“A tiny coral-ringed island off Zanzibar, with beautifully-designed thatch bungalows, genuinely ecological aims and some of the world's best snorkelling”
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.
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.
A daily programme of free activities is posted on a blackboard, including:
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).
Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)
All bandas have space for 1 extra mattress (suitable for a child), while 4 can take a second spare bed.