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“A Quiet and Remote Retreat - Come to Relax” 4 of 5 bubbles
Review of Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa

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Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa
Certificate of Excellence
Houston, Texas
Level Contributor
53 reviews
43 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 160 helpful votes
“A Quiet and Remote Retreat - Come to Relax”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 8, 2008

We booked a Safari with &Beyond (formerly CC Africa) and Zanzibar was the last stop before heading back to the United States.

After being at 4 different "camps" -- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, Klein's Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas, and Ngorongoro Crate Lodge, this was totally different.

I cannot add much more than the previous review by Skibummer (London), that review was right on!

There are only 3 retreat bungalows north of the Matemwe Bungalow property. They are managed by the same company.

These three "small houses" (we stayed in the middle house called "ZamZam") are more upscale and newer than Matemwe Bungalows.

We are mixed on this property as I would really rate it a 3.5. However, the private Butler, Kassim, and the food was excellent.

The layout and amenities are great, including the sun deck on the roof and small pool, however, the property is getting dated. Hence, we downgraded our rating.

Also, it rained very hard one night and water was literally pouring into the bedroom from the spiral staircase that leads to the roof top deck.

Our last day was shot as all the cushions were wet. Even the couch on the deck got soaked. We showed the manager the water damage and he said he would fix it when they close for rainy season.

If you want 5-star luxury, go to the exclusive Mnemba Island which is leased (for 100 years) by &Beyond (formerly CC Africa). This is a small, exclusive island that caters to the rich.

At the time of our booking, Mnemba Island was $2100 per night (per couple) so we opted for the $2600 (per couple for 3 nights/all inclusive) at Matemwe Bungalows. This is no drop in the bucket but a better alternative.

Since I don't want to repeat what other trip advisor reviewers said, here is an excerpt form our travel journal:

Zanzibar was terrific and at the same time depressing. I guess we weren't prepared for what we witnessed - widespread poverty and dilapidated infrastructure.

After a very long and bumpy ride through poverty stricken villages, we checked into our hotel which was a freestanding Arabic and Indian-influenced bungalow.

The breeze off the ocean was refreshing and the views of Mnemba Island and the blue-green reef were breathtaking.

The bungalow was charming with rustic sea-faring decorations and a large hammock on the deck. We even had a roof top deck complete with a small "cocktail" pool.

The sand on the beach is powder white and is as fine as flour, but due to the coral reef offshore, there is not a standard "beach" that we would compare it to in the States, hence ocean swimming here is not an option.

From our deck, we could see the many dhows (hand carved boats used for centuries on Zanzibar) sailing out with the sunrise, with men pushing them along with poles. It certainly made us feel like we were watching a movie from the 17th century.

We decided to take a tour of Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site/city. It cost $72/ per person for a half day tour.

The traffic and bustle in Stone Town is mind-boggling, and our first stop was the (primitive) market. We walked amongst the hundreds of open-air stands selling fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, and fish.

We asked our guide if we could take pictures in the market and he said, "yes, no problem." Cathryn snapped a photo of one man in the meat market weighing meat and he exploded.

It was quite a scene as our guide tried to calm him down. We didn't really know what the commotion was about, but we stood with heightened senses as we were in the midst of many sharp knives and an extremely angry man.

Our guide did a great job of calming him down and diffusing the situation.

There was one old man sitting on the countertop who, with the nod of his head, seemed to pacify the situation and allow us to move on.

What we discovered later was that the man wanted money. He saw that we were with a guide who we had obviously paid money, so he knew we should have some to give him.

Some of the African tribes are very particular about having their picture taken, and this man tried to exploit that fact to extort money from us.

We did not have to pay anything (nor would I have), and what took five minutes to us in a dark and rank- smelling market, seemed like an eternity.

With that part of the tour behind us, it got much better. We saw the site of the Anglican church constructed on the site of the old slave market as a tribute to the end of the slave trade on Zanzibar.

Visiting the church was a moving experience where the symbols of the old market were done in a very tasteful and respectful manner.

We also saw the slave quarters where they were held before being placed on the whipping post. It is a painful sight, and it is easy to see how many of them died from dysentery, suffocation, and starvation.

After the slave market, we visited the Arabic buildings on the Western side of Stone Town. We saw the Sultan's living quarters, the grand assembly hall (now called the Palace of Wonders), and Old Fort, a fort built to protect against attacks by the Portuguese.

The rest of the time was spent relaxing in our bungalow and feasting on the fresh catch of the day. We even had rock lobster one night which was delicious.

It rained the last day and with 85% humidity, and no air conditioning, we were ready to head home.

Overall, the Matemwe Bungalows are nice. If you want to relax and not leave your bungalow, then it is great. If you are active, then I'd skip Zanzibar (not including Mnemba Island).

It is not the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton - it is more rustic and slightly dated and the island needs to rejuvenate and catch up to become a desired future destination. Knowing what we know now, we would have skipped this leg and opted to extend our Safari.

I agree with the other trip advisor reviewer about the 6% charge to use your credit card at the resort. What a crock! We booked the tours and bought some items in the gift shop and had to pay 6% for using our credit card.

By the way, you can negotiate for a slight discount for items in the gift shop. And, the (free) internet is the fastest we found in Tanzania.

Regarding tipping, bring plenty of low denomination US Dollars ($20, $10, $5, $1) for tipping at each camp/location. We tipped the Butler at this property.

Also, throughout Tanzania we were able to use US Dollars. We went to Barclay's ATM after arriving to get Shillings. This was a benefit on Zanzibar.

The laundry service is good although it took an extra day to come back to us. Pack light, you don't need a lot of clothes.

If you want to see more photos or need additional information, feel free to contact me at ccgabor@comcast.net.

Enjoy your trip!

PS - I saw a bush rat near another retreat bungalow but never saw one in our room although there were droppings each morning. I cannot say they were rat dropping, it could have been the lizard that frequented our bathroom. Anyway, a bush baby made a visit one night but they are harmless (although quite loud).

  • Stayed November 2008, traveled as a couple
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Check in / front desk
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
2 Thank CathrynG
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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173 reviews from our community

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Rating summary
  • Location
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
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    4.5 of 5 bubbles
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    5 of 5 bubbles
  • Service
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
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    4 of 5 bubbles
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    4.5 of 5 bubbles
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English first
London
Level Contributor
44 reviews
44 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 43 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed November 4, 2008

Matemwe Retreats consists of 3 white-washed, thatched cottages in a private setting North of the main 12 Matemwe Bungalows. The suites are extremely spacious and well-appointed with opulent bathrooms with a view of the Indian ocean and are adequately spaced to be very private. Each retreat is serviced by a dedicated butler and has a lovely and very large thatched deck, with white linen couches, a hammock easily big enough for 2, a dining table and a bar area. The bedroom is big and airy with wooden shutters and romantic, billowing white curtains and mosquito nets. The bathroom has a lovely sunken oval concrete bath, perfectly designed for 2 people to relax with a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean with a backdrop of the evening’s fishing fleet of dhows returning on the high tide. The butler generally decorates the bathroom with fresh hibiscus, frangipani and bougainvillea flowers, as well as tea-light candles. There is also a very large shower, separate toilet and double concrete basins. Fans and air conditioning are provided, though the sea breeze is very pleasant and also keeps mosquitoes away. The upper deck of each retreat consists of a shaded sun terrace and a lovely infinity plunge pool with a spectacular view of the palm-fringed coastline. Zanzibari lanterns make this a lovely spot at dusk and at night. Plenty of spotlessly clean towels provided daily and good daily laundry service provided.

Matemwe is a place for people who have an understanding of and affinity for Africa. This is definitely not a place for people who would secretly prefer the sanitised "perfection" of a reclaimed island in Dubai. There are insects in rural Africa; there is a local village in close proximity to the resort; the electricity does occasionally flicker on and off until the generator kicks in; the service can be eccentric (in an endearing way); grocery supplies are evidently somewhat erratic on the island. This does not detract from the charm at all, but one needs to understand the type of place that Zanzibar is and calibrate one’s expectations accordingly. This is unpretentious, barefoot luxury African style and it’s quite lovely but clearly not everybody’s idea of paradise.

Some important facts about Matemwe: the ocean is extremely tidal due to the coral reef that fringes the lagoon. To all but the most intrepid, swimming off the beach is both quite treacherous and unappealing. Over-fishing has caused sea urchins to proliferate to an extraordinary extent in the lagoon, which makes even a reef-walk at low tide quite a tedious task of picking through a minefield. That said, the access (by boat) to the beautiful Mnemba atoll area for snorkelling, diving, fishing in local dhows or lunch for two on a sand bank that materialises and disappears with the tides before your eyes is unparalleled. There is no on-site diving centre, so diving requires a bumpy taxi ride to the Fairmont Resort down the Coast. One can apparently arrange to be picked up by boat depending on the tides, but I would seriously question whether this is the best place for people intending to dive every day. If you have visions of strolling into the ocean from a gently shelving beach, you will definitely be disappointed at Matemwe.

The cuisine at the Retreats was good, with fresh fish and shellfish available for lunch and dinner. It has to be said that it erred on the simple side and strayed occasionally just a little too far into African Colonial Club / boarding school territory with three appearances of steaming leek and potato soup and fried bananas in condensed milk. We laughed and went with the flow, but I can imagine people who expect fussy French amuse bouches and canapés and everything served with cappuccino-flavoured foam being bitterly disappointed (not entirely unreasonably, given the cost of staying here). In sum, delicious seafood, but not very imaginatively served or presented and I wouldn’t characterise the meals as the highlight of the holiday but not cause for complaint in any way. Retreat guests are able to take their meals at the main resort for a change from the butler service in the cottage – very similar cuisine. There is no pork on the island, so beef substitutes at breakfast.

There is a reasonable list of South African wines, if a little heavy on the rather basic Nederburg range, and an impressively broad range of aperitifs, digestifs and cocktails – and plenty of lovely, ice cold local beer. Everything apart from unnecessary champagne is included in the rate. A candlelit dinner on the beach is available as a romantic end to the holiday.

The 6% surcharge for paying by credit card leaves a very poor taste in the mouth (even if you know about it in advance). Credit cards are a fact of life these days and most hotels, restaurants and shops in the world absorb the commission as a cost of doing business. When one considers just how heavily the resort marks up its wine and gift shop items, I feel they could easily roll this 6% up into their prices and join the 21st century as other Zanzibari places have done. On the subject of mark-ups, there is a certain degree of inappropriate price-gouging that goes on here: US$70 for 4 hours’ use of a clapped out Suzuki with a broken driver’s door that can only be opened from the outside?! These are admittedly minor quibbles, but nonetheless…

The attention to detail in the Retreat décor, the beautiful views, the fresh seafood, the friendliness of the staff, the amazing starlit night sky, the breathtaking sunrises and the laid-back luxury of the Matemwe Retreat make it the perfect relaxation destination. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people who appreciate Africa.

  • Liked — Attention to detail, opulent bathroom, fresh seafood, breathtaking sunrises, lemongrass oil massages over the Indian ocean at sunset
  • Disliked — Inflated prices for extras, 6% credit card
  • Stayed October 2008, traveled as a couple
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Check in / front desk
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
3 Thank Skibummer
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London
Level Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
3 of 5 bubbles Reviewed August 12, 2008

We chose this hotel for our honeymoon after extensive searcing throughout Zanzibar's options.

The villa we stayed in was good - a highlight of the stay - however it was starting to get quite run down - there was serious damp problems from the rooftop pool which resulted in leaking down the bedroom wall.
The linen also had rust coloured stains all over it - sheets and towles included.

Whilst we were on positives, the food was amazing - they have a very talented chef.

Our main problem was the resort staff. Noone knows what is going on at this resort. If you ask a question - no matter what it is - you get the reply 'yes' and then what you asked for never turns up.

Concerning the previous review, we did not see the rats, however heard some noises at night of fighting that could have been rats.

We did not find the staff friendly or knowledgeble and after a trip into stonetown decided that the zanzibar people are not a very happy bunch!. One of the problems is that everyone is out to rip you off. Tourists are not allowed to take normal buses or taxis and have to take special 'tourist transport' which is USD60 for an airport transfer. i am not sure how they can charge this much when the monthly wage of an employee is USD30.

There is a serious mozzie problem and I would recommend taking very strong repelant - To buy at the resort is USD28. ouch!

Beware - there is a 6% credit card charge for settling your bill - so take cash - they take local cash, USD and Pounds.

We did not have a bad stay, but cannot rave about it - There needs to be some serious upgrading on the villas of the retreat soon.

We would not return to this property.

Good luck!

  • Liked — the villa was very private
  • Disliked — slightly run down, lack of knowlegde from staff
  • Stayed July 2008, traveled as a couple
    • 2 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 2 of 5 bubbles
      Check in / front desk
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 1 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 2 of 5 bubbles
      Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
1 Thank mrset
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 27, 2008

In searching around on the web i found the report about Matemwe Retreat and 'the rats'. I stayed at the lodge in December 2007.......and there were no rats....absolutely no rats!!

To be honest the lodge was excactly what we were after.....it is not 5 star pretentious glitz hotel, it is a safari lovers African hotel that really epitomises Africa and Zanzibar character- exactly what we were looking for to compliment a top end serious safari holiday!!

Overall....a place i would definitely go back to! I would love to be there right now!! I have been to Ras Nungwi and also toured around the whole of Zanzibar....Matemwe really is a very good hotel!

  • Liked — The setting and character
  • Disliked — the shortness of our stay!
  • Stayed December 2007, traveled as a couple
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Check in / front desk
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
1 Thank LondonTravel-j
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London
Level Contributor
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
1 of 5 bubbles Reviewed March 25, 2008

I'm sorry about this lengthy review but in this case I think its justified. The reason why I haven't posted it until now is because I have been waiting for compensation from the retreat but they have ignored me since the stay. I would also like to add that this stay was part of a honeymoon booked through CC Africa. All the resorts belonging to CC Africa were superb but this was something else...

First impression of the Matemwe Retreat is good. The house we stayed in was very spacious with a beautiful view by the sea. It had several different places to relax and the plunge pool was very nice too.


On a second look you can find disrepair and a low level of cleanliness. Several things were broken including the air-conditioning, the lights over the shower and bathtub, the ceramic plate by the hand towels, the doors by the bathtub (which had been ‘fixed’ with some plywood) to mention a few things. We were told that the lights over the shower would be repaired during our stay but nothing was done.

On the veranda there were areas covered in bird droppings. This wasn’t cleaned or washed off during our entire stay. If this is supposed to be a luxurious retreat then you should have someone clean the house everyday and have them remove the bird droppings, especially since they were right next to the lounge area. There were also bird droppings on the pillows in the hammock which hardly makes it inviting. The sheets, pillows, towels and sofas also had dark yellow stains on them which I now believe to be rat pee.

According to their website it says that ‘The service in the Retreat is our pride’. This made us believe that the service would be great but we were wrong. The service was very slow and we found the steward uninformed. Several times when we asked about a meal we were eating the steward didn’t know what it was or was clearly making things up. When we asked about the area or about animals we had seen he was none the wiser. The only time we tried to get some drinks to our house we had to wait for an hour after calling for the steward. We are not very demanding people at all but some level of service at a place like this is expected, especially since all three houses have been assigned one steward each and they charge a lot of money for the stay.

On our second day at the Retreat we had paid for an activity which included a private boat trip with snorkelling around Mnemba and champagne lunch on the beach. After one hours snorkelling we headed back for lunch at the beach. We were never served champagne but instead they offered us a bottle of chardonnay with the explanation that a bottle of champagne would cost an additional $100. After insisting that the information in the house clearly stated a champagne lunch, we were asked to speak to the manager on our return. (We never received the champagne). Half way through our lunch 40 other tourists joined the beach and the little area where we were sitting. It hardly felt exclusive and we decided to go for a swim. Our steward then asked us if we instead could go back to Matemwe because they needed to drop us off and pick up some other guests up that wanted to go snorkelling! In the information pack it stated that we would have exclusive use of the boat and we had only been out for 2,5 hours by then, 45 min on this particular beach!

The worst thing about the Retreat and the Zamzam house though, was the invasion of rats. We woke up at 1am on the second night of our stay because the rats were fighting next to our bed. We could also hear them on the staircase leading up to the roof terrace. My husband got up and tried to scare them off but the whole incident made it very hard to sleep that night. In the morning we could see rat droppings in several places in the house including on the floor next to the bed. The rats had actually come inside the mosquito net and into a rucksack I had next to me!! They had eaten on one of my t-shirts and one pair of shorts. They had also eaten on our new binocular case and peed on another one of my tops. We also saw bite marks on the soaps in the house and the remote control to the air-conditioning had all the buttons eaten off. We asked the steward to make sure the house was thoroughly cleaned for when we came back but several hours later we still had half eaten soap in the bathroom and in the bedroom as well as rat droppings. That evening we brought the cat 'Kitchen' that belongs to Matemwe Bungalows to the house to see if his scent would scare off the rats but we were wrong.

The following night the same scenario happened again and this was everything but the relaxing paradise we had expected! In the morning we were very eager to leave the Retreat but when we turned on the taps and the shower in the bathroom we got sharp electrical shocks! The water was now in contact with live wire….as if the stress from two sleepless nights with rats wasn’t enough! We also got electrical shocks from the board above the bed and the plugs in the main room.

I have travelled a lot around the world and my husband and I love the more rustic authentic places but if you want to charge big bucks then you have to live up to expectactions. In this case the retreat had been built on some bushes were apparently rats live. I cant say that its excuse enough for having a house full of rats and clothes and other articles distroyed! Not to mention our honeymoon having a very sad ending.

I would recommend everyone to stay away from this 'retreat'.

  • Liked — Views
  • Disliked — The rats!
  • Stayed September 2007, traveled as a couple
    • 1 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Check in / front desk
    • 1 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 1 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 2 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 2 of 5 bubbles
      Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
4 Thank SusanneTW
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
East Africa
Level Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed March 5, 2008

This is a relatively small owner run hotel thats quite well maintained. Nice beach and very close to Matemwe beach village hotel( about 10 minutes walk on the beach)

The downside is that the owners built this small 10 room hotel without much thought about the guests. The room walls are paper thin so you can actually eavesdrop on your neighbours without wanting to. When we checked in, we were actually lucky to hear our neighbours next door discussing something and so were on guard for the next few days not wanting to say anything personal unless we were out of room.By the way the size of the rooms is very very small so if you have lots of luggage be careful.


Don't stay in room number 3 as the rear door/wall is shared with the kitchen and you will be woken up from 5am in the morning with noise from the kitchen as they prepare breakfast. The aroma from the kitchen also wafts into the room.Noise goes on till about 11pm as they finally finish the dinner stuff.

The hotel owners are really nice and they really make an effort with the food. The food was the best we tasted in our whole trip to many hotels in Zanzibar.They actually have a menu that you choose what dish you like and if there is something else you prefer then you will get it without any problem. Make sure you take a larger belt as you are bound to put on kilos when staying here. The owners even were very willing to help out in any way possible.The staff were great as well as they actually managed to make me some pan fried chicken just the way I wanted it.Kudos to all of them.

By the way the service at this establishment was better than anywhere else on the island.

A word of caution about the hotels drink pricing that's very unrealistic. They charge 3$ per soda and 5$ for a bottle of water. suggest you get some from the shops on your way in. Some of the bigger hotels with higher stars ratings in Kiwengwa also don't charge that much for sodas. I guess it's because they know they are in the middle of nowhere so unless you have a car, you have no option but to drink their drinks at their prices.

This is nice place to stay if you are there to relax but there is nothing to do if you are young and energetic.After dinner the whole small hotel just dies and everyone goes back to their rooms.

Helpful?
1 Thank african_mowgli
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa

Property: Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa
Address: Matemwe, Tanzania
Location: Tanzania > Zanzibar Archipelago > Zanzibar Island > Matemwe
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Free Breakfast Free Parking Restaurant Room Service Shuttle Bus service Spa Suites Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #4 of 18 Specialty Lodging in Matemwe
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $$$$
Hotel Class:5 star — Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa 5*
Number of rooms: 4
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Enjoy your own private tropical escape at Matemwe Retreat. The four elegant villas that make up the retreat are set high in the palm trees with uninterrupted Indian Ocean views. With its secluded location and dedicated private butler, the retreat is considered one of the most exclusive choices of accommodation on Zanzibar Island. If you are looking for pure escapism, these villas - which combine the spirit of Zanzibar with the highest standards of comfort - were designed for you. The private plunge pool, personal bar and spacious roof terrace with day bed and loungers are so appealing that we would not blame you if you relaxed in your hidden sanctuary for your entire holiday. Echoing the white sand beaches and the changing turquoise hues of the tropical waters, the fully air-conditioned Matemwe Retreat villas are a reflection of their tranquil island surroundings, filled with locally produced materials and furnishings. The ground floor of each villa features a private bar area, cool and airy double bedroom with king-sized bed and en-suite bathroom with double basins, shower and a sunken bathtub with impressive views of the sparkling ocean. Outdoors, impressively comfortable and very private lounge areas invite you to make the most of the tropical climate.The rooftop deck with sparkling blue plunge pool offers panoramic Indian Ocean views. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa Hotel Matemwe
Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa Zanzibar Island

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