Matemwe Beach

Matemwe & North, Tanzania Book from US$200

Well-run budget guesthouse on idyllic beach, with acclaimed dive centre, simple bungalow rooms and 6 fabulous suites
Matemwe Beach attracts a variety of people. Young travellers on a budget come because it’s the best accommodation and food you can find on Zanzibar for these prices. Keen divers come because the dive school, One Ocean, was the island’s first 5-star PADI centre and maintains its excellent reputation. Romancers come for the gorgeous Asali Honeymoon Suite, with its stylish circular design, its plunge pool and its almost private stretch of beach. And sun-lovers of all backgrounds come to soak up the rays on its near-deserted, palm-fringed beach.

With such diverse guests, it’s no surprise that the atmosphere is lively and sociable. In the evening, travel stories and card games are exchanged over a beer at the open-sided sitting area. By day, you can cruise across the lagoon on the hotel’s dhow, reading, chatting or snorkelling. There’s something for everyone to do (or not to do). And, if you happen to be a young, honeymooning, sun-loving diver on a budget, then it couldn’t be better!

Highs

  • The atmosphere is really easy-going and sociable, but everything still runs like clockwork, thanks to South African manageress Gail
  • There's an endless beach on your doorstep, and an acclaimed dive school run by Gail's husband Gary
  • Since our visit, there are lots more spaces for chilling out - a new bar, pool terrace and wooden sitouts on the beach
  • We loved the stylish Asali Honeymoon Suite, set apart from the main lodge, with its private dipping pool and indoor-outdoor living

Lows

  • It’s often booked up, though this reflects it's quality
  • The Kijiji Rooms are rather charmless - but still clean and comfy, with netted beds and great value
  • You can’t really swim at low tide (anywhere along this coastline) but the pool compensates

Best time to go

The hotel is closed from April to May, when the rains can be really bad. There are less predictable, shorter rains until mid-June and November. Visibility is often reduced at these times, but otherwise diving and snorkelling are good year-round.

Our top tips

The hotel's on-site dive school offers some world-class diving. Using a traditional dhow with diesel motor, you can reach the best spots around the Mnemba atoll, whose clear waters teem with colourful reef fish; or head into the deep ocean for some wall and drift dives among trevally, dolphinfish and other pelagics.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Guesthouse
  • 22
  • Half-board (breakfast and dinner), lunch available
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
  • Kayaks
  • Diving
Room: Kijiji

Rooms

There are 16 Kijiji Rooms, 5 newer Shamba Suites for 2-4, and 1 gorgeous Asali Honeymoon Suite (which we were lucky enough to stay in). All have white walls, palm thatch roofs and views towards the sea or the bush. In all the rooms you'll find kikoys, beach baskets, bottled water and torches. Shamba and Asali Suites also have tea and coffee making facilities, as well as a mini bar. The suites open-plan design allows cooling breezes to flow through, so there's no air-con (although 2 Kijiji rooms do).

The Asali Honeymoon Suite is a very stylish, circular, open-plan bungalow. In fact, we were lucky enough to be the first guests to sleep in it, which may be partly why it felt so special. But it really is an unusual and delightful piece of design. The large semi-outdoor living space is centred around a circular plunge pool, and has views past screw palms to the sea. Off it lie the open-plan kitchenette (with sink, fridge, cooker) and sitting area (with inbuilt daybeds and mountainous blue-green cushions). It also comes complete with 2 dedicated staff to cater for your every need, including your very own chef. Through the slatted wooden door is the bedroom, whose double bed continues the blue-green theme, and adjoining this is the ensuite bathroom, with shower and basin in grey tadelakt walls. The whole thing is covered with a huge, pyramidal, palm-thatch roof. Best of all, it lies on its own stretch of beach a 5-minute walk from the other rooms. Our sole concerns were security (the only lockable room is the bedroom, though it is guarded day and night) and privacy (unless you have the blinds down, anyone can look in). But it remains one of our favourite beach rooms on Zanzibar, and worth its comparatively high price tag.

The 5 Shamba Suites (for 2-4) are designed so that small families can enjoy some space and privacy. Each suite is on 2 levels. The ground level consists of a beautiful double bedroom, a sitting area with a single bed and a barazza that can be made into another bed for a small child, a separate toilet and a huge shower. The second level is a deck under the makuti roof offering beach and/or bush views. The suites are designed so you can have a romantic dinner on the deck; the staff are also happy to make up beds on the deck should you wish to fall asleep with a view of the stars and wake up with the sun.

The Kijiji Rooms are located in thatched bungalows - 2 rooms per bungalow - near the reception and dining area. The front bungalows have immediate access to the beach, though they may be noisier. The inland bungalows lie among sparse palms, a few minutes’ walk from the sea and reception; they seemed more popular when we visited. All rooms have twin or double beds with mosquito nets, a simple clothes cupboard, a ceiling fan and an ensuite bathroom (shower). Some have a small terrace, 2 have air-con (small surcharge).

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net
  • Terrace
  • Wifi internet

Eating

The restaurant at Matemwe Beach is in the main, thatch-roofed reception area, and breakfast, lunch and some dinners are served here. Chef Mike Roux presence has really shaken up the food - always good, now apparently excellent. Feast on prawn risotto with shellfish sauce or spiced port infused chicken liver parfait with onion marmalade and melba toast to start; Cajun spiced baracuda with piquant pineapple sauce or grilled tuna with ratatouille and olive tapenade for a main, then vanilla speckled amarula creme brulee or chocolate and peanut butter parfait to finish things off on an indulgent note.

Twice a week, a buffet dinner is served in the boma, so guests can dine under the stars with their feet in the sand. Guests dine together and as Matemwe Beach tends to attract friendly well travelled people, conversation flows. Once a week this buffet is Indian themed, allowing Mike to play with all the islands' exotic spices. The other night is a BBQ with something for both seafood and meat lovers. As well as this, Mike occasionally put's on a Out Of Africa buffet which includes dishes such as Cape Malay inspired lentil and pumpkin bobotie (a kind of curry) and Zanzibar pizza.

Lunch is well priced and offers favourites such as beefburgers, fish of the day and chicken wraps. Breakfast has a number of exciting cooked options such as oats bruleé, or poached egg on a caramelized onion and cheese scone, as well as a standard fare of fruit and pastries, plus a cooked breakfast.

Guests in Asali can have breakfast and dinner served in their suite, prepared by their own dedicated chef. However many elect to join the other guests on boma night. Honeymooners and other romantics are treated to dinner for two on the beach.

The rates are half-board (breakfast and dinner, excluding drinks) which we think is an ideal option as there aren’t many other eateries nearby. The bar is fully stocked with an excellent selection of South African wines as well as the usual selection of spirits.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Half-board (breakfast and dinner)
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • By 8am it’s already hotting up - spend the day going between the sea, the pool, the sunloungers and the thatched parasol for some sunbathing or reading

  • Keen divers should pre-book with the excellent on-site dive school, One Ocean (5-star PADI certified). Timings are tide-dependent, but most days a double dive is offered, with lunch in between. There are 5 or 6 popular sites, enough for 3 full days’ diving locally. Beginners can take lessons in the swimming pool

  • Non-divers can hire mask and snorkel and, even within the confines of the lagoon (fringing reef), see a surprising array of multi-coloured little fish, not to mention rows of cultivated seaweed in the tidal zone

  • Depending on the divers’ schedule, you may be able to cruise around the lagoon on the hotel’s dhow, either by sail or motor, stopping for a quick dip or snorkel

  • Or, with some prior planning, you can go sailing or fishing with local fishermen on their ngalawa - a fascinating glimpse into this marine culture, complimentary of the hotel

  • Finally, if you prefer dry land, hire a bicycle and pedal up to the tiny village of Matemwe, with its simple houses and stalls; then join in with the local kids’ sunset football kickabout

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Fishing
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Scuba diving courses
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming

Kids

More of a 'young adults' than a family vibe, but it's safe and friendly, the beach is sandy and the sea within the fringing reef is shallow and warm. And they are definitely starting to target parents (many of their early guests are coming back with little ones in tow): older kids (beyond toddling age, ideally) can sleep comfortably in the upstairs room of a Shamba Suite - if you don't mind the open staircase.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available, Family Rooms

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Families Should Know:

Please note the Shamba Suites have an open staircase - parents must be prepared to accept the risk.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
9/
Food
8/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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