Matemwe Lodge

Matemwe & North, Tanzania Book from US$416

Stylishly rustic cottages and dive school, romantically set on sea-washed rocks alongside a white sand beach
This is a sublimely peaceful beachside resort which combines delicious food, stylish rooms, ecological principles, great diving, 2 pools and superlative service. Which is why it has become, over 20 years of organic growth, the most popular beach lodge on Zanzibar, and a haven for honeymooners (our Editor Liz came here for hers in 2010).

Backing onto bougainvillea-filled gardens and facing the endless Indian Ocean, the spacious thatched cottages are secluded and very comfortable, without trying too hard. Electricity comes from the sun, air conditioning from the sea breeze. A sandy stroll away is a palm-fringed beach, busy with fishermen on their outriggers. Out to sea lies Mnemba atoll, which offers the best diving and snorkelling around. And the weather is sunny even by local standards. So what hasn’t it got? Television. Telephones. Crowds. Noise (other than the muted roar of the fringing reef). Stress (other than timing your swim to coincide with high tide). And space for anyone who leaves it too late.

Highs

  • Swinging in the double hammock on your very private terrace, to the sound of the ocean
  • Excellent food in the beachside restaurant - imaginative salads and fresh-from-the-ocean lobster and tuna
  • The service is delightful; nothing is too much trouble and staff soon know you by name
  • Some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world at Mnemba reef, which is just offshore
  • There are 4 romantic, very spacious Retreat Suites, set at the far end of the property with their own beach

Lows

  • Sea-swimming is tricky at low tide (a long walk out, over rocky ground) but there are 2 lovely pools
  • It's very remote: not a good base for touring, but then neither are most places in Zanzibar
  • The surf can be very noisy at night; bring ear plugs
  • Crabs and other small beasties occasionally enter the rooms
  • There was lots of seaweed on the beach when we stayed and it was choppy to swim, but this is seasonal (most likely in June, October and November)

Best time to go

All year except April and May, when it's closed for the long rains. Late October, November and early December can bring short showers, but it's much drier here than elsewhere on Unguja. Diving visibility is best from late October to March, and worst in the July and August winds.

Our top tips

If you want to go snorkelling or diving, don't leave it until the last day in case the weather's not good enough then. Even if it looks gorgeous at the hotel, it can often be too rocky for snorkelling out at the Atoll.

Great for...

Beach
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Beach Resort
  • 16
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome (except in Retreat Suites)
  • Closed: 5 Apr 2016 - 31 May 2016...
  • 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
  • Diving
  • Kayaks
Room: Beach House

Rooms

The Main Lodge consists of 12 spacious suites stretching up the rocky coast, well screened from their neighbours by palms and pine trees. Each cottage has a private path to it, a thatched roof and a private terrace with a double hammock and view to the Indian Ocean. This a perfect place to swing yourself awake as the sun rises over Mnemba Atoll, or swing yourself to sleep as the sky turns lilac.

Inside, the style is organic and gorgeous: white walls, dark wooden doors, beamed or thatched ceilings and natural furniture like bamboo-and-hemp clothes racks, wicker baskets and half-coconut bowls. Comfy net-draped beds (though mozzies are fairly rare) are strewn with flowers on arrival; ceilings have fans; glassless windows have ingenious louvres so you can switch the sea views and the ocean roar on or off.

These are proper suites with an indoor sitting area and (in some cases) a loft space with an extra single sofa bed. All rooms have solar-powered lighting and some have solar-heated showers. Our bathroom was huge, with a sunken tub, double sinks and a walk-in shower.

A short walk north of the main lodge is an even more indulgent Retreat with 4 secluded, free-standing suites set on their own little beach. Each has a vast veranda with a cocktail bar and dining area, a double bedroom with air conditioning and separate shower/tub bathrooms, and an upper sun terrace with a private plunge pool. A butler is at your beck and call. With stone walls, palm-thatch roofs, coconut-wood furniture, solar water and floor matting made by Stone Town's Association of the Blind, it's clear that Matemwe's owners are staying true to their eco principles. This has beach honeymoon writ large all over it - but actually we felt the main lodge suites are just as lovely, and much better value (Liz stayed at the main lodge on her honeymoon and loved it).

A newer addition is the stunning Beach House, a 3-bedroom villa with a private pool and direct access to the beach. The villa is spread over 2 floors, with a ground floor bedroom that avoids any steep stairs (making it perfect for younger children) and a mezzanine reached via a ladder-like staircase. The 3 airy rooms make use of natural light and the stone walls ensure that the interior remains blissfully cool. The Beach House (which, confusingly, is also referred to as a retreat) comes complete with butler who will also help with booking activities, a private chef who visits the villa on a daily basis to discuss meal plans for the day (all meals are freshly prepared), and bar service which you can enjoy from the seclusion of your private terrace.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Terrace

Eating

Leave your window louvres open and let the wonderful sunrise start your day bright and early. Wander along to breakfast from 8am and help yourself to fresh fruit, bought from the local market and piled high on a wooden tray: melon, watermelon, passion, mango, papaya, pineapple and others we didn’t even recognise! Yoghurt, cereals, mini-croissants and eggs set you up for a busy day, and the spiced tea clears any remaining drowsiness. If this all sounds far too healthy, there’s excellent filter coffee and other teas.

Step off the beach at lunchtime and an equally rich buffet greets you: seafood, salads and excellent puddings, which put to bed any thoughts of snorkelling to the back of your mind.

Dinner is one of the highlights of the day, with a daily-changing choice of 3 courses based on local seafood with a more European slant than at other lodges. You might find lobster stew, grilled chicken or crême caramel, or a more African BBQ of meats and fish, but either way it's always fresh and delicious, and can make a refreshing change from the ubiquitous fish curry and fruit salad.

All meals are included in the price, and served in the thatched restaurant area whose open sides let in a cooling breeze from the sea. There's a lovely bar by the pool for (fabulous) pre-dinner cocktails, styled to resemble a boat, with the skeleton of a sperm whale stretched out for guests to gawp over. Guests staying in the Retreat Suites can have their meals brought to their dining terrace and served under the African stars, while those in the Beach House have use of a private chef and meals are arranged daily. The chef will make suggestions depending on special deliveries and the catch of the day.

Features include:

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

Activities

  • Dive with the on-site dive school, Dhow Divers, on nearby the Mnemba reefs: there's everything from sandy shallows (ideal for beginners) down to 70m walls for experienced divers

  • Sail on the hotel dhow or with a local fisherman on his ngalawa (outrigger), with the chance of seeing dolphins or even whales

  • Kayak along the coast in the enclosed waters within the fringing reef

  • Snorkel from the hotel and see the reef up close - though be sure to avoid sea urchins!

  • Wander or cycle through the village or play beach football with the kids

  • Relax on a shaded beach bed, at the sociable bar or on your hammock

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Kayaking
    • Sailing
    • Scuba diving
    • Scuba diving courses
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
    • Whalewatching
  • Kids

    Matemwe Beach House: children of all ages are welcome. Lodge Suites: children over 5 only, unless the lodge is booked exclusively. Retreat Suites: over 18s only. Children under the age of 5 are not permitted to dine in the main restaurant, but the Beach House has a private chef who will discuss meal plans on a daily basis.

    The vibe here is predominately romantic, but that said, this is a great place for older kids, with a sandy beach, kayaks and boat trips. On the downside, there are no organised kids' activities, the sun is fierce and there are various natural hazards (rocky coast, sea urchins).

    Children aged 2 and under stay for free, and those aged 3 to 15 pay reduced rates for an extra bed when sharing with adults. Children aged 16+ pay adult rates for an extra bed.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    The Beach House is a good option for families as it has a downstairs bedroom for young children, though the mezzanine has steep stairs and is only really suitable for older kids. It also has a portable bathtub for babies, a private chef, and a safety net for its private pool.

    Baby equipment:

    Baby cots available on request (in the Beach House only)

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

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    8/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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