Pongwe Beach Hotel

Pongwe, Matemwe & North, Tanzania Book from US$200

Reviewed by Rachel Hamada
Affordable, laid-back luxury on one of the most idyllic palm-fringed beaches imaginable
If your thing is fun and enjoyment rather than going to a more expensive resort than the "Jones's", Pongwe Beach will suit you down to the ground. An unpretentious and laid-back hotel, it serves up simple pleasures with panache. Sun, sea, sand and swimming are the main ingredients, accompanied with a generous dash of friendly service. Not only that, but Pongwe, about halfway up Zanzibar’s east coast, has a real gem of a beach - true Indian Ocean style, without the more developed feel of the Maldives and Mauritius.

There are only 20 cottages, which means the place has a wonderfully intimate vibe. Zanzibari in structure, with palm-leaf thatched roofs, mosaic floors and handmade wooden furniture, they're set right on the beach front or 20m back amongst the beautiful green gardens. An absence of TVs or radios means the whole place is blissfully quiet, but should you want it, there's lots to do: snorkelling, exploring and kayaking. Whether you stay 3 nights or a week, this is relaxation at its most attractive.

Highs

  • Great for honeymooners who want an authentic local experience rather than a high-gloss resort
  • The small size of the hotel allows for fantastic service from the friendly, ever smiling staff
  • Its secluded location means no hassle from ‘beach boys’
  • Snorkelling equipment is free to hire, and there's a coral reef in the cove

Lows

  • At low tide, you'll need to walk a long way (500m) to get to swimmable sea - though the hotel has a lovely infinity pool, surrounded by decking
  • Day trips seem pricey for a mid-range hotel
  • There are a few creepy crawlies in the rooms
  • As the hotel is eco-friendly, the pool is salt water and the showers are filtered sea water, so slightly brackish

Best time to go

We'd advise June and July, when temperatures are gorgeous. There's a 3-week cultural festival in Stone Town around this time. September and October are also lovely, although it's worth bearing in mind dates of Ramadan. If you don't mind the extra heat, late January and February are quiet and scorching, whereas March is the best month for diving. April and November can be rainy; August, December and early January get pretty busy. The hotel is closed in May.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Beach Resort
  • 20
  • Restaurant and bar
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 20 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
  • Snorkeling
Room: Sea View Suite

Rooms

The rooms are fairly typical of Zanzibar beach hotel rooms, with whitewashed walls, mosaic floors and beds carved from Mninga and Mvule trees. Interior decoration isn’t the strongest point of the resort, but all rooms are clean and pleasant, and new guests can expect amazing floral decorations on their beds.

Each room has a private terrace, with a mosaic floor and handmade wooden chairs or loungers - the ideal place to sit and watch the ocean, which is just 20 metres away. There are 13 Beachfront Cottages, 4 Sea View Suites which have their own plunge pool, and 3 Garden Cottages, which are slightly cheaper and don’t have sun loungers. And although the cottages tend to share an adjoining wall with one neighbour, they still feel totally private.

The ensuite bathrooms are are more Moroccan in style, with earthy red walls and a walk-in hot-water shower. The only caveat is that the hotel uses brackish water to avoid depleting the freshwater table, so you do feel a bit salt-encrusted after a few days.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net
  • Terrace
  • WiFi
  • WiFi internet (supplement charge)

Eating

The food is one of the highlights at Pongwe. Meals are served in a big palm-thatched building overlooking the beach, with lots of sofas covered in African fabrics. On arrival, guests are given a glass of juice here - ours was mango and ginger.

Kick-start a day in paradise with breakfast on your private terrace. Linger over fresh fruit salad or a cooked English/American as the sun warms up. The other meals follow a set menu formula, but with more leeway than at other hotels. Lunch, for example, allows guests to choose from a range of dishes including bacon and feta cheese salad, tuna nicoise, steamed crab claw with rice and tomato sauce and fruit platter.

Dinner is 3 set courses, and guests can choose how many of these they want. Our menu was spicy pumpkin soup, grilled king prawns with spicy potatoes and vegetables, then chocolate gateau. Once a week there is live entertainment from a local Jambo trio.

If you want the chef to rustle up a particular dish for you, they are happy to do so with some advance notice. The bar also stocks some really good South African wines and Spanish cava.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating: Bar and restaurant
Activity: Main pool view

Activities

  • Relax on the powder-soft sand and watch the local women sort through their fishing nets

  • Take a dip in the aquamarine sea or the gorgeous infinity pool

  • Don flippers and mask and go snorkelling on the Pongwe Reef, which is recommended for children, or take a trip to the Mnemba Atoll, Fumba or Chumbe Island

  • Lie in a hammock with a cold beer and a good book

  • Borrow the hotel's Frisbee, kite, football or French boules and have a game on the beach

  • Use the hotel's complimentary kayak or mountain bike and explore the beautiful surrounding bay area

  • Have a game of Bao, a Zanzibarian board game, as popular here as football. Staff will be happy to explain the rules (and challenge you to a game!)

  • Go on a boat trip - honeymooners can book a romantic sail on a traditional dhow, or you can go out on a local ngalawa and fish for marlin, barracuda and king fish

  • Rent a jeep and drive down to Chwaka Bay to see the mangrove swamps and swarms of crabs (a 20-minute drive)

  • Hire a motorbike and head into Zanzibar's historic capital, Stone Town, to spend a day wandering through its narrow pebbled streets. Barter for local art in the markets, check out the magnificent Sultan's palaces then tuck into barbequed meat and fish at the bustling Forodhani Gardens

  • Take a spice tour, or ask reception to organise a day trip to Jozani Forest to see the Red Colobus monkeys

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Excursions (supplement charge)
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking
  • Sailing
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are welcome but there are no babysitting facilities and no special children's play area. The hotel can provide cots and highchairs at no extra cost.

Best for:

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

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request

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

Kid Friendly: Beach

Our guests' ratings...

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

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