canopy, looking out over the sea. The former consists of fruit, juices, bread, cakes and eggs to order; the latter is another spread of salads, veg and fish.

Everything is cooked by smiling staff on forest coal in a bustling kitchen which, reassuringly, you can look down into from the first-floor library. The waiters are friendly and interested, and you get the impression they are there because they believe in Chumbe’s aims, not because it’s the first job they found.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

A daily programme of free activities is posted on a blackboard, including:

  • Snorkelling in the coral reefs of the marine sanctuary: shoals of exotically-coloured fish glide silently past, laminated boards help you sort your trumpetfish from your parrotfish, and a ranger helps you spot the elusive lobsters, hawksbill turtles and potato cods. Pray for clear seas and bright weather

  • Guided forest walk with your encyclopaedic ranger: starting from a 300-year-old Baobab tree and secret tidal pool, you hear the history of the island, discover how mangrove seeds can float for a year before germinating, glimpse hermit crabs in search of a bigger home, reach a rocky headland with thousand-year-old petrified corals, brush past the aerial roots of the screw pine and avoid the poisonous sap of the euphorbia which the Sultan used to blind his enemies

  • Lighthouse ascent: climb the spiral staircase at sunset for a view to remember

  • Intertidal walk along the coast at low tide, passing bright starfish and countless crabs, to the long sandbank-beach at the island’s north point; or to the south point, where roseate terns and fish eagles battle for territory

  • Or just relax in your banda: read on the sofa, swing on the hammock, or look out for pied kingfishers and lilac-breasted rollers (I saw both without even reaching for the bino’s)

    At extra cost, and by prior arrangement, there's:

  • Scuba-diving in reefs outside the sanctuary (it is forbidden inside), either using a speedboat (minimum 4 people) or using Chumbe’s boat-shuttle to Stone Town

  • Day-trips to Stone Town, Jozani Forest and the Spice Gardens on the main island of Zanzibar

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Hiking
    • Scuba diving
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
  • Kids

    Nature-loving children would never forget a holiday like this, and you only pay half price for under 12’s (or nothing at all for toddlers under 3).

    Best for:

    Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    All bandas have space for 1 extra mattress (suitable for a child), while 4 can take a second spare bed.

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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