Unguja Lodge

Kizimkazi, Jambiani & Southeast, Tanzania Book from US$330

Reviewed by Rachel Hamada
Small, personal lodge offering barefoot luxury, stylish organic architecture, fantastic marine life and total seclusion
If your idea of heaven is living virtually outdoors amongst nature, with the bush on one side and the sea on the other, then Unguja Lodge is for you. Opened by Dutch couple Ralph and Elies, the lodge's intimate feel ensures a much more personal experience than Zanzibar's other hotels. Attracting a mix of thirty-something couples and young families, guests enjoy mingling and chatting over drinks or dinner.

Relaxation and luxury are high on the agenda - evident from the bougainvillea-fringed swimming pool to the12 thatched, architect-designed villas, each with tons of space. However, it is not for those who equate quality with room service, a champagne-filled minibar and a flat-screen TV. Its blissful element stems from the fact that the hotel, on the southern tip of the island, feels completely cut off from the world - so much so that one couple became so relaxed they slept in way past check-out time. Local activities include snorkelling and diving, village tours and dolphin spotting; day trips further afield to offshore island can also be organised.

Highs

  • Hands-on owners create a friendly, laid-back atmosphere
  • Strong local identity - staff are mainly local with links to the neighbouring village, Kizimkazi
  • Close to nature and away for the main tourist resorts (you can see wildlife you might not encounter elsewhere in Zanzibar such as monkeys and dolphins)
  • On site PADI dive centre with access to largely unexplored sites
  • Large funky rooms with sweeping curved white walls, loos with a view and lots of Zanzibari character

Lows

  • Mosquitoes can be ferocious - take lots of repellent!
  • The open-plan villas mean you need to be careful about what you leave lying around; there can also be some loss of privacy
  • Limited menu choice could be problematic for some, although the food is delicious
  • The local staff are enthusiastic and pleasant, but some speak better English than others, so it can be hard to communicate
  • During high tide, the adjacent beach all but disappears

Best time to go

August and September are popular months as the weather is good, but availability may be more limited, as is also the case around Christmas and New Year.

Our top tips

Go on a night dive, starting at dusk as the call to prayer echoes from the nearby mosque

Great for...

Beach
Family
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 12
  • Restaurant and bar
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 1 May 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
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Diving centre
  • Yoga classes
Room:

Rooms

The lodge's setting and facilities are great, but its unique selling point is undoubtedly the 12 huge, organically designed thatched villas, which are all swirls and curves rather than straight lines. Choose between the slightly more expensive Sea View Villas and Sea View Family Villas which open right out onto the sea, or the Baobab Villas, which open onto the bush garden and have private Jacuzzi plunge pools plus air-conditioning. All have terraces from which you can watch the sun set or rise.

The master bedroom in each has a big kingsize bed, mosquito net and fan and is the only part of the villa that is fully enclosed. The rest is open plan, with a cushioned seating area, open-air (but private!) shower with hot water. Up the stairs in the Sea View Villas and Baobab Villas is a small traditional Zanzibar bed in the heavens (which can sleep 2 additional people). This is near the top of the vast circular thatched roof that shelters each villa, and it's a cosy, romantic space. Beautiful coconut wood furniture and doors throughout add elegance. White washed walls dotted with contemporary Zanzibar art keep it fresh. While in the Sea View Family Villas, upstairs are 2 small bedrooms, each with 2 single beds; the decor is just as beautiful, and provides a great extra space for families.

The open-plan bathrooms are equally exotic. Though well spaced, some villas face onto one another and onto paths, so you may feel worried about having to streak from the shower into the bedroom! However local kanga and kikoi cloth is provided to help guests maintain their modesty. Overall, the villas are glorious, and their openness makes you feel like you are on safari.

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Breakfast is conventional but good, with fresh fruit such as mango and pineapple, breakfast cereals and hotel-made chocolate croissants. Pancakes, eggs and toast are available on request. And for that extra degree of luxury, tea and coffee is put in front of your villa early each morning before breakfast.

Owners Ralph and Elies have created a 3-course menu for dinner in the restaurant. The options are fairly limited, 2 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts, but the main course always offers a meat dish, seafood of some kind and a vegetarian option, so you’re likely to be able to find something suitable. Lunch is less formal, with a light menu of sandwiches, salads and snacks, plus a specials board with 3 cooked options.

Surprisingly, despite the hotel having a strong local Zanzibari emphasis in terms of buildings and staff, the menus have a European slant, although there are sometimes Swahili-style buffets and barbeques. The dinner on our last night of fish carpaccio, grilled barracuda and cashew nut tart with unripe mango slices was absolutely gorgeous.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Snorkelling and diving are the key activities here. The hotel is close to a reef, featuring mainly tropical fish, such as snappers and angelfish. There are also some fantastic dive sites for experienced divers who are able to deal with strong currents - these are relatively unexplored compared to many sites to the north, east and west of the island. Unguja Lodge now has its own PADI Dive Centre, Unguja Divers

  • Go on a tour of the local village, Kizimkazi. You'll meet the village head (the sheha), see women making coconut rope and men working on their fishing nets. The fee for the trip goes directly to the school

  • Dolphin tours are a highlight in Kizimkazi; at Unguja Resort you can go out on the One Ocean dhow and swim in the sea, with a good chance that the dolphins may choose to come and swim alongside you

  • Go on a fishing trip with a local company and try to catch marlin and huge tuna. Reception can arrange

  • Go swimming at high tide: a tide table is helpfully provided in each villa and you can climb directly into the sea from wooden steps at the front of the hotel

  • Relax by the pool and watch the monkeys in the distant trees; or book a morning yoga lesson on the terrace with local teacher Paul Kazibwe

  • The hotel can arrange for guests to go on typically Zanzibari day trips, such as to Jozani Forest to see the Red Colobus Monkeys, to the spice farms to see how Zanzibar’s traditional spices are grown, and around the World Heritage site, Stone Town

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Scuba diving
  • Scuba diving courses
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

Kids

Owners Ralph and Elies welcome children, babies stay for free and those aged 2-12 years receive a 50% discount on the adult rate.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The 2 Sea View Family Villas have 3 enclosed bedrooms. Baobab and Sea View Villas have a double bed in the loft, which could work well for kids who can share, with a master bedroom downstairs. All villas have showers.

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available, but there's a small cost (per night) and sitters do not speak English. See rates.

Baby equipment:

  • Cot
  • Baby bedding
  • Stair gates
  • Night light

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

Children's meals:

Food is available all day. The restaurant often serves an early tea for children, including half portions of adult mains, and parents can dine together later when the children are in bed.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Swimming pool with shallow end
  • Small sandy beach just steps away from the villas
  • Occasional primate visitors

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Snorkelling
  • Diving instruction (age 8+) in the pool
  • Dolphin spotting
  • Village tours
  • Daytrips to offshore islands

Families Should Know:

Bring everything you need with you - there are no shops nearby. Possible hazards include: the unfenced pool and plunge pools, sea urchins and coral rock cliffs. Keep your eyes on your children!

Distances:

  • Airport: 60 minutes
  • Hospital: 2 hours by plane and car
  • Doctor: 60 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

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

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